- ABOUT THE ARTIST
In his latest workgroups 8/, 14/ and 15/ Michael Reisch uses computer technology to deconstruct the ‘relationship’ between abstraction and representation in photography as it has historically been understood.
Created without a camera or even an existing object as a starting point, each image in the three workgroups is a purely digital construction. His process begins at the site that is usually end point of photographic production: a computer editing program, where he works with a limited black, white and grey palette incorporating all of the tonal values in the spectrum. Starting from pure unrepresentative fields of tones in workgroup 8/, in the later workgroups 14/ and 15/ Reisch uses a partly controlled, partly random, computer editing process to digitally ‘reconstruct’ these monochrome fields, stopping at the exact point at which the image begins to take on a material quality, when contours emerge as a trompe-l’oeil, suggesting ripples or folds, perhaps of metal or similar. It is important to note that references to anything real, such as fabric, have not been programmed into the computer software.
‘Since the early 1990s, Reisch has dedicated himself to questioning the relationship he calls the “constitutional core of photography”: that between the photograph and the “Real”. Rooted in the principles of Minimalism, his practice is associated with a tendency in contemporary photography known as New Formalism, based on the examination of photographic processes and techniques to invite consideration of what, how, and why, we might consider the medium to be today. This self-reflexivity is clear in these works, where Reisch’s architectonic impulse has shifted in focus away from the structures of the natural and built environment that formed the content of his earlier series, to look instead those constructed in-computer.
While the relationship between representation and abstraction has historically been treated as a linear one, moving from the latter to the former (for example, by focusing in on a detail to ‘abstract’ it from representational meaning), in 8/, 14/ and 15/ Reisch does the inverse: he starts from nothing and uses the tools available to him to work towards the precise moment, the ‘tipping point’ at which he identifies a simulacrum beginning to appear, a moment that is prompted his own memory and association. This is the opposite of the conventional digital photographic process, where material object is rendered into information data.
A crucial distinction for Reisch is that this tipping point does not mean that the acts of abstraction and representation are two distinct and separate processes. In these works he instead seeks to highlight that, in contrast to how they are commonly used, they are in essence two sides of the same coin. Both are contingent on the existence of the concrete object in the real world, whereas these digital constructs are contingent only upon the memory or association of something in the real world. This memory comes from Reisch’s own perception at a point during the making of the work, but also the memory that the viewer contributes to the encounter of looking at the photograph.
By stripping the works of their indexical function, giving them no basis in reality, Reisch seeks to show how the meaning of the photograph – including what we understand to be ‘abstract’ – is anchored in how we, as viewer, connect it to the material. His guiding principle to understanding this ”constitutional core” is semiotic theory, where the meaning of the work is understood to be the tripart product of the image (as sign), the ‘thing’ that it appears to depict (as object), and the viewer (as interpreter).
In his essay for the work, Roland Mönig writes how “strictly speaking, [these works] belong in the category of Concrete or Minimalist art”, for they are in themselves the manifestations of a concrete working process; that is, as opposed to an abstraction of something in the ‘real world’. For Reisch then, ever circumspect about his chosen medium, the works in this series are not the results of photographic methodology but self-contained units that represent a simulation of its essential comportments, in which process is, quite literally, framed as subject.’
From Emma Lewis Process as Subject: Abstract vs Concrete in the work of Michael Reisch [working title] 2014