Zach Nader, Psychic Pictures @Microscope

JTF (just the facts): A total of 12 unframed works hung against white walls in the single room gallery space. The show includes:

  • 7 acrylic and UV prints on hand-carved wood panel, 2018, 2019, sized 28×40 or 40×56 inches, unique
  • 1 set of UV print on beer cans (4), 2019, each sized 6x4x1.5 inches
  • 1 set of UV print on outlet covers (7), 2019
  • 1 synthetic ficus, acrylic, UV print, epoxy, pot, slate stone, 2019, sized 70x38x36 inches, unique
  • 1 toy dog, foil, hoodie, epoxy, UV print on acrylic, wooden panel, 2019, sized 12x16x26 inches, unique
  • 1 single channel HD video, 2019, silent, 4 minutes 35 seconds

(Installation, detail, and video still shots below.)

Comments/Context: Most of us haven’t quite come to grips with what the ubiquity of imagery in our 21st century lives actually means. We realize we are bombarded each and every day with still and video images – as advertisements, as communication, as documentation, as disposable fragments, as the surfaces of our everyday existence – but we haven’t yet entirely internalized what this inundation does to our ability to discern or recall meaning. We might guess that we have become numb to the overstimulating onslaught, which might mean that we lose interest or become distracted more easily, remember less, or just let the wave passively wash over us without recognizing or even overtly acknowledging the details; we might also assume that even more attention-grabbing, seductive, or extreme imagery will now be necessary to earn our jaded attention.

Zach Nader has actively waded into this torrent of imagery, and spent the last five years or so trying to find entry points into the flow. His artworks have repeatedly settled into an in-between zone, where photography and video intermingle and cross-pollinate and hacked tools deliberately disrupt imagery in unpredictable ways. What has emerged is a unique aesthetic that is consistently unstable, that begins with digital raw material from commercial imagery and ends with flares, erasures, distortions, and flickering shimmers that replicate an oversaturated image world run amok.

Nader’s newest show continues this extrapolation, remixing imagery in ways that feel even more frantic and inconclusive. Many of his recent works are rooted in the breakdown of legibility, where snippets of imagery are blended together almost without regard to logic or connection. He’s gathered up random drops from the picture river that continually passes before us and collapsed them into single frame collage-like compendiums that struggle to find equilibrium.

Often it is difficult to find anything we can definitively identify. A plastic deck chair, a swimming pool scene, a kitchen counter, some chain link fencing, a popcorn cart – these are part of the various worlds Nader has borrowed from, but they don’t provide any real stability in his compositions. Digital marks, erasures, pixelizations, and cut-and-paste fragments seem to fly in and out, scribbling here and there, like fleeting memories or lost thoughts. There is a deliberate (and often surprisingly elegant) messiness to this process that leaves questions unanswered, and trying to puzzle out what all of these obtuse snippets might reference feels like a fool’s game – there is no hidden rebus to solve, it’s just the visual aggregation of an ever increasing hoard of advertising messages, image static, picture reverberations, and digital greebles.

Nader has taken these echo effects one step further by mounting the prints to thick wooden panels, which he has hand carved with a Dremel rotating tool. Loose outlines of barely recognizable drawn forms hover underneath the imagery – roasting hot dogs over a fire, a soda bottle with a straw, a bicycle, a dinosaur, a pair of shoes, birds in flight. Once again, they seem unrelated to any artistic narrative or system, but perhaps they are represent ephemeral ghosts or pictures that refuse to be erased from our collective minds. This undercarving gives the works a physicality that steps beyond the digital realm, as if the images are somehow leaking out and lingering.

Other works in the show test the limits of where and how imagery might be displayed. Crushed beer cans and the outlet covers that surround the gallery are wrapped in Nader’s digital mashups, each one becoming its own unlikely beacon for his skewed visual messages. He then goes further, printing pictures (or what look like pictures but might just be colors) on flimsy plastic mesh, the imagery so diffuse on this substrate that it becomes effectively illegible. He has then draped shards and blankets of this almost-imagery over the leaves of a fake ficus tree and the back of a toy dog, co-opting each as makeshift billboards. Both of these sculptural works offer a dark brand of digital humor, the kind laced with ominously grim portents of the insanities of the future (“let’s put advertising on the leaves of trees!”).

Nader’s video work “psychic pictures” amplifies the layered aesthetics of the wall works into a seizure-inducing frenzy (that is wholly uncaptured by the still frames above). Blobs of video bounce around and intermingle, with domestic scenes from happy families from the world of advertising careening into each other with flickering stops and starts. Dishes are washed, dogs are petted, kids do homework, dinner is served, birthdays are celebrated, and bubbles float through the air, but the overall effect is more intense and manic than those subjects might sound – the artifice of the imagery is exposed for what it is, Nader’s fevered hysteria stripping away the nostalgic comforts the clips were meant represent.

Nader’s works aren’t exactly easy on us. They insightfully unpack (and reassemble) the tropes and rhythms of digital imagery, and his conclusions about what we have become aren’t particularly sunny. The friction comes when we can see we are reacting and being manipulated and yet we are still lost in a sea of image fragments that don’t ever coalesce, leaving us with a profound sense of instability and dissonance. Nader’s works constantly leave us wrong footed and confused, which is exactly why they are worth thinking about further.

Collector’s POV: The photographic works in this show range in price from $400/$500/$700 for the outlet covers and beer cans to $7500 and $9500 for the larger carved images. Nader’s 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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