Art

David in Decay, or Making the Digital Landscape an Analog Dreamscape

David illustration by Hyperallergic
David illustration by Hyperallergic

CHICAGO — Michelangelo’s Renaissance masterpiece “David” presents the idealized masculine body. Chiseled and exacted over a period of three years, this perfect man stands on his pedestal, head cocked to one side, proportionate and gorgeous in his porcelain pose. Centuries after its Renaissance birth, The David stands in the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence, on view for visitors. David is available on the Internet, where a digital landscape emerges from the thoughts, images, random text, and links that users generate and dump as they so desire.

A lossy rendering of David, converted from GIF to JPG (Image via etc.usf.edu)
A lossy rendering of David, converted from GIF to JPG (Image via etc.usf.edu)

The idealism engendered by David correlates to the concept behind LOSSLESS, a three-person exhibition of work by Theodore Darst, Matthew Schlagbaum, and Jordan Martins, curated by MK Meador, currently on view through May 2 at the Chicago Artists’ Coalition’s HATCH Projects Space. In this show, the three young artists explore questions that fall in line with questions of manifesting ideals, and also align with art historical moments posed by bodies such as “David”: Is it possible to make analog that which is solely digital, dreamlike, and idealized? But in this exhibition there are no bodies, and the idea of a David-like figure takes place behind the screen.

Before entering into a heady discussion of the exhibition’s analog manifestations — that is, works of art on display in the gallery — it is necessary to acknowledge two things. First, the show takes its inspiration from the term “lossless,” which refers to the idea of not losing data during the compression process. If a file is rendered “lossless,” then “every single bit of data that was originally in the file remains after the file is uncompressed. All of the information is completely restored,” according to TechTarget. “Lossy,” on the other hand, refers to a file that is altered through data loss — the JPEG image file, for example, is an image that exhibits “lossy” compression. Of course, this is concealed from the view of the casual Internet browser, who doubtfully notices much alteration in the image. This exhibition calls into question the idea that what we see may not actually be complete, instead manifesting fragmented, lossy affects, holes in an imaginary landscape that we will never detect.

Theodore Darst, Projection Triptych (2013)
Theodore Darst, “Projection Triptych” (2013) (Image courtesy Darst’s Tumblr)

The second idea that’s necessary to discuss in relation to LOSSLESS is Theodore Darst’s Twitter feed. This guy is on Twitter non-stop, like an autistic bunny rabbit on xanax hippity-hopping between physical and virtual, place to place. Last Saturday morning, I found myself browsing Twitter only to see Theo tweet out a Vine of him at the deli with his girlfriend, who he must have just met at the deli (duh lolz). Cuts of meat, fried chicken thighs, floating salty dill pickles and random shots of the floor spun by, interrupted only by a face — that of this young woman who accompanied him. We tweeted about the rapid-fire images that appeared in this Vine, and I asked why he was juxtaposing women and meat, and then I pointed him to Jana Sternbak’s meat dress which obviously grossed him out. (Pause, LOLZ.) But really, he was just playing around in the digital landscape and making a Vine, and besides, it’s not that deep. Then we both fluttered off into space. It is oddities like this that mix into the collaging process behind his digital assemblages in LOSSLESS.

Darst’s work is heavy on the technical mode of making. His three-part piece “Projection Triptych” hangs from the ceiling on invisible strings, appearing like a new media artist’s rendition of a Jackson Pollock abstraction — intricately layered digital collages drawn from multiple sources, including digital photography. The resulting prints look like CAD drawings, architectural renderings of first drafts, visual manifestations of digital architecture and glitch art frozen in time, all exploded into one tight work.

