“I’m really scared for my generation.” R&B sensation Drake recently told an interviewer. “The thing that scares me most is Tumblr.” He explained why:
“Instead of kids going out and making their own moments, they’re just taking these images and living vicariously through other people’s moments. … They just emulate. It’s scary man, simulation life that we’re living.”
Though Drake was talking about the fake lifestyles that some music fans project online, one can easily transpose his criticism to the world of contemporary art Tumblrs, which are filled with jpegs of the latest artworks, freshly arrived from Basel or Brussels or Berlin. They filter through the blog network and disappear, replaced by fresh content. Nothing really sticks.
As Chris Wiley puts it in an elegant essay in this month’s Frieze, we now live in “a world thoroughly mediatized by and glutted with the photographic image and its digital doppelganger.” Mr. Wiley argues that, over the past five years, a handful of young artists have worked apart from that, and used “photography as a medium whose specific properties can be tinkered with, stretched and placed into dialogue with those of other media.”
Medium specificity, one might say, is back, at least in photography, where the stakes are highest today, where it matters most.
Among the artists Mr. Wiley highlights is Lucas Blalock, whose work Gallerist had until now seen only in a handful of group shows. Now Mr. Blalock has a one-person exhibition at Ramiken Crucible, and it is a refreshing breath of fresh air.
Mr. Blalock has lined the walls of the gallery with photographs which run the gamut from relatively straight shots–a hand holding a measuring tape in front of an almost impossibly rich pink backdrop–to obviously altered images, like W.M.t.M.M.B.M (2010), a loaf of sliced bread, dyed orange and floated over a blank, white field.
Like other artists that Mr. Wiley foregrounds (Talia Chetrit and Michele Abeles, to name two), Mr. Blalock seems intoxicated by the physical power of photographs. However mysterious when viewed online (on a Tumblr blog, for instance), his works only really pop in person, as objects, where his subtle digital manipulations can unsettle.
Let’s have a look at some of Mr. Blalock’s work. (Click the slide show above to do so.) In one, a stone chimney running alongside a house melts into–melds with–it. We suspect that there has been some Photoshop cutting, but it is altogether impossible to see the exact slices.
In another, three darkly tinted glasses appear to sit in a kitchen sink, though the sharp-edged polygons that surround them suggest they may have been dropped there with a point and a click. Mr. Blalock elides digital and physical processes. He is, as Drake would have it, “making [his] own moment…,” taking an image, playing with it and printing it up for us to deal with. (It doesn’t hurt that these moments are often shockingly beautiful.)
Mr. Wiley quotes philosopher Vilém Flusser to make a similar point, arguing that the artists he discusses “create a space for human intention in a world dominated by apparatuses.” Using an array of different techniques across the works on view here, Mr. Blalock treats each image as a unique, individual case–the exact opposite approach to the way that images are treated on Tumblr. No “simulation life” for him.