LOS ANGELES — What are people really saying when they express a desire for a new camera? Do they want a camera that will take better pictures, allowing them to see the world more clearly, or do they want a new smartphone with a better camera in it, in order to snap better selfies? These questions are raised by Brendan Fowler’s solo exhibition New Camera at LA><ART, where photographs are distorted and transferred to canvas, with old-fashioned camera time stamps stitched on using an industrial embroidery machine. Fowler renders the photographic image useless, a mere pattern of designs and colors hanging the wrong way, asking nothing more of the viewer than to contemplate what a camera can’t produce.
The exhibition is activated first by “First Picture with New Camera” (2013), a coolly titled work that clicks the shutter of the viewer’s brain as they begin their roam through the gallery. An amalgamation of purple hues is piled one on top of another, interrupted by cross-stitched hinges and squiggly white gusts and skids of paint. Could this have once been a California sunset, a New York cityscape, or a family photograph? The original image remains unknown, but orange stitching in the lower righthand corner offers the date of 08/12/2013. This marking sends the viewer into their own mental calendar, searching for something significant pertaining to that date. Most likely, nothing pops up, and the date blends back into every other long, hot, and sweaty August day.
On the other side of the gallery hangs “Going Home Early” (2014). This one also has a stitched-in orange date, 12/22/2013, and it stands out against the other numbers in the image: a blocky “747” and “4445” (miles). Despite a legible “ODO,” there’s no visible speedometer present, no windshield, no dashboard radio or any other clue as to what it means to go home early, late, or on time. The context becomes irrelevant; here we see only purple rectangles interrupted by white voids.
A bench titled “Bench” (2014) — actually, there are two of these, both with the same name but slightly different dimensions — welcomes viewers in the gallery. The handmade artist benches and comforting abstract images suggest that no matter what time of day you happen upon this exhibition, it’s never to late to sit and stay awhile, without a smartphone in hand. Fowler provides viewers with visions from a new camera so that they don’t have to search for their own.
Brendan Fowler: New Camera continues at LA><ART (2640 S. La Cienega Blvd, Los Angeles) through February 22.