Phil Thompson @ XPO Gallery reviewed

, 29 November 2013

Last in on the market and hounded by poor understanding, digital art is poised to earn its due recognition. That’s thanks to the imperative of a few art galleries tirelessly bringing web artists out of the shadows in Paris, designing a new scale for interactive experience, from screen to space. As an astute and  valuable exhibitor of computer-based works in the city, XPO Gallery acts as a real Pygmalion (as in the mythical figure who fell in love with one of his own creations, not the George Bernard Shaw play) of the area by launching countless debuts. Philippe Riss, the owner, confesses that the success he’s meeting is inversely proportional to the prior reproaches he suffered for having dared work outside the conventional circles of taste makers and it’s exhibitions like London-based artist Phil Thompson‘s Screen/Space that more than make up for it.

Graduating two years ago, Thompson’s digital practice is already mature, aiming at questioning classical dichotomies between an artwork and its copy, materiality and immateriality, subject and object. Blending 2D and 3D tools, the artist cultivates a piecemeal approach of infinite combinations and permutations of data. With ‘David1.tif’ and ‘Venus1.tif’, he recreates strikingly new original images from pre-existing and altered 3D-scan documentation of Michelangelo’s ‘David’ and the ‘Venus de Milo’, while providing a renewed aesthetic experience as a sort of meta-creation. As an abstract re-reading of an astonishing and monumental sculptural heritage the diptych delivers the original artworks of their function, developing its own intrinsic qualities stemming from the interplay of software and the set of options available to the artist.

Phil Thompson, 'The Iterations' (2013). Digital print on silk, Iteration 1 to 3. © Vinciane Verguethen.
Phil Thompson, ‘The Iterations’ (2013). Digital print on silk, Iteration 1 to 3. © Vinciane Verguethen.

How can we fail to think of André Malraux’s speculation about the idea that the world of reproductions forms a ‘Museum without Walls’? Marshall McLuhan went one step further, arguing that mass media itself was one. But the thing is, as said institution of images grew its output and audience with the Internet, it has reached a critical point where the collective consciousness has also increased tenfold, the ease with which we can generate new images by appropriation, hybridisation and mixing, expanding even more. This field of possibilities is an annex of the mythical museum that doesn’t necessarily seek to free itself from its walls. Instead, the ‘virtual’ and the ‘real’ interact, turning the experimental laboratory itself into an exhibition space.

In a reversed process, Phil Thompson transfers digital images to canvas for the exhibition. In his Copyrights series, Thompson demonstrates that Google’s Art Project is trapped in a contradiction: democratically promoting access to physical paintings belonging to the largest museum collections worldwide, while imposing Copyright restrictions on them by means of a blur filter. Here, the artist pushed the reproducibility of artworks to their limit by collecting the images by taking screenshots, emailing them to oil painting reproduction companies in Dafen, China, to be copied, by hand, to the scale of the original painting, and thereby depriving the Copyright of its very function, thus exposing its redundancy.

Phil Thompson, 'Head image 2' (2013). © Vinciane Verguethen.
Phil Thompson, ‘Head image 2’ (2013). © Vinciane Verguethen.

Meanwhile, the Iterations series is an emblem of rhizomatic digital art. Starting with a core silk print, the artist uploaded documentation of his work online and encouraged people to edit and re-imagine it. Thompson then cropped and curated these images in new versions of the physical work, while demonstrating that the artist does, decides and chooses more than his computer and digital art is not the automated process some believe it to be.

After all, we are currently witnessing an institutionalisation of the back-and-forth relation between ‘original’ and ‘copy’, leading to an aesthetic enrichment based on the freedom of trial and error; the process of “do, undo, redo differently”. Such an initiative can go well beyond that, as in Copy Companion Club (CCC). Basically, a collective who copy each other, they’re governed by the idea that only the artists who have been copied by a Companion or had copied a Companion can become Companions. **

Phil Thompson’s Screen/Space is running at XPO Gallery until December 13, 2013.

Header image: Phil Thompson, ‘David1.tif’ and ‘Venus1.tif’ (2013). © Vinciane Verguethen.