Dirty Pixels

Stella Brennan, Joyce Campbell, Michel Gondry, Sara Hughes, Tim Ryan, John Simon Jr, Martin Thompson
Curated by Stella Brennan

Artspace 12 August – 14 September 2002, also shown at the Adam Art Gallery, the Dunedin Public Art Gallery and the Waikato Museum of Art and History

Review by Chris Lorrimer in Pulp Magazine

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The pixel (the word is a contraction of ‘picture element’) is a poignant, sometimes even palpable symptom of digital culture.  Visual atomism – gridding and breaking images into monochrome, indivisible chunks – has a history stretching  from  classical mosaic to Pontillism to grainy photo I.D.. Dirty Pixels explores the anatomy of the pixel, the slice and dice of the raster grid that underlies much of our visual culture.

In spite of existing only in informational space, pixelvision colours our world view. Graphic fashion has seen the return of the pixel – bigger, bolder, more ironic.  Chunky gifs and pixel fonts recall lego-strewn bedrooms and all-night Atari binges. As consumer-electronic grainlessness approaches (Playstation2, Final Fantasy), those blocky styles have retro cachet (not to mention quick download times). Dirty  Pixels  is about ideas and attitudes that feed into and out of digital culture, about corrupting a Cartesian dream.  From Mondrian’s austerely low-res boogie-woogie to heavily compressed  jack-in-the-box porn, the grid gets grubby in the real world.
Featured works use media ranging from video to photography to embroidery to  explore life before and after the pixel:

1.  Joyce Campbell
L.A. Bloom (1999-2002)
Ilfochrome contact prints
Expatriate New Zealand artist Joyce Campbell ‘s work LA Bloom is formed from photograms of microbes gathered from around Los Angeles. From her field samples, the artist inoculates nutrient agar plates the same size as the final photograph. Days or weeks later, after the colonies of fungi and bacteria have grown into their characteristic splotches and nets, she makes contact prints of the cultures. The resulting photographs are one to one in scale, revealing in grainlessly intimate detail a kind of map of the sprawling city, formed from the bodies of its lowliest inhabitants.

2. Martin Thompson
Untitled drawings (c.1997-2002)
Ink and sellotape on graph paper

Working on standard 1mm graph paper, Thompson draws freehand, colouring directly, using tape and scalpel to graft new sections and erase errors. Thompson builds fields of intricately swarming blocks , shapes with intimations of stars, pac-men and snowflake patterned knitwear. Order and symmetry are apparent, but at times the images almost teeter into white noise. The drawings’ creased and dirty edges betray the time and labour contained in their construction.

3.  Stella Brennan
Tuesday, 3 July 2001, 10:38am (2001-2002)
Cotton on canvas
A pixel-by-pixel needlepoint embroidery of the desktop of the artist’s computer.

with thanks to Josephine Brennan, Claire Brennan, Steven Davies, Vikki Henderson, Juliet Pang, Nova Paul, David Perry, Steven Ritchie, Elaine Robertson, Hanna Scott, Nichola Trevithick, Siobhan Garrett, Tracey Wedge.

4.  Stella Brennan
ZenDV (2002)
two channel DVD, two minutes

A two-channel video tribute to the Nam June Paik works Zen for Film and Zen TV. Paik’s Zen for Film is a clear loop which gathers dust and scratches with every playing. This wear and corruption of the film’s surface forms the substance of the work. ZenDV utilises filters built into audio and video software to apply digital dust and simulated scratches to computer-generated bluescreen and bars and tone. Unlike the gradual breakup of Paik’s loop, the simulated decay of the digital video image is changeless.

with thanks to Marc Chesterman, Jeffrey Holdaway, Kitt MacGregor, Nova Paul

5.  Sara Hughes
Software for ADA (2002)
Paint and vinyl

“Unbuttoning the coat, he thrust his hands into the trouser pockets, the better to display the waistcoat, which was woven in a dizzy mosaic of tiny black-and-white squares. Ada Chequers, the tailors called them, the Lady having created the pattern by programming a Jaquardd loom to weave pure algebra.”
William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, The Difference Engine

6.  White Stripes
Fell in Love with a Girl
from the album White Blood Cells (2002)
video directed by Michel Gondry

“I really like the basic-ness of the music – one voice, one guitar and one drum. I like this concept, and I thought it was very close to the primary color of the Lego blocks. We shot a very basic video of the band, we edited it and then we had a program that pixelized the video, roughly the size of the Lego blocks and then we printed each frame [25 frames per second)] on paper. Then we had an animation team building up Lego blocks to match each frame. Then we reshot each of those frames on a film camera. We didn’t have enough Legos to do more than five frames at a time, so after five frames were shot [the Legos] were demolished to build the next five frames.”
with thanks to Shock Records

7.  John Simon Jr.
EveryIcon (1997)

Simon’s work is a classic of Net Art, software that generates an evolving, ever-changing black and white grid. Within the rigid constraint of a monochromatic 32×32 grid (32 pixels square is the standard size for desktop icons) , EveryIcon produces a flickering, mutating display. Sampling over 20,000 combinations a second, the work will eventually displaya bitmap of every possible icon – although this will take trillions of years.

8.  Tim Ryan
Crash Media (2001)
DVD projection, 62 minutes

Sydney artist Tim Ryan turns racetrack footage into boiling, tumbling smears and blocks of colour. Using source footage of car crashes , Ryan tweaks the aesthetics of malfunction, riffing on the fancy algebraic compressions we rely on to digest moving pictures and sound into bandwidth-friendly formats.

9. Stella Brennan
More Love Hours Than Can Ever Be Repaid (2003)
Colour photographs

8 by 10 inch  photographs of the face and reverse of Brennan’s desktop embroidery.

With thanks to Mark Adams and Haru Sameshima