Backgrounds, Surfaces and Landscapes
The title of this book purports to present three distinct parts of seeing, three distinct zones or planes integral to the organization of an image. As if each part could be localised and individually demarcated as independent, albeit no less contingent upon the other. Background. Surface. Landscape. Like a puzzle, how do all these pieces fit together? The background can be found somewhere beneath the surface of the image, which itself is a landscape. Or maybe a landscape is actually the background to an image indistinguishable from its surface? But in a world of surfaces, a world either being constantly pushed up or flattened to a surface of, say, a screen, where does the surface begin and end? Is there even a surface any more? Does not the word “surface” become redundant, tautological? Perhaps more insistent than that question is the ontological status of the image. If there is nothing but surface, a world composed of sheer façade, then that would mean that there is nothing but image – the “content” of that unbroken, unilateral, unending virtual veneer (that which becomes labyrinthian by virtue of its totality, of there being no way out) – at which point the word image itself, and its constituent elements, borders on a similar redundancy. In such a totalizing context, an interesting Duchampian question comes to, alas, the surface: just as Duchamp once asked himself if it was possible to make a work of art that was not a work of art, the Vienna-based Australian artist Andy Boot asks, all but rhetorically, not to mention paradoxically, if it is possible to make an image that is not an image. Indeed, what constitutes an image now that we live in the labyrinth of images? What is its current zero degree? And how is that determined? Or perhaps better yet, legislated?
It happens that Boot had a few of these questions answered, at least provisionally, when he became fascinated by a certain kind of confetti spam. In this form of spam, a layer of digital confetti is discreetly superimposed upon an advertisement (Viagra, etc), seeking to ensure that the layer does not interfere with the legibility of the message. Superficially transformed into an image, the spam camouflages its actual content and is therefore granted the privilege of circulation (if it sounds like a reverse allegory of the history painting, that’s because it probably is). By way of addition, a specious act of subtraction is effectuated, which in turn, permits an unquantifiable multiplication of “information” to take place.
Inspired by such arbitrary zero-degree image legislation, Boot wanted to see what would happen if he applied the confetti technique, as it were, to his own practice, which he did in a series of paintings, works on paper, and even sculptures. The works on paper wield the paradoxically significant title Backgrounds (2010–). These consist of framed pieces of paper, whose surfaces have been sparsely riddled by series of all over multi-coloured, if slightly antic, worm-like marks (if they seem antic or gestural, it’s because the artist availed himself of the novel technique of spaghetti tossing in order to achieve the desired effect). To describe these works as backgrounds which have been pushed up to the foreground would be more incorrect than correct, because, in the end, what they do is shuffle such issues off to the side. In a further, say, double twist of the screw, Boot transforms this all but invisible, zero degree image into something visible, while depriving it of its original purpose, which is to act as a smuggler of textual information. If here the artist neutralises such image legislation by rendering it visible, in Surface (one) 2010, he also begins to disclose just how potentially sinister it is. In this work, Boot visibly concealed a confetti painting, like a tablecloth, which was overlaid with glass, on the desk of Croy Nielsen gallery. Inconspicuously incorporated into its environment, the work inevitably alludes to a phantasmal totality, of what could be called the invisible, omnipresent labyrinth of images. And yet, given the festive and antic nature of these marks, such a minatory appraisal of the ontological status of the image is not without a sense of humor. Take for instance Untitled (2010). One of the more ridiculous yet endearing pieces from this body of work, this forlorn sculpture/painting consists of a small, ratty swath of canvas, bearing a single confetti mark, placed at the head of a tubular segment of black rubber, itself held in place in a small, round foundation of concrete, like a buoy. Reduced to a semaphoric minimum, this trace seems intent on claiming its place among the labyrinth of images, despite its ostensible lack of intelligibility. Anxiously signaling, its presence is assured not just by its support, but more importantly through a virtual absence, which surrounds and extends beyond it, in every direction.
As much could be said to happen in the image of the sea in Boot’s Stella di Mare (2011), which consists of an approximately two and half by two meter image of a sun-mottled portion of seascape applied to a wall like wallpaper. Presented as such, the depthless light of playing on the sea’s surface tends to collapse the space inside the image, pushing its contents up to its surface. As if it, the sea – which here becomes a metaphor for the image, a sea of images – could break through and come flooding in, surrounding us on all sides, like a labyrinth. Even though it already has.