by Heidi Nordberg
Joseph Nechvatal is a “chef extraordinaire” of the artworld. Using the ingredients of source images, viral codes and attacks, computer-robotic collaboration, as well as his own creative, activist, theoretical sensibilities, he serves up luscious feasts of haunting, liminal images. Nechvatal’s viractual (*) digital paintings are dynamic in a way that belies their 2-dimensionality. Pregnant with an almost mystical awareness of new kinds of consciousness, these works embody rhizomatic interconnections that still defy linguistic articulation (at least, they still defy mine, although his critical writing on these issues is more sophisticated than my own).
Nechvatal’s art and theoretical writing attempt to bring certain kinds of awareness and understanding into the open public sphere (or even into the clearing, as Heidegger might say). It would be the limited person indeed who could meditate long upon one of his paintings without having new patterns of recognition, new kinds of thoughts.
I am always more than happy to brag about the work of my viral friend. In the vernacular of my youth, Nechvatal is “wicked cool.” Keep it going, Joseph!
Nechvatal counters the too-ephemeral cultural recognitions of torture with his embedded images of Abu Graib. The inevitable, evocation of the crucification in this collection is cause for ethical reflection in many directions. These works function as a “wake-up slap to the face” for Americans in general, but especially so for the so-called Christians who have condoned and supported torture policies from the top down.
As a 100% real Bohemian, Nechvatal objects both to the name appropriation and to the realities of the “Bohemian Grove,” the 130-year old California retreat for the political, corporate, banking, and military ruling elite. He has created “a series of faux-romantic digital paintings” that call attention to to the private power club, using source photographs obscured with viral codes and layered imaginaries. The paintings evoke the darker side of the multiple layerings and mutations of religion and power.
Note: The secondary, and more well-known definition of a Bohemia (as any place where creative people can live and work cheaply - and behave unconventionally - in a free community) also seems a bit alien to global power players. This is something beyond simple gentrification…
“Fairy portraits” render prominent neo-conservatives as insectile, bulbous, fractalized, twisted, and written-over, in a series that calls attention to current governmental manipulation and corruption, while at the same time performatively undermining neo-con claims to dominance or authority. Multiply-resonant for would-be interpreters. Have fun.
Finally, be sure to read Nechvatal’s essay on Yves Klein , whose works are being shown at the CORPS, COULEUR, IMMATÉRIEL (Body, Color, Immaterial) show, The Centre Pompidou / Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris, through February 5th, 2007.
(exceprt) “In bringing together 120 paintings and sculptures, some 40 drawings and manuscripts and a great number of contemporary films and photographs, this exhibition offered me a new reading of Klein’s work, this time in the context of virtuality. Adhering as faithfully as possible to the artist’s own intentions as revealed in his recently published writings, the design of the exhibition brought out the importance that Klein accorded to the diverse aspects of his artistic practice: not only painting and sculpture, but also immaterial performances, sound works, interventions in public spaces, architectural projects and, most essentially, immaterial art theory. This diverse oeuvre, all produced during a period of just seven years, is indeed impressive as much of it anticipated the trends of Happening and Performance Art, Land Art, Body Art, Conceptual Art and Digital Art. Thus it has had, ironically, a durable influence on art through its essential interest in and expressions of the immaterial”
(*) The basis of the viractual conception is that virtual producing computer technology has become a significant means for making and understanding contemporary art and that this brings us artists to a place where one finds the emerging of the computed (the virtual) with the uncomputed corporeal (the actual). This merge – which tends to contradict some dominant techno clichés of our time - is what I call the ‘viractual’. This blending of computational virtual space with ordinary viewable space indicates the subsequent emergence of a new topological cognitive-vision of connection between the computed virtual and the uncomputed corporeal world.