Compressionism documentation

Compressionism is a digital performance and analog archive, where I strap a desktop scanner, laptop and custom-made battery pack to my body, and perform images into existence. I might scan in straight, long lines across tables, tie the scanner around my neck and swing over flowers, do pogo-like gestures over bricks, or just follow the wind over water lilies in a pond. The latest in the series sees me bringing a marine-rated scanning rig scuba diving on a coral reef. The dynamism of my relationship to the landscape is transformed into beautiful and quirky renderings, which are re-stretched and colored on my laptop, then produced as archival art objects using photographic or inkjet processes. I also often take details from these images and iteratively re-make them as traditional prints: lithographs, etchings, engravings and woodcuts, among others. Compressionism follows the trajectory of Impressionist painting, through Surrealism to Postmodernism, but rather than citing crises of representation, reality or simulation, my focus is on performing all three in relation to each other.


See the Compressionist prints grouped by exhibitions and residencies

Excerpts from an exhibition review by Michael Smith, March 2007 ArtThrob.co.za:

More than a little tongue-in-cheek in reference to the grandeur which history of art confers through its ‘isms’, Stern took to calling his creative process ‘Compressionism’…. The references that radiate from this term are numerous, and are backed up in Stern’s work….

To call Stern’s images ‘painterly’ on the strength of their swathes of colour and digitally rendered striations that recall brushstrokes is to tell only half the story. The tantalising quality of the surfaces of his works comes from the sense that they contain much that they’re not readily revealing….

Stern’s entire process expands to encompass fairly traditional printmaking techniques, and a great tension is established by this…. The results are compelling, an amalgamation of visual languages from two very different ends of Western Art history…. While Nude Descension (again a playful gesture to history of art) has a fluid, otherworldly quality, the print which accompanies it, Nude Descension II, accrues a salacious, lo-fi quality that adds another dimension to Stern’s formal repertoire…. Jo’burg Boogie Woogie, an image that looks like a cross-section of a grim face-brick wall, is a play on high Modernist Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie Woogie. But the optimism in modernity that manifested in Mondrian’s confection here morphs into a snippet of urban realism … the format surely hints at the overcrowding of downtown Jozi living spaces. The image is forbidding in the truest sense of the word, denying spatial access by enforcing the impenetrability of the picture plane. Yet Stern’s technique allows for moments of slippage, vertical slashes across the format that give visual and conceptual relief from the rigidity of bricks and mortar….

The work that remained with me long after I had left the gallery space, however, was Epics and Anthologies… derived from scans of Stern’s bookshelf… their spines stretched and compressed to the point of illegibility, the books become like blocks in a warped Tetris game, the layers of creative history piling up so quickly and disjointedly that one is powerless to effectively decode their meanings and implications….

Stern’s performative interests expand to include ‘performing’ a relationship to history, a quietly anarchic deconstruction of the creative person’s position in relation to history…. [the works] reveal that Stern’s is a position of productive paradox, of signalling his debt to the historical archive of creativity yet resisting the impulse to politely replicate its terms.

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