“We are living in an age of digitization in which artists are also inspired and affected by digital developments – by technical possibilities as well as from an aesthetic point of view. This, of course, interested me a lot – combined with the assertion that the influence of the “digital” adds a new chapter to art history – maybe as important as the invention of oil paint.”— Philipp Bollmann
Layers & Tracks
Layers & Tracks is an exhibition that examines the influence of the digital on the representation of the human figure and its traces in contemporary art. Painting is at the center of the exhibition. Despite its repeated, conceptual death declaration, the medium currently enjoys great relevance and vitality. The flood of digital images on the internet and especially in the so-called social media can neither diminish nor negate the importance of painting. On the contrary, it seems as if painting feels challenged to react, to demonstrate its strength and to include the aesthetic component of the digital.
This online exhibition focuses on two different artistic tendencies. On the one hand, works by Kathryn Andrews, Egor Kraft, Cathrin Hoffmann, and Pieter Schoolwerth that use the human figure to investigate how innovations and new technologies are changing the way we view people and how we can approach them visually in the twenty-first century. On the other hand, the exhibition presents non-figurative works by Jeff Elrod, Hannah Sophie Dunkelberg, Olaf Metzel, and Manuel Resch & Maximilian Willeit. In their work, these artists attempt to mediate between analog and digital imagery by incorporating a technology-based aesthetic. Both of the artistic approaches presented here testify to the endeavour to create images of our time through painting, clearly linked to its tradition and history, in which the digital is used as naturally as in all our lives.
The German curator Philipp Bollmann compiled the works for the exhibition. While studying art history at the Free University of Berlin, Philipp Bollmann began working for the Wemhöner Collection, of which he is still curator today. For the Wemhöner Collection he has published numerous publications and realized exhibitions, among others at the Palazzo Dugnani in Milan and the Kunstsaele, Berlin. Since 2016 he is Head Curator of the Berlin Masters Foundation and co-founder of the exhibition series Schloss Tüssling Projects. He has curated exhibitions in museums and galleries such as Marta Herford, is treasurer of the Museum of Photography in Berlin and advises private collectors on buying art.
Courtesy the artist and König Galerie, Berlin
Kathryn Andrews (USA, 1973) reveals the ways in which images and cultural symbols are, like other kinds of observable phenomena, rooted in the physical world. She does so by channeling the legacies of pop art on the one hand and minimalism on the other, often juxtaposing readymade and found objects (such as certified film props and licensed photographs) with fabricated, meticulously finished forms whose reflective surfaces call attention to the act of looking. In so doing, she examines latent power dynamics in acts of desire and consumption, and addresses the implied violence of dominant image histories from a feminist perspective, opening up new, more critically aware ways of seeing. Her work takes shape in a variety of media, including sculpture, large-scale printmaking, and performance; the viewer’s body is always an implied, and often direct, subject of her practice
Wheel of Foot in Mouth No 5 (Game of Twelve), 2019 | Aluminum, stainless steel, paint, ink, magnets | Courtesy of the artist and König Galerie, Berlin | 162,6 x 162,6 x 20,3 cm
Wheel of Foot in Mouth No 2 (Rubik's Early Work), 2019 | Aluminum, stainless steel, paint, ink, magnets | Courtesy of the artist and König Galerie, Berlin | 162,6 x 162,6 x 20,3 cm
Wheel of Foot in Mouth
In the exhibition there are two tondo’s, each titled Wheel of Foot in Mouth, referring to the wheel of fortune and the act of impolite conversation. Scattered throughout the space, these interactive works feature diverse images of faces or busts, some borrowed from museum antiquity archives and others from free internet repositories of futuristic models. Built as 2-layered “wheels,” each one has an adjustable bottom layer that can be rotated so that a changing set of images and phrases appear through holes cut out of the surface of the top layer.
Wheel of Foot in Mouth
Depending on the position of the rear panel, simple questions or statements such as Have you tried exercising? or You look great in photos. become visible, along with images of rubik’s cubes or dices, creating a playful way for the inanimate faces to carry on a conversation by choosing from a limited amount of predetermined exchanges, as if they possessed a rudimentary or primitive form of artificial intelligence.
“The artworks are meant to invite the viewer to consider their own body and personal experience in relation to the eras/times suggested in the work and in relation to the social content of the sayings on the wheels. When the viewer spins the wheels, they too are subjected to a chance operation and may land on a more or less pleasant quip.”— Kathryn Andrews
Courtesy the artist
Cathrin Hoffmann is a German, Hamburg based artist, who grew up in the 90s. Often, at first glance, her paintings seem deterrent. And despite the clear graphic visual language, the figurative shapes do not seem immediately recognizable as beings. Yet, those who connive at the alleged nauseated impulse will moreover find humor and hope in her paintings. As a visual narrator, Hoffmann looks at our society with the inherent human mortal existence of every individual. IS EVERYTHING A MYTH? That ambivalence generates her artistic tension, which is reflected in the aesthetics of the interplay of certain surfaces and becomes the mirror of our humanity.
