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Recalling my childhood, many hours were spent watching my younger sister play her favorite Nintendo 64 epic The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Controlling the game’s protagonist Link – a young warrior with a rather pestering fairy friend named Navi – the gamer travels all over the dangerous and varied lands of Hyrule in a quest to stop the game’s villain Ganondolf.
While Ocarina of Time is considered one of the greatest video games of all time, my strongest memory of the game are in fact its spatial limitations and its slight glitches. In particular, in an early stage, Link must navigate the Deku Forest. While appearing as an open, natural space with many over hanging vines, my sister soon realised that game’s actual spatial construction in 3D graphics was worlds apart from its green and breezy image. In fact, a series of small rooms, the illusion of unbridled woodland was created by a couple of repeated wallpapers of a green forest or rock face. Link often bumped into or skirted around these invisible, yet imposed walls, providing my sister with hours of frustration during the long stretches of days when she was wrapped up in completing the virtual quest.
In such simulated games, disjuncture occurs when the player reaches the programed horizon, while the visual horizon stretches out in front of them. A reduced possibility of navigation is a common result when the player happens upon the edge of the map. In other 3D animation games, these spatial glitches can produce strange and wonderful visual effects. From the landscape inexplicably dropping away into darkness, to strange environmental anomalies where the simulation of real world physics slips, for example rocks floating off the ground, untethered to the laws that govern earthly objects.
Annika Koops’ exhibition Bump Function – whose title derives its name from a mathematical equation that creates a bump/hump in Euclidean space – takes the simulation of reality, and its sifting ground within 3D graphics as its foundation. Stepping away from hyper-realistic portraiture, Koop’s new paintings focus on a strange version of still life that flirts with moments of abstraction. Meticulously developing each pictorial scene with 3D animation and modeling software before translating this again through the painting process, Koops applies and subtracts real world physics to each object within these stitched-together compositions.
Given the rapid development of such software in recent years, it is astounding to discover the highly exact simulations of the physical world one can apply, how an abstract ‘object’ which typically exists only as equations or raw data, can be made to appear solid. For each object or scene one can control the degree of bounce factor, gravity, friction and beyond. The complex conditions that make up the world around us become calculated and quantified and when applied to the construction of this new half-reality, highlight the user’s omnipotence across the constructed setting.
As seen in Continuous Derivatives of all Orders (2016), Koops’ manipulation of these conditions results in a quietly absurd scene: floating rings support draped fabric; pyramids and cones sit beside a doodle of some foliage that inexplicitly hangs in the air. The painting’s pictorial field exists without a cohesive spatial integrity as each object has its own spatial logic and is brought together in a suspension of physics. Similar spatial incongruities that Koops engages with in this body of work can be found in Giotto’s Proto-Renaissance frescoes at the early discoveries of naturalistic perspective. Giottos’s depiction of a cathedral and a city are individually convincing in the story of Saint Francis banishing devils from the City of Arezzo in the Basilica of Assisi, however each are painted in a different scale and portrayed from entirely different viewpoints within the one setting. The inconstancies of Giotto’s simulation of space create fascinating insights into the psychological shift in the conception of perspective that took place in the middle ages. Koops willfully draws upon these differing understandings of pictorial space as a means to draw together multiple temporalities and medium specific constructions of the image. She pushes and pulls the image between historical resonances of painting and the fast moving abstractions of 3D modeling. Darting across this field, Koops recognizes and imaginatively critiques the way in which technological advancement has radically shifted our sense of space and scale.
Liang Luscombe is an artist and currently Program Curator at West Space.
ANNIKA KOOPS: DIGITAL NOSTALGIA
Annika Koops: Digital nostalgia - Art Collector
Issue 61, July - September 2012
Annika Koops is an artist just as comfortable on the computer as with canvas and brush. Her interest, she tells Ashley Crawford, is in the way the digital now mediates and, indeed, controls our social lives.
Annika Koops lives in a strange world of slick surfaces and troubling artifice. The skin on her models is burnished to a kind of plastic perfection reminiscent of the replicants in the science fiction classic Blade Runner. But Koops’s work travels far beyond notions of sci-fi fantasy.
