Wafts of ginger and cilantro from the nearby Vietnamese eateries swirls around the propelling bus exhaust as I walk through London’s funky Shoreditch on an overcast day. Though I (embarrassingly) have not yet visited before, the unexpected island of pristine glass of the Flower’s Gallery is not hard to miss among the rickety cheap shoe shops and tabacs littered with half-shredded ice cream posters. A cool brightness takes over as I pass through the white entryway and patter along the polished concrete floors. The space is larger than expected, and there are three very different exhibitions on display – without a sense of crowding. Upstairs I find what I am looking for: a small group exhibition of works tucked away in a single, airy room.
Loosely based around conceptual photography and curated by Lorenzo Durantini, the simply presented Brush it in is a curious and intriguing grouping. As I walk through, the photo-based works seem to have very little in common at first: some gaudy and metallic, others graphic and hyper-real, there are elegant still lifes, photos stuck directly to the wall or printed on sculptural plastic creeping out of it. Subjects include vases, sneakers, tools, furniture, rocks, raindrops and abstract patterns, some insanely bright with color and others in cool black and white. Although heavily laden with banal objects, it soon becomes clear that, curatorially-speaking, the subjects of the photos are not necessarily the subject of this exhibition, a rarity in photography. Rather, it is the variegation in process and concept. It is ostensibly a formal show about the nature of today’s photography.
As its name suggests the show has a strong focus on digital photography and computer-generated imagery, ‘Brush it in’ referring to the process of making alterations to a photograph after the fact. The expression implies a hiding of mistakes or blemishes – emphasizing the multifarious ways in which to merely correct or enhance an already existing image. It hardly need be said that today, ‘brushing it in’ is part of an entirely self-contained medium; digital manipulation is a pre-intended process in which many artists fully invest their creativity in image making. Yet, although Photoshop has existed since the late eighties, the realization that a photograph has been digitally manipulated is still met with varying degrees of controversy – digital correction being ironically associated with a sort of damage, inauthenticity, or to put it more simply, cheating.
Regardless of its controversy, the process surely presents a myriad of possibilities for artists. A series of quiet still-lifes by Darren Harvey-Regan include a small gray checked pattern overlain on white objects, referring to the empty, raw areas in digital design. Harvey-Regan draws attention to this visual language developed by Photoshop, and yet, closer inspection reveals the small checks are imperfect and hand drawn, laboriously worked on, a filling of space – and not empty at all. Across the room, Antonio Marguet’s brightly hued photos of intriguingly arranged objects almost have a figurative feel to them, as the rubbery surfaces become skin-like and lush with the richly intense color saturation. Joshua Citarella’s digital collaged works are highly, obviously manipulated – the intensity in color and contrast amped to a point of ugliness. Also, Citarella’s rainbow-like square is placed catawampus on the wall, its corner slipping onto the floor. Despite its strange placement, the square is still familiar, and in fact, the image is a reproduction of the regular color spectrum in a standard Photoshop program.
The exhibition also plays with simple conceptualism – with some works more interesting than others. Though I enjoyed the Anne de Vries visually entangling metallic prints, the artist’s sculptural work of stairs made of images of running shoes was a little to ‘Get it?’ for my taste. Harvey-Regan again caught my eye with his ‘The Halt’, a simple combination of elements: an ax brutally thrust into a photograhic image of itself, stiffly flexing the photo paper into a lyrical, modernist bow. In ‘Similarly in Relation’ an image of a saw is sliced in half and either side of the paper elegantly coils downward. Both works are playful, violent and beautiful. It seems the tools, finely and dramatically photographed, magically jumped out an image celebrating their design and resisted such niceties to perform the action that truly defines their existence. We all know what it is like to feel self-destructive, right? Perhaps the works also suggest a severe breaking with traditions of Photography as a medium, by firstly defying two-demensionality and then creating an over-exaggerated gesture about the death of photography in the digital age. With a strangely hilarious and celebratory tone, the photo has left the digital realm too soon for its self-inflicted injuries to be corrected. These physical hacks cannot merely be ‘brushed in,’ – it’s only paper after all.