Andrea Orejarena & Caleb Stein, American Glitch @Palo

JTF (just the facts): A total of 16 color photographs, framed in white and unmatted, and hung against white walls in a series of connected gallery spaces. All of the works are archival inkjet prints, made in 2021, 2022, and 2023. Physical sizes are 17×22, 30×40, or 53×70 inches (or the reverse), and all of the images come in editions of 5+2AP. The show also includes 32 smaller prints affixed to the gallery walls with magnets; these are works made by unknown photographers collected from online posts. (Installation shots below.)

A monograph of this body of work is forthcoming from Gnomic Book (here). Softcover, 280×212 mm, 156 pages. With an essay by David Campany and a 52-page insert with contributions from various authors. In an edition of 750 copies. (Cover shot below.)

Comments/Context: The disruptively fantastic science fiction idea that the world we live in might actually be a computer simulation of some kind isn’t a particularly new idea. Imaginative films like The Truman Show and The Matrix from the late 1990s started to make us wonder – what would living in a simulation feel like? how might we actually know (or prove) that we were inside one (or not)? and what we might do about it if we discovered we were living such a mediated life? And in the decades since, with immersive computer worlds, games, and metaverses becoming ever more lifelike and realistic, and our own real and online lives becoming overrun by fakes, distortions, conspiracies, disinformation, and outright untruths of various kinds, the bright line distinction between reality and simulation seems to becoming increasingly blurred.

For those who are interested in following such threads wherever they might lead, a trip down through the wormhole of the Internet, through Reddit threads, social media posts, and other online communities, will ultimately lead to a subculture of believers, like UFO sighters, many of whom have posted their own images of “glitches in real life” that they have witnessed, photographed, or shared. Whether these photographs are “real” illusions or manipulated setups almost doesn’t matter once you’re committed to looking for corroborative evidence of a sinister conspiracy. And of course, to be experiencing a sense of community around such images via the net is in its own way a version of living in a simulation, depending on how thinly you slice the definitions.

It is against this virtual backdrop of online glitch hunting that the artist duo of Orejarena & Stein have constructed their new body of work American Glitch. Contemporary photography is full of artists capturing clever inside jokes and found visual oddities, many of which are amplified by the way a camera sees, but Orejarena & Stein have leaned further into the idea, developing a more robust conceptual undercarriage to support their wide-ranging search for strangeness. In a sense, they have been looking for (and constructing) a very specific kind of visual confusion, one which seems to point to unexpected tears in the fabric of everyday reality.

Several of Orejarena & Stein’s photographs have their disruption hiding in plain sight, like fleeting glimpses of another reality that have been captured by their camera but will soon disappear. “Number Hill” recalls the cascading streams of green numbers that made up The Matrix, its incongruous white numbers graffitied on a rocky hill in a similar tumbling jumble. “Invisible Fence” has a related kind of shifting unease, where a mirrored fence reflects the green landscape, nearly disappearing into invisibility, but not quite. And “Abraham Lincoln & Drone” pays indirect homage to the peeling skin of Scarlett Johansson in the alien film Under the Skin, with a bust of the president seen from behind and hollowed out by a dark hole, as though his skin was just a thin covering over unknowable machinery.

Many of the duo’s images document actual simulations of one kind or another taking place in the “real” world, where landscapes are populated by replica villages and prototype training facilities. A pair of images show us a version of life on Mars (in some desolate desert on Earth), while another offers a fake Iraqi village as a setting for military exercises. The Wizard of Oz idea of getting behind the curtain is then applied to false front (or just unfinished) desert facades, the plywood walls unsupported by anything else. Still other pictures confuse distant mirages and reality, with views of nuclear cooling towers, larger telescope arrays, and precisely flat agricultural burn zones making us wonder whether what we are seeing is really there or not. And when the artists capture an image of a real bird perched in a fake cell-phone tower tree, we know the border between fact and fiction has become altogether permeable.

The gallery installation of American Glitch also includes several dozen appropriated images from the Internet, which document “glitches” observed by others around the world. Many are as perplexing as anything Orejarena & Stein have discovered, and the inclusion of these pictures makes the whole glitch proving endeavor feel like a movement or at least a like-minded community. Some of standout crowdsourced pictures include a cloud that looks like an angel, a one link wide chain link fence, a cavernous sink hole in a road, the jittering gradient green leaves of a tree, a lightning strike fire in a palm tree (during a clear skied day), a view with half a dozen overlapping rainbows, and arrays of parked white vans that seem to have been replicated by software. When intermingled with Orejarena & Stein’s own photographs, the aggregate glitch in reality “evidence” seems all the more compelling.

While Orejarena & Stein’s photographs don’t exactly leave us questioning what is real, they create enough inexplicable absurdity and confusion to be force us to look again (and again). When we start to dive into the nested layers of images made to be reminiscent of glitches which aren’t real but could be, they’ve hooked us, and we start looking all around us for clues. And then even a dollop of ricotta (or the like) tossed onto a runny fried egg (as in the image “Egglitch”) will start to blow your mind.

Collector’s POV: The prints in this show are priced at $5000, $8000, or $15000, based on size. Works by Orejarena & Stein have 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: Andrea Orejarena & Caleb Stein, Palo Gallery, Gnomic Book

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