The Iowa Review - - FRONT PAGE - Gar­rett ste­wart

00/00/13. An un­lucky num­ber for me­dia purism, no doubt. But on many a date in sev­eral coun­tries, venues, ex­hi­bi­tions, and pub­li­ca­tion copy­rights, 2013 was a ban­ner year for an art prac­tice seek­ing to in­habit and ne­go­ti­ate—to trans­act—the dif­fer­ence be­tween me­dia in an ex­panded au­dio­vi­sual field. So con­sider this es­say, among other things, a scant and glanc­ing pre­view rather than re­view (if you don’t know the book yet) of con­cep­tual writer Craig Dworkin’s im­por­tant 2013 study, No Medium (MIT Press), where cur­rent dig­i­tal ex­per­i­ments, both in im­age and sound, im­pinge on his longer his­tory of medium ef­face­ment. Whether it’s John Cage or­ches­trat­ing si­lence or Robert Rauschen­berg eras­ing a Willem de Koon­ing paint­ing or Aram Saroyan bind­ing a ream of blank pa­per, cer­tain works do seem to have no real medium left, just mat­ter (or time) for con­sid­er­a­tion. But Dworkin is too cu­ri­ous for his own rubric. His sense of con­cep­tual irony takes him far­ther afield from such strin­gen­cies of nega­tion into medium-thick work not so much lack­ing all for­mal deter­mi­nants as evinc­ing self-trans­formed ones, in­clud­ing the com­puter-driven “blur­ring” (or al­go­rith­mic av­er­ag­ing) of both paint­ing and film. On ex­hibit in No Medium, among many such re­cent ex­per­i­ments (though with­out il­lus­tra­tion be­sides what his deft prose can pro­vide), is an in­stal­la­tion I saw first, the year be­fore, at the Tate Mod­ern—though only a small seg­ment of its run­ning time, for rea­sons ob­vi­ous in a mo­ment. This work by Amer­i­can dig­i­tal provo­ca­teur Cory Ar­can­gel ( Col­ors, fig. 1) takes an en­tire month to screen a Hol­ly­wood DVD: to “screen out” its im­ages, that is, in fa­vor of their dig­i­tal con­stituents, line by laser-read line of chro­matic data traced by com­put­er­ized “slit scan.” The film is thus un­rav­eled full screen (as a dis­tended ver­ti­cal cur­tain of stri­ated col­oration) over a full-length and real-time sound­track, many times rerun—a track with which the work’s op­ti­cal trac­ings can never catch up. Here is a case of slow mo­tion so dras­tic that there is no vis­ual ac­tion left, just op­ti­cal ac­tiv­ity hov­er­ing be­tween nar­ra­tive (still au­di­ble) and its ar­ti­fi­cially ex­truded retinal sub­strate. The com­mer­cial film in ques­tion, though no longer in view: Dennis Hop­per’s 1988 po­lice pro­ce­dural Col­ors, the ti­tle orig­i­nally sug­ges­tive of the L.a.-based plot’s racial crises for the du­bi­ous men in blue. Ar­can­gel’s soft­ware pro­ce­du­ral­ism, with its an­a­lytic re­duc­tion from

DVD to dila­tory pixel scan, builds to a lurk­ing gram­mat­i­cal pun like the fa­mous Hitch­cock promo tagline “The Birds Is Com­ing.” The tacit ques­tion: You want to see Col­ors? Here they are. No cin­e­matic medium left, just its split-sec­ond anal­y­sis in trans­fer to an un­der­ly­ing stra­tum of coded gen­er­a­tion. Trans­me­dial as it is, prob­ing the space be­tween nar­ra­tive imagery elec­tron­i­cally tran­scribed and its gra­di­ent dig­i­tal in­scrip­tions, this work plumbs be­neath any­thing ad­vo­cated by for­mal­ism’s “bar­ing the de­vice.” For here there is no spar­ing of the ar­ti­fact at all, no in­formed re­con­sti­tu­tion of its struc­tured na­ture. There is only the tech­no­log­i­cal com­edy of loss.

Dig­itime Present

Art like this, in what I have taken to call­ing Con­cep­tu­al­ism 2.0, even when not quite let­ting go of the ap­pro­pri­ated medium it works over, won’t at the same time—and how­ever dis­tended that time—let new dig­i­tal pro­cesses go with­out see­ing. Such is the so­cial con­tract of such “cross-over” prac­tice. There is no dan­ger of tam­ing the cur­rent spate of such work by nam­ing its com­mon de­nom­i­na­tors with a term like trans­me­dial. Each piece re­de­fines its kind. But it does so by bring­ing to light cer­tain in­vis­i­ble tech­no­log­i­cal af­for­dances and their tacit re­la­tion to our plu­ral­ized and ever more per­va­sive cat­e­gory of “the me­dia”—a re­la­tion merely tacit, in these works, be­cause it is of­ten at first ob­scure, oc­culted. Tech­ni­cal oblique­ness and mys­tery are the new norm in these in­stal­la­tion projects, their dis­play await­ing “be­hind-the-scenes” dis­course and dis­clo­sure by ex­ten­sive wall-plaque or cat­a­logue ex­pli­ca­tion. In such cases we don’t re­ally know what we are see­ing un­til we are told how it is shown to us, which of­ten means how it em­beds and tam­pers with the man­i­fes­ta­tion of another (it­self per­haps al­ready elec­tronic) medium. The so­cial con­text is clear. By stratospheric over­load, we are bom­barded lately by as much me­di­a­tion as ra­di­a­tion. Ozone de­ple­tion and dig­i­tal re­ple­tion. The rain of im­age and text is a steady stream, two-way but ir­re­versible. We Net-book our tick­ets and our faces, load our data up, down, and ev­ery­where in be­tween, find our­selves linked—or say en­chained—and un­wit­tingly data-mined. Vis­ual art’s way of in­ter­cept­ing this flux and re­flux of data trans­mit and its shack­ling fas­ci­na­tions— when art prac­tice isn’t just swept along by it in re­pro­duced thumb­nail sam­ples or Vimeo clips—is in­creas­ingly to sus­pend it­self long enough be­tween a re­ceived medium and its un­ex­pected trans­for­ma­tion to de­limit and some­how cross the gap. But the gap is in this sense con­cep­tual, not phys­i­cal: of­ten the po­ten­tial chasm, or bridge, be­tween plas­tic

