Scott Groeniger Goes Full META for DAHI

On Tuesday September 8, the members of the Digital Arts and Humanities Initiative gathered in the Art Department Gallery to hear faculty member Scott Groeniger discuss his solo exhibit: META (8/24 – 9/18).This set of works explore his engagement with issues of colonization, technological development, mapping, and ideology.

20747458460_b6491ca01d_z

Scott talked to attendees about his process, which involves a detailed and sometimes grueling back-and-forth journey between digital imaging and traditional analog printmaking. Along the way we touched on issues of “originality” and “editions” in art,  walking the treacherous line between the analog and the digital that assigns automatic value to artwork produced on the former side and views the latter with a stubborn skepticism if not outright hostility. Though the idea of the equivalence of all pixels (the root of the original-copy-copy-copy(…) issue) persists,  Groeniger demonstrates that hand work, intentionally lo-fi printing techniques and image-making on exotic (and expensive) substrates easily disrupts such simple conceptions of digital information.

Scott Groeniger is an associate professor of art at the Department of Art + Art History, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa (UHM), presents a collection of recent digital prints and videos, many of which were created during his 2014 residencies in Amsterdam, Netherlands, and in Beijing and Taiyuan, China.

Groeniger states, “I am interested in versions of iterations of prints. Versioning, in terms of the printed edition, produces multiple prints that are as visually similar as one’s process or skill will allow. In this sense however, I do not make editions of prints. I make versions of prints that are unique and sourced from other prints. Often the ‘print,’ similar to the photographic negative, is the beginning of my process rather than the end. Although some of the work in this exhibition reaches back over a decade, the newest work represents the most current research in my studio practice and the culmination of all the creative work I’ve been engaged in since I arrived at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa in 2007.”

20909257716_bf826ac306_z

David A.M. Goldberg’s review of META (from the 8/23/2015 Honolulu Star Advertiser) is below.

At first glance Scott Groeniger’s work seems to be readily produced by anyone handy with Adobe Photoshop, a scanner, and an archive of books rescued from a dying library. Contemporary art is full of ironic remixes and juxtapositions of diverse materials and techniques. The game is so easy that the Tumblrverse (arguably the home country of the digitally indigenous) mocks our era of electronic reproduction through aesthetic races to the bottom.

In this wide-ranging solo exhibition Groeniger makes it clear that he not only takes the present moment seriously but believes in deeply engaging the digital on its own terms. This means dragging the pixels off of the screen, roughing them up a bit, and seeing how they survive an analog world informed by the tactics and techniques of printmaking.

Each set of works braids multiple concepts and routes them through several modes of production. The “Home at Last” series was born in a 3” x 5” notebook of experimental prints sampled from a 1950’s guide to suburban living, combined with freehand ink drawings and handwriting.

Groeniger scanned facing pages and blew them up to 22” x 30”. Digitally restricting color ranges in the scan allowed him to emphasize certain “frequencies” of his drawings and print them separately, either via an archival inkjet printer or screenprinted gold metallic ink.

“Home at Last” comments on his own background growing up in suburban Ohio, subject to the American Dream of perfected ergonomics, two cars and the autonomous isolation of the nuclear family. These pieces neatly align with Oahu’s own reckless suburban development. Groeniger’s maps of homes arranged on cul de sacs, interchangeable floorplans and idealized appliances and home owners could refer to Mililani, Kapolei, or whatever future grows in Hoopili.

In “Habitable Zones” Groeniger projects the suburbs into space, pointing to a science fiction colonial solution for the planet’s ecological crisis. Some prints in the series are highly abstract, layering grids, webbing, and patches of barbed-wired density atop the crisscrossing paths of rhumb (radiating navigation) lines.

Others mash up rocketry texts (sliced along the rhumbs) with schematic drawings of launch vehicles and lab rats. Both anticipate life in space organized according to rational grids, flight trajectories and the same kind of blind accumulation that characterizes earthbound suburbs.

Groeniger’s triangulating map lines reappear in the visual infrastructure of the heavily layered images in his “Hard Core” series. Printed on an exotic surface of marble dust, polymer and gelatin, these 12 x 12 images read like heavy metal album covers when they are actually subtle critiques of colonialism.

Created during a residency in Amsterdam, the “Hard Core” images are based on close-up photographs of the markers that indicate the location of crypts beneath church floors. Featuring numbers, copper plates, and death motifs, the rhumb lines return to “mark the spot,” and to reference to the role that navigation played in the success of Dutch colonialism. In these works we find a fantastic recombination of historic and aesthetic factors that create one of the strongest through-lines in Groeniger’s show. If we began in his past, on the Earth, this path concludes in orbit and beyond–but as an act of repetition, and herein lies the underlying skepticism in the work.

His series of satellite “portraits” are large scale examples of his analog-to-digital-to-analog production cycle. “Lageos” could be a micrograph of pollen printed on a giant pirate map. In real life, “Lageos” is basically a disco ball used for precise laser-based measurements, that has a love note from Carl Sagan inside. The satellite prints take the grit, plate slippage and impressionistic half-tone techniques (glitches), along with the selective lifting or emphasis of certain visual elements, and reiterate themes of location and mapping.

“Meta” features two other bodies of work: a pair of videos from time Groeniger spent in China, and a series of prints that selectively (and pithily) sample the iconography of military training manuals. Though less glitchy, the latter set is theoretically aligned with others in the show, while the videos aren’t readily reconciled.

Ultimately though, Groeniger has presented a unified survey of his recent work that demonstrates disciplined thinking, theoretical consistency, and a genuinely experimental approach. His various “hybrid” printing techniques yields images with enough weight, texture, and emotion to put to rest any lingering assumptions that “the digital” can only produce clones instead of unique works of art.