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Image Transfer: Pictures in a Remix Culture

Exhibition explores possibilities and perils of the images that flood our lives

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Kelley Walker’s “Andy Warhol and Sonny Liston Fly On Braniff (When You Got It—Flaunt It)”

Image Transfer: Pictures in a Remix Culture

At UMBC’s Center for Art, Design and Visual Culture through Dec. 10

Sara VanDerBeek will give a lecture on Dec. 6 at 4 p.m.

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Recently a man named James Alex posted several Photoshopped images of famous works of art to his Tumblr page, setting off a cascade of imitators. He inserted a disturbing photograph of a police officer casually pepper-spraying peaceful protesters from the Occupy movement into paintings like Andrew Wyeth’s “Christina’s World.” The police officer appears to be spraying the vulnerable woman in the painting in the face. As this internet meme and countless others demonstrate, we are in the age of the mashup. Parody and appropriation have been with us for a long time, but technology has made them everyday fare. And a group exhibition currently at UMBC’s Center for Art, Design and Visual Culture titled Image Transfer: Pictures in a Remix Culture explores how artists have responded.

The touring show, which originated in the University of Washington’s Henry Art Gallery, consists of the work of 12 artists, all of whom somehow incorporate photography in their pieces. The exhibition materials compare their work—which draws from a dizzying variety of sources, including the web, advertising, social media, newspapers, other works of art, and personal archives—to that of DJ culture. The comparison is more apt in some cases than others, and often the questions the show raises have more to do with how medium influences perception than with appropriation and other remix methods. But such quibbles aside, Image Transfer remains a thought-provoking show.

Among the most striking and accessible of the works on display are those by Karl Haendel. His pieces—he has 11 in the show, haphazardly hanging or leaning along one wall—are exquisite pencil-on-paper renderings that, until you are right up close, look like photographs. “Karl-o-gram #7,” for example, looks uncannily like a photogram, in which objects are placed on photo-sensitive paper and then exposed to light. An Allen wrench, a pushpin, and other objects lie scattered, illuminated, perfectly rendered in painstaking graphite, one obsolete form mimicking another. Other pieces of Haendel’s are enormous, poster-sized. One is a reproduction of a still of Humphrey Bogart from a scene in The Maltese Falcon; another is a haunting negative image of a crying toddler, her nostrils and ears aglow and a tear running down her enormous cheek. Haendel makes appropriated images his own by dint of sheer effort.

Marlo Pascual’s sole piece in the exhibition shares this tactile quality. Her untitled mixed-media piece consists of a photograph of a carved wooden rabbit on a wooden base. Pieces of the base appear to have been chipped away by the rabbit itself, revealing actual wood beneath the photographed wood. A pile of wood shavings on the floor below add to the fantastical sense that this two-dimensional rabbit has made a foray into the three-dimensional world. To add to the puzzle of which is the “real” wood, a sheet of wood paneling covers the bottom third of the piece.

The components in Sara VanDerBeek’s work are also often difficult to separate from one another. In “Venus Inverse,” for example, a negative photograph of a sculpture of the torso of Venus is partially obscured by blocks; it is difficult to tell if the blocks are sculptural elements themselves, or if they are two-dimensional, particularly at the bottom of the image. The tall base on which the torso rests appears shadowed and creased at the top, as an object might, but where it rests on the “floor,” it becomes a graphic abstraction, with a cartoonish shadow to match. As with VanDerBeek’s other pieces, you find yourself trying to decipher how the image was made before you think to look at it as a whole.

Siebren Versteeg’s “Untitled Film IV” is, on the other hand, quite up front about its components: the “film” is simply a live feed of images from Flickr. Despite its inherent randomness, the piece is somehow captivating, capturing as it does the accidental narratives that are increasingly becoming a part of modern life.

Several other pieces in the exhibition deserve mention. Jordan Kantor’s four works are all riffs on the same photograph of a group of people watching an eclipse, and the variety of mood and narrative he brings to them evokes Wallace Stevens’ “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.” Lisa Oppenheim’s slide show, “The Sun Is Always Setting Somewhere Else,” consists solely of slides of a hand holding various snapshots of sunsets in front of an actual sunset, the “real” horizon carefully aligned with the one in the snapshot. Like many of the pieces in Image Transfer, the slide show makes one wonder how the ever-increasing bounty of images in our daily lives has affected our ability to distinguish the real from the manufactured.

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