“Chateau Diana Kingsley” (text commissioned by the Theo Westenberger Estate, April 2015)

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My name, a decision my parents made, starts with the shape of a beer gut.

This scar on my upper arm, where the Hungarian doctor unnecessarily took out a fat deposit, is the shape of a water bug.

My tattoo was the shape of the Big Dipper, until my dark spots interfered.

After six weeks my hair is the shape of a mushroom, no matter how many times I tell Aki to cut it in a way to avoid the inevitability of this one shape.

My front tooth is the shape of a castle door, and the wine laps up and around it like an overflowing moat, leaving a stain.

My pot bud was the shape of a pinecone, before we hosted that out-of-town guest.

This ruffled potato chip is the shape of that splinter Jack got sliding across our floor in his socks—it’s sizable, but still too small to reach the onion dip without getting some on the edge of my finger and underneath my nail.

That fruit at the bottom of the yogurt is not the shape of fruit.

In the old days, string beans were the shape of cigarette butts.

In the old days, marshmallows were bright white, smooth, and shaped like sea scallops, but now they’re square, pockmarked, and tinted with subtle colors.

That ceramic bird’s nest was the shape of spaghetti (the eggs were tiny meatballs), and I said so, but I shouldn’t have; I’ve never been good with kids.

(We could use that bowl with all the seashells in it to make a space helmet. Same shape.)

That leech at Moss Glen was the shape of a snake, so we cut it into three equal pieces. (Less painful, I said, to be divided so neatly.)

Mum’s earrings were the shape of Saturn until one of the balls fell from its outer gaseous layer and rolled out of sight. She found it, and fixed it, but I never saw her wearing them again.

Your silence is the shape of my head. It wafts inside my skull and stops at the edges.

A Proposal

Untitled (bathing suit, calla lilies, two-dollar bill)

Excerpt from “4 Digressions on Picture Titling” (text commissioned by the Theo Westenberger Estate
http://theo-westenberger.tumblr.com/post/97162637389/four-digressions-on-picture-titling], July 2014. )

I could make three photos: let’s say the first one is of a forlorn one-piece bathing suit hanging from a peg in a mudroom. The second is of calla lilies, à la Mapplethorpe. And the third is of a two-dollar bill. But where to put the bill? Hanging out of the man’s wallet? On his dresser? That’s the problem with photos.

Or instead, I could write the stories, which would be like titles that are too long, but shorter than your average wall text. The three stories would be arranged on one page, in chronological order, and that page would function as a photo. I could finally use that “Untitled (with parenthetical descriptors)” convention that I never completely understood, but it may make sense here. The Untitled… convention does seem to allow one to both say something, and not say something. To quote Thornton Wilder, “…art is not only the desire to tell one’s secret; it is the desire to tell it and hide it at the same time.”

Diana Kingsley, Untitled (bathing suit, calla lilies, two-dollar bill), 2014, lambda print, 16 x 20 inche

Diana Kingsley, Untitled (bathing suit, calla lilies, two-dollar bill), 2014, lambda print, 16 x 20 inche

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Now Available!

An Annotated Index to the Photographic Work of Diana Kingsley by Tan Lin with anecdotes and emendations by M. Moore and E. Dickinson.

An index to the photographs of Diana Kingsley, with references to cheeses, children, crackle glazes, capillary action of colors, corn syrup mimicry, plants, doublets, embalmed moonlight, etiquette, Violent Femmes, 8:37 pm, furniture and the afterlife, Aunt Rooney, grief and the reversal of mischief, hortensia, Japan double, love story as furniture, music of the undertaker (Photoshop), Nars Orgasm Blush, the New Brunswick Southern Railway, Ontario, perfume of doorways, photography and craquelure, rooms with honeymoons in them, stock photos, summers act inwardly, speed of wallpaper, and sex.

Full color reproductions, b/w text and optical endpapers.

The book was issued in three variant colors for the cover: gold, blue-silver, and silver-pink. It retails for $20.00 and is available through the Printed Matter website here.

Published by Convolution Press. 2013.

ISBN: 978-9793992-0-6

Book Launch/Signing/Conversation @ Printed Matter: Thursday, December 12, 2013, 6-8

http://printedmatter.org/events/149 

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Blink Magazine #19 interview, December 2012

Hello Diana. Introduce yourself.

I’m an artist. I’ve been living in New York City since 1995, was born in Philadelphia, PA, and had some lengthy stints in LA and Budapest in between.

Do you think your background and location affects your style of photography?

I think my background probably does. And I would add the word “sensibility” to “style.” My WASPy roots may inform the work; you can see a reverence for good manners and decorum—a well-choreographed style—functioning as a thinly masked desperation for continuity (i.e., dread of change) that collides mercilessly with unpredictable forces in both the world around us and ourselves. That collision is the territory of slapstick. Add to that my inexplicable obsession with Eastern Europe, where the comedy of futility has such a rich tradition, and I think you can begin to tease out where some of my influences lie.

Are there any favorite artists who inspire you?

