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