Annika Koops: Digital nostalgia - Art Collector

Issue 61, July - September 2012

Annika Koops is an artist just as comfortable on the computer as with canvas and brush. Her interest, she tells Ashley Crawford, is in the way the digital now mediates and, indeed, controls our social lives.

Annika Koops lives in a strange world of slick surfaces and troubling artifice. The skin on her models is burnished to a kind of plastic perfection reminiscent of the replicants in the science fiction classic Blade Runner. But Koops’s work travels far beyond notions of sci-fi fantasy.

“Surface is really important in my work,” she says. “In terms of the way that I render things, through computer generated imagery, photography and painting, I am always oscillating between smoothness and rupture. It has to do with notions of skin, of inside and outside and the intricacy of that perceived barrier.

“The replicants are an interesting comparison. Through my work I don’t intend to put forth overtly sci-fi narratives but there is definitely the allusion to more subtle forms of cognitive manipulation. Particularly so if one is to consider the commonality that they have with our current position in terms of the supplementation of memory. In the science fiction narrative of Blade Runner, memory is entirely fabricated to simulate human experiences as a strategy of control over the replicants, or machines. In our current moment we have forums like Facebook acting as an arena for the augmentation and commercialisation of memory and human emotion – control in a different form.”

Koops says that she is essentially exploring the way in which virtual environments and communities affect social relations. “It kind of comes back to the old boiling-the-frog metaphor,” she says. “Mediated interaction is so habitually engrained that it is normalised and to be concerned about it suddenly seems a bit retro and paranoid, even though it is clear that we are in pretty hot water in terms of the erosion of privacy.”

Koops’s work oscillates between a kind of formalistic portraiture and works that suggest an AutoCAD designing process, the skeletal building blocks designed for some future, fully-realised object.

“Design is definitely something that I consider, particularly since I create all of the subjects in my work through a combination of three-dimensional computer modelling and digital photography,” she says. “Within these works there is something of breaking down the parts in order to analyse the whole.

“I enjoy the line works as they represent an inversion of computer-based design processes. Three-dimensional computer models are infinitely adaptable, you can save them, duplicate them, and undo or rectify anything that you have done. The line works are the opposite. A thin layer of oil is scratched back by hand to create the form, they have to be completed within a short period (or the paint dries) and there is no margin for error. It is a nice, short, elegant process.”

In one such work, Demand, Koops renders a hand with a thumb-clicking, virtual snap which hints at the dominance of technology in our lives. “With Demand, I was actually thinking about gesture a lot, the little things that we do when communicating face to face that instantaneously reveal a very nuanced set of social codes. These subtleties cannot fully be communicated through online communication. I was initially toying with the idea of the cash gesture, that little move of brushing the middle and index finger against the thumb to indicate payment. But in the representational paradigm, rather than an experiential one, the code becomes muddled – whether the sign implies speed or payment is unclear, but either way it is a power play. The line-based works open up a space for me to consider power structures that underpin aspects of our social relations, particularly those undertaken within commercially driven online arenas.”

There also seem to be strong hints of nostalgia running through Koops’s works, hints of 1950s and 1960s deĢcor and fashion. “Nostalgia is a very multifaceted concept, and one I ponder a lot,” she admits, “particularly in terms of its dislocation from its original meaning – a sort of homesickness that spans both time and space. Now however, it has become something much more amorphous, an indefinite longing for a time quite often never previously experienced.

“There are infinite examples of the endless fetishisation of an era, or event, often so vague that it does not specify a time or place, and translates simply as dissatisfaction with the present,” Koops says. “I don’t think that nostalgia is necessarily always a bad thing. Often it is harmless escapism, and escapism can be productive. But it is when it is so encompassing and formless that it becomes pernicious, and translates as an inability to accept the present, through some imagined cultural indigence. Following this line of thinking the nostalgic amounts to the return to sameness, and an unwillingness to accept the other. This is something that I do hope to critique in the work.” •

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