Accessing the World through Zeros and Ones – by Luisa Duarte
Internet, messenger, skype, webcam, mobile phones, these are all communication technologies that make interactions without “real” contact possible. Two people can “talk” for days, months, years, without the need to occupy the same space or time. This is a recent phenomenon that reverberates in social relations, but also resounds in the sphere of images.
Felipe Cama is alert to these profound changes that operate today. In his current exhibition at CCSP the artist shows two works, the first, “Modigliani x Alexandra”, consists of two large photographs, extremely similar, displayed face to face. Both images were found on the internet and then altered by Cama, who reduced the number of pixels – the particle that shapes digital images. After this process, one sees huge colour mosaics, which disclose forms that suggest a woman posing for a nude.
These are appropriated images: a painting by Italian painter A.C. Modigliani (1884-1920) and an anonymous porn photograph, received by email. Being submitted to the same pixelation process, the painted image – unique, of great artistic and market value – and the porn photograph – just another amongst a million – lose their “hierarchical” distance, revealing a disturbing closeness. Cama’s operation leave Modigliani’s nude on a par with the hot girl that claims to be called Alexandra.
If, at their origin, the images have a completely distinct nature, once online, both the painting and the porn photograph become digital images ready for immediate consumption. Even the unique work of art, made to be admired “in situ”, ends up stripped of its materiality, circulating the net in the form of digitized images on several websites. The painting shifts from its original physical state of paint and canvas into pure digital information, which is then reproduced on a scale never seen in the times of analogue photography.
This new form of circulation may create viewers only used to seeing images through filters, oblivious of the original reference. Just as the compulsive consumption of internet pornography creates more viewers who never wonder how these images are produced, distributed and consumed. In no stage of this cycle do the images physically materialize. The author of the images and the girls depicted are anonymous, untraceable. They only exist in the form of electric impulses. Nothing materializes. Everything is “re”-presentation. Not presentation. It is the seminal difference that rules our times. Today, in the form of pixels, art history classic works mingle with prosaic porn pictures.
In the other work on this show, the artist establishes a dialogue with the collection of the institution. On a wall, seven light panels show numerous zeros and ones in movement. By the side of each panel, there is a tag with a painting’s technical specifications. The light panels show binary codes which represent the paintings referred to in the tag or, in other words, the very image in digital language. Cama chose seven nude drawings from the collection digitally reproduced in the institution’s website. Right there, in front of us, works by famous artists such as Tarsila do Amaral, Milton Da Costa and Anita Malfatti. Instead of seeing the works, we get to see the codes that digitally constitute them.
Here the artist follows his research through the universe of digital images and questions the relationship between spectator and public collections, whose visibility in Brazil is almost nil. It’s a conceptual work in the early 21st century. In the 60s, J. Kosuth created the work that has become an icon for this trend, “One and Three Chars (1965)”, made out of a chair, the photo of this chair and the definition a dictionary offers for the word “chair”. Art has become less visual and more discourse. Today, making a comment of this nature requires different codes. Felipe Cama is aware of the new rules of the game, thinking critically about the place of art in this present time, that represents itself, aseptically, not by words anymore, but by zeros and ones.
Text for the exhibition Felipe Cama, São Paulo Cultural Center, 2007.