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Calgary
Lindsay Sorell
Stephen Nachtigall at The Lily
February 07, 2018

An angelic Monstera deliciosa lights up and ripples with a transcendent wind. A 3D animation loops on a monitor turned portrait-style onto its side and strapped to a beam with two black ratchet straps. Long curly grasses are scattered evenly on the floor, as if to create the semblance of a natural environment. But they’re too arranged – too intentionally placed – to feel convincing. Stephen Nachtigall’s current exhibition, lost in the meshes at The Lily, mixes animation, weaving, computer-generated collage, and print to create a chaos that is, paradoxically, sterile and organized. It descends into an uncanny valley of human creation, rather than human likeness.



Stephen Nachtigall, lost in the meshes, 2018, inkjet print on mesh, plastic, and canvas textiles, UV print on acrylic, grass, steel

A series of computer-generated pale green, purple, and brown collages of various forms produced by a program Nachtigall wrote himself are placed at different levels around the room. From afar, the collages look like a distorted foreign currency. The code randomly drew images from a folder of 150 high-resolution jpegs and treated them with various blending modes and alpha channels. Surprisingly, the resulting collages often take the shapes of human-like profiles and silhouettes, as if the code itself is fascinated by portraiture.

Four of the silhouette collages have been printed on plastic mesh and stretched over metal drywall framing bars. At close range, blades of grass Nachtigall has hand-woven through the mesh in rectangular sections are visible. Other silhouettes have been printed on canvas, cut out, and hand-sewn into three-dimensional leaves that protrude from the gallery wall on black metal stems. In the corner, a collage printed on plastic lies in a heap with a sheet of unprinted plastic white mesh.

A brown collage, UV-printed on thick acrylic, features human legs walking through nature. It’s an image that should be evocative, like the cover of a 1990s poetry collection, but the collage appears, instead, to be a manufactured romanticization. It reads as if Nachtigall’s program, personified, is imagining what a sensory relationship with nature would be like. By designing, then surrendering to, an automated collage-generator for this exhibition, Nachtigall considers automation, labour, and capital in present and future relationships with technology. He takes a backseat to his program’s algorithmic creativity, upending our nostalgic, human reactions to greenery, and eerily collaborates with the robot he himself created.


Stephen Nachtigall: lost in the meshes continues until March 1.
The Lily: https://www.instagram.com/the.lily_/
The gallery is partially accessible.


Lindsay Sorell is an artist and writer who recently collaborated with the Advanced Toastmasters of Calgary for the IKG Live 1 performance festival and completed two solo exhibitions of new work: Exercises in Healing at Contemporary Calgary and Buddha, Why Am I Alone? at AVALANCHE! Institute of Contemporary Art. She is currently working on a large-scale watercolour painting of food and is the editor of Luma Quarterly. She is Akimblog's Calgary correspondent and can be followed on Instagram.

 

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