The Future of Smart Technology is In Your Hands
Introduction by Noah Angells
The Future of Smart Technology is in your Hands (15 November–14 December 2013) was a solo exhibition by Caline Aoun, which addressed the status of image-as-object in our contemporary context. The current trend of our media environment is in the direction of digitization, with its attendant ideology of dematerialization and augmented reality. Yet it is precisely in this over saturation of digital images that the grain, the seams and the mechanical means of production that underlie digital images begin to show themselves. Aoun's work revels in this paradoxical juncture wherein the materiality of the image reasserts itself.
In Palettes (2013), shipping palettes found stacked in a city-like formation were photographed from a train platform and applied to the gallery wall as a floor-to-ceiling wallpaper. While this imagery resembles architectural modules found in city-buildings and video games, it speaks not so much of urban infrastructure but of the latent physical processes of economic exchange, the towering mass of palettes is an infinitely stackable skeletal structure of commodity-shifting platforms. Such shipping yard scenes are the reality behind the advertising images that dominate the image-world of exchange and which, to an increasing extent, occupy all forms of architectural facades. The palettes being photographed from the train platform produce a symmetricality between the body of the photographer and the subject being photographed, each an object in transit, each subject to the flow of economic streams. The see-through, building-like forms also bring to mind the many half-finished buildings of Lebanon – relics of a building boom which was frozen by war – reminding us that a moment of flux can take on a sense of permanence if the economic flow which powers it stalls.
A moment of singularity in the cyclical rhythm of the sun (2013) is a video work in which a metallic disc positioned atop a stand on the rooftop of Aoun's studio appears as an artificial sun, by reflecting the light of sunset. It is easy to see that this is not the sun, but that doesn't undermine its efficacy as an illusion. The pictorial infrastructure around the object, it's relation to the skyline as the light becomes duller and warmer as the night falls, makes its sun status unshakable in the mind of the viewer. All the signifiers we rely on for the registration of such an image are present – its shape, its position in the sky, and the warm hues which we have a deeply embedded biological affinity for, all of these things play upon our minds as we register this sculptural object as a cheap, even pathetic shorthand for that which cannot be replicated – the very centre of our universe. That this scene is set up on the roof of the studio is significant, as it is not the designated site of production but once again the surrounding infrastructure that shapes the work.
The three Untitled prints (2013) in the show make use of a new digital transfer film that seeks to hybridize digital printing technology with that of the darkroom. Aoun acts almost as a product tester, treating this material as a prototype, seeing what unintended possibilities it may yield. The high finish surfaces and nuanced gradations of color saturation are, in formal terms, not a far cry from the work of Mark Rothko. Yet Aoun achieves such surface effects by continually feeding the digital transfer film through her printer, at times impatiently tearing the sheet away, maximizing the expressive potential of the printer's malfunction. The point is not simply that such a mechanized process can produce the sort of abstraction that has historically stood to represent the metaphysical, or some deep, internal sensation. Rather the work has to do with the rapidly changing nature of image making – in a variation on the sublime its subject extends ceaselessly outwards, not into the heavens or some imagined realm of pure form, but into a rich, complex dialectic about the convergent forces which contribute to contemporary image making.
The light of A moment of singularity's false sun seems to have spot lit the Palettes wallpaper, as the colour masses in Aoun's Untitled prints recall an abstraction that's informed partially by a lineage of expressive paintings of warring and submerged clouds, set within piercing dawns and scenes of enveloping twilight. All of this culminates in a visual treatise on the passage of time where the world we live in is changing at such a velocity that the very vocabulary we use to identify our surroundings threatens to become outmoded before it's been ascertained, where nostalgia for past forms and analysis of current technological trends meet in a sort of violent passing through one another.