“Surface is really important in my work,” she says. “In terms of the way that I render things, through computer generated imagery, photography and painting, I am always oscillating between smoothness and rupture. It has to do with notions of skin, of inside and outside and the intricacy of that perceived barrier.
“The replicants are an interesting comparison. Through my work I don’t intend to put forth overtly sci-fi narratives but there is definitely the allusion to more subtle forms of cognitive manipulation. Particularly so if one is to consider the commonality that they have with our current position in terms of the supplementation of memory. In the science fiction narrative of Blade Runner, memory is entirely fabricated to simulate human experiences as a strategy of control over the replicants, or machines. In our current moment we have forums like Facebook acting as an arena for the augmentation and commercialisation of memory and human emotion – control in a different form.”
Koops says that she is essentially exploring the way in which virtual environments and communities affect social relations. “It kind of comes back to the old boiling-the-frog metaphor,” she says. “Mediated interaction is so habitually engrained that it is normalised and to be concerned about it suddenly seems a bit retro and paranoid, even though it is clear that we are in pretty hot water in terms of the erosion of privacy.”
Koops’s work oscillates between a kind of formalistic portraiture and works that suggest an AutoCAD designing process, the skeletal building blocks designed for some future, fully-realised object.
“Design is definitely something that I consider, particularly since I create all of the subjects in my work through a combination of three-dimensional computer modelling and digital photography,” she says. “Within these works there is something of breaking down the parts in order to analyse the whole.
“I enjoy the line works as they represent an inversion of computer-based design processes. Three-dimensional computer models are infinitely adaptable, you can save them, duplicate them, and undo or rectify anything that you have done. The line works are the opposite. A thin layer of oil is scratched back by hand to create the form, they have to be completed within a short period (or the paint dries) and there is no margin for error. It is a nice, short, elegant process.”
In one such work, Demand, Koops renders a hand with a thumb-clicking, virtual snap which hints at the dominance of technology in our lives. “With Demand, I was actually thinking about gesture a lot, the little things that we do when communicating face to face that instantaneously reveal a very nuanced set of social codes. These subtleties cannot fully be communicated through online communication. I was initially toying with the idea of the cash gesture, that little move of brushing the middle and index finger against the thumb to indicate payment. But in the representational paradigm, rather than an experiential one, the code becomes muddled – whether the sign implies speed or payment is unclear, but either way it is a power play. The line-based works open up a space for me to consider power structures that underpin aspects of our social relations, particularly those undertaken within commercially driven online arenas.”
There also seem to be strong hints of nostalgia running through Koops’s works, hints of 1950s and 1960s décor and fashion. “Nostalgia is a very multifaceted concept, and one I ponder a lot,” she admits, “particularly in terms of its dislocation from its original meaning – a sort of homesickness that spans both time and space. Now however, it has become something much more amorphous, an indefinite longing for a time quite often never previously experienced.
“There are infinite examples of the endless fetishisation of an era, or event, often so vague that it does not specify a time or place, and translates simply as dissatisfaction with the present,” Koops says. “I don’t think that nostalgia is necessarily always a bad thing. Often it is harmless escapism, and escapism can be productive. But it is when it is so encompassing and formless that it becomes pernicious, and translates as an inability to accept the present, through some imagined cultural indigence. Following this line of thinking the nostalgic amounts to the return to sameness, and an unwillingness to accept the other. This is something that I do hope to critique in the work.”
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Act Natural Helen Johnson
Text for solo exhibition @ Nellie Castan Gallery, Melbourne 2011
In 1968 the first instance of computer-generated animation, a mathematical model of a moving cat, was produced by a team of Russian mathematicians and physicists. The new frontier of movement cemented the sublimation of the rendered form into the virtual realm, and within that realm, levels of representational sophistication were reset to the archaic; having to produce thousands, if not millions of variant frames based on a form built up from scratch by a mediated hand and translated algorithmically, demanded an entirely new neural approach. Last week I was watching a friend playing Dragon Age 2, and was struck by the persistent limitations of the graphics: the consistently weird teeth jutting out of the characters’ mouths, the hokey skinscapes, the misdirected gazes. This is the realm in which Annika Koops’s painting practice finds its orientation. It operates at the juncture of three modes of representation: the painterly, the photographic and the computer-generated. Taking the fruits of technological advancements from the virtual realm into the palpable but illusory space of painting, Koops’s work establishes a connection between them as sites invested not only in representation but in re-engaging the historical. Photography in this regard might be understood as a bridging device, having a foot in either medium as it were.
