Open CODE – by Guy Amado
Some questions have always impelled the production of Felipe Cama. From his early artistic forays it is sensitive the interest in a certain idea of image, either by their modes of distribution, circulation and reproduction in the digital and virtual culture, or the ability to establish new connections and interpretations upon going through manipulations or symbolic displacements. The fragments of the five series now displayed summarize the scope of issues and concerns that move the artist’s work.
Foi assim que me ensinaram (That’s how I was taught) , the “oldest” work in this exhibition, is the only one not to present a precious element to all others shown: the ostensive use of digital processes in its elaboration. On the other hand, is an iconic piece of the logic under which conforms the artist’s leimotiv. Small oil paintings reproduce seminal works of late modernist and contemporary art present in art history books; the record adopted by the artist on the making, however, follows exactly the characteristics of the printed reproductions, and not those of the original paintings. So the colors [or lack thereof] and dimensions [diminutive] of those paintings will be now arranged exactly as they are in the books or magazines from which they were selected, generating an improbable group of replica or delicate little canvases “as-seen-on-book”, playing with the supposed original grandeur of some of these works [of which the most emblematic case is that of the Barnett Newman there reproduced]. A game of image and representation, where the painting is a faithful and literal representation of that image which in turn is at once matrix and mere representation [printed] of the painting. In this semi-tautological operation, Felipe comments in an ironic and delectable form a typical situation of contact with the art and repertoire formation of artists and art lovers in general. These processes are traditionally built [especially in countries outside the Europe-US axis, where access to good museums is less feasible] from reproductions in books and magazines, always more within view than museums of excellence – and, more recently, also widely available on the Internet.
Internet that will have a determinant role in the subsequent oeuvre of the artist, who in it finds means and raw material for inquires around our relationship with the image – especially the electronic image: its ambiguous statute as source of a visual experience [possible], its genesis, circulation and consumption instances. It is with the support of images and tools that are within reach in the great virtual network that the artist will develop much of his oeuvre. And by the way, it should be noted here something I think is an important fact: Felipe acts parallel in advertising, for long, and much of its visual culture and familiarity in dealing with the image comes from this training – then extended in a college of art – and work routine linked to the computer screen, and it's the regime of images. Such fact, rather than context, will naturally be decisive in how the artist elects the digital platform and the virtual experience as sources of food for his artistic production. The binomial computer-Internet conforms the central axis of the platform of the artist’s work, both from a technical-instrumental viewpoint as of a hotbed of ideas for his projects: Felipe finds there a wide range of themes and issues to be explored, especially regarding to the own possibilities and inherent limitations to the electronic nature of these means.
The series Nudes versus [2007-09], After Post  and Street View Landscapes  explicits the influence of the digital source in the work of Felipe Cama. In the first one as in the second one, he appeals to the process of lenticular printing – that produces an optical effect depending of the angle of observation – both to promote unusual parities between works of art [famous nudes of the history of modern art] and amateur erotic images [case of the Nudes versus], and to establish correlations between the landscape paintings of Franz Post and today’s images of these same locations, all found on the Net by him. The result is a reflection on a new hierarchy between these images now “leveled” by the pixel. Setting up a “flattening” or equivalence of status between the image-matrix and its more trivial or mundane counterfeit.
The interferences operated by Felipe do not ignore the low quality of the original resolution of the image, quite the opposite: and by amplifying it, talks about its own nature, remembers that is above all information encoded; its genesis is in a binary code. Perhaps this is the great theme of Felipe: the desire to make this code appear, to bring these layers behind the image to the sensitive plan (1). In terms of procedure, his process goes entrenching more and more in the repertoire of possibilities of the internet, which also contributes to a conceptual solution of the proposals: in the third series, resorts to a popular web mapping service application – that inspires the title of the work – to get the images that correspond, in the present time, to the landscapes originally depicted in the paintings that originated the work.
Note that, although always dealing with the image, the artist hardly refers to photography – historically the greatest vehicle for dissemination of the image – in a stricter sense. Or rather, photography seems to appeal as “just” image, and less by form defined by a language. Of course the election of the focus on electronic or digital matrix helps to dispel this tonic, yet in one way or another it is present, as in the first work discussed in this text. But in general is a record that sticks to the background presence, its place in the artist’s production is to act primarily as vehicle for the image, and not as a matrix-reference of language, with all its charge of specificity.
However, an exception in this sense appears in the project News from Nowhere [Made in China], where the tone for what will be the work is provided by a photographic-cliche situation: an archetypal tourist spot – the Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City in Beijing – where thousands of people gather regularly to register – and above all to register themselves there – a place full of history. In this place one notices hyperbolically the facet of photography that establishes a “chronic voyeuristic relation to the world,” as Susan Sontag pointed out (2), when the picture, by ways of excess, acts as a kind of leveler of the meaning of events. Starting from this context and from photographs taken by himself and others found on the Web, all depicting the place almost identically, the artist conceives a series of paintings, to be carried out under order in one of the now internationally notorious Chinese studios of painting specialized in reproducing canonical works of the western culture in industrial scale. This situation alone would be enough for a socio-cultural treaty, and which Felipe decides to explore the ways that are closer to him: the comment-recycle of the image. After gathering a large number of these images around the same stereotypical situation, full of socio-cultural and political symbolism – and yet emptied over the merely “voyeuristic” drive that generates these photographs – the artist orders its reproductions in the form of paintings to some of these factories of serial imitations. The end result, a panel of 40 paintings-representing-photographs, acts as a kind of visual synthesis that jeopardizes the various aspects and connotations that the image can evoke or perform in this once again almost tautological journey. After all, the photographic image that triggered the process, having for subject the act of photographing, is reproduced in paintings, in turn executed in a serial production scheme that approaches the indefinite character of reproducibility of the photograph itself. And the term “synthesis” is used here in double meaning, as it also refers to as “synthesis image” those generated by digital processes, of algorithmic origin – the aforementioned binary codes that interested the artist so much.
In a recent book, Jacques Rancière speaks of a “thoughtful image.”(3) The French philosopher refers to the possibility of “an image that contains an unthought thought [...], one which is not likely to be attributed to the intentions of the one that produced it.” A reflective capacity of the image that would be activated and offered by default of its author and even of the object it represents, for example. But the “thoughtful image” would demarcate a zone of indetermination between what Rancière distinguishes as two types of images: the image like double of a thing and the image as operation of art. And here arises a happy convergence with the work of Felipe Cama, as it seems to be precisely this duality that feeds and stimulates its production: the image that is ultimately a double of itself, self-referential, to explain its origin and consumption processes in different solutions, and that achieves – through the described procedures – to acquire its autonomous status of art object.
(1) Maybe more “physiognomic” revealing work about this drive is Collection , where the artist extracted the binary codes of the works of art from the Pinacoteca Municipal de São Paulo collection and digitally converted them onto LED displays. Thus, the works were literally experienced as its transposition in luminous numbers.
(2) SONTAG, Susan. On photography. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giraux, 1977. [pag.7]
(3) RANCIÈRE, Jacques. O espectador emancipado. Lisboa: Orfeu Negro, 2010, [p.157]
Text for the exhibition "Felipe Cama", SESC Ribeirão Preto, June 2011.