Nechvatal ‘Postflesh’ Artweek

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by David M. Roth



On Joseph Nechvatal, as reviewed in the ‘Postflesh’ show at the California State University, Sacramento Gallery by David M. Roth for Artweek, April 2003



Among the most engaging entries (in the ‘Postflesh’ show) are Joseph Nechvatal’s "viral-infected computer-robotic assisted paintings." Nechvatal, a superstar in the field of computer-generated imagery since the mid 80s, begins his wall-sized (5-1/2-by 10-foot) works by creating computer viruses which he turns loose on his existing digital images. Once infected and altered, the imagery is painted on canvases robotically. The results, contrary to what you might expect, are painterly, poetic and a bit otherworldly.


One painting resembles a giant cuneiform tablet that’s been ripped from an archaeological dig and rendered as photo-realistic blur. Another features a Rothko-like expanse of chalky, red-and-white pigment framed by pairs of breasts and ill-defined pubic zones.


What’s compelling about Nechvatal’s run-amok virtual/mechanical process is the way computer viruses mirror their biological counterparts. Cognizant of that dynamic, Nechvatal’s works reflect the degree to which human life and machine life are intertwined, and the degree to which mutations, both "viral virtual" and "viral actual", have become "the genome program" for life processes.