Symbology

The new work presented at Kathleen Cullen Fine Art is the continuation of the “Histograms and Variations” explorations begun in 2001.

“Histograms” is a term I appropriated for works created by extracting and abstracting minute details from specific photographs. The latest work incorporates a similar method, however the resulting image reflects basic elements from the source image, allowing representation to occur. The subjects rendered are of portraits and the urban landscape. The subjects explored refer to man’s relationship to himself, to his history and his surroundings in the age of technology.

In our increasingly technological world, connections to information and our perceived reality are often made through various types of electronic visual screens: Computers, televisions, projectors, PDAs, mobile phones and the like. We now live with the ability to be intimately involved in the lives of people whom we have and may never physically meet, in environments and constructs that are entirely digital. This is a precarious and revolutionary step in the evolution of man. We are all bound to exist in this amorphous state, as technology becomes a necessity and integral part of our lives.

I am interested in the visual element of this interaction.

The human brain has the ability to recognize and differentiate minute details in another’s face within a fraction of a second. People we have only seen in the media are immediately recognized on the street as if they had been neighbors. This phenomenon has elevated fame and notoriety to the significant and celebrated part of contemporary culture.

In order to explore these phenomenons in my work, I created a visual filter – a sort of digital kaleidoscope – through which only basic elements of representation remain visible. I chose a linear graphic reminiscent of the commonplace bar code as inspiration for this filter. Representing one of the first widely and commercially used man made systems that can only be read by a machine, further distancing us from our surroundings, each other and ultimately ourselves. This mapping between messages and barcodes is referred to as “Symbology”. It is a way to establish conceptual connections between behavioral psychology and mathematics

This existential ambiguity informs my new work, simultaneously representational and abstract.

New York, March 21, 2008

 

Sanctum 1: A high-resolution video projection by Alex Haas with original music by Brian Eno

In 2002, I appropriated the term “Histograms” for a series of digital images made by extracting and reproducing an infinitesimal portion of an analog color photograph of flowers and plants. Sanctum is the continuation of my work on Histograms; it is based on the same principles as Histograms but is expressed through duration and motion. Because of its evolution from Histograms, to understand Sanctum I must first explain Histograms:

Because Histograms isolate and expand one segment of a plant or flower, they become visual metaphors, at once representational and abstract. Existing this way on the border between perception and representation, they offer the possibility for a new way of seeing and expressing time. The essence of the original photographs – the colors and their representational dimensionality – remains an unchanged fixture in the next generation of work. What does change is the specificity of the moment, so that no matter the final composition I choose, the image’s source, its DNA, becomes a minute slice of a slice of time. Even in their utter stillness, Histograms are exclamations of hope: they speak of metamorphosis, of the transmutation of time, and ultimately of a past that can be liberated into new perceptions of reality.

The same high-resolution scans I used for Histograms are the starting point and palette for Sanctum. In a series of computer manipulations, an abstraction of slowly evolving and meditative chromatic lines is created. As the colors are taken from the natural world, the experience, although abstract, unconsciously refers to the familiar.

While Histograms refer to a moment in time and perception, Sanctum adds duration and motion to the quartet of dimensions at play in the piece. In Sanctum, original photographs taken at speeds of fractions of a second, are transformed into 10- to 12-minute visual segments. In the same way, the music composed by Brian Eno was produced by “freezing” sounds from various instruments and letting them slowly “decay” over time. Therefore, the sounds and their visual counterparts become one entity. As the colors and sounds evolve and dissolve, one is transported through a 40-minute abstract narrative during which moods and feelings are triggered from the slow chromatic and sonic transmutations.

As both a musician and a visual artist, I am interested in the analogous thought processes and techniques in the recording of sound and the recording of visual imagery. In my work as a recording engineer, I think of the tape recorder as a sound camera – a machine that captures a moment of time by transferring sonic vibrations in space onto tape, much as a camera records reflected light onto film. Digital audio editing equipment allows me to view a representation of sound on a screen, so that I edit music using my sense of sight. In Sanctum, my collaboration with Brian Eno encourages the separation between sound and sight to fade and the critical issue of time to re-emerge as a medium to be manipulated and represented.

Sanctum 1 is the single screen version of the four-screen Sanctum 4. In this larger installation, four high-definition videos of differing lengths are projected on screens facing each other in a square room. A self-generative piece of music is locked to these visuals so that what is seen and heard becomes a meditative and ever-changing sensory experience, thereby adding to the seemingly random focus on the particular.