or elec­tronic form and some new im­pal­pa­ble field (or plat­form) of dis­em­bod­ied and com­pos­ite bi­na­rity. The trans in such cases can be un­duly volatile: ac­tive, trans­ac­tive, con­trastive, di­alec­ti­cal, and of­ten un­do­ing. “Trans­me­dial” emerges as cat­e­gory by sheer dis­tinc­tion—to set it off from other “im­pure” modes in the mod­ern his­tory of art. “Mixed me­dia” art puts one ma­te­rial next to or above (non­hier­ar­chi­cally) another. In 2013 at the Hir­sh­horn in D.C.: “Over, Un­der, Next,” a com­pre­hen­sive ex­hibit on just that: su­per­im­po­si­tion, un­der­lay, and ad­ja­cency in hy­brid forms, from Cu­bist photo-col­lage for­ward. In another ter­mi­nol­ogy, “in­ter­me­dial art,” like in­ter­dis­ci­pli­nary schol­ar­ship, ap­plies one method in view of another. What, in­stead, I am call­ing “trans­me­dial” art more ac­tively pic­tures the dif­fer­ence: ne­go­ti­ates it, tra­verses it. The trans func­tions much like the pre­fix in the etymology of metaphor as trans-fer: putting some­thing across by cross­ing be­tween reg­is­ters, trans-fig­ur­ing the de­scribed en­tity—and of­ten dis­fea­tur­ing it in the process. “Re­me­di­a­tion” is of course the go­ing term, but its em­pha­sis is tech­no­log­i­cal more than (or be­fore) aes­thetic. Think of cinema trans­ferred to and thus re­me­di­ated by VHS tape—or then again re­mas­tered for DVD is­sue. One medium dis­ap­pears only to be “re-upped,” its former con­tent find­ing a new trans­mis­sive mode. In con­trast, trans­me­di­a­tion pre­serves in some sense the me­dial en­er­gies it sup­ple­ments or sup­plants. Op­er­at­ing nei­ther in “no medium” nor in an im­me­di­ately fa­mil­iar­ized new one, it hov­ers be­tween, re­cal­i­brates, an­a­lyzes. The con­cep­tu­al­ism of the trans­me­dial ob­ject be­gins in such anal­y­sis rather than in an ab­so­lute nega­tion. Even when—as with Col­ors re­dux—the new scru­tiny ul­ti­mately mur­ders to dis­sect. The re­sult is reg­u­larly a mat­ter of dis­crepant scale: a scale spa­tial or tem­po­ral or both, caught out in the forced tran­sit be­tween ma­te­rial (or im­ma­te­rial) man­i­fes­ta­tions. Scale and its own par­tic­u­larly dig­i­tal irony—of­ten a sub­tle prob­ing of im­age in its ra­tio be­tween data in­put and op­ti­cal out­put, elec­tronic fun­da­ment and vis­ual upshot. Rhetorical irony: say­ing one thing and mean­ing another. Retinal irony: show­ing one thing so as to make seen another. Such trans­me­dial irony is of­ten a thing (an ob­jec­ti­fied thing) of scalar tran­sit in it­self, from mi­cro to macro or back again, whether in graphic ex­tent or du­ra­tion.

Test­ing Pat­terns

Or when not a mat­ter of scale, some­times a mat­ter of equiv­o­cated sur­face and faux depth. Los An­ge­les County Mu­seum of Art, 2013. James Tur­rell—a ret­ro­spec­tive run­ning con­cur­rently with his Guggen­heim

show. In one par­tic­u­larly telling work, we come upon this im­plicit hy­bridiz­ing equa­tion: min­i­mal­ist sculp­tural ges­ture plus video = elec­tronic light sculp­ture. In cog­ni­tive ef­fect: a trans­me­dial mi­rage. It hap­pens this way, as one has to dis­cover by read­ing, unpacking its mys­tery by the pa­tient dis­cur­sive rev­e­la­tion of its ex­pli­cated pro­ce­dure in cat­a­logue copy. A TV mon­i­tor is hid­den “off frame” be­hind a gallery wall that has been de­faced by a cutout, to be ap­proached at the end of a nar­row cor­ri­dor where two flank­ing in­can­des­cent can­is­ter spots throw their beams need­lessly against the side walls—as if merely to dis­tin­guish that kind of rou­tine gallery “light­ing” from the puls­ing glow ahead and be­tween them. The glim­mer­ing hole—which, un­til stared at up close, looks like a beam­ing sur­face of trans­mis­sion—re­sem­bles noth­ing so much as an em­bed­ded mon­i­tor in stan­dard mu­seum in­stal­la­tion. Whereas the ver­ti­cal rivulets of a slit-scan color trac­ing in Col­ors re­call, for Dworkin, the “no medium” of mere “test pat­terns” from predig­i­tal TV, in the so-called Mag­netron works of Tur­rell the less de­fined im­age ap­pears more like the aim­less oc­u­lar static of a chan­nel lost to con­tent from be­yond the broad­cast band, where retinal noise can never re­coup it­self as sig­nal. Yet wrong so far. This is not a TV im­age at all, but merely the im­age of a TV, de­rived at one re­move from an in­vis­i­ble one: hal­lu­ci­nated as ef­fect to its own ab­sent cause. De­scribed to this point, in other words, is only the first feint in a de­vel­op­ing irony, since the ap­par­ent video in­ter­face must grad­u­ally come to be seen (one guesses at this, on grad­ual ap­proach, al­most be­fore one rec­og­nizes it) as just a sawed-out aper­ture shaped like the rounded-off rec­tan­gle of a once-stan­dard TV screen. Depth reads at first as plane, 3D as 2D man­i­fes­ta­tion. Cer­tainly the ini­tially sup­posed “medium” is no medium at all, just the hol­lowed frame for another not un­like it. For the ac­tual Tv—se­questered be­yond our sight, its im­ages never seen di­rectly—in­stead throws the vari­ant ab­stract hues of its silent play­back on a sec­ond white wall be­hind the neg­a­tive du­pli­cate of it­self. It is as if the cath­ode ray im­age has re­turned across the evo­lu­tion of movingim­age tech­nol­ogy from elec­tronic broad­cast to cin­e­matic pro­jec­tion, but its beam ra­di­at­ing now, by in­di­rec­tion—by sheer re­flec­tion rather than di­rect trans­mit—only with the in­dis­tinct glim­mer of os­cil­lat­ing color tones. Pro­vid­ing a use­less flicker as if di­aled up from the op­tic limbo be­yond com­mer­cial TV’S ac­tive sta­tion ros­ter, it ap­pears as a de­fault to pure medium with­out mes­sage. Mcluhanesque in another sense too: the “cool” rather than “hot” medium of TV, cooler than ever imag­ined, re­quir­ing any­thing but pas­sive view­ing in or­der to grasp (to warm to) the mys­tery of its dis­place­ment.

