I’m typing on my phone and suddenly (like that Skittles advert) it collapses into dust, powdering through my fingers. Between a pixel and a hard place, where virtual pollen can make you sneeze, I’m lost in the sense of a place or feeling. Gliding through a brick wall.
In our digital utopia, painting seems a strangely conservative medium to explore the glossy highways of a mostly virtual reality. Searching for magic and the distorted image falling from your iCloud tackles this in an exhibition meditating on a traditional medium’s identity in the digital age.
We are greeted into the space by an eerily impersonal mirage. The first paragraph of the press release is a hallucinatory but mundane sketch. It reads as a docile second person description, heavy with symbolism: a vague image, a wilted flower, a stale coffee. The text reveals the exhibition’s agenda: to confront a place where things don’t always fit together. Where conflicting objects – digital and analogue – mingle, straddling the boring and the exciting just enough to keep us sedate.
Though the scene suggests we are comfortable in our passivity, Searching’s world is not one comfortable with technology. Rather, the exhibition plays on the tensions between the world we have created so far, and the one we imagine to be inhabiting. This is a world of indecision (Das Balloon), computer error (Konrad Wyrebek, Siebren Versteeg), argument (Jonas Lund) and perverted fantasy (Michael Pybus). Here are fleeting interactions and altercations between dust bunnies and the App Store, bin juice and iPads.
It’s given then to ask, how does traditional painting interact with a world it seems so alien from? Searching plunges the medium into a full frontal face off with a world it really doesn’t fit into.
Josh Reames’ smoggy graffiti paintings are confrontational, undercutting serious technique with silly imagery. He combines Ryman-like white impasto with hyper-real cherries; slime green Instagram story text with sloppy, pink Guston-ish brush strokes. In a rendering of a back wall he seems to remind painting not to take itself too seriously.
Wendell Gladstone’s Sun Moon and Stars squashes a vacuum-formed Bruegelian clutter of figures into the arms of a Duccio di Buoninsegna–style flat Madonna. The painting is puffed up in pastels and plasticized in an endeavour that oddly hovers between CGI and the emboss effect on Photoshop.
Kristian Touborg’s work, on the other hand, enters us into a world of stoic composition undermined by an uneasy splicing of sad and soft visions of cars, dirty nebulae and door handles. I imagine Emotional Algorithms was constructed by a watery-eyed Sophia, in the basement of a former Starbucks.
The digital work in the exhibition takes a back end wiring of a painterly sensibility. Jonas Lund’s video imitates the action of painting, layering and endless pop up windows. The piece clogs a screen with live stream tweets about Trump in a chaotic choreography that nudges toward A Painter’s Process. Siebren Versteeg masks his process, instead, presenting a dynamic and confusing final image composed by an intelligent algorithm, with all the symptoms of a painting flattened into a single layer print.
The works in the exhibition take on an investigation into themselves. Working through its incompatibility with life 2.0, an expired medium finds a peculiar new opportunity. The paintings are bizarre and uncanny, funny and serious, arguing with themselves in an intranet of hazy art history references and crude jokes. In confronting its flatness and out-dated modes of expression, painting finds an inventive and invigorating level up from the swamps of zombie formalism.