Koops’s paintings reach into what has become the primary realm for the representational rendering of the human form and take a small piece of it back; interestingly, the computer-models from which Koops paints (and which she generates herself) are often fragmented, the facial details and various objects being derived from disparate sources; it is only in the realm of painting that they are brought together and perfected in an idealisation of the virtual.
Painting, through a series of zeniths and subversions, has at various stages made pacts with representation. ‘A point has been reached where we understand, in an absolute sense, how to depict what we observe,’ painting seemed to say in the collective voice of its adherents: during the renaissance, impressionism and hyper-realism; during, it might be argued, cubism. It could not have been anticipated that the world and the possibilities of its representation would shift so radically from beneath painting’s quasi-subjectified feet that today the majority of individuals in our society would be carrying cameras around as casually as coins, and daily hooking into a universal portal that enables us to send images from one side of the world to another in a split second — and that we think nothing of it.
An earlier and more sudden such shift occurred with the advent of photography, which rendered painting's idea of its own function, as the most sophisticated form of representation, outmoded and obsolete. This stripping away of function is, broadly speaking, what has led to painting's odyssey of self-questioning, crisis, purification, recurrent death and resurrection. All the while, the ground continues shifting from beneath. So that now, in an era of post-convergent media, the rendering of forms has a renewed capacity to raise questions: what is a representation without a referent? What can we invest in representations of people who have never existed?
For Kant, objective subreption occurs when the subjective experience of beauty is mistaken for a recognition of beauty in the observed form; that is to say, the subject mistaking its own experience of an object for the object itself. In Koops’s work, this moment twists in on itself to produce an experience whereby the subjective experience of the completely synthetic form is mistaken for a representation from life. It is, I think, the distinction between life and non-life that makes this moment crucial in the experience of the work.
One of the things that is striking about Koops’ work is the sense of boredom exhibited by her exquisitely depicted subjects. It inheres in their stances and attitudes. They are the sorts of characters we expect to see in choppy, rugged rendering on a flatscreen, racing through a mediaeval town to deliver a life-or-death missive to a mysterious monk, or scaling a parapet to emancipate an abductee and slay a tyrant. Having been brought into our realm, materialised through the medium of painting, their forms have been perfected, but also imbued with an overwhelming ennui. One woman sits at a table holding a gargantuan lemon-gold jewel before her face. Her expression says, ‘so what?’ A young man, complete with Shakespearean bowl-cut and billowing shirt, gazes sulkily into the middle-distance as he attempts to nail together a complex wooden form, DIY hardware-style. A third subject defies the sense of apathy to present a look of startled indignation as her flaxen hair snakes across her plushly intricate sweater. These virtual characters, now that they have been granted the luxury of a painted form, a flagship existence if you will, display an inability to actually enjoy their existences.
The paintings hang scattered like windows on a virtual desktop – again painting stakes a claim: you say desktop, I say salon hang. The title of Koops’ exhibition, Act Natural, offers an injunction that is at once paradoxical and directive – and underhanded at that, as though we are neophytes in an act of subterfuge, and must be told what is required of us as we navigate an unfamiliar realm.
Helen Johnson is a Melbourne-based artist, writer and current PhD candidate at Monash University. She is represented by Sutton Gallery, Melbourne.
‘Laughing Out Loud on the Inside’ By Simon Gregg 2010
Solo Exhibition @ Gippsland Art Gallery, Australia, 2010
Since the time of their introduction, humans have shared a sometimes perilous relationship with their computers. Once objects of desire and fantasy, bordering on fetish, we now allow computers into every aspect of our lives; a decanter for our hopes and dreams. While the discrepancy between our virtual lives and real lives is typically vast, for many users the psychological borders have become dangerously blurred.