So many artists have inspired me: Haim Steinbach, Paul Outerbridge, Roy Lichtenstein, Man Ray, Robert Mapplethorpe, Francis Stark, Sarah Lucas, Giovanni Garcia-Fenech, Tom Moody, Rachel Harrison, Franz West, Michael Smith, William Wegman, Laurel and Hardy, Charles Schultz, Manet, Hogarth, Daumier, Titian—the list could go on, and it changes all the time. Bruce Nauman was a very early inspiration; I loved his back-to-basics, absurd studio antics and films—very sad and sexy. Writers hold a special place because the whole process is much more mysterious to me. George Eliot, Anita Brookner, Marilynne Robinson, Alice Munro, and Jennifer Egan are among my favorites.

How did you first get into photography?

I honestly had little interest in photography per se as a young artist. I had been using photography in some of my work along with many different kinds of media, but it wasn’t until graduate school that I started to exclusively use pictures. I was working on a sculpture—it was a big plastic pocket protector with leaky pens in it—and it was turning into a really bad Oldenburg knock-off. So I said fuck it, I’m taking a picture of this idea, just to have a record of it—or rather I hired someone to take a picture: I didn’t even have a decent camera at the time.

The picture had everything I was going for. It was succinct. It was one picture of a guy with a huge ink stain on his breast pocket, and it seemed to sum up a lifetime of frustration. The model (an ex-boyfriend) held so much tension in his small frame that you had the feeling that he was ready to explode: his neck muscles were tight and his veiny hands were clenched. The most trivial setbacks, the small indignities, almost always end up standing for something larger than what they are, so for an artist that’s potentially very rich territory.

At first I was really rebelling against a lot of photography I saw—I didn’t like much of it. I hated the idea of a series–variations on a theme that was supposed to make some sort of schematic sense. This is nothing new now, but then I think that my refusal to offer cohesive subject matter really stumped people. In terms of style, I was going for a crisp, deadpan, anti-arty look—nothing fuzzy or collagey. I thought I could force people to see by paring it down; I wanted to be blunt and not obfuscate—for me that’s where the mystery, the humor, and the difficult viewing is.

How do you choose your subjects?

Subjects come from everywhere: a line in a book, an overheard non sequitur, a supermarket display, the wrong outfit. I leave myself open to suggestion, one work hints at another, and the original impetus may be unrecognizable in the end. But as I alluded to earlier, it’s really more about a sensibility than any particular subject matter: seeing something that embodies an ambivalence, low-level despair, resignation, thwarted desire, sensuality, humor—a whole mix of contradictions. It’s not necessarily autobiographical, but it is personal in that I work with what’s in front of me.

What equipment do you use to shoot?

I shoot everything with a Hasselblad 503CW, and then I scan the negatives. But I’ll soon move to a medium-format DSLR, like a Hasselblad H4D. My iPhone functions as a sketchbook.

What do you like about photography?

When I was a kid I would take art lessons with my grandmother every week; she would set up a still life, and I would draw and then paint it. One of her friends finally suggested that I should set up the still life myself, and I remember thinking that THAT is where the art is for me—the noticing, the picking out, the setting up.

So I like assembling things, the self-conscience arranging. I guess you could do that in any medium, but maybe photography lets me use the shared detritus of our visual world with an immediacy that’s not there with painting or drawing. I appreciate that it can be less illusionistic than a drawing or a painting. I like that I can be direct with it, take something very familiar and still leave people a bit mystified. That’s fantastic.

Why is self-expression so important to you?

For me it’s more like endless trial-ballooning–to feel less lonely, to connect to something beyond the self, to imagine a community.

What do you plan on doing next?

I’m currently working on a book with the poet Tan Lin. He’s creating an annotated index to over 40 works, and the index is a sprinkling of biographical details, piling anecdote on anecdote, sort of taking the idea of backstory to the extreme. It’s a new way of looking at my work, which is really exciting for me.

And if you came to my studio today you’d see a glass table covered with multi-colored rocks and many varieties of seaweed. I’m lighting it from underneath and getting beautiful white star shapes. On the wall you’d see one photo of a shaggy black water dog sitting on the beach with sand clinging to his hair. Somehow this will all come together.

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Unction and Industry

June 28 – August 3, 2012
Leo Castelli Gallery 

Leo Castelli Gallery is pleased to present Unction and Industry, an exhibition of new photographs by Diana Kingsley. In this exhibition, Kingsley expands on major concerns of her work: the well-placed non sequitur, self-consciousness, and slyly humorous formal affectations. Though ostensibly her subject matter features closely-cropped nature shots and table-top still lifes, the real protagonist is the hapless photographer as assiduous arranger and cajoler.

The title of the exhibition, Unction and Industry, alludes to a strange dichotomy in the work, whose seamless compositions can be seen as both soothing and domineering. (An alternative meaning for unction, “superficial earnestness,” adds to the rich associations conveyed by the title.)

In Afterlife, a monochromatic medley of melons and balloons cluster awkwardly about a diminutive bowl, belying their more artful reflection on the glass table below. In Weltschmerz, a heap of various cheeses balances on a vague yellow expanse, figuring a strange mix of aplomb and resignation. Summer Friends presents a more foreboding arrangement, either orchestrated by the beetles themselves or unseen troublemakers.

Tropes of seduction run through these works (money, pollination, chocolate, ripe fruit, mushrooms, flowers, driftwood, a snail), but for all their sensuous subject matter and full-blooded color, they remain tentative and a little doleful, suggesting that what is proffered is not likely a promise of something to come.

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