From the March 2007 issue of Coagula Art Journal
and the art of Plein Error
By Andres Polit
Artist and curator Rex Bruce opened Los Angeles Center for Digital Art (LACDA) early in 2004, establishing himself internationally as the "go-to guy" for new media art in L.A.
Bruce's own artwork explores the texture of pixels themselves through exaggeration of the nuances and contrasts inherent among individual picture elements of low grade digital images. Using his collection of low resolution cameras he photographs "grungy" images containing golden arches, street lamps, plastic dinosaurs and windswept palms that nose there way into the edges of the frame.
These elements could constitute the subject matter for a low-brow vision of L.A., but they are completely subsumed by a brilliant sky consisting of large areas of blue textured by pixilation and banding. The work revels in its inversion of everything that is supposedly "correct" in image making, while maintaining its own sense of visual pleasure and a methodical exploration of that which is strictly digital about an image. Because the end product is stretched on large canvases and exudes gratuitous use of texture and color they take on an oblique resemblance to painting. Although the journey to their creation was entirely a fabrication of emergent technology and its art-critical concepts, they evoke comparisons to the plein air landscapes of the late 19th century.
Andres Polit: How is it that you can work as an artist and gallerist and still keep a high level of quality in both endeavors?
Rex Bruce: Pharmika, the gallery next door to LACDA, is run by artists and has shows curated by artists. They just opened an exhibit curated by Ed Ruscha (an artist-duh). The distinctions between different kinds of art and also the roles individuals play in its creation and exhibition are becoming more blurred. Everything mixes well in my scene. In a word I would call the L.A. scene a "free-for-all" in every respect.
This mix of roles makes me feel like I wish I had more than one body to work with. In the alternative to that I require a lot of assistance from those around me, including critics and writers who have been really great at helping me dial in my work. Mat Gleason dubbed my work "Plein Error" about a year ago, pointing out the connection to my pieces and painting. The mass quantities of work that I view and show puts a lot of "wind in my sails" insofar as the creation of my own work being well informed and having a rapid flow of productivity.
A.P.: Many "technology artists" create sophisticated interactive environments and video installations. How is it that you arrived at printmaking, isn't that a little "old school"?
R.B.: I see archival digital prints more as a playback mechanism or something like "single frame LCD displays" than just "prints on paper" or whatever. They involve extremely sophisticated technology that has taken decades to perfect and the pigments are designed to last centuries. I have followed its evolution in my creative work. To me it is reminiscent of the development of commercially manufactured paint or the invention of photography, only it is emerging from the technologies of our present era. This is not apparent to most people, to me it is a new and exciting form to explore even though it is flat art that resembles earlier forms. It is clearly not the same thing, and if you toy with it enough things happen that have never been seen or considered. I've done loads of video, performance, audio, net art and interactive. I like all of it. It is just what I'm delving into right now.
A.P.: What have you discovered with experimenting in this way?
R.B. It has become apparent to me that the intersection of painting, photography and digital imaging is a very important area recently that is being approached by many different perspectives and methods. Painters unabashedly paint from photographs. I make prints for people that paint on top computer generated images or digital photos of sections of their own paintings. Kathryn Jacobi and Michael Salerno are painters doing great hybrid work like this. I know photographers in New York , Benjamin Fink is probably the best, pursuing the "Hudson River" school of painting in their photographs, which are very traditional and really remarkable. They scan negatives and use computers to achieve things in a "straight" photograph they could not do otherwise. Ed Bateman uses images of lenses and lights in his 3D images that are often computer versions of well known antique paintings. He makes an inversion of photography and traces its relationship from painting to computer generated space. There is tons of this kind of stuff going around. I didn't really see that my work had a relationship to painting until other writers, collectors and artists repeatedly made the observation. I love it. I am running with the idea.
R.B.: What do you see as other new developments in the digital art scene, what else is happening in the moment?
A.P.: Historically the art and technology scene has been largely academic or supported by non-profit spaces or technology specific events such as SIGGRAPH and websites like Rhizome which is supported by the New Museum in New York. We are just turning a corner where this kind of art is becoming more collectable and can merge in with the "art scene" proper, meaning those people in those places where names are made and art works become valuable. Bitforms gallery in New York is a good example of this very young phenomenon. It is ironic that in the '70's alternative spaces opened so that art could be exhibited where selling was not an issue and the concept could reign almighty and now an alternative space like LACDA, which is largely artist supported, is created to make non-sellable work sellable. We live in the age of the hybrid. Anything goes and success can be measured in many ways.