In negotiating a contemporary relationship with technology we are led to recall filmic precursors such as Electric Dreams (1984) or the even more prophetic Tron (1982), in which the protagonist hacker Kevin Flynn (played by Jeff Bridges) becomes physically consumed by a computer gaming program. Flynn’s virtual incarnation sees our hero adorned with primitive CGI accruements, which effectively signalled the beginning of the end of the clear delineation between the cyber world and the physical world – where virtual actions had real life reactions.
Today our technology dictates who we are and what we are. Online forums such as Facebook and Second Life enable participants to propagate artificial variants of our real lives, where identity becomes moulded by the click and drag of a mouse. The traditional notion of ‘identity’ is now formed through multiple media channels, and housed within multiple facades and multidimensional formats.
Annika Koops works within several modes of art production as a means of critiquing contemporary identity; specifically, its duplicitous nature. While references to digital idioms abound, her practice is based in painting, and is employed as a deliberate strategy to engage with art history. Here, photography and digital imagery is often used not so much for its own properties, but to evoke wider terms of reference. Koops uses painting as a means to allegorise the myriad of contemporary identities via traditional methods. In this she proposes art history as a lens through which to perceive and filter the maelstrom of personalities that today’s users are obliged to face.
Koops inflicts her painted surfaces with a strange, sometimes pallid velour. What appears, on first approach, to be merely photorealistic appears, upon closer inspection, to be a heightened realism; a hyper-reality in which flesh and form has been exaggerated. Skin detail is in some cases homogenised, while in others it accentuates blemishes and imperfections. Koops works hard to achieve imperfection; her subjects are intensified by their spots, veins and other surface aberrations.
They are not so much traditional portraits in oil, but portraits in oil that have arrived by way of digital modification. She disrupts and challenges our traditional understanding of portraiture in that her subjects are not actually sitting; she writes: ‘They don’t sit because they don’t exist’. In this she acknowledges the present shift toward virtual characterisation, but introduces imperfection in a bid to make her characters seem more real. They have the appearance of being traditional portraits of fictional characters invented by computer game programmers; of Hans Holbein meets Lara Croft.
This, of course, is exactly how Koops intends it. In her latest series Laughing Out Loud on the Onside, Koops has developed gaming characters through computer software, which she then renders exquisitely in oil. Her particular skill is not for maintaining the real through the painting process, but in offering a new kind of reality by making real what was not real in the first place. She participates in a staged ‘removal from reality’ process.
The result is portraits – in the traditional sense – that are uncanny and arouse peculiar difficulties for the viewer. Who or what we are looking at becomes uncertain, as does our relationship with the picture. Koops creates images that recall multiple means of creation, and yet seem to belong to none of them. This is the dilemma of the digital age in a nutshell: existing without belonging. Koops’ portraits engender an acute awkwardness that is paralleled directly in contemporary identity – in particular in adolescence, where social interaction is the measure of status.
These portraits occupy a strange, interstitial world of becoming and unbecoming. The crisp paintwork suggests a brittle fragility, where figures float against incongruous surrounds, dispensing with any hope of contextualization. In the absence of any explicit clues to these ungainly, slightly warped figures we look to art history, for here, Koops quotes freely. The curiously blank, empty stares recall seventeenth and eighteenth century portraiture, but the artificial skin pallor suggests a much more recent source. Koops writes:
The process by which I construct my figures explores the parasitic quality of allegory. By attaching one meaning to another they are amalgams emblematic of a set of human desires, rather than actual humans .
It is this amalgamation that sets Koops’ peculiar images apart. Like today’s glossy fashion magazines there is a breach in the purported reality of photography, with models’ faces and features being airbrushed and photo-shopped to the point of being fictionalised. The people we see in these magazines have as much tenure with reality as do computer ‘avatars’ – the 3D computer modelled persona created for games and online forums such as Second Life.
