Clement Valla — Surface Proxy
Past: April 16 → May 19, 2015
Art relies on an economy of representation. Artworks establish exchanges of meaning by creating dynamic image flows and using the essential to communicate the concept. They set up relations between subjects, objects and their re-presentation, between the visible and invisible. Marie-José Mondzain has explored these aspects in her discussion of Byzantine icons, stating that “the icon is nothing other than the economy of the image.” Mondzain argues that there is an economic relation between an artificial icon and the natural image representing it (for example God manifest in Christ), a relation that refers to “the organization and function of visibility in its relation to the invisible image, which remains the only true image.” The icon represents an absent, invisible entity or concept through a visible image evoking it. Sacred icons, in particular, are understood as acheiropoiete, not created by the human hand — they create the illusion of being miraculous representations created through divine intervention. By negotiating visibility and invisibility icons reveal themselves. Jean-Luc Nancy similarly proposes that images disclose an economy of representation, writing “The image disputes the presence of the thing. […] This is not a presence ʻfor a subjectʼ (it is not a ʻrepresentationʼ in the ordinary, mimetic sense of the word). It is, on the contrary, if one can put it this way, ʻpresence as subjectʼ […]. The thing presents itself.”
The exchanges of meaning in images have always been complex and representations have never been stable. At the same time, new technologies of representation always introduce new complexities and render the image flow problematic in different ways. Digital technologies have introduced new ways of “seeing” the world, of constructing image flows, and of rendering objects visible.
Clement Valla’s exhibition Surface Proxy problematizes the dynamics of digital images and unwraps economies of representation. The works presented in Surface Proxy are objects literally wrapped in their own representation. The starting point for these objects were iconic, intact architectural fragments, all of French origin, from the RISD Museum in Providence, Rhode Island, and the Metropolitan Museum and the Cloisters in New York. Many of these fragments came from the town of Cluny, which grew around a Benedictine Abbey and was a center of Roman Catholic power until the French Revolution, when it became a symbol of the old regime. It was almost completely destroyed in 1810 and then used as a quarry until 1823. Cluny’s status oscillated between symbol of repression and iconic historic monument and some of its relics entered US museums and collections. Clement Valla employed these historical relics as a basis for a complex process of remediation. Using 123d catch, an app that lets users create 3D scans of virtually any object, he produced 3D models of the architectural fragments. These 3D models where then digitally draped with cloth by means of the 3D graphics and animation software Blender and the surface of the original object was virtually imprinted on the cloth. After this process of digital remediation, the virtual objects were translated back into the real world. The cloth depicting the image was printed using an inkjet printer and wrapped around a 3D print of the object’s form. The object is re-skinned by its own image, in a process the artist describes as “a kind of analogue version of texture-mapping.”
Surface Proxy captures a chain of transformations: pieces of buildings were transformed from architectural ornaments in France to sculptural works in museums in New York and Providence; these relics are translated from the physical into digital 3D models and back to the physical as image objects fusing the photographic and sculptural. The objects are relics in more than one sense. They are surviving traces of both physical architectures and architectures of mediation. Their scars and deformations are visible both in the original architectural object and in the splintered image printed on the textile wrapped around the exhibited form. It is notable that the Cloisters — as one of the museums from which the works in the exhibition have been “remediated” — are themselves an architecture of fragments, incorporating segments from five European abbeys that were shipped to New York and re-constructed into a new building.
The artistic gesture of a literal wrapping of the object in its image is deceptively simple, both concealing and evoking a complex play of representation. Surface Proxy consists of things that present themselves rather than represent, as Nancy would put it. The images on the textile wrappers conceal and dispute the presence of their underlying form. They are not mimetic but as fragmentary as the form that gives them structure. They push the issue of the object’s presence to the surface and make it their subject. They come close to Mondzian’s icons in that they represent an invisible entity, a relic that morphed from a symbol of religious power to a symbol of repression to an iconic museum sculpture to a digital transformation to a veiled 3D print. The only true image is the function of the visible image capturing the invisible qualities of the complex entity it represents. The cloth wrapping the object evokes the shroud imprinted with the contours of the religious icon. As the sacred icon was not created by human hands, the wrapper of the exhibited objects is the result of software processes. While Surface Proxy does not aspire to investigate the religious per se, it still engages the image economy of the icon.
The works in Surface Proxy have a peculiar relationship to the photographic. There is a photographic process underlying the original transformation of the physical object into an image, yet the indexical relationship of the image to its reference object becomes distorted. The image has to fragment and splinter itself in order to conform to the object it strives to represent. In only one instance does this fragmentation unwrap itself within the exhibition. While scanning one of the original architectural fragments in the Cloisters, a plant unavoidably was captured, too. Rather than wrapping a 3D print of a plant, Valla decided to exhibit an actual plant next to the relic and to display the unfolded version of the wrap generated from the virtual model of the plant on the wall next to it. Living nature thereby resists presenting itself as iconic.
Surface Proxy is both a continuation of Clement Valla’s previous explorations and takes them to a new level. In his previous series Surface Survey (2014) he used software for transforming photographed objects into 3D models. The software can only “perceive” objects in fragments that ultimately should be pieced together, but Valla leaves these fragments as is, either showing them as 2D images or printing them as 3D objects that are displayed on tables, arranged on a grid structure. The image and object fragments thereby become an archeological survey of how software sees objects and reveal the computer’s logic of image creation. Surface Proxy shifts the focus to issues of representation: the image surface functions as both a stand-in and questions it own authority to represent the object.
Opening Thursday, April 16, 2015 6 PM → 9 PM