When we look at a photograph of a Martian crater sent to Earth by one of the NASA rovers, we claim to know something about the distant planet where this photograph was taken. We believe so devoutly in photographic truth that we allow it to serve as a prosthetic for human experience. It is with blind faith that we rely so heavily on the confirmatory power of our eyes; so much, in fact, that in this age of technical images, we often take for granted just what it is we are looking at. At its most basic level, the digital photograph in front of us is an arrangement of pixels, bits, and bytes. The image we perceive is little more than a collage of information, and a fictitious one at that.
What happens to a digital image in the liminal space between point A and point B? It is only in the human mind computer that the millions of data particles, fractured and reconstructed during the process of transmission, are compressed, analyzed, and imbued with any coherence. Digital photographs are traces of this process of data abstraction. What they present to the viewer is merely an illusion of representation.
We have come to falsely equate data with knowledge. If, where digital media are concerned, data is not reliably representative of the subject it is meant to convey, what does it show us? It is this idea that Nora Landes explores in the images which comprise her recent body of work Is There Life on Mars?. Her pieces consider the unknowable void between the process of creating a digital image and the final product, calling into question the validity of the medium itself. Using a scanner to track the movement of Mylar and other reflective or iridescent materials, Landes seeks to harness, even emphasize, the abstraction at the core of digital art. Her work does not conform to the notion that an artistic product is the end result of a process, but rather attempts to solidify that which is gestural, fleeting, and immaterial.
As ephemeral as her images appear, their substance is firmly planted in material. Although her images look as if they might be created by manipulating Photoshop or a code glitch, they are, in fact, a direct, physical response to the materials which inspire her. In this way, they seem almost to spoof the genre of digital art itself. Yet at the same time, what makes the greatest impact in her images are those elements which do not exist as material. Motion, reflection, light, and time are the true subject matter of her work, even more so than Mylar, bubble wrap, and origami paper. Landes’s exploitation of the simultaneous intersection and juxtaposition of the illusory and the experiential is the result of the messy translation from physical, to digital, and back again.
Published on museemagazine.com, April 6, 2016