Down the Rabbit Hole and into Tim Davis' Mind
At the intersection of George Street and Nelson Avenue in Saratoga Springs, there’s a large Ginkgo tree that sheds its leaves every fall, forming a large pile. As a young boy, Tim Davis would collect those leaves and tuck them away in a drawer, forming his own pile. Years later, Davis returned to that tree — this time his father’s camera in tow — and started taking photographs, beginning his career as an artist.
Now an accomplished photographer, videographer, and certified collector (among other passions), Davis will be showcasing much of his work in a new Tang exhibit titled “When We Dance (I Get Ideas)”, which opens Oct. 20. Here, viewers will get a look into his eclectic passions and unique approach to art, which he perfected through years of operating under his own interests, crawling down rabbit holes of intrigue.
Most of Davis’ time is spent traveling to new towns, cities and states. In these new places, he will spend upwards of eight hours wandering around, searching for something to newly collect or add to an existing collection back home.
“When I’m getting in my car and know that what I’m going to do is wander around a town or city for eight hours and try to take pictures and/or collect other things, I’m at the prime moment of my being. I am just so excited by the thought of [collecting].”
Davis thinks of collecting as a form of life itself, and credits evolution and the basic human need to survive as the basis for his interest. Ancestrally, so much of human history meant going outside, wandering around, and collecting, “and being incredibly excited, on an evolutionary scale, that we are going to survive,” explained Davis. “That feeling of putting those berries in your mouth as a gatherer is what collectors feel. Photographers, which is primarily what I am, are inherently collectors. They are people who are out there, grabbing at stuff and putting it into their mouths.”
Once Davis begins a collection, he, in his characteristically quirky way, considers how it might invoke humor. To Davis, there is something inherently ridiculous or funny about seeing multiples of the same image, or the same object. It seems that only when there is an overwhelming amount of something, its faults, character, or hidden truths visible.
“I’ve done a lot of work and written a lot of essays about humor in the past few years, and I noticed that I navigate the world by humor in general, as do most people,” explained Davis. “It’s the way we get through the pain and suffering of the world. I noticed that a lot of people’s art isn’t like that. Humor was so important to me, and it was hard to get it into a lot of my artwork.”
Davis’ work imbues humor in a lot of ways. One of his videos, “Upstate Olympics” — though not featured in the Tang exhibit — is a great example of the artist’s wit. The video runs through multiple “games,” which consist entirely of ideas he stumbled upon throughout the year he spent making the film. From “abandoned building bowling,” to door-jockey hurdles, the film takes a tongue-and-cheek approach to life in Upstate New York.
As for work featured in the upcoming exhibit, Davis’ piece, “Light Comedy Grave Rubbings” — a play on the process Davis used to capture each grave — showcases even more of Davis’ comedic side. This piece consists of images Davis took while haunting around graveyards, taking photos of names or epitaphs that made him laugh.
“When I go to a city, I immediately go to a graveyard. They’re peaceful, they’re quiet, they’re beautiful, but there’s also a lot of history there. When you spend a lot of time in graveyards, you begin to realize some make you laugh,” explained Davis.
“Light Comedy Grave Rubbings” not only speaks to Davis’ comedy, but also his ability to observe patterns in real life, and make something greater out of it. His work starts with collecting, and the idea follows. In the exhibit there will be shelves lined with books, each having a title that uses the word “idea” in one form or another. It was during the collective hunt for these books that he found a sheet of music with the title “When We Dance (I Get Ideas),” birthing the exhibit’s titular name.
“The title is a bit of a double entendre — there’s this sexy undertone, but that’s truly not how I took it. I thought [the title is explaining] where ideas come from. So, I began to wander around and collect books with the word idea in it. [In the collection] there’s everything from philosophical books, to a Starkist Tuna Cookbook called “25 Ideas To Do With Tuna.” So there’s both the most developed ideas and most benign being featured.”
For Davis, a title can make or break the piece, not only because of the information it displays, but for the agency it provides a piece. A title validates the work, giving life to it. Davis believes this sentiment may come from his upbringing as a poet, in which he learned how titles serve as part of the work, often delivering just as much meaning.
“I know that I’ve got something when I have a title,” explained Davis. “For me, titles invoke the true nature of ideas: knowing the piece enough to give it a name, as if it’s a friend of yours. I think the title should be just as rich an experience as the art itself.”
Davis’ exhibit is just the beginning of his presence here on campus. Skidmore will also get to experience a performance from his band, a night of storytelling surrounding collecting, and a brown-bag lunch turned panel. The discussion will be between Davis, Janet Borgerson, and Jonathan Schroeder — the authors of Designed for Hi-Fi Living: The Vinyl LP in Midcentury America. The talk is inspired by Davis’ immense and bounding collection of records.
Davis’ collection, which will be on display until Jan. 6, 2019, is the true representation of the intrigue and mystery that Davis’ manages to find at the end of each of his rabbit holes. His desire to experiment with those interests shines through in an eclectic, unique way as he explores the intersections of humor, death and beauty.