Theodore Darst, Fool Self Get Busted (2013) (Photo courtesy author)
Theodore Darst, Fool Self Get Busted (2013) (Photo courtesy author)

“Fool Self Get Busted” (2013) looks like the base of the twin towers post-9/11, or the crusted layers of a post-apocalyptic landscape, or even just what happens when an image is scanned repeatedly, printed out, and scanned again and again into oblivion. This layered digital work, created in Photoshop and Cinema4D, marks a curious manifestation of unknown source material, including street-style, diaristic photos that Theo shot with his DSLR camera — not an iPhone — revealing a sort of personal layer, abstracted enough to not reveal anything specific yet open to interpretation. In this way, Darst’s artwork appears in juxtaposition with his stream-of-consciousness Twitter feed, where anyone is free to follow a live-feed of his thoughts and whereabouts.

Jordan Martin’s work is similarly involved in a technically oriented layering and collage process. His works “Jachin” (2012-13) and “Boaz” (2013) are exemplary of his intricate process of embedding collage and paint within layers of resin. Like a Hannah Höch collage minus any depictions of the body, which essentially means it is nothing like this notable Weimar artist’s work, Martin’s work juxtaposes varying textures to invent a new visual language that is formally abstract in nature. Like a splattered dreamscape, these works are pleasant to contemplate one by one. However, his intricate process becomes overwhelmed by just how many collages appear in this show, thus muting the power of one, two, or just three of the larger masterpieces in lieu of bite-sized abstracted pleasures.

The third cog in this wheel of a process-oriented panoply of digital idealism is Matthew Schlagbaum. His work departs from the safety of the two-dimensional plane, ultimately manifesting in three-dimensional sculpture that occupies a tall, physical presence. Unfortunately, the most captivating and poetic of these works are undermined by their titles, which instead make them feel a bit self-deprecating. Such irony is not warranted in these graceful works that occupy the space of loss in a physical way.

Jordan Martins, Jachin (2012–13); mixed-media with resin on wood. Photo courtesy of the artist.
Jordan Martins, “Jachin” (2012–13) (Photo courtesy of the artist)

“Best Friends For Now” (2013) is a wooden structure housing three flickering flame lightbulbs in between sheets of metallic window screen material. It embodies a sentimentality that probes close relationships, more specifically the way that a group of three friends who were perhaps inseparable during their college days have started drifting apart in the real world. One has already departed for a life of travel, guided by work. Now the remaining two cling to their “BFF” status, which will soon disintegrate as work, relationships and new friendships begin budding where coming-of-age roots once held fast. Their relationship flickers like store-bought lightbulbs that, once the building collapses and the electricity is inevitably shut off, will burn out, never to be re-ignited again — they remain as ghost moments of a young past.

Matthew Schlagbaum, "Best Friends for Now" (2013) (Photo by author)
Matthew Schlagbaum, “Best Friends for Now” (2013) (Photo by author)

Other works by Schlagbaum suggest a self-defeatism that tangentially ties into the lossy aspect of this show, like “A Beauty Impossible to Capture, But We Gave It a Try” (2013), which the artist made by scanning a sheet of gold holographic paper on a flatbed scanner. It lost its beauty in the process, much like translating something from the screen onto a physical sheet of paper inevitably flattens the image, exhibiting the opposite of losslessness. Schlagbaum’s sculptural manifestations of the exhibition’s concept make for a more human-like, less virtual experience of what is normally only experienced through the glowing screen.

This exhibition presents a strong showing of art that engages with technological ideas and ideals but doesn’t become so insider-digital as to depart from the aesthetic experience. This is not another example of boys and their data-driven toys; it is thoughtful work driven by a cluster of sensitive people who layer over those moments of loss, both literal and metaphorical, that we do experience both on- and offline, in photographic, print or sculptural formats.

Try as we can to make life LOSSLESS, at times a lossy effect must intercede — and in these moments when a loss of idealism occurs, our metaphorical idealized David is rendered mortal again: a chip on his perfect shoulder, or perhaps a splatter of graffiti from some idle passer-by. As this trio of artists recognizes, our humanity is in the decay.

LOSSLESS runs at Chicago Artists Coalition‘s Hatch Projects (217 North Carpenter, Chicago) through May 10.

comments (0)