The Optical Unconscious
with John M Armleder / Nathaniel Axel / Francis Baudevin / Thomas Bayrle / Lisa Beck / Ross Bleckner / Sascha Braunig / Alex Brown / Luciano Castelli / Bjorn Copeland / Stéphane Dafflon / Philippe Decrauzat / Jay DeFeo / Trisha Donnelly / Ryan Foerster / Wayne Gonzales / Mamie Holst / Xylor Jane / Craig Kalpakjian / Stéphane Kropf / Friedrich Kuhn / Louise Lawler / David Malek / Daido Moriyama / Olivier Mosset / Oliver Payne and Nick Relph / Hugo Pernet / Mai-Thu Perret / Ara Peterson / Walter Pfeiffer / Loïc Raguénes / David Ratcliff / Peter Roehr / Nicolas Roggy / Ugo Rondinone / Alex Rose / Klaudia Schifferle / Michael Scott / Davina Semo / Stephen Sprott / Philip Taaffe / Andre Thomkins / Wolfgang Tillmans / Rosemarie Trockel / Kelley Walker / Dan Walsh
organized by Bob Nickas
This exhibition appropriates and reanimates the term first articulated by Walter Benjamin in his landmark 1936 essay, "The Work of Art In the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," and refers as well to its re-investigation by Rosalind Krauss in her book of the same name, published in 1993. Benjamin's central concern was for how photography and film had transformed perception, particularly as aligned with the practice of psychoanalysis—entwining a parallel unconscious, projections of the mind and the camera. Photography and film also transformed painting, with the assertion that it was made obsolete by them, which is still somehow taken as fact. Surrealist painting attempted to render, in part, images that only the mind, the unconscious, and the imagination could see: the reproduction of dreams. Manipulated photography, of course, would also enter into this pursuit, but nearly 80 years after Benjamin, in a world of portable computers, digital cameras and phones which capture still and moving images, early photographic works appears to represent nothing more than an antique future, a kind of promise kept. The same cannot be said of painting, which somehow always exists within its own space of time, and even in a state of suspended animation. Moreover, early photographic work ultimately led to the instantly realized pictures that almost everyone generates today, often mindlessly, reducing the photograph to a mere readymade, one which is just as instantly deleted. For the photographic, although its sense of wonder has been diminished in recent years, this gives even greater purpose to the idea of picture-making as an experiment, and it continues to be pursued in this way by artists today.
In adopting The Optical Unconscious, this exhibition considers the means of facture—whether film, photography, sculpture, painting, drawing or collage—as a medium, offering temporal points of entry to a heightened perceptual state, a kind of seance in between worlds. This is underscored by the seemingly oppositional, or even schizophrenic positions with which the works are aligned art historically, from visionary and surrealist to Op, photo realism and geometric abstraction. In many of the works in this show there is a tension between mechanical reproduction and images created by hand. The fact that the selection of works by divergent artists can be seen as promiscuous, is perhaps an acknowledgement that unconscious desires are not bound by the same frames that are imposed upon waking life, and by the need to order the world so that it may be immediately recognizable. Works which insist on a heightened state of perception help us to both crystalize and dissolve reality, and in doing so they suggest realities plural.