press release

The exhibition frames four complimentary positions in contemporary art that prioritise the creation of new pictorial surfaces over the act of basic elemental representation. It used to be a given that every “photo” had a model. The photographic image has for more than a century been the default setting for the real, which has encouraged the viewer to believe that the photo represented an existing thing. For more than a century the viewer has expected to be able to identify the model for the photograph through its image within it. The photographic process has historically served to authenticate the objects existence and subsequently the photograph is both, an accepted form of proof and surrogate for the thing it represents. It used to be a given, that a painting and photography were both seperate processes and distinct objects with processes that were eponymous and defining. “Surfaces Paradise” presents images that toy with these expectations, employing a sense of irony and cultural insight and developement. The four artists each establish elaborate narrative tableaux that take the form of surfaces, characterized by strong ornamental qualities as well as a seductive sensuality. Furthermore these artists employ technics that are borrowed from a related medium, that is to say, that “Surfaces Paradise” explores artistic postions that combine the computer with the camera, the painterly strategy with the photo and the photograpic approach with painting.

At the heart of the show are two positions, German Thomas Ruff and Dutch Australian Gary Carsley, which advocate the notion of ‘Post-Camera-Photography’. In these works the computer is the atelier used to not alter but create an image that is subsequently outputted on photographic paper, resulting in an object “ex camera” or a photo without a negative. This creates a new positive, which opens up an as yet unmapped world of visual experiences and realities. In opposition to computer generated images that create virtual and more or less plausible realities, these new examples of ‘Post-Camera-Photography’ extend the traditions and strategies of photography and photograms while choosing a type of formal appearance that quite clearly locates them within its evolving traditions. Here the computer introduces the “eye” of the unknown, a perspective of confusing information about a reality that can only be found in these images. The resulting works advocate a position that successfully challenges the concept of the “model” or existing subject by engaging innovatively with the manual approaches usually associated with the established studio technologies of painting and sculpture. This juxtaposes the importance of established viewer expectations in regard to a very familiar medium with the complexity and sensuality of surfaces in a world of images formerly known as photography. Such positions are contra-posed by complementary ones in the fields of “photography” as well as the process formerly known as “painting”.

Brazilio-American Vik Muniz, while using the traditional means of photography, concentrates on perfecting a tradition of manipulating the photographic model in an elaborate way. The illusionistic effect and its virtual spelling in object quality establishes a refind commentary on visual approaches, illusionism, fake and the reality of human vison. His “Rebus” series, featured in the show, adopts strategies related to painting and to collage. They are composite images that reveal more than one visual reality. The elaborate models for these photographs employ painterly traditions with a long and exciting history in Manirism. Japanese-American Carrie Yamaoka introdudes photographic approaches into her “paintings” She manages to capture a beyond camera, real time reality that bears a cinematic approach. At the same time she reaches out for a similar ornamental concept as Thomas Ruff does with his “Substrates”. It is on the basis of this newly discovered narrative potential of “surface” that these works meet in an exciting and revealing argument.

Thomas Ruff Thomas Ruff’s “Substrate” are based on brightly coloured Japanese Manga comics, taken from the Internet, they are blurred to such an extent that no recognition of the original source is possible beyond the bright colour scheme that has become the dominant feature of the large-scale images. These new works manage to bridge the gap between the painterly resolution of problems posed by photography and the photographic resolution of problems posed by painting. Ruff creates a form of abstraction that can not be achieved in another medium. The images present an unforeseen visual sensation that at the same time is reminiscent of concepts of abstraction established in other visual genre. Ruff’s strategy, which defines the parameters of “Surfaces Paradise” is that he uses his primary material in this case the comics, as a palette from which he takes both the colours and forms with which he composites these new elaborate and highly decorative structures. The result, floating of colours in high gloss, strong contrasts and a soft blending of forms, gives the images the appearance of being almost fluid. The viewer possibly associates a delirious state of mind with such floating splendour and then is challenged because pure sensation lies beyond existing strategies in the arts to capture and represent. Thus these works can be seen as key examples for establishing pure surfaces. Inkjet prints on paper, when framed they almost look like photographic prints. What they show, with compliments from a virtual pictorial overflow, is an essence of color and pattern that is hard to grasp, impossible to identify (in the sense of a depiction of anything other than itself) and of exilirating beauty.

