Everything old is new again

Artists degrade technology to find fresh content

By Cate McQuaid
Globe Correspondent / August 4, 2010

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Through most of the history of visual representation, the fruits of technological innovation have dazzled and beguiled viewers, until they become old hat. Now technology advances so quickly, there’s almost no time to adjust. People absorb HDTV, 3-D movies, and whiz-bang CGI like sugar, hearts speeding and eyes wide. The quality of the image is more important than its content.

“Refresh,’’ a group show at Axiom Center for New and Experimental Media organized by Yuri Stone, offers up work by artists who purposefully degrade video and animation images to change content.

“Lossless #3,’’ Douglas Goodwin and Rebecca Baron’s remix of snippets from a digital version of John Ford’s western “The Searchers,’’ is the gorgeous centerpiece of the show. Goodwin and Baron have removed key frames from the DVD. In their video projection, we recognize the landscape, but portions of scenes fade out pixel by pixel, slow pans bleed like watercolors across the screen, and men on horseback at first appear blocky, then shimmer and disappear. It’s hypnotic. Content is still the backdrop to image here, but the tropes of the Western tell us what to expect. We need that familiar framework to appreciate these weird, lush, and painterly effects.

Nick Briz’s video “A New Ecology for the Citizen of a Digital Age’’ is an avalanche of collaged video images that merge into eye-popping patterns — nothing new, until Briz appears and, with a sweeping gesture, wipes out the imagery, leaving white space. Then the pictures crowd in again; there’s even a video under Briz’s shirt. It’s an affecting battle of man versus media.

Some of the art here simply looks grainy and low-tech. That can work when you push it far enough: Rosa Menkman has reduced a digital self-portrait down to a blipping code of colored dots, which at one point coalesce into an actual picture of her. In a similar effort, Clint Ennis takes a video of a plane crash down to its ascii code of letters, numbers, and slash marks, reducing tragedy to mere information.

But Andrew Rosinski’s glaring, abstracted rendering of a beach in Betamax (according to a poem scrolling in tiny text below) is aggravating because it’s so sketchy and grainy. I suspect Goodwin and Baron and Briz scrub and erase their videos with high-tech tools, and that approach, rather than nostalgia for old-timey image quality, gives us something new and unusual to look at. Once again.

‘Road’ trip
Walking up the steps to “On the Road,’’ a group show at Suffolk University Art Gallery, the first thing I saw was Christopher Faust’s wall mural, “Utah,’’ of a road, bracketed by plains and then mountains, spooling into the distance under an enormous sky. I’ve driven across the country a couple of times and experienced a New Englander’s exuberance at the Western landscape unfurling through my windshield. Faust captures that, which for me is the best part of a road trip.

The rest of the show doesn’t break out the way Faust’s painting does. It’s internal and self-reflective, as much autobiography as travelogue. It doesn’t have the escapist thrill I’d expect of a show about being on the road.

Hannah Cole, better known as a painter of scenes through her car windows, here offers photographs shot through them, pin-pricked with text. The blurring side of a truck reads “proof of insurance,’’ as if the speeding truck reminded the artist to check her policy. Douglas Weathersby’s “Logs’’ are crisp, color-saturated photos with journal-type entries and lists printed over them, such as “Trip Stuff Organized, Feb. 9th, 2010,’’ with carefully folded clothes, a passport, and other items neatly sorted on top of a bed.

But these are extraneous details compared to those in Gretjen Helene’s text-heavy “Epic Journey,’’ which recounts a cross-country motorcycle trip. Here the incantatory and revelatory text runs alongside small, glowing photos, as Helene reflects about relationships — with strangers, with her traveling companion, with herself. The intimacy of “Epic Journey’’ is a delightful counterpoint to Faust’s expansive mural. The other two, though, feel stuck somewhere in the middle, in the artists’ heads.

Tiled up
You have to touch Japanese artist Yamazaki Nobuko’s playful, sly tile sculptures at Keiko Gallery to appreciate them. A row of neatly folded shirts covered with small tiles sits along the gallery’s front window. Touch one, and, surprisingly, it gives: It’s a soft sculpture, made with terry cloth and covered with small porcelain tiles. In addition to the shirts, Yamazaki has on view bathing suits covered with an abstracted koi fish pattern, and “Rose Dress,’’ which she purposely hangs and drapes over a shelf to show how it moves like fabric, although you might not want to wear it — the dress weighs 20 pounds. Many of the pieces, such as the shirts, are pillows, with zippers evident.

Yamazaki also makes furniture — beds, sofas — which aren’t in this show, but drive home her blend of hard and soft, armor and flesh — a witty, unexpected union.

Cate McQuaid can be reached at


At: Axiom Center for New and Experimental Media, 141 Green St., Jamaica Plain, through Aug. 28. 301-455-3722,


At: Suffolk University Art Gallery, 75 Arlington St., through Aug. 27. 617-573-8785, suffolkartgallery.html

YAMAZAKI NOBUKO: Protected Comfort

At: Keiko Gallery, 121 Charles St., through Aug. 23. 617-725-2888,