Soil, 1317 E Pine St, 264-8061
Through April 26.
In Jorge Luis Borges' story "The Aleph," the pedant Carlos Argentino Daneri evokes modern man, "'in his studio-laboratory... supplied with telephones, telegraphs, phonographs, radiotelephone apparatus, cinematographic equipment, magic lanterns, glossaries, timetables, compendiums, bulletins...'"
Daneri was writing a horrible epic poem that claimed to map the entire world, and his inspiration was the Aleph in his basement: an entity, a ball of light, that showed all places and angles of the world at once. It's such an amazing image--one that eventually calls forth one of Borges' most amazing lists--that one doesn't want to call it a metaphor, but since "The Aleph" was written in the 1950s, you can't avoid a sort of anxiety about the rapid pace of change in the world, about all modern man's new technologies and the terrible visions that arrive when you can see more of the world than you ever wanted to.
We have by now accustomed ourselves to the continuous Aleph-like feed of images in the world. We still have our idiot Daneris, greedily devouring these visions as quickly as they are offered, but we also have Claude Zervas, who plucks out and considers one kind of image at a time. Zervas was once a software engineer, and although his work often uses the most advanced technology, it doesn't reek of it and it isn't about it. If anything, the work seems to operate in opposition to it.
His current show, Tomorrowland, is a series of images taken from 1960s-era commercial slides of Disneyland, slides so degraded that the only remaining colors, for some reason, are different shades of pink. Zervas found these slides in a thrift store, put them under a toy digital microscope equipped with a video camera, and printed them, with a high-resolution inkjet printer, onto watercolor paper.
Tomorrowland is so packed with contradictions that even as these indistinct images recede, their ideas continue to build: The vision of the future--the rocket ship ride, the various ramps and elevators and flashing lights--from so far in the past that it seems dated and a little shabby. The artifice acting as the background for wholesome family fun. The information taken not from the slides' central images but from things lurking at the periphery. The odd recipe of different technologies, essentially a series of electronic filters, offset by the unpredictability and softness of watercolor paper. This softness applied to a futuristic vision. The disintegrating old technology brought to life by the new. And so on.
Memory's degradation over time is one of the great overplayed themes of contemporary art, but Tomorrowland evokes the strange, sad combination of fact and fuzziness that memory is without resorting to clichés. The happy family groupings are given an unstable edge by the way the digitized details blur into John Singer Sargent-like blobs of light (one woman's facial features disappear altogether). Zervas has intensified this instability by imposing three-dimensional shapes (created in some kind of digital modeling program) onto the images. In some cases, the shapes surround a person like a protective aura of light; in others, they have the air of a sniper's crosshairs, or else the kind of television news-journal graphics that denote doom or death. In one image, a boy is alone in what looks like a two-person bubble--as if he had a dead twin, or were dragging an existential burden around behind him.
These additions function less like narrative nudges than like the suggestion that there was once a narrative you've long since forgotten. Zervas allows a certain sentimentality to pervade these prints--quite the opposite of the hilarious hatchet job the Trachtenburgs do on found slides--but doesn't let this inclination toward feeling overwhelm the project. It's not far from the kind of inquiry made by Mark Takamichi Miller's recent paintings, which were created from snapshots taken by strangers (and liberated by the artist from a photo-developing shop).
"You must be good and dizzy from peering into things that don't concern you," Daneri cries after he has given Borges a look into the Aleph. Dizzy, perhaps, from dwelling in the gap between specific and general, known and unknown--the odd sensation of being heartbroken and analytical at the same time.