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“Enhance 224 to 176. Enhance, stop. Move in, stop. Pull out, track right, stop. Center in, pull back. Stop. Track 45 right. Stop. Center and stop. Enhance 34 to 36. Pan right and pull back. Stop. Enhance 34 to 46. Pull back. Wait a minute, go right, stop. Enhance 57 to 19. Track 45 left. Stop. Enhance 15 to 23. Give me a hard copy right there.”
-Rick Deckard, Blade Runner

Auckland based artist Stella Brennan presents “Instant Pictures”, a series of networked pages which plunges the viewer into their tiniest details, gateways to the next enveloping image-scape lodged amongst hairs, scratches and dust particles.

These details overwhelm, yet Brennan’s intention seems not so much to shrink the scale of the viewer, but rather to bring the images impossibly close to the eye. Moving through the intricate minutiae of a blanket draped over a hotel bed or cascades of shells piled up in a rockpool, the content is indistinct but diary-like, personal. In this sense, this incessant search recalls a frustrated attempt at memory retrieval, sifting through snapshots to recall a cohesive whole. Yet these aren’t our memories and moments, they belong to someone else. And as we comb repeatedly through the close-ups and colour-fields, the viewer moves gradually from passive perceiver to analytic hunter. The telltale dust abnormality, reminiscent of a chip or pixel, facilitates this strange phenomenon: ignoring a screen of impossibly enlarged details on the search for just one.

The desire for an infinite image is an enduring one, ranging from all-encompassing oil paintings to the articulated analog detail in traditional, large format photography. But the development of the high resolution digital photograph, and its associated camera and scanner equipment created a new ubiquity, widening from the site-specific experience of the museum or the specialist use in the photo lab onto the desktop computers and smart phones of the everyday. In August 2010, Canon recently unveiled its 120 Mega-pixel sensor, a seven and a half fold increase on its current flagship camera, capable of 16 Mega-pixels. This rapid escalation of hardware specifications enables a different kind of viewing: a level of detail which reveals the tiniest flaw. Savvy viewers have become accustomed to spotting the manipulation of these, as evidenced by popular blogs such as Photoshop Disasters, in which the reader skims the image with a specific modus operandi, spotting the mistakes which range from obvious anatomical impossibilities to more understated, subtle flaws: missing reflections and phantom shadows, blurred join-marks, mismatched white balance. In a similar fashion, the recent rise of High Definition television has meant a sea change for film crews, makeup artists, and not least, actors and celebrities. As the normally forgiving eye of the camera becomes a ‘merciless gaze’ thanks to the 2 million pixels available, each insignificant mark takes on the potential for fascination or abhorrence. “Instant Pictures”, with its grainless, almost painterly canvas overflowing the browser, reminds us of the legacy of this fascination, while juxtaposing the new digitised strain of yearning in the form of a pixelized chip.

A subtle yet sinister undercurrent seems to run through other works by Brennan – a vaguely dysfunctional relationship between technology and human elements. Her “No Stairway” of 2006 features the haunting, artificial voice of a computer echoing the words of French poet Henry Michaux, who experimented with Mescaline, documenting its nightmarish effects on him in a series of writings. As the voice drones on, the camera pans back and forth, zoomed in impossibly tightly to wallpaper. Whether stemming from the seemingly inevitable march of technology or our investigative desire, these vastly magnified images seem rather to frustrate both impulses, instead capturing our gaze in a claustrophobic chamber. In “South Pacific”, a dreamlike, slow-moving meditation on the effects of war, radar and ultrasound images blur together, bombers and technology usually associated with the body forming an uneasy connection. In “Instant Pictures”, it’s this same hazy malaise that lingers, or – more problematically – is ignored, as our gaze and actions transform a series of personal snapshots into evidence.

“Blade Runner”, 1982, screenplay by Hampton Fancher and David Peoples,
based on the novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” by Philip K. Dick

Canon develops world’s first 120 megapixel APS-H CMOS sensor,

Photoshop Disasters,

“Not Ready for Their Close-Up”, Clive Thompson, The New York Times, June 12, 2005

Stella Brennan – No Stairway – Starkwhite

Stella Brennan – South Pacific, Viewed at St Paul Street Gallery, AUT, 40 St Paul St, Auckland City, New Zealand


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