What's on Los Angeles | Index

by Jody Zellen

March 3, 2022

Digital Combines
Nancy Baker Cahill, Jakob Dwight, Claudia Hart, Tim Kent, Gretta Louw, LoVid, Sara Ludy, Daniel Temkin, and Saya Woolfalk
Honor Fraser
January 19 - April 2, 2022

Digital Combines

Digital Combines, a group exhibition curated by New York based artist Claudia Hart, takes its point of departure from Robert Rauschenberg's notion of the combine— a joining of disparate mediums (for Rauschenberg, painting and sculpture) into a single work. Hart modernizes the concept, bringing together physical objects with a digital counterpoint (an NFT in the form of an animations, jpg or sound file) accessed via a QR code that is displayed on the wall alongside the work, as well as in the checklist. QR codes have become the standard way to access supplemental content that is housed online. Scanning a QR code with the camera app on a cellphone reveals restaurant menus, checklists for exhibitions, as well as didactic panels in museums. In her intelligent article in the Los Angeles Times (January 22, 2022) about QR codes and art, Carolina Miranda discusses the positive and negative aspects of this technology as a digital access point and suggests that dependency on such technologies may even subtract from the experience of viewing the art.

In Digital Combines, as well as other recent exhibitions with prevalent QR codes, it is sometimes hard to know where to start. While there is a back and forth between what is on the walls and what is presented virtually, should either one take precedent over the other? While Hart's premise was to "expand on the idea of an object by combining materials with things immaterial - whether a digital image, movie, sound or music," the digital augmentation is often just a jpg file and as such sometimes falls short of adding anything positive to the experience. When the QR code offers a surprise the Digital Combine is successful. When it reveals a digital replica of the work on the wall, it is as a disappointment.

Two animated GIF files complement Daniel Tempkin's paintings, Right-Triangular Dither 15% Teal and Right-Triangular Dither 1, 68% Grey, (both 2021). While the paintings are static geometric abstractions, the digital versions come alive with flickering movement adding another layer to the work. Tim Kent augments his oil on canvas, Data Lake: Combine (2021) with a 5 minute mp3 sound file that juxtaposes electronic music and a computer-generated voiceover. Greta Louw's digital contribution is an audio recording about artificial intelligence and the end of nature exposing the evils of technology. It nicely supplements her brightly colored digital tapestries which are filled with animal and mythological imagery. The QR codes for Jakob Dwight, Sara Ludy and Claudia Hart lead to static jpgs that only reproduce the works on the wall.

LoVid and Nancy Baker Cahill are artists who have been working with digital media for some time, exploring what can be done with augmented reality, as well as location mapping and animation. Here they have created Digital Combines where the two forms of work play off of and inform each other. Short videos that make elements within the paintings come alive are seen via the QR codes that accompany LoVid's two works. Quirky animations where two figures appear to embrace, dance or wrestle to the beat of an electronic pulse complement MT Summer / Hugs on Tape #8 and HugsCamera Skin / Hugs on Tape (Sky and Chelsea) (both 2021). It is exciting to move between the animated and static iterations while taking note of how these different mediums and methods of presentation can change the aura of the work. Nancy Baker Cahill's static images are moments or snapshots from the digital versions. Her mesmerizing invented landscapes Slipstream 17 / Slipstream 17 (cinematic) and Slipstream 18 / Slipstream 18 (cinematic) (both 2021) appear to be celestial wonders in bright hues that ebb and flow according to natural algorithms.

According to the press release, Hart's first Digital Combine contract stipulated that the digital work could not be sold separately from the physical work and that they were "two halves of a singular whole." The idea was that the digital file (or NFT) holds the works metadata and creates a single conceptual object. While the NFT market exploded in 2021, it is interesting to think about the physical and conceptual relationship between a work on the wall and a work that is immaterial, particularly in relationship to Rauschenberg. When you purchase an NFT what do you get beyond a certificate of ownership? Hart's idea of a Digital Combine satisfies those who want both— a work for the wall and a digital manifestation (that may or may not be worth something in the future).