In the photorealist tradition painters deliberately began with a photograph as an acknowledgment that the technology of the camera had given us a new layer of reality as legitimate as the traditional layer of reality found through direct individual visual perception. To embrace the photograph as a starting point for a painting was to embrace a mediation of vision meant to enhance a simultaneous awareness of the permanent and transient in the perceivable world; no medium did this as well as photography. The painter renounced a need for a direct encounter with the world because advances in technology did the job better.
Sandro Kopp adds a wrinkle to all of this by painting portraits based on the digital images of people in his Skype conversations. Indeed, one of the series of portraits in the show is of Chuck Close, one of America’s most renowned photorealist painters (probably no coincidence). So we get a realistic painting of a digital image which is meant to be entirely private in nature, therefore departing from the photorealist tradition of using a medium in which the image is, by nature, meant to be shared. Yet, we still get a mediation, but it is a mediation of the process of direct interpersonal communication itself. Instead of a direct encounter with Chuck Close, the artist gets a direct encounter with digital images and audio transmissions from Chuck Close. Is this better than Chuck Close himself? How does Skype change interpersonal communication? Does it limit it, enhance it or reveal exactly what interpersonal communication is or can be by trying to replicate it?
The show is called ‘FEEDBACKLOOP’ and a feedback loop is, basically, when you do something, see the result and then your next response is more exaggerated (positively or negatively) as a consequence. So Kopp paints a realistic image of another person during a Skype conversation, then he takes that painting and runs it through a cam again to himself (with a deliberately bad wifi source) and paints another image incorporating the digital distortions. He does this until ultimately the subject becomes completely obscured through large blocks of color due to repetitive distortion – thus the feedback loop is negative in nature, causing a less and less clear image of the subject.
The final abstract image of blots of color for each (famous) person in the series can represent a sort of primordial electronic soup out of which the individual personality/identity arises or can sink back into oblivion. It is a reminder that the digital transmission of these pixels is somehow also transmitting engagement - recognizable humanity with its warmth, passion, sarcasm, envy, empathy, companionship…so then what, if anything, is missing? Should we be concerned about this form of communication? Inherent in Kopp’s endeavor is a caveat, perhaps, that Skype-like communications may begin to take the place of the real thing and one, consequently, recalls Joyce’s Bloom, who had begun to neglect his own wife Molly in favor of an anonymous erotic correspondence through a personals section in his local newspaper.
Bloom had begun to derive more gratification from the non-physical fantasy life of an anonymous correspondence than from actual physical contact with his own wife. On one level Kopp, who lives in a secluded area of the Scottish highlands and needs Skype to keep in touch with his far flung companions, may be sounding an alarm that Skype seems to be bringing this type of fantasy world or fantasy comfort to its greatest fruition. In Bill Arning’s essay for the show’s booklet, Arning points out, after all, that the porn industry is driving a lot of this Skype-like technology. It could be that Skype is using the real, visceral human to provide, at its best, a cheap form of psychological comfort that nowhere near approximates the range and depth or the effort involved in real, meaningful interpersonal engagement. Perhaps Kopp is saying, “If you are separated from your family, feel the separation, do not avoid that experience through an illusory sense of propinquity through Skype.” Or in general, if you have taken action in the world that involves your separation from meaningful others, embrace the isolation and opportunities of that, which may change you far more than hour-long Skype conversations with those you left.
An overreliance of this type of communication could be just another way to keep us inside, keep us too emotionally safe, too shielded from a sense of loss and longing, unengaged and cyber-bound instead of actively exploring and changing the world through direct experience and the risks of life. More than anything, perhaps Kopp warns us that Skype-like communication exists to save us from the isolation which we may very much need to develop any complexity, humanity or depth in our lives.
Along with Kopp’s paintings one hears a soundtrack by Simon Fisher Turner of Kopp engaged in painting. Hearing Kopp’s brushstrokes or other sounds of the painting process is comparable to seeing the pixels on the canvases - these are the individual audio-atomic elements that go into the deception of art as readily as the pixels go into the deception of Skype. Architect Alberto E. Alfonso has also configured the show with each lamella painting pivoting toward the viewer who moves through the loop of the space.
The exhibition will be open until the 6th of February.