/artists/ryan woodring

2000 year old sculpture alerts world to its demise, video on loop, dimensions variable, 2015. Image courtesy the artist.

Ryan Woodring


Ryan Woodring is an artist and community arts engager. Woodrinh is the founding director of Prequel Artist Incubator and curator of the artist talk series FutureForum, held at the Hollywood Theatre in Portland, Oregon. The artist moved to Portland in 2013 to work as a visual effects artist at a stop-motion company called Laika on the Oscar-nominated film The Boxtrolls and uses this skillset in digital manipulation to appropriate mass media and form new contexts for conversation within the collapsing borders of digital and physical memory. Woodring is from Doylestown, Pennsylvania.



This latest body of work derives from a propaganda video released by ISIS showing the hand, hammer, and power tool-driven destruction of Assyrian and Hatrene sculptures at the Mosul Museum in northern Iraq. The video presents ideological contradiction; professing iconoclasm while generating and disseminating new images of a previously seldom-witnessed collection of objects. The video-makers include nearly two minutes of exposition shots to introduce their audience to the objects in the collection- in several instances removing tarps that had been draped on them by the fleeing museum staff- before stringing together a montage of the perpetrators destroying them. The majority of the world is therefore introduced to these sculptures in the narrow context of their imminent demise, creating a dissonant overlap in spectatorship between education and sensationalism.  As Ömür Harmanşah explains in ISIS, Heritage, and the Spectacles of Destruction in Global Media the sculptures in the Mosul video serve as stand-ins for the humans who have suffered worse fates under the insurgency. By sharing ISIS’s propaganda video and citing it as proof for the destruction of these objects, our social media journalism plays into the group’s hands as we widely disseminate a more a palatable version (object destruction versus human execution) of displays of power against a people.

I appropriate several shots from this video using software and techniques learned as an American artist who freelances in the visual effects industry (ISIS undoubtedly uses some of the same software now). In earlier works from the series, I digitally painted out the perpetrators of the destruction to generate looped moments of ambiguous agency where sculptures appear to be tearing tarps off themselves. Given the complicated conditions of the collections existence upon ISIL’s arrival, with many sculptures living as plaster replicas whose original forms sit in Western museums, I have since begun digitally removing the sculptures themselves from the clips of their destruction and projecting these clips on layers of clear tarps. This object removal highlights the awkward theatricality of the terrorists’ repetitive motions while relieving the decimated sculptures of their role as propaganda bait.

An additional field of inquiry and appropriation in my work focuses on the cycle of mass media polarization continuously carried out by the American film and television industries in which Arabs are exoticized and vilified in order to channel simple narratives of good and evil. The democratization of post-production software and digital dissemination tools has enabled terrorist organizations to mirror this binary in both their fictional and real spectacles. Beginning with scenes from the film The Exorcist, which was partially shot in Hatra (a site destroyed by ISIL and whose sculptures were destroyed at the Mosul Museum) to explain how a monotheistic version of the devil made its way into a young American’s body, I introduce signs of artifice and uncertainty through a reversal of the visual effects process- adding blue and green screens back into the finished footage. Visual effects artists pitch themselves with demo reels showing quick cuts of befores and afters, and the blue/green screen technique, referred to as “keying” is a common method of swapping out backgrounds. I use this mode of presentation as reference as I assemble a “demo reel” of appropriated scenes of cultural ignorance and polarization. I plan on directly engaging the visual effects community through an online matte painting (digital painting) challenge (a common practice on cgsociety.org) in which I ask aspiring visual effects artists to imagine similar appropriations for a cash prize.

Reception: Friday, July 22: Liberty Theatre, 6–10pm; Sunday July 10: White Box at the University of Oregon, 5-7pm

Venue 1: White Box

Gallery Hours: Tues–Sat, 12–6pm. *Gallery closed as of August 27*

24 NW 1st Ave | Portland

Venue 2: Liberty Theatre

Gallery Hours: Storefront viewing Wed–Sun, Sundown–1am

1010 Adams Ave | La Grande

Website: http://ryanwoodring.com/

Residence: Portland, OR

2000 year old sculpture alerts world to its demise, video on loop, dimensions variable, 2015. Image courtesy the artist.