“Something that I think about and find really interesting is how abject things - fluids, dirt, decay - have a lot of currency. They make something appear real and they’re computationally expensive. It takes time and money to make things look dirty and dusty.”
The real is expensive. Authenticity, integrity, presence, these are valuable things. Or, as Melbourne artist Annika Koops might put it, they are a kind of capital.
Koops is interested in the aesthetic and economic relationship that exists between virtual and material life (amongst lots of other interests, obviously, but let’s stay with these for the minute). Much of her work to-date has consisted of what she calls “constructed portraiture”: finely detailed, not-quite-photo-realistic paintings and digital prints of people who never actually existed. Modelled first on a computer and later rendered in oil paint, these subjects were entirely constructed by the artist.
Although drawing on similar techniques, for her latest exhibition Bump Function (at Caves until 27 February) Koops has shifted away from portraiture towards more abstract elements. Most of the paintings in the show depict fundamental shapes and materials – a cone, a sphere, a pair of dice, the outline of a Hellenic sculpture, a length of fabric, a puff of smoke, an oversized brush stroke – which have all been arranged in virtual spaces like an imaginary still life. The works play with the physical and pictorial impossibility of the scenes they depict. Though they’re beautifully rendered, many of the individual components seem not-quite-right. They’re too heavy or too big. Some cast improbable shadows while others cast none at all. Some look like they’re floating in the air of the painted room, others like they’re floating on the surface of the painting itself.
As Koops explains, she is drawn to the “weird disruptions”, the bumps and glitches and ruptures that occur in virtually constructed spaces. On a recent residency in Italy, Koops spent a lot of time exploring representations of architectural spaces in pre-renaissance fresco paintings. At that point in art history, says Koops, painters hadn’t quite nailed perspective properly and the geometry was all wrong. Moreover, the depictions of real physical spaces were almost always intertwined with incorporeal religious ones.
Back in Melbourne she trawls real estate advertisements and homewares catalogues which are ever more reliant on computer generated imagery to sell their version of the sublime. In the glossy promotional images for a new development being built down the road from where Koops lives, for example, there is realistic grass and gardens, crumpled throw cushions, cook books, designer glassware, abstract artwork on the walls, a bottle of Aesop hand wash in the bathroom. In one render the afternoon sun sets over the penthouse, bathing the roof-top terrace in a warm orange glow. A half-read paperback lies face down on a bench, as if its owner has only just stepped out of frame to take in the view. It is a creepy mix of fine detail, repetition and generalisation; all of those markers of human presence likely available as a ready-made 3D components in architectural software packages.
Over time, with new skills and technologies to hand, representational methods get better and better at their particular flavour of verisimilitude, but Koops is more interested in the ways they lag. “So much pre-renaissance painting is so real but it’s also wonky and off. It’s hyper-detailed, in the way that CGI can be really detailed and vibrant in its intricacies, but there’s always something uncanny and unconvincing about it.”
Over the last couple of years, as Koops moved away from portraiture, she began experimenting with making looser, more "painterly paintings". But she says, "every time I did it felt really contrived. It looked fake." The marks she was making didn’t look quite real enough. "I started thinking about signifiers of things that are really human… about the sentimental symbols of what it means to be human." And so with several of the works in Bump Function, Koops has treated her "gesture" like a 3D component. In Slots (2015), for example, she imported painted marks into the modelling software she uses; replicating, sampling and giving her brush strokes all new physical properties. In Human Flood (2015) an expressive, blue mark looks as if it’s been smeared over the surface of the canvas, but on closer inspection it – like the rest of the painting – is totally flat and carefully prepared. Koops took to the mark with acetone, she explains, smoothing the paint down until there was little left of it apart from the appearance of painterliness.
“Human potential or interactions or emotions are put to work in late capitalism,” says Koops. “I’m interested in how something which is genuine or off-the-cuff, an intuitive process, can be recreated and simulated. The way affect can be manipulated.”
>> Maura Edmond
>> 18 February 2016
GO SEE IT:
5 - 27 February, 2016
C A V E S
Suite 18, Level 6, The Nicholas Building
37 Swanston Street, Melbourne
Thurs - Fri 12 noon - 6pm | Sat 1pm - 5pm