Palm Springs Museum
November 19, 2023 – April 8, 2024
Currently on view at Palm Springs Art Museum is a bewitching, posthumous spotlight on one of the region’s most eccentric dwellers: Kali. The late artist, originally named Joan Archibald, was a 60s runaway housewife turned obscure innovator, whose works have only recently gained public attention. Referred to as an artographer, a term she coined herself, Kali undoubtedly combined various art mediums with photography to create unique and imaginative renderings of our visual world.
Her experiments with images began back in the mid 60s, after relocating from New England to sunnyCalifornia, catapulting a lifelong obsession with unconventional methods that would result in works deemed equally unusual at that time. Among the various materials she used to augment her photographs were swimming pool water, dyes, paints, sandy textures, and the sizzling rays of the sun. She also played with multiple exposures, layering, and unique configurations of polaroids, to conjure themes which were psychedelic, dreamy, and at times, downright surreal.
Light House with Butterflies (an archival pigment print mounted on Dibond, 1966), shows a classic black and white seascape with distant lighthouse, and a couple casually lounging at the shoreline. However, the overall scene is speckled with large butterflies of various opacities, and swirling textures within the sky: these are effects hand painted by Kali herself, who had a love for painting before delving into photography.
Another instance of the merging of paint and photo is seen in Fabric Mary (archival pigment print, 1968), in which a large portrait of a woman’s ghostly face is intricately adorned with blue, orange, and red blossoms, as if sporting a permanent mask emblematic of 60’s psychedelic culture.
Computer Match (archival pigment print, 1968), almost seems an obscure prototype of the digital dating apps we know in today’s world, wherein a male and female stand side by side, overlapped with digits and other technical means of measurement. In Green Globe Architecture, the silhouette of an iconic looking building is triple exposed amid a pale, greenish yellow sky, giving off a kind of alien, retro futurist vibe.
Other subjects to have eventually seized Kali’s imagination were supernatural occurrences and extraterrestrial life forms. She conducted numerous experiments, which involved extensively recording such anomalies through her camera lens. These documentations have been compiled into displays, also part of the museum exhibit, including polaroid wall installations and cases filled with meticulous, handwritten notes of her alleged UFO experiences.
Although the veneration that Kali’s work now receives has been long overdue, we get the sense that public recognition was not the reclusive artist’s prime motive, but rather, cryptic investigations into shattering boundaries in photography. Consequentially, we can surmise that these self-amused explorations have proved justified, at least in the external world, as their outcome continues to stimulate photographers and artists alike, more than half a century later.
Cover image: Lighthouse with Butterflies; all images courtesy Palm Springs Art Museum, photographed by the author.