Counterfeit is the perfect title for an exhibition layered in irony and built with large-scale images of microscopic digital scans of global currency pressed with gold leaf and embedded in resin. Each image is extravagantly framed with unique carved wood stock creating a precious artifact out of the most common form of exchange in a capitalist society. The artwork is infused with golden light transmitted through multiple coats of translucent resin, but there is more than layers of gloss to examine.
Candela Gallery’s selected exhibitions often seem to ask the audience to reconsider how photography is defined and this show is no exception. These artifacts contain layers of photographic reality beginning with the original process to print the currency, which was then photographed at a high magnification with a scanner, converted to large scale using digital photography software, and finally printed in photographic quality on a fine art archival fiber paper. Throughout the process the artists have integrated gold leaf, paint, and resin into the light and shadow of the photographic imaging process. The result is a highly tactile and textured object that is far removed from the unified and bland surface of a photographic digital print.
Louviere + Vanessa are a creative team whose previous works include the “cinegraph”, which is a physical montage of thousands of Super 8mm filmstrip frames shot and assembled in such as way as to create a still image composite. If one watched the film as film was intended to be viewed, over time, then it we would see a meaningless stream of blurred images, but presented in a grid fashion after David Hockney’s photo assemblages, a new and comprehensible still image is visible.
In Counterfeit, Lourviere + Vanessa take the most common form of human exchange – currency – and aestheticize it. They have dug out of these complex colorful bills, embedded images that represent a republic’s identity and then re-contextualized the symbols as unique artifacts, now coated with gold leaf and resin, and carrying an existential significance. The titles, such as “A Circus Never Forgets its First Hurricane” are absurd or nonsensical, and pick up on a visual similarity to build a fragmented meaning. (Note the series of rings in the image below.)
In some ways these images are very much what is expected of a photograph. We expect for the photographer to act as an observer to extract moments and spaces of the real world for us to view. Aaron Siskind made abstract photographs about peeling paint and crushed gloves – he observed and used his craft to beautify what many ignored. These images are based on the slips of paper we carry around in our billfolds – which magically have value – and exchange for a cup of coffee or a work of art. Despite their mundanity, these bills have been carefully illustrated and designed by artists to exacting specifications and approved by a government somewhere to represent wealth. The figures and symbols in our currency contain our nation’s fundamental values. Louviere + Vanessa have carefully scrutinized these currency prints and selected small fragments to show us. By scanning a miniscule proportion of the currency and blowing it up, Louviere + Vanessa remove it’s monetary value, then enormously increase it’s value by reassembling it into an artwork literally covered in gold, which of course, is what currency substitutes for in the first place. In doing so, they bring these hidden elements and meanings out into the light for us to examine. If you have forgotten about commonly held beliefs of nationalism, patriotism, national mascots, and sacrifice for country and honor…well, here it all is unfolded for you in a golden splender stained with ink blots, smears and polyurethane.
What is more real than money? What is more fictional than money? Currency exists in both realms. We all share a mass belief (or mass delusion) in the value of money to purchase and currency is the physical manifestation of that belief. As a society we use currency less and less and simply accept the concept of money as a value in our checking and credit accounts that may be transmitted through a smart phone, click of a virtual button, or swipe of a card. Soon there may not be the opportunity to create counterfeit currency and and a historical archive of those notes will join their image shadows in Louviere + Vanessa’s art work in a museum somewhere. Most likely… the shadow will hold it’s value far longer than the original.
Louviere + Vanessa : Counterfeit is at Candela Books + Gallery through June 22, 2013. Another success for a regional leader in photographic exhibitions and publications.