Austin-based artist Rebecca Marino is no stranger to the strange. Her photography is often influenced by astronomy and the cosmos and her most recent series, “The Best Available Evidence,” explores the world of paranormal investigation.
The series was inspired by a book discovered in a used bookstore, which generated a personal photographic inquiry into the world of UFO documentation. Her work is as serious as it is playful, found in both the lightheartedness of subject matter and in the thoughtfulness of her photo compositions. Marino’s work was recently featured in Newfound Journal’s Other Worlds Issue this spring, Art Palace in Houston and greyDUCK gallery in Austin. In Marino’s discussion with Newfound, she shares her work influences, how the series started, what she loves about photography and her standing on extraterrestrial life.
Courtney Simchak: What or who inspires and informs your work?
Rebecca Marino: A lot of books. I definitely consider myself a research-based artist and I do a lot of digging around before I start making things. The digging often starts in books– Mostly science fiction and science non-fiction books. I really enjoy Carl Sagan’s work and I’d say that he informs my work more than anyone.
Simchak: In your series, The Best Evidence Available, you mention that the project was inspired by a found document. Where and how did you come across this document and what was it, exactly?
Marino: I found the actual book “The Best Available Evidence” at a Half Price Books. It’s really old and worn and it felt a lot more like a lost archive or document than a run-of-the-mill paperback. It consists of witness accounts, photographs, diagrams, histories–all “evidence” that was essentially pulled together to prove the existence of unidentified flying objects (UFOs).
Simchak: Did your series turn out how you had planned or did it develop differently over time? How do you prepare to make work?
Marino: I usually prepare by doing a lot of research beforehand. For me, ideas usually come from information. There’s never really a set overall plan. I think that’s probably a really disappointing way to try and make work, because you never know what new ideas will spring out of others as you go. You have to leave room for growth and change or I would imagine you’d get really bored. Every series I’ve worked on develops differently over the course of time. Sometimes it even changes as I’m installing it in a space.
People are always trying to fill the void with something that’s bigger than themselves and the extent or potential for what that could be is really interesting to me. – Rebecca Marino
Simchak: There is a humor in your work as well as a serious inquiry into the parts and boundaries of belief systems. Can you talk more about that?
Marino: I think a good sense of humor is really important. Without it, I’m not sure how much interest I’d have in making art. Humor is also a nice access point for people, which I think has worked pretty well for me thus far.
But yes, I’m definitely asking some more serious questions too, specifically concerning belief in The Best Available Evidence. With that project, I think using the subject matter of UFO sightings is a somewhat comical way to bring people in, but then to ask these more reflective questions–what do you require to believe in something? Is this photograph believable? Or do you just want to believe? People are always trying to fill the void with something that’s bigger than themselves and the extent or potential for what that could be is really interesting to me.
Simchak: What is it that you love most about astronomy and physics?
Marino: Astronomy was a real game changer for me in my practice. I took an astronomy class in school and it started really changing the way I saw things. I’d see a dried up pond on the side of the road and think it was a crater. Everything just becomes bigger and more important and more amazing. It’s a child-like, almost naïve way of looking at the world, but it makes things as intriguing as they probably should be. I love astronomy (and science in general) for taking the very mundane aspects of everyday life and expanding upon them in a bigger cosmic perspective kind of way.
Simchak: Do you believe in extra-terrestrial life?
Marino: Oh most definitely. This conversation is always really funny to me. There are over 500 solar systems out there (that we know of) and still counting. It’s ridiculous to me that people would think there isn’t life out there.
Simchak: Why work in photography instead of another medium? How did you get started in photography?
Marino: I started getting into photography in high school. The honest truth is that we could take a course at an elective campus that focused on career training (including, but not limited to cosmetology, hotel management and culinary arts) and if you took a class there, you didn’t have to take gym. So I took commercial photography to get out of a gym class. Hilarious, but I totally fell in love with it and decided that was what I wanted to go to college for. I work primarily in photography because I enjoy it. However, a lot of my photographs are quite sculptural and as you can see The Best Available Evidence actually incorporates a lot of sculpture, installation, and even an audio piece.
Simchak: Due to the documentary nature of photography, many photographers use the medium to prove or attempt to prove science and folklore. Elsie Wright’s Cottingley Fairy photographs, which featured paper figures but were touted as proof of the existence of fairies, come to mind. Do you think, in an age of fake news and overly-doctored images, that we still are exploring the boundaries between reality and fantasy?
Marino: Photography is a really interesting medium because a lot of baggage comes with it. It’s used as a tool to document as well as a tool to create art, and that line between fine art photography and photojournalism is a precarious and blurry one. I like messing around with that line and playing with the connotations people have (or the side of the line they’re usually on) when they look at a photograph.
I think we’ve always been grappling with what’s real in a photograph. What’s pretty amusing to me are the vulnerabilities that photography inherently has (as opposed to overly doctored or Photoshopped photographs) which people often overlook. We’ve always been able to manipulate a photograph with things like exposure and framing. All photographs are constructions, really.
The fairy photographs crack me up–I’ve always loved that story and actually thought about it a lot when I made those UFO photos. I feel like this is where you really let go as the photographer. It’s way less about the person presenting the images (I mean, in the case of the fairies, it was children) and so much more about the people who are looking at them and judging what they are. It’s a way to measure the cynicism (or hope) people. That push and pull is fascinating. And yes, I think we’ll always be exploring that. Who wants to see the fairies and aliens? I mean, who doesn’t, really? But who can actually convince themselves something is there, right?
Rebecca Marino is an Austin-based visual artist whose work focuses on cosmic perspective. Her work has been featured in TX National, grayDUCK Gallery, Art Palace Gallery, and by the Humble Arts Foundation. She currently serves as the co-director and curator for Pump Project and is co-editor and co-founder of Conflict of Interest.
Courtney Simchak lives in Texas. She received a Bachelor of Arts in English from Texas State University in 2016. She has been the Visual Arts Editor for Newfound since 2014 and has an artistic background in drawing, printmaking and photography. Her work has shown in Austin and San Marcos.