Pix­e­la­tion / Google­gram­mar

Ear­lier in 2013, and back in New York, at the Met rather than the Guggen­heim, a show from their pho­tog­ra­phy archive: “Af­ter Pho­to­shop: Ma­nip­u­lated Pho­tog­ra­phy in the Dig­i­tal Age.” The stand­out was in fact a work of ma­nip­u­lated dig­i­ti­za­tion, a “Google­gram,” by Span­ish con­cep­tual pho­tog­ra­pher Joan Fontcu­berta. One large-for­mat im­age viewed from the mid­dle dis­tance comes to you, comes to as­sem­blage, cour­tesy of ten thou­sand sep­a­rately indis­cernible web-searched thumb­nails. If “hy­per­re­al­ism” (or some­times “pho­to­re­al­ism”) names a mode of paint­ing ap­prox­i­mat­ing the crisp me­chan­i­cal ex­ac­ti­tude of pho­tog­ra­phy, Fontcu­berta’s work is some­thing of the op­po­site: ap­pro­pri­ated his­tor­i­cal master­works of both paint­ing and pho­tog­ra­phy shown to dis­si­pate into the mere pas­tiche of ev­ery­day “Google Im­ages.” His are pic­tures that look at first like out-of-fo­cus paint­ings or pho­to­graphs blown out of scale and sur­ren­der­ing res­o­lu­tion, un­til on closer view they are them­selves re­vealed as dig­i­tal col­lage. The op­ti­cal sub­strate sur­faces on ex­am­i­na­tion as another and co­her­ent me­dial un­der­lay. Call it hy­po­re­al­ism. In any case, it is cer­tainly trans­me­dial—and re­lated as such, if in­di­rectly, to per­haps the most fa­mous of “hy­per­re­al­ist” pain­ters, Chuck Close, whose tech­nique un­der­girds his sim­u­lated gar­gan­tuan por­traits—and un­der­mines them at the same time—with a hand­made pixel-like grid­work based on pho­tome­chan­i­cal pro­jec­tion in the stu­dio. And not least in an in­vo­luted vari­ant of this mode I hap­pened to catch later in 2013 at the Na­tional Gallery of Vic­to­ria (Mel­bourne), se­lected for ex­hibit along with other works from an ear­lier show of con­tem­po­rary art called “An In­com­plete World.” Noth­ing there was more in­com­plete than the 2007 graphic work of Close’s Self-por­trait (anamor­phic), which had no im­ma­nence as hu­man im­age un­til warped into re­flected com­pres­sion. It is as if Close had be­gun with one of his en­larged snap­shots—as grid­ded up by over­head pro­jec­tion into his pseudo-bit­map anal­y­sis—and then “re­verse-en­gi­neered” its man­i­fes­ta­tion in shrunken form. For what we see in a vit­rine dis­play is an anamor­phic fan-out of an elon­gated honeycomb-like pat­tern in pen­cil that has been stretched flat in an ap­prox­i­mate semi­cir­cu­lar seg­ment around the base of a small chrome pil­lar—on which the bent draw­ing, its grid­work curved and ob­long in a splayed and il­leg­i­ble ge­om­e­try, is “cor­rected” when mir­rored back to the viewer out­side the vit­rine. The im­age comes to us re­con­sti­tuted as nei­ther a curvi­lin­ear ab­stract draw­ing nor an iconic face in some tubu­lar sil­ver look­ing glass, but as noth­ing more nor less than “a Chuck Close” in re­flected minia­ture. Hy­per­re­al­ist with a twist, the trans­me­di­a­tion here, im­plicit as well as vis­i­ble, takes a re­turn route from draw­ing (the

usual end prod­uct) through re­duced sculp­tural mono­lith to dis­em­bod­ied like­ness. What is man­i­fested, with­out be­ing ma­te­ri­al­ized, is in­deed a com­pos­ite im­age not un­like the hy­po­re­al­ist palimpsest of Fontcu­berta’s “Google­grams,” their mo­saics sieved through a canny art-his­tor­i­cal (as well as geo­met­ric) grid. Win­ner in 2013 of the pres­ti­gious Has­sel­blad Award, Fontcu­berta cer­tainly brought a var­ied post-1960s ca­reer in con­cep­tual pho­tog­ra­phy to a head that same year at the Met with his re­con­sti­tu­tion of his­tory’s first (still ex­tant) pho­to­graph, an 1826 print by Nicéphore Niépce (fig. 2). In this ironic adap­ta­tion of avail­able tech­nol­ogy, the pro­cess­ing of op­ti­cal data files from key-padded Web searches is, by a fur­ther soft­ware process, con­fig­ured into mi­nus­cule tiled pat­terns that (re)gen­er­ate—by ad­justed fields of tonal­ity, chro­matic weight, and in­ten­sity—the pixel-like gra­da­tions of an over­all mas­ter im­age (fig. 3 [de­tail of fig. 2]). One of the most dar­ing and least tech­no­log­i­cally pre­de­ter­mined works of this sort in his cat­a­logue is the en­gi­neer­ing, the im­ageer­ing—from the mi­cro­graphic ground up—of a hy­per­re­al­ist du­pli­cate of Gus­tave Courbet’s Ori­gin of the World (1866), with its scan­dalous vagi­nal close-up of a re­clin­ing nude. What­ever the de­bates over re­al­ism in Courbet’s day, the com­puter-pro­duced com­pos­ite of this no­to­ri­ous im­age has the look now of bor­row­ing back from early pho­tog­ra­phy a re­minder of those new porno­graphic con­ve­niences that have pro­lif­er­ated a cen­tury and a half later with Web imag­ing. But other and more cen­tral me­dia ge­nealo­gies are also in­scribed. The porno­graphic legacy as­serts it­self only at first dis­con­certed glance. In Fontcu­berta’s sys­tem­atic over­ride of the or­ganic by the ma­chinic, his process also has a way of re­cov­er­ing the dis­course-heavy bias of early con­cep­tu­al­ism from the con­tem­po­ra­ne­ous fer­ment out of which pho­to­re­al­ism also arose. True to the trans­me­dial elec­tron­ics of these works in gen­eral, his puz­zle-piece im­age of the Courbet doesn’t re­sort to the overt mi­cro­cos­mic buildup of sep­a­rate nude shots in a wholly geo­met­ric—and ex­po­nen­tial—eroti­cism. In­stead, with a con­cep­tu­al­ist bias to­ward dis­place­ment and word­play, and trig­gered by Courbet’s own gen­er­al­iz­ing ti­tle, Ori­gin of the World, this piece­meal wall of op­tic frag­ments (10,000 strong, with some of them strictly vis­ual frames, some oth­ers il­leg­i­bly small text blocks) has been mo­tored into frozen and printed view by the tri­an­gu­lated search cri­te­ria of “Big Bang,” “Black Hole,” and “Dark Mat­ter,” the first two sex­ual puns drift­ing over to the meta­phys­i­cal, the cop­u­la­tive be­come cos­mic. What the over­all look of this Courbet re­dux thus serves to fig­ure, dig­i­tally to con­fig­ure, is a whole­sale break from an­thro­pocen­trism, one in which the “ori­gin of the

world” is now un­der­stood oth­er­wise—and in part as an elec­tro­mag­netic phe­nom­e­non at that. But the ironies of the piece are more im­me­di­ately me­dial as well. In its pro­gram­matic, au­tom­a­tized ac­cess to the so-called World Wide Web, the means of imag­ing—in what amounts to a self­pro­lif­er­ated op­ti­cal the­saurus—take their mor­dant place within its ex­em­pli­fied sense of a global in­for­ma­tion ecol­ogy. In the new organon of fin­ger­tip knowl­edge, un­sta­ble and po­ten­tially dis­in­te­gra­tive, the pri­macy of de­sire—car­nal de­sire in its role as species re­pro­duc­tion—has been sub­or­di­nated to a dif­fused epis­te­mophilia, dig­i­tal rather than gen­i­tal. This new Ori­gin of the World sug­gests that the dom­i­nant form of orig­i­na­tion in our day, sheer com­bi­na­tory as­so­ci­a­tion, is marked not by in­ter­rupted men­strua but by in­ter­cepted data streams.

