The boundaries of the screen are challenged in Rosa Menkman’s new exhibition at Transfer Gallery, using technological error to disrupt expectations
Accidents run through Rosa Menkman’s work. Glitches, compressions, feedback and other forms of noise, all created by errors in both analogue and digital media, form the basis of her visuals. A Dutch artist and theorist, her work is anything but a mistake however, turning her accidents on their head to challenge the negative assumptions around them. Instead, these unmediated interruptions are developed by Menkman as tools with which to navigate the otherwise obscure world of media resolutions. This is taken up in her latest exhibition, ‘institutions of Resolution Disputes [iRD]’, just opened at Transfer Gallery in New York.
Having written and worked extensively on glitch art in previous years, her recent work focuses on ‘display resolution’, a term used to define the clarity of the text and images as they appear on a screen. Items appear sharper at higher resolutions, but Menkman is more intrigued by the significance of the material lost in the process of making data ‘fit’. “A resolution is not a neutral facility, but carries historical, economical and political ideologies. Resolutions inform perception in both machines and humans,” she explains. The technological rules and protocols in place alter data in favour of efficiency, and the price paid for the smooth running of technology is something that she believes should not be foregone lightly: “What is being compromised is an alternative way of seeing.”
A resolution is not a neutral facility, but carries historical, economical and political ideologies. Resolutions inform perception in both machines and humans
She raises the quadrilateral dimensions of a screen and its resolution, highlighting their stringent uniformity. “They all have four corners, and we've become totally oblivious to the fact that we can question this. They could have six, seven or eight corners… or a thousand,” Menkman says. “We are collectively suffering from technological hyperopia, whereby these qualities have moved beyond a fold of perspective. Everything that is compromised is being lost and forgotten, and every time that we make new technology we become less and less aware of all the compromises that happened before.”
Her exhibition at Transfer Gallery aims to go beyond aestheticising the formal qualities of resolutions, focusing instead on developing informed alternatives that return control and authorship of material to the user. “These days it seems to be a trend to evade the vision of the machine,” she explains, pointing out that a number of artists are working currently with the theme of evasion and obfuscation. Menkman aims instead to generate discussion around the many ways in which it is possible to dispute resolutions.
We are collectively suffering from technological hyperopia
Much of the work in ‘institutions of Resolution Disputes [iRD]’ focuses on ‘Discrete Cosine Transform’ blocks (DCT blocks), a sequence of data points used to determine the chrominance and luminance values in most of the digital files seen today, from jpegs to mp3s. “The only time we see the DCT blocks are in moments when something is broken up. We’re not supposed to see them, and its something we never really get to think about. These are the secret values that organize our data.”
With technology playing an ever-greater role in our daily lives, it is able to direct our movements and expectations almost unequivocally. “That doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing, as long as we recognise the extent of its influence on our lives,” she explains. “I’m not against things functioning, flows that are going faster and faster. However I do think there’s a flipside that we need to be aware of.” Menkman encourages us to engage with our devices on a deeper level, exploring how they were put together, or deliberately opening a file incorrectly – even just once a year. “Simply to achieve more power over your subject or technology really does inform your output.”