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Dominic Head: On/Offline Translations

Dominic Head’s work will be exhibited at Wimbledon College of Art, 19th-20th January 2012.

Dominic Head

Dominic Head’s latest work is a study in translation. His final works are images of light: projections of photographs hosted online. These are taken of Head’s replication of the first three images found in Google when the word ‘landscape’ was searched. These pictures were originally rendered in paint or digital photographs. The project both archives and distorts online data, as well as exploring the political power structures that shape culture.

Thomson & Craighead used Google searches as subject matter in their Google Tea Towels (2002-5), which act as archival screen shots captured in permanent physical forms.1 Head also creates a record of a specific moment in Internet flux, but moves a step further. He reintroduces his paintings to the Internet – and Google itself – by uploading digital reproductions and exhibiting them. The translations of data to paint, then back to data transforms the source images: changing scale, colour, shape and tone. Head draws attention to the process by which digital images are widely disseminated, transformed, distorted and edited across the web. His source images are in some cases tiny: 256 × 226 pixels. In order to transfer this onto a large canvas details have to be stretched and invented. The image further changes when uploaded online as a photograph: pixels blur and colour is relative to the monitor viewing the work.

Images of landscapes are ideological sites of ownership. Head investigates the concept of landscape as a political subject. He explores the creation of myth and cliché that lies behind ‘landscape’ by giving responsibility to Google to determine his subject matter. In doing this he exposes Google as a maker of knowledge. He highlights the power the search engine has to conceal and display; and its role in shaping ideas and understandings. Businesses compete and pay for the highest places in a Google search.2 Rather than it being an open window onto the net, it is a site of contested power networks.

By titling his works after the original URL code of his found images, Head is explicitly addressing the location of the files on the Internet. These online addresses are an interesting insight into ownership. His first piece is from the Tate website, George Lambert’s Classical Landscape (1745, Fig 1). In drawing attention to this, Head reflects on the viewer’s notions of landscape as determined by certain institutions. The Tate’s canon-making position in art history is reflected in its position as the first Google result. An investigation of the Tate website details the purchase of the painting in 1958.3 This highlights a moment of subjective taste and financial empowerment that allowed such an acquisition to be made. By drawing attention to this webpage, both the canon and Google search are revealed to be not objective collections of quality, but assembled by those with the power to influence them.

Alternatively, the other source images Head uses are from very different locations. They are from sites where individuals can upload their own content (Fig 2 and 3). This explores the possibility of the Internet as a collaborative space, which undermines traditional power structures. While the first image is owned by a prestigious museum, the majority of landscape scenes are from – seemingly – everyday people. Head offers this potentially utopian use of the web, as a site to collectively create meaning and insertions into cultural discourse.

Edwin Coomasaru

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1 Steve Bode and Nina Ernst eds., Thomson & Craighead (Film and Video Umbrella: London, 2005), p.44-5.
2 Julian Stallabrass, Internet Art: The Online Clash of Culture and Commerce (Tate Publishing: London, 2003), p.20.
3 ‘George Lambert, Classical Landscape’, Tate Online [http://www.tate.org.uk/servlet/ViewWork?workid=8267, Published online: n.d., Accessed online: 15/01/12].

Illustrations
Fig 1: Anon., T00211_8, jpg Digital file, 256 × 226 px, tate.org.uk. Source: http://www.tate.org.uk/collection/T/T00/T00211_8.jpg [Published online: n.d., Accessed online: 13/01/12].
Fig 2: Anon., landscape-5, jpg Digital file, 500 x 333 px, cam-shots.co.uk. Source: http://cam-shots.co.uk/modules/xcgal/albums/userpics/10001/landscape-5.jpg [Published online: n.d., Accessed online: 13/01/12].
Fig 3: Anon., Landscape-2, jpg Digital file, 1600 x 1200 px, wondrouspics.com. Source: http://wondrouspics.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Landscape-2.jpg [Published online: n.d., Accessed online: 13/01/12].

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