Simone Krug for The Brooklyn Rail
Large pixels flicker on the screen, rearranging shapes to look like faces. John Houck's Portrait Landscape (2017) applies custom facial recognition software to Michelangelo Antonioni's classic 1966 Blow-Up, in which a fashion photographer examines grainy exposures on his contact sheet only to realize that, unnoticeably, he has recorded a murder. In an era before the internet and the digital camera, it was printed, tangible photography that turned the film's protagonist into an unwitting witness. In Houck's video, the stroke of a mouth and eye points appear in all sorts of strange places: wrinkled sheets, carefully combed hair, a textured brick wall, a lawn. When scanning the human physiognomy, Houck's software gets it wrong on purpose.
The video, which is part of Analog Currency in Los Angeles' The Mistake Room, applies contemporary digital surveillance technologies, with their ubiquitous and hidden systems and tendency to error, in a classic film with a totally disturbing effect. By placing these pixels within our sitelines, the artist alludes to state actors such as the military and police, as well as data-driven companies like Facebook, and focuses on issues of opacity, control, and bureaucracy.
In Hito Steyerl's 2013 essay "Too Much World: Is the Internet Dead," the artist notes, "Over the past few years, many people, basically everyone, have noticed that the internet also feels uncomfortable. Obviously, it is completely policed, monopolized and sanitized by common sense, copyright, control and conformism." Analog Currency advocates a similar critique of the digital spin, considering the ways it defines and torments us today. However, by invoking the analogical, that is, the notion of the physical or material, the exhibition delves into these questions from an even more nuanced starting point. Implicating analog as an idea challenges both its obsolescence and the reign of digital in general.
Miguel Monroy's gripping conceptual work Equivalent (2005) unfolds in 91 framed bank receipts, each of which represents a currency exchange transaction between Mexican pesos and U.S. dollars. Changing a thousand pesos to dollars and vice versa, the ever-dwindling numbers of these receipts function as material evidence of a capitalist exchange system that ultimately exhausts it. Where does the money go? Currency by currency, it slips through the cracks, becoming forgotten quotas and hidden tributes to governments, bureaucracies and other abstract systems of domination.