I have viewed Joy Episalla’s work in different contexts over the years, but it was only within the 2016 iteration of MoMA PS1’s “Greater New York” tercentennial that I was made specifically conscious of a body of work that surprised me. The work was a series of photographs taken in hotel rooms where the artist had stayed, in which she aimed her camera at the darkened TV screen to reflect the details of a used temporary residence, one that typically keeps no remnant of the visitor. As someone who spent a certain period of his life traveling for his career, and spending some time in such generic spaces, I was drawn to her series. The weighted existentialism of spatial portraits depicted in the uncharged screens of switched off televisions left me numb.
DG: I was wondering if you could tell me how you first started the series, what initiated it?
JE: The TV series was an outgrowth of previous work: for many years I'd been photographing domestic interior objects such as pillows, carpets, cushions and curtains -- it involved a kind of examination of the traces left behind, and the history of use. I shot objects and situations that were rather mundane/everyday, even on first glance perhaps unremarkable. Always without people. I was interested in conveying the simultaneity of presence and absence. The TV series is diaristic: all are places I've stayed in when traveling. There is a parallel between the surface of the blank TV screen and the film plane inside the camera.
DG: In how many different places were the photographs taken?
JE: There are now 17 sites recorded in the series-- to see more:
There are many more that I've shot but haven't printed, and may or may not end up being in the series.
DG: For how long (how many individual exhibitions) did you exhibit them before you felt the series was completed.
JE: The series is ongoing, and may never be "completed." The most recent one, TV 19 (Washington DC), was shot in 2014 and printed in 2015. I have shown some works from the series previously, in Chicago in 2008 and in Brussels in 2012.
DG: Was there another artist whose work influenced you in conceptualizing and originating it?
JE: No one particular artist--in general, of course, I would say I've been influenced by a large number of artists, writers, filmmakers too numerous to mention. A few: Chantal Akerman, Hollis Frampton, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Henry James, Johannes Vermeer.
DG: In what variety of instances did the aesthetic moments occur when you decided to take a picture?
JE: It's always the same, and I have rules: I take a photograph of whatever is reflected in the screen of the TV when I'm leaving the room for the last time--nothing is arranged or staged--just what is reflected in that moment, with me not seen in the screen, which is why many of the images are from one side or the other and not straight on. Most of the photos were shot with a 35 mm SLR film camera, hand held, only the last few have been shot with a digital camera. Also the TV's screen surface has changed over the time I've been recording the series--from convex glass to flat screen.
DG: Out of how many images total did you end up with these final choices?
JE: I only shoot maybe 3 shots--max, of the same angle: the differences between each shot having to do with the light, exposure, and focus. I am interested in working in and around the sculptural possibilities of photography--in this case, the way in which the physical frame sets up a context for the framing of the shot in the blank TV screen, mimicking the original object in some ways. I am also interested in the conceit of inserting my own private content and queer narrative into the screen.