Tainted Images

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Tainted Images (1)

By Rodrigo Alonso (2)

Since digital technologies took over the images’ universe, many things have been transformed in the realm of representation. The technological reproducibility that Benjamin envisaged as a way for the masses to attain aesthetical emancipation did nothing but deepen the effects that keep them subdued to the influences of an increasingly powerful capital. In fact, capital has managed to find the way to multiply and spread itself in the feebleness and continuously dynamic of technological tools and its products. This way, digital images are no longer just containers of visual information, but above all, they are instruments for the transmission of certain symbols of hierarchy, power, authority, values and identity, encapsulated in emblems, faces, gestures, poses and attitudes that are imposed by means of media saturation and seduction.    

The work of Gonzalo Gutiérrez situates on this unstable and complex territory. Using appropriation as the primary formal strategy, he manipulates public domain’s information to invite the spectator to consider some of the meaning configurations that underlie in the imaginary splendor of the contemporary mass media. Politicians, celebrities, athletes and business tycoons appear in his work not for what they really are, but for what they represent to the outside world that only knows them after their external manifestations. In this situation, their attitudes, poses, calculated reactions, their awareness of being constantly observed are fundamental elements that are even perceived in the most spontaneous photographs. Thus, Constructions (2012) is a sort of global-power mosaic founded not only on fame or money but also on those designed appearances. A gallery of recognizable personalities that is, at the same time, a map of current reality built on some iconographic models that are imposed by the strength of their visual architecture.

These models are challenged and deconstructed in the productions of the artist, who uses the pixel size both to corrode the authority of the images as to bring out their fictional construction. In one of the images, a world map has been almost dissolved by increasing the pixels’ size, making an action that turns useless all the information it could provide. However, its formal pattern persists, emphasizing the observer’s mental projection and complicity when decoding images that are part of his/her basic knowledge for guidance in everyday life. But this persistence is misleading of course. That is that, because it is not founded on a true understanding of the situation nor on a knowledge based on actual experience, but it is constructed on information established by repetition of some imposed models and assumptions based on trust. A trust that is no less misleading, but without which it would be impossible to live in that holding world.     

This idea is emphasized in We Trust (2012). Here, it is a dollar bill that dissolves almost beyond recognition, although our gaze recovers it immediately. The work’s title is a pun that touches us singularly: On the one hand, it takes one phrase that is imprinted on the same bill in order to emphasize that, as the whole economic system works, its value depends basically on the confidence that financial system placed on it – without which it would just be a worthless piece of paper –; on the other hand, it points out the confidence that Argentines deposit on this currency that has become a symbol of financial survival to the various exchange rate disasters that have marked our history.

Other group of pieces explore the individual identity. The artist’s self-portrait, his identification card, his fingerprint goes through the same disintegration process that seemed to reject its existence together with its legal documentation, when in fact it is this documentation that hides and denies the person who claims to represent by replacing it with standardized, succinct and superficial information.     

This standardization of everyday life also become apparent in other common social practices such as family-album photography. Wedding parties, pregnancies, births, birthday parties, vacations, school parties have been translated by habits and the camera use into almost uniform compositions and situations that could be recognized without even identify picture’s characters. Memorable moments in the life of these individuals become completely indifferent from a point of view of images’ visual and compositional structure. Thus, paradoxically, in the construction of those life’s stories, that are in principle unique and unrepeatable ones, there is a reinforcement of a typology that submerge them into the anonymity of narrative forms that are organized beyond individual existence under the spectacular, oblivious, unaffected machine shaped by mass media and the cultural industry.        

Gutiérrez explores these topics in two photographic series. One of them is based on old images that, even though they are pixelated, they maintain certain nostalgic tonal values. The other is exhibited as a family album: Here, family pictures have been reduced to a collection of stereotyped and repeated moments where even the spectator could recognize him/herself without difficulty.   

But this digital gesture imposes a distance that works as a critical estrangement. In fact, this is the real objective of this work: An invitation to think about the mass media impoverishment that leads us to an even deeper impoverishment of our own lives. In this invitation lies much of the power with which Gonzalo Gutiérrez proposes to revisit the technological universe and its consequences to our everyday lives.

Notes:

(1)   Text written for the catalogue of Constructions exhibition in September 2012.

(2)   Argentine professor, researcher and independent curator.