Blain | Southern may be a commercial Mayfair gallery, but it feels far more akin to its’ creative Berlin outlet, than fellow Mayfair white boxes. This is reflected in their latest show ‘Refraction.
Image of Sense’, offering an in depth artistic investigation, rather than a glossy showing of wares for an elite buyer. Curated by Peter J. Amdam, this exhibition takes a beautifully subtle look at art in the digital age. Amdam has worked with Blain | Southern previously, focusing on a strong painterly angle, which is drawn through to this new exhibition.
Something of a precedent has been set with mega shows such as Barbican’s ‘Digital Revolution’, that art dealing with new media has a standard feel to it, beaming light art, booming sound art and overbearing machinery. In essence, art that has ‘future’ written all over it. This vibrant image of art and new media focusses so much on guessing the future, it overlooks the subtleties of the present transition. ‘Refraction..’ takes a far more subdued approach. From outside Blain | Southern’s vast windows, it appears as a modern painting show, with the odd bit of sculpture. It’s only on closer inspection that these ‘paintings’ fall away to reveal their digital influences. Rather than simply looking at ‘new media’ art, Amdam presents a view of the route that painting has taken, amongst this modern change. He doesn’t present it as a dying form, he offers it up as something that is transitioning, painting and technology merging together in delicate and engaging ways. This is integration, not domination.
The artists themselves are imaginatively chosen. Timur Si-Qin is a favourite, with two works that both reveal their digital influences on closer inspection. The insipid pinks suggest at a modern influence, relating more to the plastic world than the painterly art world. One gigantic canvas that looks like a simple spot painting from a distance, reveals tiny, identical peace signs and printed words in close proximity. The surface texture most definitely suggests painting, while the perfection of the UV prints hint at a state of lost purpose, where no hand painted line could compete with the precision of a computer. Is this the biggest change to painting since the creation of the camera?
Michael Manning’s work also sits at the tipping point between painting as we know it and digital realisation, again questioning the role of the artist and the importance of technical authenticity. Even with your nose almost scraping the surface, it’s very difficult to ascertain whether his canvases are digital or hand painted. There are areas that are slightly too clever to have been conceived by hand and colours that overlap and glide slightly too satisfyingly into one another. But, at other points it looks entirely genuine. His one openly digital work, a slowly changing formation of colours on an LED screen, holds all the qualities of a canvas - flat, smooth, simple - with the machine barely visible. This functions as a painting, minus the paint.
Ida Ekblad by contrast creates work the old fashioned way - archival b & w prints, spray paint - that take digital aesthetics as their starting point. The sculptural pieces shown here are also almost archaic in their analogue clunkiness. Bill Viola’s Information from 1973 reveals the messy starting points of the merging of art and technology, now on throughly outdated media.
All in all, this show appears to be a celebration of the awkward stage that painting and the wider art world finds itself in at the moment. Rather than look on these mutations of old and new as a sign of the future or the loss of the past, they are celebrated in their current state. The merging sitting as a form of art in its time. Art has been refracted by new media, not destroyed. Just knocked slightly off course, now aiming on an altered trajectory.
Refraction. The Image of Sense will be running until January 31st 2015 at Blain | Southern, 4 Hanover Square, London W1S 1BP
Words by Emily Steer