Zach Nader: stage blind
Brooklyn, New York
February 17–March 26, 2017
The six photographic prints and three video works of stage blind comprise Brooklyn artist Zach Nader’s second solo exhibition hosted at Microscope Gallery, and act as a follow-up to his 2015 exhibition channel surf (January 9–February 16, 2015), which, in line with his current work, investigated advertising photography, software editing, and screen-based image consumption.
The photographs of stage blind are reasonably scaled (25 in x 35 in) and loosely spaced on the wall. The video pieces are spliced throughout the show. The single-channel HD video stage blind (2016, 3 min., 6 sec.), the exhibition’s namesake, is displayed on a television screen propped on the floor and leaning against the wall, while trace shadow (2017, 4 min., 39 sec.) plays on a screen hanging among the prints, and cascade (2017, 16 min., 11 sec.) is projected in a nook set off from the rest of the show. The exhibition altogether coalesces into a continuation of Nader’s past explorations of advertising photographs, television commercials, and the technologies that mediate them, which have offered him rich wells of source imagery to draw from. There are distinct performative and symbolic actions that can be interpreted in Nader’s work, with which he conducts digital re-authorship to interrogate the aesthetics of commercialism as an act of visual criticism.
Nader’s point of departure for these new works is the consideration of the politics of advertising images and the technological devices that guide them on the journey from creation to consumption. It is our relationship to images that provokes him to consider how pictures are programmed to program us. Nader’s aesthetic interventions act to interrupt this feedback loop, fishing fashion ads and other commercial imagery from the picture river, and inducing upon them a vigorous algorithmic interrogation to question how they act upon us. His concerns begin with the idealist aesthetics of commercial imagery, but also call into account the means and ways in which they are transmitted and encountered, and the itinerant qualities of digital pictures as their existence modulates between cameras, screens, software systems, networks, and physical spaces.
Nader’s handling of his source images transform the glossy promises of advertising pictures into obfuscated digital compositions that induce aesthetic trauma upon the original image sources. There is an indelible antagonism that Nader unsheathes to confront his source material, not only to counteract commercialism’s glamour, but to redefine it into an altogether grotesque digital logic. In his photographic prints, Nader’s source pictures are rephotographed from the screen, purged of color, and subjected to fractured spatial planes and extreme algorithmic treatment. The artist exerts an ownership over what John Berger would describe as “publicity pictures,”¹ usurping them from the daily feed, and enacting upon them an aesthetic violence; in essence pummeling them until they are no longer recognizable. When viewing the works I couldn’t help but imagine Nader surveying his completed pictures like the winner of a street brawl, standing over his victim and mockingly asking, “What now?!” Against the ever-present onslaught of commercial promise we’re subject to in nearly all moments of our media-thirsty lives, Nader acts as defiant counter-puncher.
The video works of the show complement the still imagery, offering divergences from source material with heavy-handed digital editing, and utilizing motion in repetitive and derivative ways that recall the basic frameworks of commercial video formulas. trace shadow is a fluid animation of contour drawings of human figures fading in and out, overlapping and interrupting each other in ongoing competition. The work is made entirely from layered advertisements stripped of detail until only figurative ghosts remain, hollowed out and set to float upon empty white space in a free-form embrace of disassociation. While the outlines of figures are expressed in well-articulated gestures, they morph and transform so fleetingly that they are barely allowed to cross into a narrative mode before they shape-shift again.
cascade, while not the title piece of the exhibition, may be the feature of the show. The vertically oriented video is projected in a darkened seating area in the back of the gallery. It features a tightly rhythmic scene of a male figure walking into the frame from off screen, and into a room that appears to be a domestic space, over and over again in intervals that are shorter than three seconds. Each permutation of this action is accompanied by ongoing shifts of color and video rendering, allowing the digital algorithms of the imagery to declare their making known.
The video, much like Nader’s work as a whole, performs a séance to summon digital specters from within his source images. Surfaces are stripped away, revealing the intrinsic tools and visual logics utilized by software algorithms to construct their illusions. Our lives are subsumed in images, and we are bound to interpreting our world according to the surfaces of things. Underneath, beyond the politics and psychologies of the aesthetics of “better,” are images run on data streams and number sequences. Nader breaks images to outline their underlying math, points to the transitory paths they travel through, and illustrates how horrific it can be when the stage is stripped of its curtains. What is left in stage blind are actors shivering naked and mutilated before their spectators. Rather than feel shame, they continue to perform coldly within the confines of picture frames.
Excerpt of “cascade” 2017, by Zach Nader. HD video, 16 minutes 11 sec. Courtesy Zach Nader and Microscope Gallery.
GREGORY EDDI JONES is an artist and founding editor of In the In-Between: Journal of Digital Imaging Artists.
NOTE 1. John Berger, Ways of Seeing (New York: Penguin, 1972), 129.