Hello Distraction My Old Friend, 2020 | Oil on canvas | Courtesy the artist | 150 x 130 cm
“I start making ideas outside. Everywhere else but the studio. Absorbing as much as possible and making rough sketches. Then I take my sketches and refine them digitally with my drawing tablet on my computer and compose the painting. When painting digitally, I misuse an effect that adds the illusion of a third dimension only by adding light and shadow. This effect would follow every stroke I am doing and would also simulate carvings when I erase parts of the figure. It’s like painting and sculpting digitally at once.” – Cathrin Hoffmann
“The blank photoshop window is my blank canvas. I would go on shaping and drawing as long as it needs until I can visualize the feelings and thoughts which I have in my mind. So I develop a lot of different varieties and only the one that arises an emotion for myself will be chosen and immortalized on canvas. A new virtual body with its weaknesses and strangeness. All next steps are classic, just as an analog oil painter would do when painting from an original. I am the human printer and I need to start the battle with the analog canvas otherwise my digital artwork would never come alive.” – Cathrin Hoffmann
What Used To Be People, 2020 | Oil on canvas | Courtesy the artist | 120 x 90 cm
Courtesy the artist and alexander levy, Berlin
The shifting territories where reality and misrepresentation merge are home and inspiration to Russian artist, Egor Kraft. His multidisciplinary practice incorporates online and site-specific interventions, video, installation and AI, as well as traditional media, with re-emerging themes including the correlation between physical and digital, language, communication, information systems and the meaning of authorship.
Content Aware Studies
The Content Aware Studies series initiates an inquiry into the possibilities AI and machine learning technologies hold, both as tools for speculative historical investigation and means of emerging aesthetic formation. The process, developed for over a year now by an artist together with a data scientist engaged in training artificial neural networks, replenishes lost fragments of sculptures and friezes of classical antiquity and generates never before existing, yet authentic objects of that era.
The research examines how custom developed AI, utilizing the largest recent advancement in computer vision and cognition, operates when trained on datasets consisting of thousands of 3D scans of classical sculptures from renowned international museum collections (i.e., British Museum, Metropolitan, National Roman Museum etc.).
“My interest in technology lies in accepting its inevitable force to change everything we know, render what we don’t know, make us know about things we thought we knew, and perhaps even go beyond ‘knowing.’ I’m fascinated by the idea that engaging with a form of synthetic subjectivity may lead to a better understanding of what we are and how we think, as if looking through other optics than the ones we biologically inherited.”— Egor Kraft
Courtesy the artist and Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler, Berlin
Pieter Schoolwerth (USA, 1970) explores and experiments with the effects of generalized abstraction on representations of the human form in painting. Grounded in European paintings from the 16th to the 19th centuries, his works are complex compositions combining drawn, printed, and painted pictorial elements. Through his unique process, Schoolwerth traces and overlaps the contours of figures from premodern narrative tableaux to create permutations of a single hybridized time. His method reflects the destabilized process of identity construction in an age characterized by increasingly abstract social relations.
Shadows Past 9, 2013 | Oil, inkjet print and oil pastel on canvas | Courtesy the artist and Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler, Berlin | 194,3 x 147,3 x 3,5 cm
Shadows Past 9 is part of the “Portraits of Paintings” series started in 2010, in which Schoolwerth scrambles the compositions of Old Master works made between the 16th and 18th centuries. Schoolwerth methodically traces the original paintings’ individual figures, still life objects, or landscape elements, then superimposes them on his canvas to create one hybrid mass. His sources have included works by Pieter Bruegel, Abraham Bloemaert, Thomas Cole, Dosso Dossi, Jacob van Ruisadel, and Eugène Delacroix.
“The starting point for the Portraits of Paintings, is to go back to a pre-Modern, pre-Abstraction period, long before photography or the digital occurred, before the web occurred, to a time when we could say, with a good degree of certainty, that the body was stable and something closer to whole. Humans had a much more one-to-one relationship with each other and the social was perhaps more clearly articulated. If I could a find a point in history where the body was under control I could use this as a constant in the scientific sense, a ground of sorts, to go back to in order to negotiate the new body today that is unstable.”— Pieter Schoolwerth
The technique developed by Schoolwerth to create his more recent work, like Ubiquitous Sensate Environments, follows a complicated process. First of all, the artist takes an image and makes one or more shadows. He often uses himself as a model or his friends. Then he takes a wallpaper from the internet. Synthesizes and superimposes the images like a digital collage that he prints on canvas. At this point he finishes the painting in oil and acrylic.
Ubiquitous Sensate Environments, 2019 | Oil, acrylic, inkjet print on canvas | Courtesy the artist and Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler, Berlin | 104 x 101,5 x 3,8 cm
Courtesy the artist and Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin/Paris
The work of American abstract painter Jeff Elrod (USA, 1966) explores the mutual mimesis between machines and human beings. He has employed since the late 1990s a technique that combines both manual and digital methods that he refers to as ‘frictionless painting’. Elrod works on the computer, then transposes the digital renderings onto the canvas by hand using more “traditional” techniques including acrylic, tape and spray paint or more recently unconventional ones such as printing.
