Pigment print scratched with a razor
14 x 18 inches
Contact Von Lintel Gallery
GRFALWKV: Christopher Russell
Process: There's a product photographers use called No Scratch that does exactly what it's name implies; it removes the white marks caused by scratches to the base of a photographic negative. But the product is unnecessary. One can achieve the same result by rubbing his nose and transferring the oil to the negative. This slippage, in which a specialized photographic product could be replaced with nose oil, gave me the first indication that there could be a physical, visceral interaction with a photographic surface.
There's another type of scratch that's more dangerous within the narrative of photographic materiality. A scratch to photographic emulsion removes a portion of the image, effectively severing the subject and disconnecting the image from a seamless reception. This is considered the worst thing to happen in photographic printing, as there's no recovering, no return to the trompe l'oeil—that confusion between the subject and its representation. The scratch challenges photography's dominion of truth and accuracy. Scratching breaks "the pencil of nature," and posits a life for the medium outside of taxonomic recording.
I was trained as a photographer, but what I make isn't photography in the usual sense. I use a digital camera, correct color on an illuminated screen and print with a mechanically controlled spray of pigmented inks to a substrate designed to capture the look of Kodak's E surface. The digital process is usurping the role of traditional photography, though it's epistemologically different. It doesn't come from the same history of scientific absolutes, but rather draws from Romanticism. A photograph offers a record of shapes and tones as they were assembled in a brief moment of time and in a specific space, while a collection of pixels are intended to be endlessly malleable, subject to fancies of imagination. It's this realization that inspired me to begin scratching into my photographs, jabbing them with a blade, forcing the hand of the artist into the plastic plane of photographic reproduction, creating a controlled chaos of jagged shapes that read from a distance as perfectly placed patterns.
Pattern: Pattern holds a twofold position in my work, it's simultaneously portrait and politic. I frequently reproduce patterns from the Arts and Crafts movement, especially those of William Morris. The designs are inseparable from the failed idealism of the movement. The idea that aesthetic reform and social reform are intertwined has a great appeal, especially given the role of wallpaper in affirming a personal value system. Wallpaper always raises the question "who would want to live with this?" Wallpaper is the very essence of reification, offering images as a subconscious value structure. Wallpaper is a reminder of values, aspiration, and a personal sense of self. It is the daily affirmation of a constructed identity. Decorative patterns are a powerful personal element, translated through a history of political futility.
Animals: My previous body of work involved ships, a romantic symbol, a place to envision oneself within the world of the image. Animals exist within my work in a similar fashion. Rather than evoking the journey itself, I'm looking at the end, what was found when the boat landed, the flatness of adventure, after desire is reconciled with lived experience. I'm struck with the idea that after abandoning literature, Rimbaud went to Africa and became not only a successful trader, but a naturalist as well. At the end of his great Romantic voyage he took a close, detailed look at his chosen environment, and made drawings, ostensibly reabsorbing flora and fauna into Romantic imagination. The animals are a continuation of previous themes in my work, though taken from at a different point on the imaginary route. There's also an element of empathy evoked in representations of animals, a willingness to accept their vulnerability that builds a narrative connection to the work.
GRFALWKV: As a title, GRFALWKV is like reading in a dream, or describing a feeling without a distinct name. It's a default of communication, a playfully harsh web of velar and labiodental sounds.
In terms of the narrative text, it's a collection of endings: an early permutation of the sublime as an emotion ruled by terror, rumination on the imagined blast zones of world war three and the dehumanizing effect of art world/academic success.