The interrelated activities of making and imitating underscore the production of much visual art. Together, these activities constitute vehicles for expressing everything from concepts to emotions to formal innovation and mimesis. Complicating things further, some artists engage in several of these modes simultaneously. Indeed, by repeating or copying something located elsewhere in time and space, artists can both collapse distances and form new connections across the present. In other instances, they might offer implicit challenges to dichotomies of truth and falsity, original and copy, or reality or fiction. Significantly, artifice can be used to both challenge and sustain illusion.
Renditions reconsiders dialectical tensions between artificiality and authenticity and historical relationships between original, copy, reality, and illusion through a twenty-first century lens. Importantly, this exhibition acknowledges that culture, history, geography and lived experience can also introduce radically different modes of perception and ways of seeing. With these vast differences in mind, this exhibition considers how artifice, representation and the nature of copies intersect with one another to shape aesthetic and social landscapes. How do contemporary artists negotiate the blurring of virtual and physical spaces, destabilise presence and absence, and implicitly question the material nature of representation and how it communicates or obfuscates understanding?
Given its historically contested reputation for unmediated description, the photographic image has long occupied a central position in the problem of representation. This remains the case in the digital era, with hyperbolically and exponentially accelerating techno-proliferation only strengthening its instability. With fluidity and mutability largely displacing the essential or transcendental subject, the artist plays an active role in both activating subjects and destabilising subjectivities. Set against the immense influence of mass media imagery an artist’s representational claims can only ever hope to be at once critical and complicit.
The assumed indexicality of the photographic image was once considered to bear a physical relation to actuality that is somewhat analogous with the way footprints constitute physical traces or ‘indices’ of footsteps. What the historical photographic image failed to reveal, however, is that framing and cropping of stilled moments represent a distortion of the continuum of reality, and that this inadequacy can be used to create fictions. With the advent of AI and advanced image manipulation technologies, this process of fictionalisation is exaggerated further, sometimes resulting in mutant composite copies without any single origin. Today, we might encounter images in an economy of multiples as a copy without an original, for paradoxically, the digital image presents us with a visible copy of an invisible or absent original. This is complex terrain. Just as Douglas Crimp once declared a plurality of copies against a pluralism of originals on the incoming tide of the postmodern, antagonisms between originality and copy are rarely present as an absolute antithesis. Sometimes, once we encounter an original after knowing a copy, we might actually prefer the copy. Some languages, such as Mandarin, possess words describing things that are neither copy nor original. In some instances, copies can even be elevated as more valuable than originals. Here, an emphasis on materiality and skill can project a physical presence that elucidates the agency of copies and their absent originals.
To confidently navigate cycles of reference to the world, we need to critically discern differences between the real, the copy, the material, and ourselves. Just as a work of art is a mutually insufficient constellation of concepts and substance, so too, the dialectic of artificiality and authenticity has largely converged in the cross-fertilised languages of contemporary art. Unlike that which constitutes a search for meaning or an unambiguous representation of reality, art is often, as Howard Singerman once eloquently put it, “motivated by a flight from interpretation”. Indeed, compelling art can thrive in ambiguity, nuance, and the presentation of multiple and contradictory perspectives. When engaging with art, it is instructive to remain alive to the way that some things can at once mean one thing and something else, yet at the same time present as artifice.
Curated by Cūrā8 and featuring:
John R Neeson