What's on Los Angeles | Index

by Jody Zellen

January 12, 2023

Petra Cortright
sapphine cinnamon viper fairy
Palm Springs Art Museum
September 26, 2022 – March 26, 2023

Petra Cortright

Behind the huge entry wall with a large-scale, multi-panel digitally created photographic landscape is an array of 50, same-sized monitors looping numerous different short videos created by Petra Cortright between 2007 and 2022. Cortright garnered attention with a series of video self portraits uploaded to YouTube made by posing or performing in front of the web-cam on her computer. Often these campy videos would depict her in costume, cavorting and twirling seductively for the camera. She also incorporated stock digital effects and screen savers by overlaying them into the imagery. These performative videos are juxtaposed with several screen recordings of her layered Photoshop compositions. Here, the process of building some of the digital landscapes prints on view in the rest of the exhibit is revealed.

Though not the first thing viewers see, this video wall serves as the index of the exhibition and provides the trajectory of Cortright's process. She emerged as a net artist in the early 2000s, then segued into showing videos and installations and has now transitioned to creating printed images filled with fragments of appropriated imagery, as well as her own digital/drawn gestures. While the mesmerizing video wall serves as a summary, the focus of the exhibition is her printed digital landscapes.

Five small-scale framed works — Flash Stills — serve as an entry point to Cortright's process. The label accompanying these prints relates how she created the series by hacking into the software used to generate animated screen savers to extract 'content' that she later manipulated and collaged together resulting in a suite of surreal images that purposely disrupt the calming nature and intention of the originals.

To fabricate her larger pieces, Cortright composites thousands of layers of textures and photographic imagery. While some of her pictures are her own, most of her imagery is culled from online sources. In her complex collages, she often plays with the relationships between different digital artifacts, as well as high and low resolution graphics to confound viewers about scale and source material. While some of her imagery is clearly recognizable, for example in SHIRLEY'S OF HOLLYWOOD_Seismologist essay_sea kayaker magazine SCHEMATICS GUITAR, (2021) "real" flower petals, leaves, fruit and a vase are intertwined with abstracted lines and gestures made by stroking through layers of color and imagery in Photoshop that criss-cross and obscure any photographic veracity.

Gazzetta Ufficiale SCHOLARSHIP SEARCH "smoking fetish" uk hardcore (2021) is a large-scale (59 x 84 inch) digital painting on anodized aluminum that shimmers and appears to change hues and tonalities depending on how the light reflects off its surface. The imagery resembles elements found in the landscape or seascape as it is filled with clumps of plant-life — tufts of salmon colored grass that could also be interpreted as flames. Cortright's source material is forever mutable and because she is not overly concerned with differences in resolution, these elements are repeated, enlarged, silhouetted and blurred. She unabashedly appropriates from "the endless digital realm" to fabricate works that feel both real (recognizable) and surreal (otherworldly) simultaneously. Rather than obscure her process, Cortright exhibits variations that allow viewers to compare and contrast how adding or subtracting layers changes the work. This is most clearly evident across 1 yr tbill const mat wkly_1998 election results Yavapai County Arizona, Africa Map_anime+manga+background_arbeitsbl‰tter fernsehen, Babyface_Behandlung Muskelkrankheiten.calendar 1998, and 70's television cartoons_Accommodations in Sidney, Australia (all 2022) — where a central "tree" is surrounded by different compositional elements.

Using fragments, pixels and broken down imagery, Cortright has invented a new vocabulary of paint-like gestures that are extracted and repurposed from aspects of the original source material. While she is a painter who does not use paint, her works (although sometimes printed on canvas or linen) do not transcend the digital and in fact are more successful when they embrace their "digital-ness," rather than when she attempts to mask it.

The works are abstract and ambiguous and more about reaching for a digital sublime than about the goings on in the world. That being said, Cortright's titles root the pieces in the present as they are mash-ups of words and phrases from the internet that often don't seem to relate at all to the content of the images. These titles are as enigmatic and puzzling as her imagery and harken back to her career as an internet artist. Cortright's tools are computer software and a range of digital printers, while her material is the internet. She uses these elements as artists from pre-digital eras used brushes, pens, pencils, paint and canvas. It is with insight, skill and determination that this prolific artist has mastered her tools and continues to push boundaries. Petra Cortright: sapphire cinnamon viper fairy, her first museum survey in the United States is an intriguing introduction to the range of her past and present works.