LOS ANGELES — To draw a hand, start with a finger count of 0. So long as you have less than 5 fingers, you can keep drawing. More than that, and it’s time to stop. Thus go the instructions in “Flow Chart: Drawing a Hand,” a painting by artist Analia Saban that features a handwritten algorithm and sketches of hands behind it:


—> Finger Count = 0

Finger Count < 5?


Draw Finger

Finger Counter +1

In “Flow Chart (Prompt Drawing: Right Hand / Left Hand),” the instructions are more elaborate, with a series of variables that allow us to “Add Skin Mapping.” The algorithm is asked to note qualities like “fine hair,” “subtle color variations,” and “nail texture.” If the depiction is accurate — and we’re never given a definition — we can end the drawing:

Add Skin Mapping

→ Texture Variation

→ Pores and Lines

→ Veins

→ Subtle color variation

→ Fine hair

These are just two examples of the Flow Chart series, which appears in Analia Saban: Synthetic Self, an ambitious, two-gallery solo exhibition by the LA-based artist. Spread between Sprüth Magers Gallery and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery (about a 15-minute drive from each other on a good day), the show features new works by the artist that span paintings, tapestries, and sculptures, with a deep dive into digital life.

Fans carved from marble slabs appear throughout the show, sprinkled with gravitas that belies the humor of crafting mundane objects in marble. Upon close inspection, we see an apparent typo in the inscription on them — “rotaion” — that is actually on the original fan Saban sourced for the sculptures. The work “functions as a lighthearted trace of globalized trade and miscommunication,” notes the exhibition text. The pieces pair well with a series of tapestries depicting computer fans, displayed as racks of various fans with wires weaving in and out of them.

Installation view of Analia Saban: Synthetic Self at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery. Floor: “Computer Fan #3” (2023), marble, 29 x 29 1/8 x 6 1/2 inches

Every day we use computers to send emails, look up information, and, increasingly, interact with generative AI tools like ChatGPT and Midjourney. Like the algorithms in the Flow Chart series, these systems rely on processes and logics that have been developed through rules in the system. At the same time, they require a significant amount of computing power. The digital is physical, and the computer fans remind us of that reality, even as they remain largely invisible in daily usage.

Some of the most gorgeous works are in the Motherboard series, which features actual computer motherboards that Saban has covered in printer’s ink and mounted on walnut frames. Similarly, the artist renders microchips in laser cut oak, making them larger than life to help us dive in, visually, and weave through all the intricate lines and interconnections of objects. These detailed views reveal the maze-like quality of the hardware that makes our digital world possible. 

When we consider the fact that these chips can be 90 nanometers or smaller in size — the average human hair is about 50,000 nanometers in diameter — the scale is a reminder of their outsize impact on our lives. And as abstract artworks, motherboards and microchips are both beautiful aesthetic objects and functional ones. They’re made of rare earth materials, and they require a lot of energy to function. They also create spaces for learning, discussion, and exploration, just as they’re doing right now to allow you to read this article.

If Saban is asking anything of the viewer, it’s to look deeply at the full stack of computing and ask where — or whether — the beauty can be found. On the one hand, there are the abstract diagrams of her Flow Chart series, which reveal the odd logics of algorithms and code. On the other, there’s the sheer physicality of the servers, fans, and motherboards that give us the so-called “cloud.” Through textural, analog works that neither beep nor boop, the artist has crafted a poetic commentary on our digital existence.

Analia Saban, “Motherboard #12” (2023), ink on computer circuit board, 9 3/4 x 8 1/2 x 2 inches
Analia Saban, detail from Motherboard series
Analia Saban, “Flow Chart (Prompt Drawing: Right Hand / Left Hand)” (2023), graphite on encaustic paint on panel, 36 x 48 x 2 inches
Analia Saban, from the Cooling Rack series (2023), woven copper wire and linen thread
Analia Saban, “Flow Chart (Prompt Drawing: Rat)” (2023), graphite on encaustic paint on panel, 48 x 73 x 2
Analia Saban, “Voodoo1, 3Dfx, 1996, Oak” (2023), laser-sculpted oak wood, 67 x 43 1/2 inches

Analia Saban: Synthetic Self continues at Sprüth Magers Gallery (5900 Wilshire Boulevard, Mid-Wilshire, Los Angeles) and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery (1010 North Highland Avenue, Hollywood, Los Angeles) through October 28. The exhibition was organized by the galleries.

AX Mina (aka An Xiao Mina) is an author, artist and futures thinker who follows her curiosity. She co-produces Five and Nine, a podcast about magic, work and economic justice. 

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