Digital America interviewed Terry Cole in November 2023 about his piece Patient Object.
Digital America: “Patient Object” (2022) is recorded on a flip phone, and through this antiquated medium you explore what you explain as “impressionism, ‘compressionism’ ” through crude digital technology. Why did you choose to use a flip phone, and what was the experience working with this technology?
Terry Cole: It’s easy to go on instagram and find hundreds of reels of people showing off their nostalgic fuji and canon point and shoots covered with stickers. Digital point and shoot cameras now fill a nostalgic blank space that a disposable film camera from CVS might have a few years ago. I was at a party a few days ago and the flash from a girl’s purple nikon Coolpix kept going off. I didn’t start this piece out with a flip phone. I made this piece because I had been using a flip phone for some time. What I was practicing marked some kind of digital asceticism: abstaining from instagram and rejecting the supremacy of the feed and the notification sounds.
It’s a mischaracterization to say this piece was an experimental procedure involving old technology. Rather, it’s a piece which I lived through and germinated organically during a period of recovering from addiction to my iPhone. The content of the piece is inside that fact, embedded in the language of the moving images that Patient Object puts forth. The notion of ‘compressionism’ is this sense that on occasions, the failure of a digital image sensor to render a hyper-real rendering of light can offer mutations and miscalculations that amount to something almost like autotune. I’m compelled by the sense that the infidelity of the sensor is taking part in the creation and collection of distinct image-objects.
DigA: “Patient Object” takes place over several months, and several cities, during the pandemic. Years after the height of the pandemic, the passage of time and space still feels strange and floating to many of us. Can you talk a bit about how the piece unfolded across this unusual period of time and space?
TC: The piece wasn’t something I wrote down or mapped out in my sketchbook; it was a process of collection and organization and it happened with my very movements in and around the city of Boston. I was becoming aware of the way objects would sit inside the rectangle of my folding phone screen. I kept taking videos trying explicitly, intimately to relate to objects and to maneuver their presence inside the small image field the phone offered.
A collaborator who I make music with was talking to me a while back about the German band Can, who we both love. They had this notion that their music was ‘an art conceived on the recording tape.’ This piece happened at the editing table that was my laptop. All of its orientation and rhythm came through a process of observing the piece and recomposing it. At some point I laid down the piano chords in a way that felt right, and that dictated the final rhythm of the shots.
Ultimately, I did a few versions, but the one that stuck was an edit I did on a train coming from NYC to Boston. I took a voice recording of the Amtrak train grating and screeching on the rails. That diegetic sound became the background for a new and final edit that felt right. You can hear the rails in the piece still. That static noise set a backdrop and a structure for the passing of time within the piece. And of course there is something significant about returning to Boston from New York. The less cool and less iconic city that I love because I have moved myself through it and met it in the eye. And it has accepted me.
DigA: You mention that a portion of the piece was filmed in Boston during 2022, specifically using clips of public transportation, especially the MassDot Highway Transportation signs. Would you be interested in filming in somewhere that is not a city? Or recreating this piece in a different media to capture the theme of impressionism?
TC: All of the piece was made in Boston, with the exception of a few shots that came from rural Vermont. Again. I did not so much film this piece so much as I slowly accumulated and collected the images for this piece, in a very paced, organic, lived-through manner. It was not a form willed into existence.
DigA: Some of your other works, “Black Haine” (2023) and Stratus (2022), are thematically aligned but differ visually. Can you talk more about both the thematic and visual evolution of your work?
TC: I don’t know where you saw the reference to Blackhaine.
Blackhaine is an amazing UK performance artist and rapper who I take influence from. I named a performance of mine at the national gallery after his song Stained Materials.
All of my work is connected to a foundation of responding to the futility of making digital art; the disposability and vapor of digital images and the attention span that the privatised playgrounds of algorithm dopamine receptor treadmill machines have laid down upon us. To even look at and contemplatie a painting is outside the conception of vision, attention, and patience that instagram or twitter pushes on us.
Patient Object is doing a keeping and holding action and Stratus is too—just with different media and different terms. The absolute nothingness and the absolute death is the endless column of videos with people eating raising canes and dunking their chicken into a 12oz cup of special sauce on youtube shorts. To look at art or want to make it for me is an implicit rejection of that hollow objectification.
DigA: “Patient Object” lends itself towards a kind of transience, in part due to the use of pixelation. In that same vein, your most recent piece, “Myself When I am Real” (2023) was performed in the London National Gallery. Although it exists as a video upload on YouTube, there is an undoubted inherent transience that comes with any performance piece. Do you have any kind of a relationship with the idea of transience, either in your work or outside of your work?
Myself When I am Real was performed in the National Gallery in May 2023. In that piece I am bringing together dark and light and I am presenting a 200+ year old painting with the contemporary cultural artefacts of the internet, something that could not be conceived of in the painting but which comes way down the timeline. That painting, Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump by Joseph Wright of Derby (1768) offers a lot of things at once. We are greeted with this convocation amidst darkness in which all light is emanating from the place where the scientific method is being carried out. There is something Godless and secularizing going on; the dove that gestures at the Holy Spirit is trapped in a glass cylinder.
The title of my piece is pulled from a piano recording by Charles Mingus. The performance took on the form of a monologue involving a cascade of samples and internet references—Joni Mitchell interviewing at the Library of Congress, Playboi Carti leaks, a Twitch Streamer talking about his addiction to Codeine, Drake talking about breasts. The derangement of this work was solidly rooted in a response to the algorithm, and a response to the seemingly inevitable procession of digital technology I have watched skyrocket in my two decades on earth as an American boy and an American man. It’s not about transience, it’s about trying to be somewhere. That piece ends with me talking about a friend who I love and my grandma who I love.
DigA: Can you tell us a bit about what you’re working on now?
TC: I am working on a new video piece with no set date. It will be named after the Yeat song Kant dië. I plan to be working on it for the next few months at least. I am also in the studio oil painting all the time, trying to move the ideas forward and put some of the impossibility of oil paint behind me.
Check out Patient Object by Terry Cole.
Check out Emma Johnson’s Response to Patient Object.
Terry Cole is an artist working in painting, drawing, and photography. He is currently enrolled at Tufts University (c/o 2025) and will graduate with a combined degree (BFA + BA) in Painting/Drawing and Art History. His work both leverages and inquires into the implicit languages that images take on in the digital era.