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Digital Skins (Katrina Van Tassel Projects)

Katrina Van Tassel Projects Presents:
Curated by Christian Ruiz Berman

Featuring work by:
Jon Blank 
Leopold Masterson 
Kris Scheifele

Show runs from July 17- Aug 7
34 1st st. Ny Ny 

“The skin is a boundary, a border or dividing point, the last point to be able to add, subtract, divide, multiply, cancel everything around us, the last point, container and contained, able to envelop physically vast areas. Mobility enables man to contain a large quantity of things with his skin in different, continuous periods with contact, impression, consciousness, discovery, grasp, repulsion, actions which are a continuous development or unrolling of one’s own skin against other things or on itself.” -Giuseppe Penone, 1970

This show highlights the work of three artists who tackle the interplay of concrete vs. digital identity. Jon Blank, Leopold Masterson and Kris Scheifele transcend the boundaries of medium, arriving at work that speaks concisely and compellingly about the fragmentation and reinvention of the self in the digital age. The works in this exhibition are fresh and inventive, but also reference and re-examine ancient forms and materials. Here, we encounter a clear and palpable link to the myth-weaving and monument-making of classical antiquity. Visual cues and material processes place us in the age of facebook and 3D printing, and from this complex vantage point we are asked to ponder the evolution of the heroic narrative. All three artists are concerned with the physical annotation and translation of emotional information within the context of a wired society. Although much of the ideological and material concept is drawn from interactions with the digital world, the emotional and personal impact that these artists produce would not be possible without the physicality and personal touch that is ingrained in these handcrafted avatars. 

In Jon Blank’s Monuments, the line between real and illusionistic space is obscured, and three dimensionality is continually lost and re-found. The deceptive forms perpetually elude capture, simulating the constantly mutating relationship with our own online presence . The Monoliths actualize the digital space found in architecture and design programs, where flat space is given the illusion of dimensionality through digitally rendered surfacing. The different techniques used to cover these monoliths are all appropriated from the internet; with sources as varied as artist’s websites, painting tutorials, car finishing techniques, or collaborations with artist friends whose marks are distinguished or idiosyncratic. These pseudo monuments feign to immortalize the ephemeral nature of the internet by inscribing public personal information about the artist. This type of information could be considered banal or unimpressive, yet we are constantly captivated by it on social media. The specific information that is trolled for (“because you liked,” “highly recommended,” etc) has been automatically collected by public websites or social networking programs that Blank is currently active on, and reconfigured to create a simulation of the artist’s “being.” In Kenneth Goldsmith’s conceptual piece “Printing out the Internet,” the artist invites anyone to print out the infinite realm of information stored online. This may be an absurd task, but in absurdity there is sometimes truth- perhaps truth that is not yet understood. When looking through one’s own “public personal information,” one can scrutinize the most seemingly unimportant data, triggering memories and psychoanalytical thought. A stranger may only see the avatar in this jumble of information, a collection of likes and interests, and miss the reasons why these qualifications have come to exist. An online surfer may also find commonality in weeding through another’s interests. At times, they may find information and think, “I like that,” or “we should be friends?” On the other hand, in the possession of a corporation or government that is vying for our information, we are left exposed and vulnerable. In an age where privacy is no longer a cherished ideal, we have been relegated to a place where our “self" has become the product. 

Leopold Masterson has many different avatars, personas, and/or nom de plumes. His practice as a visual artist is also that of a merchant of antiquity. At the moment, Lee is working for an Egyptologist in Italy, as well as an Italian renaissance jewelry dealer. The versatility of Lee’s persona is part and parcel of an era where one is able to create a plethora of identities and avatars. Masterson not only deftly navigates these invented personae, he also fills varied (and at times contradictory) roles in his everyday physical life. The work thus becomes not only a meditation on the transience of life, but also a celebration of a flexible identity. Alongside existentialism and the plurality of media in contemporary society, Masterson looks to Marx as he relates to the socialization and inevitable uses of design as a means of amassing a larger ideological movement. Lee’s work nods at everyone from the contemporary art circuit, to the Grecians, to artisans of oldest antiquity. Within this nexus of influences and ideologies, Masterson creates his own histories and personal narratives. From a maker’s standpoint, he frequently contemplates the psycho-biographical model of human development, as he feels that we are all influenced by our individual psychologies, as well as the biologic and sociologic reality we develop in. The pieces in this show speak to the imprinting and subsequent decay of information, and to the literal and figurative skins that contain our beings. Masterson states. “Having grown up in the mid-west, I am not unaware of trends, both as content and material, on the objects that I produce. The medium is the message, as Marshall Mcluhan famously stated, and reading that simple statement I have not been able to see art as too much more. I have made a ceramic vase that is printed upon, and a ceramic banana. The vessel (amphora) is not made to contain, and the sustenance cannot nourish. We live in a time where we want the ephemeral to be forever and the archival to be a gentle temporal breeze. I play in the space between.”

Kris Scheifele’s “fade” series is an emotionally charged and idiosyncratic body of work. Scheifele uses gradations created by subtle color shifts between built-up layers of acrylic paint. Referring to film and video editing, the fade is a transitional device starting or ending a scene or crossfading between scenes. Everything ends: the 'good,' the 'bad,' the moments in between. What the word 'fade' connotes is a matter of perspective. This work reflects on cycles in life as well as cycles in art. The material focus of Scheifele’s recent artistic practice has been on the physicality of paint via time-intensive process. After about thirty layers of acrylic paint are applied to a wooden panel support—then permanently pulled up from it—these sheets of paint are sliced, carved, and/or peeled. After being attached directly to the wall with nails, gravity pulls on the paint continuing to change each piece. Not only is a temporal record created by the accumulation of layers, but also by the paint sagging, stretching, and bending over time. This elasticity brings to my mind the body and skin- emphasizing the sentient and corporeal in our age of digital dematerialization. The aestheticized decay, created by cutting out oval chips with a box-cutter, suggests the moth-eaten, rot, or fire damage. We are reminded of both the temporal and the timeless; the fragility of the self and also the undying power of a beautiful object. These are works that call into question our very sense of self. They bring to mind stretched animal hides, the golden fleece, the emperor’s new coat. 

Katrina Van Tassel Projects is a curatorial endeavor in the LES by Christian Ruiz Berman and Katherine Chapman

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