Dig­i­tal F/pho­to­syn­the­sis

Ear­lier than these mid-decade ex­per­i­ments ex­em­pli­fied by the Niépce “re­print” at the Met (gen­er­ated by a bilin­gual im­age search in part on the term “Foto”/“photo”), there is another com­put­er­ized mode of trans­me­dial irony—via syn­thetic imag­ing—ap­plied by Fontcu­berta in 2002 to the eclipsed an­ces­tries of both spa­tial and oc­u­lar re­al­ism in paint­ing un­der the se­ries ti­tle Land­scapes with­out Mem­ory. It is cer­tainly un­sur­pris­ing, later in the decade, that Fontcu­berta has been drawn to An­to­nioni’s film Blow-up (1966) and its prob­lem­atic of scale in re­gard to the par­tic­u­late mol­e­cules of a photo im­age—around which he has sub­se­quently built a com­plex 2009 in­stal­la­tion of his own, with the fa­mous film’s grainy ev­i­den­tiary snap­shots of a sus­pected corpse en­larged yet again to an il­leg­i­ble “life-size.” But what may well take us by sur­prise is how the ap­pro­pri­ated com­puter logic that would even­tu­ally re­sult in his Google­grams had ear­lier, quite be­yond cin­e­matic or even pho­to­graphic al­lu­sion, sent him off in another and even more high-tech di­rec­tion as well. For in those re­mark­able Land­scapes with­out Mem­ory, by gen­er­at­ing scenic vis­tas of the never be­fore seen through a process he calls “oro­ge­n­e­sis,” the im­age plane re­sults from his feed­ing the dig­i­tized data field of one or another canon­i­cal paint­ing, of­ten with its own two-di­men­sional ap­prox­i­ma­tion of three-di­men­sional space in the land­scape mode—now a post-im­pres­sion­ist Cézanne, now a Braque—into a pro­gram de­signed by the U.S. Air Force to “trans­late” flat to­po­graphic maps into the more ser­vice­able form of pic­tured land­scapes. Cross-wired thereby is a vir­tual-re­al­ity ap­pa­ra­tus in color print rather than video form (an An­dré Derain, for ex­am­ple, spawn­ing its elec­tron­i­cally de­ci­phered dou­ble, fig. 4 and fig. 5).

The re­sults, in Fontcu­berta’s trans­me­di­a­tion, are ad hoc pro­ce­dural works, “land­scapes with­out” even com­puter “mem­ory.” In his cir­cuitous re­pur­pos­ing of this soft­ware, the more or less ap­prox­i­mate per­spec­ti­val craft of the source paint­ing is thus re­in­stru­mented by an al­go­rith­mic reg­u­lar­ity that dis­torts the painterly imag­ined— by an im­po­si­tion of the elec­tronic vir­tual— into the gen­uinely and dis­turbingly un­real. The sense else­where of the queasy hy­per­re­al­ism that at­tends the too-close-for­com­fort dup­ing of mo­bile hu­man fea­tures in CGI an­i­ma­tion, the dreaded “un­canny val­ley” of Hol­ly­wood com­puter engi­neers, has be­come quite lit­er­ally the weird un­peo­pled land­scape of a high-def­i­ni­tion nowhere. And be­yond ex­per­i­ments in this vein with ac­tual land­scape art, how­ever far from re­al­ist treat­ment, Fontcu­berta can dis­re­mem­ber other more ex­per­i­men­tal work. When the all-over drips and squig­gles of a Jackson Pol­lock ab­strac­tion are three-di­men­sion­al­ized through such a fil­ter, one gets in the dig­i­tal print­out a land­scape with rock-for­ma­tion loop­holes. So it is that Fontcu­berta’s al­ter­nat­ing elec­tronic tropes emerge as tightly com­ple­men­tary. In his Google­grams, com­puter search­ing dredges the dig­i­tal base of mostly ana­log imagery and binds its find­ings into another ana­log im­age. In the ear­lier com­put­er­iz­ing of his vir­tual to­pogra­phies— the first stage of his hy­po­re­al­ist tra­jec­tory—a yet more ar­bi­trary col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween art his­tory and CGI tech­nol­ogy serves to trans­me­di­ate the aes­thetic land­scape, via mil­i­tary soft­ware, into a sim­u­lated and in­stru­men­tal one: aes­thet­ics re­duced to tac­tics. We can’t help but sense our­selves one step away, with these im­ages, from “live-ac­tion” gun­nery prac­tice in a VR cock­pit. For their “Af­ter Pho­to­shop” ex­hi­bi­tion, the Met cu­ra­tors were quick to call Fontcu­berta’s ex­per­i­ments since the 1970s a prob­ing “de­con­struc­tion” of the myth of “ob­jec­tiv­ity” in pho­to­graphic art. In the case of their cho­sen dis­play piece, what is in fact dis­man­tled from within is the co­her­ent plane of Niépce’s 1826 View from the Win­dow at Le Gras— with 10,000 “mi­crochip” im­ages (ei­ther sense of the mod­i­fier, dig­i­tal cause or minia­ture ef­fect) called up by the im­age search of “photo” as well as “foto.” The re­sul­tant “thumbs” are all that is left of man­ual dex­ter­ity— an un­flagged dead metaphor—in ex­e­cut­ing the com­po­si­tion as a whole. Two other lapsed meta­phoric over­tones shadow this elec­tronic col­lage as well in re­la­tion to the photo’s epony­mous View from the Win­dow: the idea of a real-world “view­ing” rather than a ma­chinic im­age pro­duc­tion; and the long­stand­ing trope of the Al­ber­tian “win­dow,” that mil­len­nial fig­ure for the very frame of mimetic rep­re­sen­ta­tion, down­graded now to ev­ery­day trade­marked func­tions of the Win­dows op­er­at­ing sys­tem. Where the Courbet homage dis­places any myth of orig­i­na­tion, op­ti­cal

