Art South Africa

Art South AfricaNathaniel Stern at Outlet, Tshwane

Nathaniel Stern at Outlet, Tshwane

Nathaniel Stern at Outlet, Tshwane (plain text):

The first work I ever encountered by Nathaniel Stern was titled Stuttering. Made in 2003, the interactive installation relied on the viewer’s body movements – a form of performance – to activate and create visual and aural poetry. The title, it seemed, derived from the repetition of text and sound stimulated by the path of the moving body. In addition to being visually beautiful, the work also fashioned an aural loveliness that belied its restricted repertoire of phrases. here, the manifestation of a speech impediment became a thing of charm.

The computer programme written for this work introduced a second element. By delaying the release of each image, Stern was able to layer one phrase (and sound) upon another, each disappearing only a while after being formed. So, in addition to the uniqueness of each moment, each subsequent moment was rendered exceptional in its layering upon what came before. In this way, Stern introduced both visual currency and history into the work. A third element – and for me the most interest from an art historical perspective – is the fact that Stern employs an electronic medium in the creation of an analogous physical visual effect.

Three years later, a prolific period of experimentation and refinement in between, Stern again uses these three concepts in the collection of work that makes upĀ Time and Seeing. To create the images, Stern used his scanner as a tool to document his adventures outdoors. Wading through ponds, encountering water lilies, investigating Johannesburg architecture, Stern captures his sequences of movements via the electronic scanning face. Later, the raw files were manipulated on computer – stretch and compressed, colored with saturated reds, greens and golds – then played out as lambda photographs printed on metallic paper.

The result is a series of zones that make up each image, bands that discern between adjacent times and successive views. At first the works seem abstract, but in moving closer the viewer is able to discern, in each band, elements of Stern’s subject matter – ripples of water, flower petals, bricks, plastic bags, the sky – each rendered in a sequence that is both cubist and impressionist. And within each, and within the series of bands that make up each image, is an incredible and almost overwhelming sense of beauty; that almost religious feeling you get when you view an awesome artwork – Mark Rothko is a common example.

But, unlike Rothko, Stern uses an electronic form of information to offset a visceral reaction (a contemporary example may be Bill Viola), where a digital medium has an analogous organic reaction. These works remove from the electronic and the digital the aura of coldness and replace it with visceral warmth. In this way the works on exhibition contribute to using the electronic as a tool, in the same way that skin does, in the language of seduction.

– Brenton Maart

Die Beeld

nathaniel stern: review in die beeldStern manipuleer oog om alledaagse nuut te sien
original article

Stern manipulates the eye to see the everday anew
by Franci Cronje

One of the strongest critiques of digital art (often rightfully so), is that appropriation and unoriginality are always at its core. Many hijack the conceptual frames of popular culture and media, or historical works, without adding much value. Seldom do we find fresh processes or ideas that ask us to engage in real discourse.

Nathaniel Stern’s Outlet exhibition, ‘time and seeing’, is exempt from such criticism. He is the father of an exciting new art movement called ‘Compressionism’. In Stern’s own words, he ‘uses simple, digital technologies, in combination with performance and exhibition, to explore different ways of looking’. Compressionism sees a performance-based scanning of large objects, followed by the digital ‘stretching’ of resultant images to original proportions. To accent certain elements, Stern manipulates colour and contrast. The final product is a combination of the recognizable and unrecognizable, in beautifully flowing images and forms.

By way of a quite old-ish scanner (Stern says newer ones are too light sensitive for exterior use) connected to his apple computer, he scans wildlife and landscapes bit by bit. He straps a handmade scanner-cum-computer-appendage to his neck and braves the Emmarentia dam looking for water lilies. He glides over a nude, or executes intricate movements in front of a bookcase. The end result is really new and fresh. Although his pieces refer to Duchamp’s ‘Nude descending a staircase’, Monet’s ‘Water lilies’, and the performative elements of Jackson Pollock’s dripping paint technique, it is light years ahead of postmodernism’s “references and re-referenced” in existing imagery.

Stern’s conceptual inspiration comes from Jackson Pollock, the American pioneer of Abstract Expressionism. Jack the Dripper (so called after he introduced the world to ‘action painting’) perfected his dripping technique as he moved away from conventional easels and paintbrushes. Stern’s scanner, playfully called Action Jackson, fulfils a similar function to Pollock’s sticks, knives and trowels – moving away from the camera and LCD screen.

Stern, like Pollock, also works with a mixture of the controllable and the uncontrollable. Initially, he followed forms and figures strictly from one end to the other; more recently, he has changed his technique substantially. He will hover over a certain part, for example, in order for an Agapanthus’ petals to be discernable, but the rest of the image flows into abstract shapes and hues.

For Stern, an important part of performance art is its ephemerality and fragility. The landscape’s impermanence is further accented through his use of shifting pixels – concept and image are transfigured into an almost transcendent artwork with its own life. His images accent the transience of nature, and of science.

Viewers have had astoundingly different reactions to the eleven prints on show. Some of them see only the seductively beautiful images. Others immediately recognize their art historical references. The artist himself re-members his process-as-performance: where he hovered over a part of the object, while scanning faster over another. For me, it is intriguing that the brain constantly tries to form some kind of closing. My eye follows the lily leaf in the one corner, and tries to make conceptual sense of its other fragmented parts. At some point, my right brain takes over and I revel in the form, colour and perfect balance between these strange prints.

And this is where Stern really succeeds as an artist: he invites us to look with new eyes at the world around us.