800 LBS. OF PIXELS"
Catalogue Essay by Robert Mahoney
What do we see, when we see? is the central question in Devorah Sperber's amazing optical journeys from commonplace visual appearance, to an abstract plane of apprehension, then back again to something recognizable but forever changed. On first impression, one might take Sperber's "pictures" to be a type of painting, when they are in fact a kind of sculpture, with their imagery derived from photographs, and their physical presence created by the obsessive assemblage of small manufactured objects. But the overriding fact of the work is that Sperber has embraced the computer as a tool to improve upon reality (not escape into a virtual reality) and uses computer programs to blueprint or code pixelated images in such a way that she can, in a process the artist refers to as "post-digital," return an image in a new and improved--and physical--way to the plane of visual reality.
In Reflections on a Lake, Sperber selected a common snapshot she had taken of a shoreline of Lake Tahoe, then scanned it into a computer, pixelated it, heightened its color, coded a program to numerically distinguish every shade of blue, green, brown and yellow in every pixel in the view, then used the programmed grid to dictate how 5,760 spools of thread were stacked up into a large 6' x 10' image composed of the spools hung loosely, like the elements of a curtain, from clear vinyl tubing. In Virtual Environment I, Sperber builds a wall, this time composed of 20,000 spools of thread, also suspended from clear vinyl tubing. With this work it becomes clearer that Sperber uses spools of thread simply as building blocks to construct new realities, not to mention the fact that as spools are pixel-square, come in more than 300 colors, and are available in large quantities, they are "perfect" for Sperber's needs.
Finally, in Lie Like a Rug Sperber has personally attached 18,000 Letraset Tria marker caps, every single one affixed with a small color label created for the manufacture of such pens, to a black-gesso'd canvas, using a computer program to array these "low-tech pixels" in the complex pattern of an oriental rug lying on the floor. In all of Sperber's new works, the resulting primary images, with their grid-like rationality, their material presence, and their fuzzy and vaguely familiar quality, create hallucinatory works of art suspended somewhere between representation and abstraction.
But Sperber does not end her parsing of visual reality with mere pixelated assemblages. The newly re-presented images are uniquely "site-responsive," in that they are intentionally hung in a gallery whose size precludes the possibility of getting far enough back from them to allow them to come into focus again to the naked eye (for Reflections on a Lake and Virtual Environment I one would have to stand 75 feet back from the image to do so). The artist has therefore installed a series of tiny rearview mirrors on the gallery walls opposite both Reflections on a Lake and Virtual Environment I, and situated similar mirrors on the wall above the floor piece Lie Like a Rug. By looking into these mirrors, one can catch a startling glimpse of a clearly defined, if distant and somewhat distorted, landscape, stone wall, or pattern of a rug at one's back (At 8' x 28', Virtual Environment I is so extensive in scale that Sperber has accommodated the presence of gallery spectators by placing her rearview mirrors appropriately--accentuating a situation where every viewer makes his or her own reality).
That Sperber has spent so much time of careful planning and obsessive handicraft to pull apart reality, only to put it all back together again, emphasizes that her art intends for the viewer not to valorize abstraction as a higher state of perception, but to make use of the higher planes of reality to give one's perception of the commonplace visual experience a more questioning and even critical character. With conceptualist theory, new technology, obsessive handicraft, and a keen sense of the complexity of visual reality which is all her own, Devorah Sperber presents a new body of work that marks a dizzying introduction to the complicated truth of the real as it exists in the post-digital world of today.
Robert Mahoney is an art writer living in New York. He contributes to Time Out New York, Art in America, Art on Paper and D'Art International magazines.