or oth­er­wise or­ganic, onto the vari­able pro­ce­dures of im­age gen­er­a­tion, here the artist has sought ex­plic­itly, ac­cord­ing to the Met gloss, to re­late “pho­tog­ra­phy’s chem­i­cal ori­gins to its de­ma­te­ri­al­ized, pix­e­lated present”—and thus to dis­si­pate its in­dex­i­cal au­thor­ity across a per­mu­ta­tional ar­ray. The ghost of an orig­i­nal im­press is built up from cas­cades of inset back­lit “tiles” matched in their muted col­ors to shad­ings of the black-and-white mas­ter im­age in a mimetic ap­prox­i­ma­tion ac­cord­ing to den­sity, lu­mi­nos­ity, and hue—once the sub­sidiary icons are reshuf­fled, that is, from the in­ter­changed lex­i­cal prompts of their f/pho­to­ge­n­e­sis (fig. 3 again). Yet what splin­ters all or­ganic in­tegrity of im­age here, shiv­ers it to bits, is the same op­tic ma­te­rial that con­sti­tutes it, that un­der­lies it (again: hypo=un­der). These are the same in­gre­di­ent frag­ments (or cloud-sourced “ex­cerpts”) that there­fore, in the post­mod­ern pho­to­graphic tra­di­tion, trans­mute the stylis­tic hype of hy­per­re­al­ism to a new stra­tum of com­po­si­tional irony and a new molec­u­lar gram­mar (be­yond and be­neath the grid­ded, sec­tored, and re­copied pho­to­graph): a hy­pogram­mar whose Net ef­fect (ev­ery sense) is like an ar­rested mo­tor­iza­tion, by so-called search en­gines, of the over­all im­age plane. What tran­spires is the de­mo­tion of pho­tome­chan­i­cal art to an op­er­a­tional ex­per­tise in dig­i­tal graph­ics. Again, the irony of scale: con­cor­dia in dis­cord, the con­stituent tid­bit grad­u­ally per­ceived within the gallery en­large­ment. In a mode of co­her­ent paint­ing rather than dig­i­tal col­lage, one may call to view here, from the pho­to­re­al­ist camp, the over­size acrylic ren­der­ing of se­rial film frames (float­ing part­way to­ward the scale of pro­jec­tion rather than cel­lu­loid im­print, and com­plete with time-worn scratches) in Ed Ruscha’s The End #10 (1993), where the fix­ity of one medium re­fig­ures the clo­sure of the other. This is to say that the trans­me­dial ges­ture in­heres in the hy­per­me­di­a­tion per­formed by an ab­sorp­tion into paint­ing of an alien me­chan­i­cal op­tics and sur­face treat­ment. Pho­tome­chan­i­cal evo­ca­tion in paint is, how­ever, only one such tran­sit point be­tween me­dial de­ter­mi­na­tions. And cin­e­mato­graphic evo­ca­tion only another. Fur­ther screen regimes have fol­lowed, in­creas­ingly to­tal­iz­ing. In Fontcu­berta’s case, and this time from within the realm of au­to­matic imag­in­ing it­self rather than paint craft, we come upon works whose recog­ni­tion—and power—hover (and so in ef­fect cross) be­tween a ubiq­ui­tous and eti­o­lated screen cul­ture of dig­i­tal re­lay and some other prece­dent form, like pho­tog­ra­phy or paint­ing. His works aren’t repho­tographed paint­ings or even re­screened pho­tos. They are paint­ings and pho­tos seen through (“across”) the fil­ter of their own ei­ther splin­tered or trans­fig­ur­ing elec­tronic af­ter­math.

Yet Fontcu­berta—op­er­at­ing at the sub­sist­ing stra­tum of the hy­po­real—ne­go­ti­ates a fur­ther de­ma­te­ri­al­iza­tion of means: this in his sim­u­lated pix­e­la­tions of a pic­ture plane that is in fact thou­sands of minia­tur­ized (co­her­ent but il­leg­i­ble—say sup­pressed) ones in­stead. Com­put­er­ized im­age searches are a cog­ni­tive fa­cil­i­ta­tion, to be sure. But when re­played by full-frame trans­me­dial irony as pho­to­prints, they in­stall a fig­ure for aes­thetic be­lat­ed­ness from within the present artis­tic form. Un­der the thumb of the dig­i­tal, as it were, in these ver­sions of the post­mod­ernist rather than high-mod­ernist grid there is no aes­the­sis with­out pros­the­sis. To be thought of, once more, as hy­po­re­al­ist ef­fects for their de­pen­dence on un­der­ly­ing com­puter codes, Fontcu­berta’s ex­trap­o­la­tions from one graphic plat­form to another op­ti­cal plane are vaunts of trans­me­di­a­tion that subor­di­nate all ques­tion of tech­nique to the new global pre­mium on data tech­nol­ogy and its al­go­rithms.

Pic­tur­ings at War

The strate­gies co­here even as they di­ver­sify across Fontcu­berta’s ex­per­i­ments. The trans­me­di­a­tion at stake re­peat­edly com­mutes be­tween af­for­dances aes­thetic and com­mer­cial, dis­in­ter­ested and strate­gic—as if to ex­pose a new and sus­pect con­tin­uum in our im­age cul­ture. Cer­tainly, in those Land­scapes with­out Mem­ory, his re­sort to com­puter-en­hanced mil­i­tary car­tog­ra­phy in the ser­vice of vir­tual re­al­ity ter­rain, in tacit as­so­ci­a­tion with sur­veil­lance tac­tics and bal­lis­tic sci­ence, bears out Ger­man me­dia the­o­rist Friedrich Kit­tler’s re­lent­less par­a­digm for the harbinger in mil­i­tary de­cryp­tion tech­nol­ogy of all ad­vances in me­dia art and com­merce.1 And the para­mil­i­tary di­men­sions of con­tem­po­rary imag­ing are by no means in­ci­den­tal in the cur­rent prac­tice of con­cep­tual me­dia art, well be­yond Fontcu­berta’s source­less, mem­o­ry­less sites as trav­es­ties of tac­ti­cal vir­tu­al­ity. Freeze frame again, 2013. At the Vox Pop­uli gallery in Philadel­phia and the Palais de Tokyo, Paris, ap­peared two dif­fer­ent it­er­a­tions of Amer­i­can artist Mark Tribe’s on­go­ing col­lab­o­ra­tive work with Chelsea Knight, called Posse Comi­ta­tus (“force of the county”). The per­for­mance and/or in­stal­la­tion is named for the kind of right-wing para­mil­i­tary group whose train­ing ex­er­cises (filmed by Tribe in up­state New York), and pre­sented in life-size video pro­jec­tion, are set in con­trast with ei­ther video or live chore­og­ra­phy de­signed to mimic into ab­strac­tion their ri­fle prac­tice ma­neu­vers, turn­ing lethal pro­to­cols into un­nerv­ing bal­let. The work is in this sense not just col­lab­o­ra­tive but trans­me­dial: the time­based for­mats of dig­i­tal video and chore­og­ra­phy con­fronting each other in the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of a para­noid the­ater of war that hap­pens to evacu-