Koops’ current project centres on the unlikely meeting of fictionalised avatars and art history, and on the ‘nexus between old and new technologies’:
There is an element of bodily fragmentation in the process by which my figures have come into being that is characteristic of the order of new media and the digital age. Yet the manner in which they are painted speaks of the weight of history, or the impossibility of going back .
In bringing together new modes of portraiture (which in virtual reality represents the identity of the creator) and traditional approaches, Koops proposes a renewed vitality to the genre. Her work harnesses the fetish for flesh that characterises both advertising imagery and historical oil painting, to fathom an altogether unique hybrid form.
The interplay between analogue and digital, and traditional and contemporary produces an air of sometimes unsettling disquiet in Koops’ work. In unleashing digital technologies to formulate an alternate reality, we come to doubt the physicality of the form so meticulously presented to us. We also come to doubt the sincerity of our online interactions, where ‘emoticons’ come to stand for real emotions, and where the acronym ‘LOL’ means to ‘laugh out loud’. The cold, cyborgian characters that inhabit Koops’ canvasses seem incapable of such uninhibited laughter – perhaps they are, to use the artist’s own turn of phrase, ‘laughing out loud on the inside’.
1.Annika Koops, email to the author 4 May 2010
'A reassuring revolution'
By Bec Tudor
Annika Koops SOLO 'Drop Shadow my Heart'@ Bett Gallery 2009
There is a fear that as we become more connected through technology, we become increasingly disconnected - emotionally and physically - from the present moment and from those immediately around us. It is certainly true that as technology further abstracts and encodes interaction and communication, we are depending more heavily on bodiless networks to fulfil our needs. As avid consumers of new technology, today’s youth are a major driving force behind the digital revolution. Inevitably it is this group who will also inherit the consequences of current cultural shifts, for better and for worse.
Annika Koops’ exhibition of paintings Drop Shadow My Heart explores the complex relationships between the burgeoning digital revolution, mainstream visual culture and the way our society depicts young people. This new body of work continues Koops’ long-running investigations into the imaging of youth, the genre of portraiture, and the emotional and psychological influence of historical and contemporary visual imagery. It is also a conscious response to the new modes of representation and aesthetics that define this digital age.
Lonely figures set in cool, seemingly empty environments populate this collection of works. Though solitude is not typical in popular depictions of youth, trends in virtual entertainment and remote work practices indicate it is an increasing reality. A sense of confusion and latent anxiety harries these modern individuals while glazed, downcast and diverted gazes refuse access to their inner thoughts and emotions. The strange plasticity of their skin deflects empathy; our desire for insight into the identities of these subjects is rebuffed.
It is well understood that youth – ‘the most valorised, desirable and ultimately unattainable state’ according to Koops - is a marketing device of immense power. In these paintings the artist also comments on another technique at play in consumer culture, a trend in current marketing images to digitally mimic the aesthetic hallmarks of eras gone by. What might otherwise be called ‘manufactured nostalgia’ is achieved not only through the conscious placement of retro objects and surfaces (e.g. patterned wallpaper of Decaffeinated Angst) but also by artificially replicating the visual effects produced by redundant image production technology (e.g. the yellow tones of a 1970s photograph evoked by Rose Coloured Masses).
Nostalgia can be a powerful emotive device not just because it triggers genuine memories from personal experience but also because it promotes a romanticised notion of a past where life was safe and simple. Familiarity is reassuring, and Koops is concerned that by manufacturing a sense of nostalgia visual advertising can present new technology with serious political and ethical implications - invasive forms of communication and surveillance technology, for example - as harmless luxury items.
Speaking about the painting A Strange and New Cacophony, Koops explains: ‘Blutooth headsets, like much contemporary technology are presented as freedom and autonomy, when its function is in fact the opposite…workers [are] being forced to multi-task, completing communications (already regulated, de-skilled, and inconsequential as they are) in a manner that does not even allow for engagement or empathy on even the most basic level’. Her paintings arise from observations of gradual yet momentous cultural shifts occurring at a time when obsession with technology means the unquestioning consumer is complicit in the degradation of their own independence and identity.