Gary Carsley Named after their inventor Louis Jaques Mandè Daguerre, Daguerreotypes were the first photographic technique where large scale Monotypes took the form the form of light-exposed copperplates. Gary Carsley produces large Monoprints he calls Draguerreotypes. They are computer-generated images printed as unique works on photographic paper. To “drag” is to take on a different gender that is presented and performed. Draguerreotypes are “Lichtbilder” that take on the material characteristics of photographs and playfully engage in questioning certain qualities of this medium and enrich its vocabulary with some unexpected appearances. Carsley’s images show large park-scapes, which, upon closer inspection, can be identified as works of complex intarsia. Each colour, every form is made up of the different composited photographed timbers represented on adhesive foils. In the Draguerreotypes the identification of the park motif and the elaborate intarsia coincide as visual incidents of equal importance. The park views can only be seen through the highly decorative patterns, which at times dominate the pictorial structures and echoing the interdependence that also exists on the media level.

The image as intarsia can be read as a complex piece of impressively detailed woodwork that in reality only exists as a representation in the Monoprint. It does not however exist as an object of its own right. Rather it is the materialization of a digital state. In a similar way the works take on the appearance of photographs, which in fact they are not. Such strategy helps to establish a dynamic that allows for the development of a complex network of overlapping cultural and media references. With much eloquent irony Carsley reflects upon the cultural transfer between the Old and the New World and articulates a frequently fractured perspective upon nature and the many pictorial qualities that have been projected into it.

Vik Muniz The photo works of Vik Muniz are based on props and sets that the artist creates as models for his photos. These are made up of various materials, such as earth, sugar, thread, peanut butter or chocolate. His “Rebus” series is compossed out of setttings of plastic toys that while bearing their own image compose a new form that restages a familiar photographic model. This follows a principal tradition in Vik Muniz’s work, as all images created with such materials are based on photographic or painterly images and aspire an illusionism that allows for the discovery of both: the original photographic source of the image as well as the material quality of the materials used to create it for the new photo. The original source is discovered through the material in the same way as the material is identified in the process of identification of the depicted object. Like the Draguerreotypes, these photos are based on immensely time consuming and tedious acts of craftsmanship. The highly crafted objects however have no life and existence outside the photographs. The portraits made of sugar, peanut butter or chocolate evoke the sensuality and taste of the materials used and the puzzling craftsmanship that portraits itself in the reception of the image create the humour and irony that defines the new narratives these pictures establish. Such irony sometimes exceeds the framework of visual reference in a surprising manner. In his series “Pictures of Air”, Vik Muniz depicts boiling water to the effect that the air-bubbles forming create the allusion of a starlit sky. The titles of these works establish that a constellation has been portrayed that documents a specific moment in time and the view form a particular location. As such the skies over Hiroshima and Chernobyl are “documented on the days and at times when these cities saw the moment of catastrophe that their names are associated with in collective memory. To this effect these works surprisingly establish a position following the tradition of history-painting.

Carrie Yamaoka Carrie Yamaoka works with mylar, a plastic film coated with a reflective surface. Upon this layers of translucent color and resin are poured. This process of pouring and its effects define the form of the work. Air bubbles, swooshes and blips betray the material as once fluid. These square or rectangular objects are of various seizes and take on an intense colour or appear almost clear. Often refered to as paintings, the works feature the characteristics of more than one medium and could be more accurately defined as reliefs. The high gloss surfaces are defined by a sensual richness in material quality and color. They are also highly reflective, making it virtually impossible to see them unaffected by their surroundings. The viewer observes momentary situations or sequences of movement and change. Looking in a mirror, the perception of the reflected image occludes the awarness of the material quality of the mirror as an object. Here, the reflections are seen as incriptions into the thick layers of colored plastic. The surface irregularities caused by the layering and the bubbles endow the reflections with differing degrees of clarity as well as distorting them after the fashion of funhouse mirrors. This blurring of visible features into the appearance of the physical body of the work encourages the missperception to identify the visible as an inherent part of the work, almost suggesting film stills from cinematic sequences. Ymaoka’s works however have no photographic recording mechanisms, other than their gleaming front, instead all such imagery ricochets off the smooth high gloss surfaces. All of this helps to highlight material substance and surface structure as the true content of the work. The very fact however that the surfaces can’t be seen for themselves without the filters of reception that the viewer is bound to lay over them like a distracting veil, shows this idea of surface as a most intriguing concept and bestows on the works an unexpected illusionistic quality.

Rafael von Uslar


only in german

Surfaces Paradise

mit Thomas Ruff, Vik Muniz, Gary Carsley, Carrie Yamaoka