Jeremy Cimafonte at First Continent reviewed by Terence Hannum
In Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly, a 1977 dystopian science-fiction novel about a future drug culture, protagonist Bob Arctor offers a running one-sided commentary on the purpose of a scanner and its ability to sample and fragment meaning.
What does a scanner see? he asked himself. I mean, really see? Into the head? Down into the heart? Does a passive infrared scanner like they used to use or a cube-type holo-scanner like they use these days, the latest thing, see into me – into us – clearly or darkly? I hope it does, he thought, see clearly, because I can’t any longer these days see into myself. I see only murk. Murk outside; murk inside. I hope, for everyone’s sake, the scanners do better. Because, he thought, if the scanner sees only darkly, the way I myself do, then we are cursed, cursed again and like we have been continually, and we’ll wind up dead this way, knowing very little and getting that little fragment wrong too.
There’s a similar tragicomic thread running through the untitled exhibition by San Francisco based product designer Jeremy Cimafonte at First Continent, which offers a range of vague yet familiar images, all procured through the aesthetic lens of two types of scanners. First the virtual and interactive, featuring a working LIDAR scanner, while the other half is more visual, more of a flatbed scanner, being composed of scanned and enlarged 2D images from magazine spreads printed on aluminum, giving Cimafonte a visual and virtual loop.
The LIDAR scanner is stationed in the center of the gallery, the spinning black disc captures the viewer into its black hole-like electronic aperture. Using light and radar (Lidar) it surveys the room to find you and all the other viewers like outputting positions in an alien topology. The LIDAR scanner searches the exhibition for proximity, displaying its abstract and ever changing map on a monitor that you must bend down to peer into.
Typically this technology is used in geology, atmospheric physics, and archaeology but here the LIDAR scanner represents the audience as glowing blue arcs moving about the space. The crowd appears aimless and lost as it pauses and moves on, like a lo-fi trace buried in the circumference of a target. What is so engaging about the piece is the new translation of space and trajectory, flipping your perception of yourself and the space into an unfamiliar interpretation.
On the walls, the untitled images presented are innocuous and generic. Dire warnings are caught in the scanner bed: fighter jets, refugees, climate change and other popular topics are presented after being scanned, attempting an anemic connection between these disparate issues and the act of being seen.
All the images seem to have been gathered from an issue, maybe the same issue, of Outside Magazine, an American magazine focusing on the outdoors. The gutter of each spread remains as a formal reference, suturing two sides together. You can also see the vertical strata of the pages before and after the selected spread to the far right and left margin, presenting planes or natural scenes removed from the context of their story or, concerning the ads, the demographic.
A caption may remain, or a GMC logo that proves that the images are real, gleaned from a magazine that exists in the world. There is a sense of the schizophrenic here, between what is real and what is presentation – between an advertisement and a feature story. Between an actual magazine you hold versus the reproduction of what you would hold.
On one hand these works present a Richard Prince or Sherrie Levine-style act of removing the authorship of the image, here the act of rescanning or re-photographing. The new context for these large journalistic and mass-market images is made more anonymous by their large scale and absence of context from other pages. However, attached to each aluminum-mounted picture are smaller images: snapshots. These mementos are either held in place with magnets or paperclips, like an informal scrapbook. Although most depict similar landscapes or nature, these snapshots interrupt the view, they change the framing but also obscure the meaning further. There are very few clues to assist in structuring meaning out of the images themselves. They look like magazines, well shot and scanned at a passable resolution, but the interruption of the analog is where their surface is punctured.
The presentation of the magazine as a dying form of media, in the gallery statement print is called a “dead man walking”, is interrupted by the quaint if not obsolescent snapshot sized images. These are perhaps the opposite of scanning and enlarging – they are intimate and lo-fi, even retro.
When discussing magazines the rumor tends to be espoused about the “death of print.” It’s been around a while. It gets recycled here and there, but never proven to be true. If anything, I am more convinced whenever someone talks about the death of a medium, whether print, painting, vinyl, or cassettes, the speaker is expressing their own frustration with living in a complicated world. It signifies the fear of erasure or longing for simpler times. The old ways have to die for them to deal with the new world. Although resurgences can seek to confound our perceptions of living in the future moment, for example the reports of the cassette resurgence and the subsequent backlash.
I would argue that the defining element of the 21st century is that actually nothing ever dies. If fact, we can be in touch with more ghosts now than ever before. Like Hologram Tu-Pac, or back catalogues of unknown soul records, things missed from decades ago can be brought back and reconsidered. Even the humble magazine spread, fading away from our collective awareness can return enlarged in this exhibition, immortal in memorials.
But what does a scanner see? And what does the scanner tell us about ourselves. I used to work for a college library and assist in digitizing slides for the school’s ArtStor account. It was tedious work. The images would appear in lines of color on the screen and afterwards the slides would be collected and tossed. I actually didn’t mind watching a Thomas Hirshhorn or Ana Mendieta image stack itself into digital existence. Admittedly, there’s a lot of potential in being transfixed by watching the scanned trajectories of yourself and the audience as they move on, leave the gallery or stare into the gaze of the LIDAR.
The mounted photographs act more as placeholders, signposts to yield your progress on your own sweep through the space – they do draw attention to the flatbed scanning most people are probably familiar with as well as your own scanning with your eyes. However the knowledge of just the trajectory around Cimafonte’s exhibition reveals very little, but with a little more clarity – perhaps a live stream, some titles, another type of scanning technology (i.e. phase based) – the murk could dissipate and the fragments could come better into focus. Then we could really know what a scanner sees in this curious intersection of media both living and dead.
Author Terence Hannum is a Baltimore based visual artist and musician who performs solo, with the avant-metal band Locrian (Relapse Records) and the dark synthpop duo The Holy Circle. Hannum is an Assitant Professor of Art at Stevenson University. He has had solo exhibitions at Guest Spot (Baltimore), Western Exhibitions (Chicago, IL), Stevenson University, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, Gallery 400 at UIC (Chicago, IL). And in group shows at TSA (Brooklyn, NY), sophiajacob (Baltimore, MD), Allegra La Viola (NYC), City Ice Arts (Kansas City, MO) & Jonathan Ferrara Gallery (New Orleans, LA).
Photos courtesy of First Continent website. The exhibition ended February 20, 2016.