Koops’ paintings show us that what you see is not necessarily what you get. Clean hippie is a portrait of a young woman in tie-dyed tank top, rainbow headband and rose-tinted glasses. Everything from her straight teeth and plucked eyebrows, to perky posture and dubious smile communicates that all is not right - she is not the genuine article. Through her outfit this figure succeeds in being superficially symbolic, yet by merely trying-on the aesthetic of the past without embodying its socio-political ideology she, in fact, represents nothing.
The ideas of community, grassroots activism and free speech that drove the social movement of the hippie era have been expanded in new ways through Internet culture. Yet, those in the offline community aspiring towards alternate, more down-to-earth lifestyles now fantasise about a, ‘type of contact and engagement rendered obsolete by a culture obsessed with perpetual upgrading.’
Richard Grayson reminds us that: ‘Computer technology grew out of the bohemian cultures of the 1960s and 70s’ and goes on to assert that, ‘…the unlegislated spaces of the web have allowed utopian constructions of space where, ‘Do what thou wilt’ is indeed, for a moment, “the whole of the law”’. Recently, fears about freedom and the internet and the deep suspicion that, unchecked, the over-use of technology tends towards anomie (a lack of usual social or ethical standards in an individual or society) has grown. The 2008 controversy around photographer Bill Henson’s depictions of naked youth, involving the appearance of his imagery on a gallery website, prompted the Australia Council for the Arts to produce its Protocols for working with children in art, the introduction of which states:
…advances in technology through online and mobile media have opened the way for mass access to images and written material. There is the potential for this material to be distributed, intentionally or unintentionally, well beyond the original audience. It is in this context that the whole community, including artists and arts organizations, must consider their legal and ethical obligations regarding the safety of children.
One senses a ‘silent trepidation of technological apocalypse’ submerged within this paternalistic statement, and it is the very same undercurrent of uncertainty and nervousness that Koops’ paintings attempt to make visible. Here is an artist exploring a complex tangle of ideological, aesthetic and social issues, which authoritarian structures would attempt to resolve on our behalf. She reminds us that what we see isn’t always all we get.
Bec Tudor is a freelance arts writer and critic. She is currently Audience Development and Publications Co-ordinator at CAST, Hobart, TAS.
Richard Grayson, Dirty Pictures, Broadsheet, Vol. 37, No. 3, September 2008, p. 184
Australia Council for the Arts, Protocols for working with children in art, December 2008, pg 2.
'The Future Ruins'
By Meredith Turnbull
Annika Koops SOLO 'The Ruins'@ Depot Gallery Sydney 2009
“Allegories are, in the realm of thought, what ruins are in the realm of things”
Annika Koops new work for The Ruins follows a similar thematic trajectory to that of past works. Koops continues to investigate her interest in the construction and sociological ramifications of online networks, communities and virtual environments. These themes are interwoven with art historical references from 16th and 17th century painting, still life, and religious and allegorical painting. What is also maintained is the quietly uncanny quality of Koops’ photographic and painted works. While they actively reference historic and contemporary movements in painting, there is also a speculative fictional quality to Koops’ strange and cold imaginings that evokes the qualities of Margaret Atwood’s the Handmaid’s Tale (1985) or the poetry and prose of Sylvia Plath.
Koops displays a technical proficiency in painting combined with a social-realist approach that allies her work with that of Australian painters Jan Nelson and Nadine Christensen. All three share an inclination toward a highly illusionistic or optical depth and combine a psychological intensity with the subtle inclusion of technological devices. What makes Koops unique is her conscious cultivation of a technical and physical awkwardness within the works. Her bodily representations are deliberately off-kilter, stretched and warped. Developed over seven years of exhibition history they oscillate between Neo-classical beauty and the self-consciousness of the reluctant or real subject like those found in the recent internet phenomenon Awkward Family Photos.com.
One new series titled Still Second Life (oil on linen, 2009) is a subtle and fragmented suite of paintings. These range from small works depicting sole elements to mid-sized canvases of interior spaces. Through an armchair, an ultra modern lounge room, a floating faceted jewel or a World of Warcraft suit of armour, Koops studies how objects and domestic spaces are represented in these networks and virtual worlds. There is an emptiness revealed in these interiors, some of which are sourced from Real Estate advertisements and catalogues, now largely digitally rendered three-dimensional representations of how your ideal home/space could be.