Jeff Elrod resorts to basic editing softwares such as Photoshop and Illustrator in the creation of his large-scale artworks. The end result adopts the computer programmes’ format and conveys a sense of illusory depth. This confrontation between new technologies and more conventional forms of painting reveals an imagery that connects the history of painting, abstraction and digital movements altogether.
Untitled, 2018 | Inkjet and acrylic spray paint on canvas | Courtesy the artist and Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin/Paris | 185,1 x 143,5 cm
“Computers are just an extension of the paint brush. It’s not an adversarial relationship, but it is true that at one time the art world seemed threatened by computers, but that seems so old fashioned now…”— Jeff Elrod
All things fall apart, 2019 | Inkjet and acrylic on linen | Courtesy the artist and Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin/Paris | 152,8 x 147,4 cm
Jeff Elrod integrates photographic elements such as superimpositions, focus and transparency in his artistic process. The continuous technological innovation in editing tools and print technology developed his practice even further. In 2009, Elrod started to print digitally manipulated images sourced from his own works directly onto the canvas. In this new series, he investigates ways of imitating a vision defect that almost triggers hallucinations. With no focal point, the resulting blurred forms disorient the eye while the visual fields erase any coherence.
Hannah Sophie Dunkelberg
Courtesy the artist and Office Impart, Berlin
Hannah Sophie Dunkelberg (DE, 1987) is an artist who does not set any limits in her cross-media work. The starting point for Dunkelberg’s work is always a drawing or a painting, which she then develops further either in analogue or digital form. Through her artistic process, the picture becomes haptic and three-dimensional – a wall object, a sculpture or an installation.
The relief paintings exhibited in Layers & Tracks are the shaping of Dunkelberg’s drawings. They are the tangible representation of impulsive gestures that find their form carved into wood. The carved drawings are used as molds to cast a relief and are subsequently spray painted with pastel-tinted colors that slowly fade into one another.
Both relief panels are titled Rumors and each symbolize a different season of the year. The Rumors paintings are about the uncertainty of information that artworks pass on. Hinting at Susan Sontag’s essay Against Interpretation, these works are able to coax a variety of stories and interpretations from the viewer, regardless of whether they are understandable or not.
“In my works using technological machines creates gaps in the form of stuttering lines. Reality and representation drive each other on. They will never exist without each other, nor fuse – they relate, they listen to each other.”— Hannah Sophie Dunkelberg
Courtesy Wentrup, Berlin
Olaf Metzel’s main objective lies in creating three-dimensional images of our society. Metzel’s pieces are both portraits of our time and powerful material constructs. In terms of their formal aesthetics and in the elaboration of their details, his large spatial installations truly are sculptures. He draws inspiration from the pool of objects we surrounded ourselves with, as well as from the world of images connected to everyday political themes in the press. This gives rise to various allusions to everyday events, while at the same time placing his work in an arthistorical context.
Avalanche (Summer 1975) from 2015 shows enlarged and thematically grouped newspaper cuttings printed on metal, which Metzel folds against the resistance of the material. The mostly black and white sculpture looks like a wrapped newspaper that wants to be thrown away. The immortalized newspaper from 1975 tells us a lot about the present time, not by showing what we have today, but what we used to have in the past. The work is about how we used to look at text and image in the past compared to how we do in the internet age.
Avalanche (Summer 1975), 2015 | Aluminum, stainless steel, digital print | Courtesy Wentrup, Berlin | 116 x 110 x 37 cm
“In a certain sense, the work of Olaf Metzel takes on a special role in this exhibition. He uses different genres of images that have been used in newspapers and magazines. But by quoting the 1970s – as can be seen in the exhibited work – Metzel indirectly asks what our current approach to images is like. If you think about how many photos are uploaded on social networks alone today, the question of how we deal with images today arises.”— Philipp Bollmann
Manuel Resch & Maximilian Willeit
Courtesy the artist
The imagery of the emerging artist duo Manuel Resch and Maximilian Maria Willeit investigates the nature of abstract art. Their collaborative works introduce semi-comprehensible structures of abstraction embodying geometric configurations and collages arranged into a remarkable visual rhythm on canvas.
Τhe artists’ paintings seem to convey a range of narratives inspired by the post-internet age where the digital themes are completely widespread nowadays. Given the digitally rendered texture made by airbrushed techniques, spray paints and acrylics, the artists offer an unordinary perplexity with manifold dimensions into their vague visual compositions. Executed with vivid colours, thick flares of wavering brushes construct their visualizations and reflect dynamic landscapes that characteristically showcase a noteworthy coherence in style and atmosphere.
Untitled, 2019 | Sublimation print and spray-paint on canvas | Courtesy the artist | 200 x 150 cm
Manuel Resch and Maximilian Willeit
“Our work breaks the perception of reality: in the first moment they seem real, but in a second moment they turn out to be digital symbioses of artificial and natural.”— Manuel Resch & Maximilian Willeit