Chris Santa Maria

 

 

Fragments of a vessel which are to be glued together must match one another in the smallest details, although they need not be like one another.

-Walter Benjamin, "The Task of the Translator"

In a culture oversaturated with imagery, how do we distinguish foreground from background, signal from noise, language from gibberish? In one sense, this is a physiological question. The way the brain processes visual information - seizing on certain shapes and colors while ignoring others - suggests that our own cognitive limitations could provide a representational logic of their own. I started a series of large amorphous collages to investigate this complex thread that courses through the history of our visual language. All of the infinitesimal shapes and colors that create meaning in art are ultimately derived from our experiences in nature and the natural limitations of the human brain (structure, light, tone, texture, the feeling of space, etc.). Nevertheless, we receive all of that sense data filtered through the images of our culture.

In my collages, the viewer experiences both a highly organized, cohesive color scheme and an idiosyncratic, game-like representational logic that mirrors the way we notice and momentarily engage images on the internet, on television, and out in the world. Oscillating between this kind of familiarity and alienation also enables a heightened awareness of the tension between the brain's irrepressible urge to look and the "modes of signification" that imbue what we see with meaning. Recontextualization encourages us to see the patterns we want to see, the surreal and unexpected insults our intuitions about how we think the world ought to look.

Like our day-to-day interactions with media out in the world, my collages layer multiple viewing experiences on top of one another. From a distance of several feet, these works appear to be arranged by color, achieving a visual harmony determined by the way the brain processes different frequencies of light. Moving closer to the collages, though, the viewer engages in a more chaotic, culturally determined way of seeing. Juxtapositions engage the viewer's attention, as when we see the royal-purple packaging of Belle Haleine (Marcel Duchamp's readymade perfume) sitting amongst a gnarly landscape of meteor craters, excised melanoma lesions, the dome of a Renaissance cathedral or Paul Cezanne's viscous brushstrokes. The clavicle of a supermodel becomes indistinguishable from a sand dune in the desert. In the words of Paul Valery, "The universe is built on a plan the profound symmetry of which is somehow present in the inner structure of our intellect."

The art that has influenced me most tends to fuse the clarity of representation with the mystifying qualities of abstraction - the object or concept becomes a paradoxical admixture of the worldly and the ideal. Robert Rauschenberg once said, "I think a painting is more like the real world if it's made out of the real world." My hope is that these collages will evolve over time to collapse the distinction between our notions of material and immaterial.