The online community Second Life is an ongoing interest of Koops’; how dream homes are created, how replicants of domestic environments are constructed and the aesthetic choices made by the participants in these networks. Koops is also interested in the avatar, the visual incarnations of the self in networks like Second Life and the social implications of this role-playing. Through her work she asks what comparison can be made between the contemporary avatar and historical portraiture? How important is sociological illustration within portraiture? And how can the intricate narrative of genre painting or historic representations of aristocratic families be compared to the relatively accessible portraiture of the C21st avatar? This evocative series of studies was undertaken at the end or the start of Koops’ day in the studio, and deliberately reflects the rhizomatic structure and nature of the internet. Second Life raises many questions about how and why we choose to render object, subject and context in the digital world. These canvases are consciously dislocating, portraying simulacra of real and virtual worlds.
Starcraft Number 1 (oil on linen, 2009) is one of six close-cropped portraits in the exhibition. It depicts ‘Tossgirl’ the professional gaming celebrity from Korea. These portraits use found images or online avatars as source material, the artist then dresses these images with mismatched accoutrements echoing the often amateur and pick and mix approach of virtual design. Koops uses these online identities to explore the supposed anomic results of immersion in the digital world. Tossgirl is only one of the many personalities in PC rooms across the world, where players attend with friends but ironically engage in the solitary pursuit of a collective. Facebook is another online network through which Koops explores the representation of identity, how social status is established and the neuroses it provokes. Not just a social networking site, Facebook is repository of insecurity and social and personal vanity.
Some of the portraits in this series employ a grey tone underpainting called grisaille or dead colouring, a technique seen in C15th Flemish painting. Grisaille creates a tonal appearance and depth of illustration upon which textures and skin tones can be overlayed. Its similarity to the process of 3D modelling is one of the focal points of Koops’ work for this exhibition. The 3D modelling software that is employed to create realistic representations within virtual space is similar to painting on a technical level. An automated mathematical process using wire mesh, much like a preparatory or perspective drawing, dictates the level of the tones. There is a growing movement on forums and websites that focuses on including physiognomic flaws and physical imperfections within avatar incarnations in order to make avatars appear more real.
Mixed Methodologies (oil on board, 2009) includes five works employing a loose sgrafitto technique, in this case a linear scratching back from a black surface to reveal white underpainting. Explored here are religious iconographies, Madonna and Child to Dutch still life or vanitas painting and how these can be translated into contemporary representations of desire. Allegory in the form of Ovid’s Metamorphosis surfaces here with an image of Leda and the Swan. Koops approaches allegory as a non-linear or parasitic strategy, functioning in the same way as networked or multi-faceted identities online. These works are scratched out and modelled in black and white much like the 3D netting or polygonal mesh used in digital modelling.
Included in The Ruins are three photographs of a female subject, Photoshoped to brilliant luminescence and porcelain beauty. They evoke the skin tones and body shapes used by French Neoclassical painter Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres. Second Something (Lambda Print, 2009) most aptly conveys the languid pose and manipulation of an Ingres model. In Double Nothing (Lambda Print, 2009) this perfection is strikingly contrasted with the model’s real face. These photographs are created using multiple layers in Photoshop much like underpainting traditions, using a base and then a series of transparent layers to add colour and texture. In Second Something (Lambda Print, 2009) Koops employs her now signature motif of a seated woman in a sparse interior setting. The body is manipulated, limbs stretched and neck elongated into an idealized representation of the subject.
Koops says that the next stage in her artistic research will include the study and use of 3D modelling software like Poser, a program that requires the composition of forms from generic modules, allowing the user to try on identities and create the fictional from scratch. She also acknowledges that within this digital revolution, technologies are constantly being outdated, even the term virtual reality is now considered retro, full of memory and illusion, already a ruin of an outmoded past.
Meredith Turnbull is Gallery Manger/Curator of the Margaret Lawrence Gallery. She is also a Melbourne based artist and writer.