ate from the parochial ex­e­cu­tion of his shoot­ing prac­tice the high-tech video that would it­self be ren­dered tac­ti­cal in more so­phis­ti­cated and glob­al­ized de­fense sys­tems. The dis­tance here be­tween com­bat’s mech­a­nized dance of death and its lit­er­al­iza­tion in ges­ture is sim­ply marked by the irony of videog­ra­phy, rather than co-opted and tele­scoped by it, as in our ac­tual wired wars. No drones and their satel­lite imag­ing, just staged and pro­jected war porn. This par­tic­u­lar 2013 thema­ti­za­tion of Tribe’s video work, in con­nec­tion with mil­i­tary vi­o­lence, would be fa­mil­iar to his re­turn­ing au­di­ences. Just the year be­fore, in a two-phased in­stal­la­tion at Mo­menta Art (Brooklyn) called Rare Earth, Tribe mounts for gallery dis­play eight large-for­mat land­scape pho­to­graphs in the tra­di­tion of Con­sta­ble or Corot, gen­tly con­toured and thickly forested, but some­how oddly un­tram­meled and spook­ily lit—what, misted?—with their sun­lit leaves at times al­most translu­cent around the edges. More un­canny val­leys lit­er­al­ized, as if pre­serv­ing the faint haze of their own back­lit (we dis­cover) ori­gin. For as to­pog­ra­phy, they are a rarer earth yet than they seem at first look: in­deed er­satz, pix­e­lated, wholly rar­efied in their vir­tu­al­ity. They are in fact high-def­i­ni­tion frame en­large­ments from the back­ground land­scapes of com­bat video games, im­mo­bi­lized as if in wait for the tar­get­ings, the F/X ar­tillery bursts, the dig­i­tal zooms. See, for in­stance, Black Creek from 2012 (fig. 6). These vir­tual fields of view are im­ages un­der the sign of re­con­nais­sance. What they most re­sem­ble, within the aes­thetic of gamer sim­u­lacra, is sur­veil­lance in sus­pended an­i­ma­tion, the scene await­ing the sight­ing—and then the on-mon­i­tor may­hem. Again, hy­po­re­al­ism: an ap­par­ently pho­to­graphic im­age un­der­mined as in­dex by its own un­der­ly­ing dig­i­tal gen­er­a­tion as video frame. And these can­vas-scale pho­to­graphs are coun­ter­posed in another room of this same Brooklyn in­stal­la­tion, within its over­all theme of “para­mil­i­tary fan­tasy,” by a fixed-frame but mov­ing-im­age video by Tribe (only the barest mo­tion dis­cernible) of a land­scape from that same mili­tia train­ing ground in up­per New York fea­tured in his col­lab­o­ra­tive work, though serenely de­serted this time, em­i­nently “peace­ful.” In its ironic reprise of Amer­i­can pas­toral­ism, the recorded ter­rain is iden­ti­fied not as the com­put­er­ized back­drop for some first-per­son shooter, but in­stead as a real armed “gar­den” into which (in Leo Marx’s fa­mous an­tithe­sis) the “ma­chine” it­self, in the form of weaponry, will soon dis­rup­tively ap­pear. The linked ironies of the in­stal­la­tion thus book­end each other. The too-nearly-real of so-called war games, tem­po­rar­ily sus­pended in their re­hearsed vi­o­lence, an­swers to the com­mer­cially gen­er­ated scene of fic­tive vi­o­lence in the com­bat genre mode of video game

Fig­ure 1. Cory Ar­can­gel, Col­ors, 2006. (In­stal­la­tion view: Lis­son Presents 7, Lis­son Gallery, Lon­don, UK, 2009–2010.) Sin­gle chan­nel video, artist soft­ware, com­puter. Du­ra­tion: 33 days. © Cory Ar­can­gel. Im­age cour­tesy of Cory Ar­can­gel.

Fig­ure 2. Joan Fontcu­berta, Google­gram: Niépce, 2005. © 2014 Artists Rights So­ci­ety (ARS), New York / VEGAP, Madrid.

Fig­ure 3. De­tail of fig­ure 2.

Fig­ure 4. An­dré Derain, The Grove, 1912. Oil on can­vas, 117 x 81 cm. State Her­mitage Mu­seum, Saint Peters­burg, Rus­sia.

Fig­ure 5. Joan Fontcu­berta, Oro­ge­n­e­sis: Derain, 2004. Type C-print. © 2014 Artists Rights So­ci­ety (ARS), New York / VEGAP, Madrid.

Fig­ure 6. Mark Tribe, Black Creek, 2012. Archival pig­ment print, 44 x 69 in., edi­tion of 5 with 1 AP. Im­age cour­tesy of Mark Tribe.

Fig­ure 7. Chris­tiane Baum­gart­ner, Game Over, 2011. Wood­cut on kozo pa­per, 90 x 120 cm (im­age size), 110 x 140 cm (pa­per size). Cour­tesy Alan Cris­tea Gallery, Lon­don. © 2014 Artists Rights So­ci­ety (ARS), New York / VEGAP, Madrid.

Fig­ure 8. Chris­tiane Baum­gart­ner, Luft­bild, 2009. Wood­cut on kozo pa­per, 234 x 326 cm (im­age size), 260 x 350 cm (pa­per size). Cour­tesy Alan Cris­tea Gallery, Lon­don. © 2014 Artists Rights So­ci­ety (ARS), New York / VEGAP, Madrid.

imagery, even as the de­pop­u­lated vis­tas of the former are neu­tral­ized, de­mil­i­ta­rized, and the lat­ter trans­me­di­ated into a mu­seum genre of its own as de­con­tex­tu­al­ized art print.

