HD DVD, a solo show from artist Jethro German, is the culmination of a 21-month graduate residency at New Greenham Arts, undertaken after his graduation from Chelsea College of Art and Design in 2012.
German’s work takes inspiration from a wide variety of sources, including televised sport, film tropes and news stories. In isolating particular aspects of these forms, German seeks to deconstruct and parody the framework by which we consume and process information, exposing the absurdities that pervade popular culture and the mass media.
German regularly uses found imagery in his art, working within a wide variety of media.
German’s selection and isolation of particular details observed in the media highlights the sometimes farcical way in which we consume and respond to information. Certain trends that can be observed ‘in real life’ seem to have their origins in the media; for instance, the widespread use of ‘digital camouflage’ in the military – a pixelated, computer generated pattern first used by Canadian Forces in the 1970s - responds to the digital imaging equipment used to observe it, having been ‘designed to conceal soldiers from image intensification devices (night vision).’ It is bizarre to think that a tangible, physical object such as a soldier’s uniform is designed with the media by which we might survey it in mind. The ‘real’ responds to the reproduction of the real – the design and function of the uniform is dictated by advances in technology that render the image of it, or copy, of overriding importance.
“To speak of things that one wants to connote as real, these things must seem real. The “completely real” becomes identified with the “completely fake”. Absolute unreality is offered as a real presence.” - Umberto Eco, Faith in Fakes
In Let’s Not Blow This Out Of Proportion, an image of an intricately detailed scale model of actor Heath Ledger as the Joker in the film The Dark Knight has been ‘restored’ to life size. In enlarging the image to match the height of the late Heath Ledger, German highlights the uneasy relationship between the ‘completely real’ and ‘completely fake’; the image of the action figure could just as easily be a photograph of the actor whilst in character. A review of this particular figurine on Amazon.com succinctly summarises our captivation with the kind of ‘absolute unreality’ achieved by such highly detailed replicas:
“I love this figure. The details are so real it's creepy. I took a picture of his face using my macro mode on my camera and it came out looking like a movie still. The Joker's suit is very well made and detailed. Comes with some cool accessories. Get one while you still can. You will not regret it.”
Similarly, in the work SOS, we are confronted by images of the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, in which stranded and desperate residents of the affected areas used nearby detritus to construct the letters ‘SOS’, seeking assistance from passing aircraft. In adopting these images, widely published at the time, German asks us to consider the symbolic importance of the SOS distress call when used in this way. When written out in large letters to be viewed from above, the SOS symbol seems to hold a closer relationship to scenes from film and television than to real human tragedy. Indeed, perhaps the individuals that chose to adopt this visual distress signal first encountered it in happier times, through entertainment channels when used as a narrative device. Again, there is a conflict between the real, the copy and the fake; how they relate to one another, inform one another, and how they overlap.
“The media carry meaning and countermeaning, they manipulate in all directions at once, nothing can control this process, they are the vehicle for the simulation internal to the system and the simulation that destroys the system…” - Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulacrum
The idea of the fake, as opposed to the copy, is another theme that regularly arises in German’s work. In Chainey, D'Amato & Shannon / Barker & Lowe, company signs are engraved with the names of law firms that were invented by payday lenders Wonga to intimidate debtors with threats of impossible legal action. The Lens Flare (Photoshop) works showcase the various ‘lens flare’ effect options that image editing software Adobe Photoshop offers users to ‘add a sense of realism’ to their images.4 The irony in the act of editing something to add a sense of realism is implicit. Likewise, the presence of a genuine lens flare in an image is testament to the fact that the image was created using a lens and is thus, in itself, a copy or impression of reality. The lens flare, whether fake or real, breaks the fourth wall – acting to disrupt the viewer’s suspension of disbelief.
Tropes, motifs and idioms in film and television - another area of interest for German - also relate to ideas surrounding the suspension of disbelief. Generally employed as narrative devices to drive storylines, illustrate meaning or create an impression, film tropes are essentially an unreality presented to give a greater sense of reality5. German explores this idea in his work Binocular Shot, in which a familiar visual device from film and television takes the form of a sculpture that can be looked through, walked around, and observed from all sides. Used to indicate that a character is looking through binoculars, the binocular shot is comprised of two overlapping circles that bare little resemblance to the reality of looking through binoculars - a single circular frame through which an object of study can be observed - but which acts to underline the ‘bi’ aspect of binoculars, however untruthful this visualisation may be.
“For although it is a good thing if a spectacle is created to make the world more explicit, it is both reprehensible and deceitful to confuse the sign with what is signified.” - Roland Barthes, Mythologies
Text by Jennifer Harris