In Histograms and Sanctum, the works being sampled are original photographs by my late father, Ernst Haas, the celebrated Austrian photographer who, in 1962, became first color photographer to have a one-person exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art. As the first photographer to successfully experiment with the multiple significations of motion photography, he developed a blurring of subject matter that suggested an unfreezing of time. His photographs and their evocation of time are the building blocks of my work. In the same way that my DNA originates with my father’s, his photographs are the molecular background component carrying the genetic information that allows Sanctum to exist.

New York, November 2, 2004

 

Histograms and Variations

“Wherever anything lives, there is, open somewhere, a register in which time is being inscribed.” – Henri Bergson

Histograms and Variations are visual metaphors, at once representational and abstract. They offer the possibility for a new way of seeing and expressing time.

My Histograms are digital images made by extracting and reproducing an infinitesimal portion of an analog color photograph. The Variations are works that, in turn, use the Histograms as their source and palette. In both “expressions” the original essence of the photograph ˇ the colors and their representational dimensionality – remain an unchanged fixture in the work. No matter the final composition I choose, the images source, or its DNA, is a minute slice of a slice of time, a moment in our perception of life.

Histograms exist on the border between perception and representation.As both a musician and a visual artist, I am interested by the
analogous thought processes and techniques inherent in the recording of sound and the recording of visual imagery. In my work as a recording engineer, I thought of the tape recorder as a sound camera – a machine that captures a moment of time by transferring vibrations in space onto tape, much as a camera records reflected light onto film. Digital audio editing equipment allows me to view a representation of sound on a screen, so that I edit music using my sense of sight. The separation between sound and sight has faded and the critical issue of time re-emerges as a medium to be manipulated and represented.

Another key into these works lies in the controversial concept of “sampling”. In both my visual and musical work, existing pieces are used as the starting points for new creations, a process commonly referred to in the music industry as ¯sampling”. In the Histograms, the works being sampled are original photographs by my father, Ernst Haas. As the first photographer to successfully experiment with the multiple significations of motion photography, he developed a blurring of subject matter that suggested an unfreezing of time. His photographs and their evocation of time are the building blocks of my Histograms. In the same way that my DNA originates with my father’s, his photographs are the molecular background component carrying the genetic information that allows the Histograms to exist.

Just as music and visual art have blurred, many seemingly discrete social truths have been affected by scientific and technological advancements. new abilities in cloning and genetics raise questions about family and society that reverberate in the art world. What is the value of an original? Does a clone have the same worth as its progenitor? Although technology allows us to edit most human error from film or photography, do we want to? By moving closer to physical or scientific flawlessness and perfection do we really come closer to the sacred? And ultimately, what is sacred?

Even in their utter stillness, Histograms and their Variations are exclamations of hope: they speak of metamorphosis, of the transmutation of time, and ultimately of a past that can be liberated into new perceptions of reality.

New York, September 24, 2003

 

Histograms: The Dynamic of Stillness

Histograms explore a new vocabulary in representation. By extracting and reproducing the infinitesimal essence of an image, I create a new abstract organism (digital) whose source – its DNA- is directly based in nature (analogue). Histograms are a fingerprint – the border between perception and representation.

As a musician in close contact with the visual arts I began to recognize that there exist analogous thought processes and artistic mindsets between the recording of sound and the recording of image. Working for many years as a sound recording engineer, I had long thought of the tape machine as a sound camera – a machine that transfers vibrations in space into readable and reproducible information (much like a camera records reflected light onto film). Both fields capture moments in time on film. Histograms are visual slivers of moments. A fraction of a fraction of a second, extended and documented.

Using digital audio editing equipment I am able to view a representation of sound on a screen that, especially at certain magnifications, I edit using my sense of sight; the relationship between sound and picture blurring into one and the same. I may also extract sections – or samples – from both sounds and photographs that become starting points for new material.

We live in a time where the parent/progeny, original/copy, first/second relationship is blurring in all aspects of life. Major advances in cloning and genetics raise important questions that also have relevance in the art world. What is the value of an original? Should we edit all human error from film or photography or music? How perfect should we, and our creations, be? What is perfect? And ultimately, what is sacred?

All these implications are of great interest to me. What, today, is the essence of our being?

Histograms are a representation of DNA taken from my father, from his world. Like me, they are a creation born of him, sharing basic components, but uniquely divergent.

Even in their utter stillness, Histograms are exclamations of hope: they tell us that a positive transformation can be made. A metamorphosis can occur. A liberation is possible.

New York, March 14, 2002