Graphic Vi­o­lence

And from these same years we’re liv­ing through, and find­ing pic­tured back to us, there is the strik­ing ar­ti­sanal and con­cep­tual work of Ger­man artist Chris­tiane Baum­gart­ner. Rep­re­sented in over a dozen gallery ex­hi­bi­tions in 2013 alone, hers are man­i­festly “trans­me­dial” ar­ti­facts (wood­cut de­lin­eations rep­re­sent­ing lin­ear video scans) in which the no­tion of the post­war and the post­mod­ern dis­turbingly con­verge. This is es­pe­cially ob­vi­ous when she takes up as ex­plicit topic—in­deed as op­ti­cal topos—the videog­ra­phy of com­bat imag­ing. Ap­proach­ing an ar­rest­ing trans­me­dial work of hers in the paint­ing wing of Lon­don’s Im­pe­rial War Mu­seum ( Game Over, 2011 [fig. 7])—near­ing it from the far side of the large gallery in which it is hung—one may think at first it’s a screen grab of war footage pho­to­graph­i­cally en­larged over a dozen times, los­ing any real fi­delity in the process: an ex­plod­ing plane from a by­gone era in a grainy soft fo­cus rem­i­nis­cent of TV doc­u­men­taries. Same with the at­tack planes in the 2009 work Luft­bild (fig. 8). There seems in play here, more­over, an im­me­di­ate al­lu­sion to Ger­hard Richter’s WWII fighter planes caught as if in blurry stop-ac­tion in his out-of-fo­cus pho­to­re­al­ism; or, es­pe­cially in the over­head “shot” of Game Over, his bom­bardier’s-eye view of Dres­den un­der siege ( Bridge 14 FEB 45 (I), 2000), with re­leased bombs re­ced­ing into the ver­ti­cal dis­tance in their as­sault on a bridge. But Baum­gart­ner’s im­ages have been achieved not in scraped blackand-white oil, like Richter’s of­ten are, but in boldly carved wood­block prints whose rough-hewn ta­ble-knife gouges evoke—at least from the spec­ta­to­rial dis­tance nec­es­sary to mute their over­size jagged­ness—the fa­mil­iar stri­a­tions of low-res­o­lu­tion video. In this way, at “hero­ically” en­larged mu­seum scale (like land­scape paint­ing of old, or “his­tor­i­cal” war tableaux for that mat­ter), Baum­gart­ner’s reimag­ined im­age of at­tack planes works to “up­date” footage (or pho­to­graphs) of WWII bombers into (twice trams­me­di­ated) graphic trans­mis­sions. The wood­cut treat­ment is typ­i­cal of her work, what­ever the set­ting re-pic­tured, but the spe­cific in­ter­text in Richter for the aerial war­fare pieces (un­like her scratched-out cap­ture, for in­stance, of the fixed-frame rou­tine view of high­way traf­fic cams in another print) gives a spe­cial edge to this par­tic­u­lar skyscape (or skyscrape) as tele­vi­sual im­age. And with Luft­bild, more­over, the odd pat­terns of ver­ti­cal in­ter­fer­ence, travers­ing her char-

ac­ter­is­tic lat­eral scan lines, have the un­canny ef­fect of pro­duc­ing from within re­me­di­ated video—as if in a phan­tom te­le­scop­ing of screen tech­nol­ogy—the fur­ther trans­me­dial evo­ca­tion of a pixel grid. One may also note a cer­tain irony in Baum­gart­ner’s graph­ics as­so­ci­ated with that other sec­tor of re­cent Ger­man work men­tioned above, the im­bri­ca­tion of mil­i­tary tech­nol­ogy and the in­dus­trial me­dia com­plex in Kit­tler’s the­o­ret­i­cal writ­ings. For in Baum­gart­ner’s craft the in­no­va­tive mil­i­tary sci­ence of real-time im­age trans­mis­sion, lead­ing as it even­tu­ally does to com­mer­cial tele­vi­sion, is be­ing re-in­voked by a sim­u­lated TV im­age. Then, too, there is the deeper log­i­cal irony of ori­gin and af­ter­math in­her­ent in such im­ages. In the ir­reg­u­lar, ridged cas­cade of her hor­i­zon­tal slic­ings, a sense of those former wars we nor­mally see “clas­si­cally” doc­u­mented (archival pho­to­graphs and film footage, like heroic paint­ing be­fore them) is over­lapped, im­posed upon, by a lat­ter­day op­tic that, by ex­ten­sion, calls up war’s cur­rent video wag­ing in its Mideast “the­aters.” The re­mote imag­ing that used to be part of war’s ef­fect as re­ported, its epis­te­mo­log­i­cal af­ter­math, say its TV rem­i­nis­cence (in His­tory Chan­nel ret­ro­spects on WWII, for in­stance), is now, in short, part of its op­er­a­tional sys­tem, its elec­tronic ex­e­cu­tion—as to some de­gree sug­gested as well by Fontcu­berta’s para­mil­i­tary dig­i­tal to­pogra­phies. This is the case even while the metic­u­lous la­bor of this in­fer­ence in Baum­gart­ner’s art—the pro­duc­tive ac­tion of its trans­me­dial irony— re­turns any such con­tem­po­rary elec­tronic over­tones of an in­creas­ingly un­manned aerial tar­get­ing to the hu­man­ized realm of the stren­u­ously hand­made. Though far from the slit-scanned pixel spec­tra swollen to full-frame mo­bile im­age in the more com­pletely de­me­di­at­ing fash­ion of Ar­can­gel’s time-based Col­ors, in Baum­gart­ner’s work, none­the­less, there is the in­grained pull be­tween lin­ear gen­er­a­tion and rec­tan­gu­lar man­i­fes­ta­tion, graphic trace and op­tic space. What is painstak­ingly de­layed by Baum­gart­ner’s tech­nique is not just the swift­ness of the pic­tured mo­tion but the mo­tor­ized ac­tion of the video im­age it­self in com­ing to view. Such is the full trans­me­dial irony of her wood­cuts, as of Ar­can­gel’s video: let­ting us ex­pe­ri­ence one thing (con­jured “video still,” DVD in ac­tion) while show­ing us, oth­er­wise, how dif­fer­ently its op­tics ac­tu­ally find man­i­fes­ta­tion. The re-vi­sion­ary charge of Baum­gart­ner’s prac­tice re­sults from ex­actly the dou­ble dis­tanc­ing, his­tor­i­cal (WWII) and me­dial (from pho­tome­chan­i­cal im­print to block-print im­press), by which such pic­tur­ing looks again at the ma­chinic spec­u­lar­ity of past com­bat, as com­pared with Tribe’s in­ter­est in the video game graph­ics of its con­tem­po­rary simu-

la­tion. Fontcu­berta’s own ver­sion of such dis­tanc­ing is more en­tirely imag­is­tic than, say, in­stru­men­tal. In com­put­er­ized cam­er­a­work rather than hand-carv­ing, his pic­tures in­stall no sus­tained pho­bic re­coil from the au­to­mated elec­tron­ics of a sur­veil­lance or video game ethos. In the more sar­donic work of Baum­gart­ner or Tribe, by con­trast, em­pha­sis falls on the me­dial con­ti­nu­ity be­tween the video­sphere of art and com­merce and the la­tently in­va­sive de­ploy­ments of these same imag­ing sys­tems in other hands. Yet one might think to put it this way by gen­er­al­iza­tion af­ter all: war­ring claims for the most ur­gent form of con­tem­po­rary mu­seum imag­ing in­creas­ingly take other oc­u­lar modal­i­ties of con­tested ter­rain, like those of elec­tronic war­fare it­self, into the pic­ture.

