Digital to Analog, Analog to Digital: Kasumi and Mark Schatz at Zygote Press
Let’s Just Pretend (We’re Having Fun) (May 15th through June 18th) is an apt title for Zygote Press’s most recent exhibition featuring the print work of Kasumi and Mark Schatz. With the overload of the 2020 pandemic, when the works were created, pretending to have fun was sometimes the best thing many of us could do. Each of the Artist-in-Residence exhibitions and the works in them were affected. Kasumi tackled politics, race, and the mental toll the pandemic had (and has) on society through the vibrant and colorful lens of Pop art. Meanwhile, Schatz delved into black and white abstract imagery to explore form rather than concrete meaning. Both artists’ works speak to our age, the shift of content from digital to analog and back, and how we interact with devices and information.
Neither Kasumi nor Schatz are print makers, and the pandemic changed how they interacted with the studio. Schatz was looking forward to meeting and learning from other printmakers throughout the process, but the one-person occupancy policy for the studio changed that. Both artists took advantage of this disadvantage. Kasumi turned scraps into collaged pieces while experimenting with print processes, and Schatz explored how we interact with space in a traditional gallery setting, with printmaking being the central inspiration. As Kasumi explored transferring video to still imagery while still conveying motion, Schatz took motionless images and transformed them into shifting images. This creates an interesting dichotomy, taking both artists out of their comfort zones while connecting the two very different bodies of work.
Through different print making techniques, like deliberately off-register screens, Kasumi created static images that reference moving gestures. “Much of my film work is based on the idea of a gesture – an action that carries meaning – and the significance it accrues over time, so it was a major challenge to convey this concept in a completely different way and form.” There remains a sense of movement in the still imagery, as the prints become extensions of her video works.
Many of the prints were adapted from Kasumi’s videos, like Take Me to Cloudy Rhythm, which depicts a sequence from an Apartheid-era film about gold mining in South Africa. Kasumi explains that the film focusses on the white owners of the mine and their drama while ignoring the plight of the miners. The prints, accompanied by the video, depict one of the miners who looks into the camera as an appeal to the viewer.
Kasumi created Red, White, and Kablooey in June of 2020 when what she called the “twin terrors of Covid and the upcoming fate-of-our-democracy election” had taken hold of our collective conscious. The image is based on graffiti that she photographed in France of a laughing man pointing a gun to his head over a roughly rendered American flag. The repetition of the image conveys how one might see sequential frames of a film, tying the work back to her interest in the moving image. She explains that Red, White, and Kablooey “makes manifest the insane circular firing squad of radical right-wing politics and presaged the events of January 6, 2021.” The deeply political image shows how volatile our sense of nation is, and relates to just how quickly it can change.
Change is also on Mark Schatz’s mind. His untitled prints reference the striations and forms found in some of his sculptures that deal with the fluidity of places. Taking the prints a step further, he embraced augmented reality technology to create three-dimensional, virtual sculptures based on the prints, showing just how fluid both the real and digital spaces we occupy can be. Schatz filled the gallery with tracking points to assist our mobile devices to anchor the virtual sculptures in space. The points also obscured the QR codes so that they wouldn’t be obvious and distract the viewer. Rather than traditionally used dots, Schatz made Atomic Age inspired shapes, creating an immersive and unifying experience. Once scanned by a mobile device, the codes load a program that allow the viewer to load the sculpture on their screens.
“They can use their own device, which is a nice familiarity. You’re already seeing it through the thing you stare at most of the day anyway.” Anymore, our environment really has become our phones and tablets. There’s a strange blurring of realities as virtual sculptures suddenly appear on the screen floating in space. They move up and down, they rotate, and they can be interacted with. You can walk around the pieces, looking up or down at them. Step too close and you’ll find yourself looking at the inside spaces of the objects, moving along their interior structures.
With three video loops, Schatz shows these pieces interacting with the outside world as they float down the sidewalk, or groups of shapes rising above parked cars like a balloon or butterfly release. They show us that “invisible” sculptures could be all around us. They change the experience of place, “We shouldn’t trust anything. Places aren’t reliable, they transform. If you ever go back to a town you’ve spent a lot of time in, they aren’t the same. So I wanted it to be a little bit unstable,” Schatz explains. With his digital sculpture, Schatz shows that places will never be what they seem again. There can always be something hiding, be it pop culture icons from Pokémon or fine art floating through the sky. Our devices open up new ways to experience the world.