Photo Op

Article excerpt

IN ARTIE VIERKANTS EXHIBITION at China Art Objects in Los Angeles last October, he presented works from the series "Image Objects," 2010-, which consists of thick, wall-mounted Sintra PVC sheets imprinted with bright abstractions drawn in Photoshop. A few days after the opening, images of these works were posted to the gallery's website. You'd expect the exhibition documentation on a gallery's site to tell you transparently what a show looked like, but these files were not straightforward installation shots. Although the works are visible, they are clouded with Photoshopped pollutants, hazed by strange and obvious edits. In one image, the section where the wall meets the floor is repeated higher up, as a swath of white and gray striking through the artworks hanging on the wall. Another shows the photographer's arm holding a balance-calibration target, the tool used to standardize color in digital images. The squares of the calibration target's palette contort and bleed past its grid in jagged wedges. In all of the images, pale, woolly patches of color--one pink and one blue--float at the corners.

I have never been to China Art Objects. Although I hate to write about art 1 haven't seen--as common as that is with the online proliferation of images--in this case I can reassure myself that I did see at least half of the show. The online images are members of the series rather than a record of it. In his disavowal of documentation, Vierkant goes beyond leveling the hierarchy of original and copy. He rejects the distinction altogether, recognizing the jpeg and the sculpture as equally important modes of representation. One behaves according to the operations available in Photoshop and Web browsers. The other is bound by the physical properties of Sintra. "Image Objects" thus tests the theses that Vierkant presented in "The Image Object Post-Internet" (2010), a manifesto-like essay distributed online as a PD1;: "The work of art lies equally in the version of the object one would encounter at a gallery or museum [and] the images and other representations disseminated through the Internet and print publications."

When he goes on to write that "the world of 'the screen' is our communal space," the gallery, stuck to its street address, seems to fall behind. For the "Image Objects," at least, the white glow of a screen arguably makes a better viewing environment than the white cube of the gallery. That, after all, is where they origiliate. Each one is drawn by a process of accumulation, guided by Photoshop's tools and default settings. The Rectangle function produces the basic shapes. Gradient fills them with color, in a smooth transition between two points on the Photoshop palette. Layers, which divides the elements of an image into different registers of action, is here used to accrue rectangles in one window, automatically simulating a prismatic blending of color and light in imitation of stacked sheets of acetate or multiple exposures.

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A substantive difference is introduced when the files become tangible objects. When I had the chance to see some test prints on Sintra of the "Image Objects" in Brooklyn, I was surprised by their thickness. They look so mercurial when photographed and altered. Relishing the mutability of the digital file, Vierkant has made dozens of images of the works, freely wielding Photoshop's Clone Stamp and Healing Brush--typically used gingerly to hide a blemish on a model's face by copying a better, adjacent part of skin. In one image, the works have been erased entirely, and the signature patches of color in the two corners float in an empty gallery. These watermarks (added with the Airbrush function) are a way of keeping track of his images. If he comes across a photograph of "Image Objects" online without them, he'll know it was taken by someone else. …