The Re­ced­ing Seen

Here, too, is where Fontcu­berta’s dig­i­tal pho­tog­ra­phy, even when not mo­bi­liz­ing mil­i­tary soft­ware in those Land­scapes with­out Mem­ory, in­ter­cepts the new global me­dia ecol­ogy from a wry an­gle. One might read­ily want to fol­low the Met’s lead, point­ing us back into the precincts of pho­to­re­al­ism it­self, and see in the con­stituent color tiles of his grid­ded vis­tas a “de­con­struc­tion” not just of pho­tog­ra­phy’s ob­jec­tive ba­sis but of its il­lu­sory in­dex­i­cal co­her­ence un­der other me­dial cir­cum­stances. Which is only to be­gin mea­sur­ing what else is be­ing taken apart by his work. The point isn’t for Fontcu­berta sim­ply that ev­ery pho­to­graph is a dis­guised pointil­lism, ev­ery co­her­ence a con­struct, op­ti­cally ground­less at base. The crux isn’t graphic and op­ti­cal so much as cog­ni­tive, ul­ti­mately so­cial, which is to say po­lit­i­cal. And, as such, all but an op­tic al­le­gory of the bot­tom­less. In the lat­ter-day reign of im­age cul­ture, rep­re­sen­ta­tion is en­tirely de­riv­a­tive, or say cu­mu­la­tive. You never seize upon a sep­a­ra­ble pic­to­rial mo­ment with­out sens­ing in it, if not quite see­ing, all the other im­ages that pre­cede and feed it, in­fuse and muddy it, that in ef­fect sec­on­darize it. That makes each ar­riv­ing im­age just one evanes­cent rephras­ing of a given vis­ual dis­course. In its strange scalar gestalt, get­ting us to see our in­abil­ity to see oth­er­wise is the schematic work of the Google­gram works. Where the found­ing ges­tures of con­cep­tual art gave ironic pri­or­ity to dis­courses of cul­ture over its ar­ti­facts, here too in the Met ex­am­ple, with its col­laged homage to our first op­ti­cal au­toma­tism in the Niépce photo, is a foun­da­tional im­age sprung from the archive by none other than lex­i­cal cross-ref­er­ence ( f/photo) and its vis­ual re­dis­tri­bu­tions. What looks like a dated pho­to­graph is lots of more up-to­date and date­lined ones, ar­bi­trar­ily re­ar­ranged within a broad the­matic pro­to­col of word-search func­tion­al­ity. The over­all im­age is not so much found and ap­pro­pri­ated as en­gi­neered in its ar­bi­trary in­cre­ments and

re­built, its medium com­pu­ta­tional be­fore vis­ual. Or say again, rather than medium, its trans­me­dial func­tion. Faintly cracked and spack­led on first no­tice, the flat­tened-out data bank of text and im­age in these works is in the other sense banked, ter­raced, graded (by hue and bright­ness rather than height) in a un­raised to­po­graphic scrim that is found ul­ti­mately re­solv­ing—at just the right full-frame dis­tance—into a one among many pos­si­ble pic­tures quite other than any that ac­tu­ally ac­crete to con­tour it. The whole is, in fact, far less than the sum of its parts: nei­ther an ag­gre­gate nor an av­er­age but a spread of sheer dif­fer­ence gelling to “crazed” shape (and not least in the et­y­mo­log­i­cal sense, from pixie, of pix­i­lated). 2 As such, of course, it dis­closes the truth of all imag­ing writ both small and a bit too large at once—too large for quite over­look­ing this fact in an en­com­pass­ing look. In this re­booted Niépce, the logic of the con­geries shows through the gestalt. The pho­tonic com­pos­ite is al­most an op­tic re­bus as well as an al­le­gory. Who can see the Niépce with­out see­ing its splin­tered legacy? How else to ap­prox­i­mate its pri­or­ity with­out re­assem­bling some over­loaded sam­ple—and sem­blance—of pho­tog­ra­phy’s his­tor­i­cal and in­ter­na­tional fall­out? And where more tren­chantly than in a grid­work ubiq­uity of data reg­is­tra­tion that, with over­tones of sur­veil­lance purview, re­solves into pic­ture only on a need-to-see ba­sis? In­evitably con­jur­ing up the more straight­for­ward and seem­ingly holis­tic scans of Google Earth, Fontcu­berta’s mo­saic im­ages in this vein in­fer the ogled dearth of the real. It is by just such in­trin­sic scalar irony that the Google­gram works serve to frac­tal­ize one level up the mi­crochip tilings of any pix­e­lated im­age, webbed into view across its own bit­map ar­ray. Cer­tainly this ver­sion of Niépce’s land­mark van­tage point, his View from the Win­dow, of­fers up a win­dow we don’t think to see through. This is one des­tiny of the lens that doesn’t lead us back to hu­man op­tics. This is one il­lu­sion of an il­lu­sion, one trans­me­dial pic­tur­ing of a former vis­ual in­dex, that pitches us past spec­ta­tor­ship al­to­gether to de­cryp­tion and anal­y­sis, to read­ing, but with no co­her­ent au­thor­ity claimed for its dis­crepant checker­board scheme. So this is one dif­fer­en­tial im­age sur­face—one like so many oth­ers we en­counter lately (only more so, and in­sis­tently)—that ac­tu­ally yields up its strictly dif­fer­en­tial com­pos­ite. With the philo­soph­i­cal strin­gen­cies of text-heavy con­cep­tual art hereby par­o­died, or at least emp­tied out, by mere im­age-search link­ages to cer­tain free­stand­ing lex­emes (foto, photo), and with the ear­li­est mimetic ir­rev­er­ence of the mod­ernist grid down­graded from re­vi­sion­ary con­cep­tual scaf­fold to a sheer sort­ing mech­a­nism, elec­tron­ics has van­quished the op­tic field, au­to­matic­ity

lord­ing it over in­ven­tion. Iso­lated by com­pos­ite sim­u­la­tion it­self, such pho­tonic hy­po­re­al­ism has ren­dered, and so ten­dered to view, one frag­mented photo plane—ad­vanced in the name of many, and in­deed rid­ing on the backs of many such—that won’t stay put for spec­ta­tion. Nor let us. Such a con­trivance leaves the see­ing hu­man body nowhere to stand. Well be­yond any painterly re­pres­sion of the pho­to­graphic mo­ment in hy­per­re­al­ism, rou­tinely elid­ing the pho­tog­ra­pher’s re­flec­tion we might ex­pect to glimpse in store­front glass or chrome hub­cap, we have come to a place where the elec­tronic blind spot is no longer op­ti­cal so much as on­to­log­i­cal.


1 See es­pe­cially, amid many ap­proaches to this tech­no­log­i­cal phe­nom­e­non in his work, Friedrich Kit­tler, Gramo­phone, Film, Type­writer, trans. Ge­of­frey Winthrop-young and Michael Wutz (Stan­ford: Stan­ford Univer­sity Press, 1999), as well as the fur­ther de­vel­op­ment of this theme in Op­ti­cal Me­dia, trans. An­thony Enns (Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2010).

2 I’m al­lud­ing here, though they are sum­moned in a dif­fer­ent con­text for his study, to the re­lated et­y­mo­log­i­cal back­sto­ries of the two terms, craze and pix­i­lated, given in Craig Dworkin, No Medium (Cam­bridge, MA: MIT Press, 2013), 97.

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