Art House, Santa Fe
For it was now like walking among matrices of a great digital computer, the zeros and ones twinned above,
hanging like balanced mobiles right and left, ahead, thick, maybe endless.
—Thomas Pynchon, 1966, quoted in the catalogue for 010101: Art in Technological Times at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 2001
The newly acquired work at the Thoma Foundation, by such artists as computer pioneer Vera Molnar, Alan Rath, Steina Vasulka, and Guillermo Galindo, unfolds in so many technological and conceptual directions it just isn’t possible to deconstruct all the projects in this review; any single piece is worthy of a prolonged engagement—like Beryl Korot’s four-channel video Dachau, filmed in 1974 on a Portapak analog recording system. Korot’s piece has more in common with a straightforward black-and-white documentary: there are no visual manipulations here, just a highly orchestrated bracketing of visual information displayed on four monitors. This work delves into the complicated bleakness and strange banality of Dachau as a tourist site, yet it is also front-loaded with an unspeakable weight of history and tragedy.
At the polar opposite to Korot’s sober use of new media is Daniel Canogar’s Rise/Times Square (2014), a lively and vivid animation that is computer generated and shown on a large, vertically positioned monitor. Utilizing the crawling abilities of twelve hundred strangers in Times Square, the individuals involved pulled themselves along a green screen at ground level, were filmed as they did so, and the images subsequently manipulated by an algorithm that never repeats its figurative groupings. And as the monitor is vertical, everyone appears to be inching up the side of some façade. The colors change along with the bodily configurations as everyone attempts to make their way to some imagined goal.
James Nares’s Globe is a video that represents both digital and analogue underpinnings, although it doesn’t wear its digital parts as any form of self-reflexive commentary on the world of zeros and ones. On the contrary, Nares, known as a contemporary painter who also makes experimental films, used a digital camera to set about recording the world as it presented itself to him in his wanderings through his Chelsea neighborhood. He recorded buildings, fences, graffiti, sidewalks, pavements, manhole covers, construction sites—random urban signifiers such as these. But what makes Nares’s piece so unusual is his little analog secret: a clear glass marble he somehow inserted into his camera and squeezed against the lens. The marble acts like a world-within-a-world, creating the effect of a reflected and refracted miniature landscape of the recorded video, but one that appears upside down and backwards from the original shot. The journey that Nares takes you on is an example of a clever yet understated intervention at the service of a painterly and sensual imagination.
Mirror No. 12 (2013) by Daniel Rozin provides an engrossing interactive experience of real-time manipulations of data recorded by a video camera in Rozin’s exhibition space. The data is then immediately processed by the artist’s specially designed algorithms which alter, fragment, and otherwise distort the information. If a person walks into the room, the more that person moves, the more the forms are fractured in unexpected ways—as if the painters Willem de Kooning and Francis Bacon had joined forces as a singular ghost in the machine. This work reminds me of the mathematically based image processing that some of the original chaos theory physicists were experimenting with back in the mid-1980s. Scientists such as Jim Crutchfield and Rob Shaw created, as almost unintended consequences, gorgeous real-time transformations of people and objects in space as they numerically damped and drove their differential equations in the pursuit of understanding turbulence and orderly dis-order.
The new acquisitions at Thoma Foundation—barely addressed here but so “thick” in their matrices of intentions and techniques—are worth every hour you might care to spend at this wholly unique gallery. You’ll wind up amazed and challenged, but your patience and your perceptive abilities will be greatly rewarded.