Alina Frieske, Each and Every Part in Between

JTF (just the facts): Co-published in 2022 by Ciao Press (here) and Images Vevey (here). Hardcover, 23×28 cm, 176 pages, with 84 color reproductions. Includes essays by Joanna L. Cresswell and Gaia Tedone, and a thumbnail array of component images. In an edition of 800 copies. Design by Nicolas Polli. (Cover and spread shots below.)

Comments/Context: One of the exciting byproducts of the digital revolution in photography has been a further softening of the definitional endpoint of an image, thereby opening up new avenues for photographic recycling and reusability. For most of the history of the medium, when a photograph was printed, it was considered “finished” in some manner. Montage, collage, and later photocopy artists then came along and took those finished pictures (or reproductions) and used them as raw material for entirely new artworks, physically editing the negatives and prints and repurposing the underlying imagery.

But with the advent of computationally-driven photography and software-based manipulation, essentially any digital photograph, found on your own camera or on the wide expanses of the Internet, can now be freely repurposed, and the power and flexibility of the possible edits and transformations that can be applied to that source image have expanded tremendously. So it stands to reason that a new cohort of artists would eventually emerge that would take this reality as a starting point, making works that leverage these more powerful and wide-ranging possibilities.

The German artist Alina Frieske has stepped into this promisingly undefined world and tried to craft her own path forward. Using digital photographic fragments as her primary medium, she has created a series of serenely understated portraits and still life observations, digitally building up her compositions from scavenged shards she arranges like the individual brushstrokes of a painting. And so we immediately get caught up in the limits of conventional vocabulary to describe her resulting works – they might indeed be photographs, or digital collages, or Photoshop art, and if we turn our heads around the fact that no paint is actually involved, then they might even be paintings.

Frieske’s photobook Each and Every Part in Between not only introduces us to many of her recent works, it also brings us inside her innovative approach. Different sections of the book offer us reproductions of individual works, full bleed up close enlargements of sections to show us their details, messier mid-stream grabs of what looks like her screen or desktop, and a meticulous thumbnail array of every single photographic fragment she has employed to build up her images. Seen as an integrated flow, her photobook metaphorically pulls back the artistic curtain with fresh openness (and smart design), encouraging us to revel in both her product and her process.

Perhaps the best stab I can make at formally defining Frieske’s work is that she is digitally painting with photographs. Each image is gradually built up as layers of methodically placed image fragments, and depending on whether those individual shards are crisp and photorealistic or blurred and pixelated, she can arrange the fragments to create different kinds of implied expressiveness, motion, gesture, texture, and depth. Up close, these overlapped nuances of clarity and flatness can lead to styles we might variously associate with the immediacy and ambiguity of Edouard Manet or the shifting perspectives of Cubism, but in Frieske’s case, she uses this visual instability to create moods that deliberately fail to fully resolve, leaving us somewhere more open-ended and in between.

Most of the works in Each and Every Part in Between feature a single person sitting in a quiet interior room, often shrouded in a sense of contemplation or momentary introspection. Since many of the image fragments that Frieske is using to build up her portraits come from selfies found on the Internet, the resulting portraits bend back on themselves, mixing public and private personas and identities. In one literal case, a subject is in the middle of removing a cosmetic face mask, but more broadly, the idea of seeing and posing comes through repeatedly. Frieske then plays with these themes further with the inclusion of windows, mirrors, reflective glass, glass bottles, cameras, framed pictures, eyeglasses, and flowing water, all of which bring additional layers of images, both physical and conceptual, into the works. Many of the subjects seem lost in thought, looking off into the distance or momentarily turned away, with time (in the form of a clock or two) always shifting and dissolving.

When Frieske pulls in closer to still life arrangements or the details of a room, her compositions break down into unsteady fogs and clusters of textures and colors, with the outlines and shapes of objects offered but then disrupted. Arrangements of fruit feel jagged and roughly cobbled together and one golden shirt seems to echo Gustav Klimt’s shimmery surfaces. And a tumble of hair, the shine on an aluminum can, the tile on a sink countertop, a knife blade, and the clothes falling out of a dresser drawer all become approximations or stand-ins, the digital puzzle pieces only partially assembling into something recognizable. What Friekse is methodically doing is creating her own painterly aesthetic out of these photographic pieces, pushing and pulling on legibility to upend our assumptions about how a photograph functions.

The design and construction of Each and Every Part in Between reinforces the strata of thinking that can be found in each of Frieske’s final works. At the top, Frieske’s pictures are representational or figurative, offering us recognizable forms of people and objects, and these are generally shown in the photobook as discrete white bordered images. Down a layer, when Frieske pulls us in closer, her works become abstract, as seen in full bleed close ups that highlight the way the fragments have been layered together. In the middle of the photobook, a section of glossy pages digs deeper, showing us Frieske at work, with unfinished compositions mixed with palettes of image shards, clustered variations, and grid structures. And at the end, Frieske brings us all the way to the theoretical bottom, with an exhaustive inventory of individual shards, each followed by its dimensions, file size, and time stamp. And along the way, a poetically metronomic voice over of text commands drifts through the pages, taking fuller shape on a section of green pages printed in silver ink; the words form voluminous lists of image fragments, operations performed, files created, and copies made again and again, each person or scene ultimately portrayed as the sum of these incremental constructions. Even the cover helps ground us in this intellectual mode of layering, with embossed and inked blobs that shuffle and wander, with one lonely shard jumping to the back.

Frieske isn’t the only artist probing the undefined area between photography and painting. Matthew Stone has used similar fragmentation techniques to build up brush stroke abstractions and nudes, and Petra Cortright continues to explore the mixing of photographic imagery and digital mark making in painterly compositions. Frieske’s solutions to the artistic problem feel grounded in an admiration for the softening possibilities of blur and pixelization, which leads her further toward modeling an aesthetic of ambiguity than the other two.

It’s interesting to think about what kinds of artistic efforts such an innovative and contemporary process firmly rooted in photography like Frieske’s can be best applied to, and whether reaching back to painterly touchstones might be too traditional or conservative. As seen in this photobook, the strongest of Frieske’s works push beyond this kind of easy painterliness to a zone where the jitteriness of the photographic undercarriage takes us somewhere unexpected. In this way, the photographic shards create a new range of surfaces and textures that can then be used to generate gradations of mood and atmosphere unlike what a paintbrush can provide. It is here that Frieske has started to craft something original, reimagining how circulating splashes of photographic imagery can be reformulated into a rich new vocabulary that reaches forward not back.

Collector’s POV: Alina Frieske is represented by Fabienne Levy Gallery in Lausanne (here). Her work has little secondary market history at this point, so gallery retail likely remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

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Read more about: Alina Frieske, Ciao Press, Images Vevey

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