I met Visakh Menon at Chicago Underground Film Festival back in 2008. At that time, I was writing about Second Life and teaching a class on cyber-citizenship in it, so when I saw his video work A Short Social Commentary on Dancing in Second Life in the program, I could not miss it. And I loved it, so I came to introduce myself after the screening and since then we are friends. Later when I lived in NYC, Visakh became my favorite company for what I called “Chelsea galleries walk,” when we would go from door to door until we check all galleries and then land somewhere like Chelsea Market to get some cheap food and talk.
So here I wrote a short text for Visakh’s exhibition catalog. His show is opening at Renee Weiler Gallery, Greenwich House Music in NYC on Friday, April 5.
Works on Paper
Visakh Menon’s new work is a series of drawings created by combining the surrealist techniques of frottage and collage. He utilizes the automatic method of frottage by using a stick of colored charcoal that he rubs over a paper surface in order to highlight the unevenness of its texture that otherwise remain invisible to the eye. Then, by pressing the sticky stripes of the clear adhesive tape against the covered with charcoal paper, he “picks up” the traces of uneven texture to reproduce them on a different surface. As he transfers the material traces of charcoal from one paper surface to another, Menon plays with the micro-topography of surfaces and the micro-landscape of paper as such. The material dimension of work and its visceral nature are especially important for the artist who believes that the immediacy of this process cannot be rendered and, if lost, cannot be remediated.
The series is a result of the endless automatic repetition of similar gestures—pressing, rubbing, and cutting—before the rectangular traces are assembled as a single abstract composition. What might seem as a big departure from Menon’s earlier complex video and installation work still bears a strong connection to the realm of digital culture. Visually, the collages resemble the level maps of the vintage 8-bit video games. The works also contain the small black sprites that reference the game graphics directly, while the traces of paper’s texture create the impression of pixilation. Besides, the elements of the works are all copied and pasted patterns that follow the logic of sampling and remix where the artist’s intuition and the element of chance are both crucial for composition. However, the series as a whole might also be seen as a variation of just one pattern that evolves in front of the viewer’s eyes like John Horton Conway’s Game of Life, absolutely on its own.
The algorithmic aesthetics of the collages brings up the notion of code as a rule for converting a certain piece of information into another form or representation. One of Menon’s big inspirations is Daphne Oram’s revolutionary work in electronic sound and her technique of “Oramics” that allowed for “drawing music.” Menon’s collages contain the rhythms, as even they are ready to be fed through Oram’s sound machine. As such, they, however, challenge the literal correspondence between the sound code and its visual representation. The series encourages the viewer moving beyond the representational paradigms, to where a code is no longer a convertor that transforms the information patterns in a different form. Instead, by tricking the viewers into playful decoding of what looks like readable sound patterns, the series of Menon’s collages gives birth to the inexistent, unseen or unheard—coming from within the machine.