Index • Luis Antonio Santos

Jan 8 to Jan 30, 2016 • Upstairs Gallery

Index by Luis Antonio Santos excavates images from art history and unmoors them from their respective contexts. Prominent European works by masters like Giotto, Caravaggio, and Bernini are appropriated and “glitched” as part of the artist’s continued interest in archives, data compression, and, most important, memory.

Silkscreen prints of Medieval altarpieces are superimposed on inkjet reproductions of museum dioramas of prehistoric epochs, creating a time-warping jump in imagery. This overlaying, similar to geological stratification, calls attention to the centuries compressed in art historical indices and similar lists. The “juxtaposition of two different histories,” as Santos says, mimics the skips and stutters of a fast-forwarded video.

Index also features monochrome oil paintings that resemble the fuzzy and distorted images found in art history handouts that have been photocopied many times over, with each pass of the Xerox machine resulting in a perceptible loss of quality. The “deterioration of information” through time fascinates Santos, who brings lossy data compression — a term used in relation to digital content — into the non-computer-generated world of painting and printing.

Corruption of data is central to “glitch art,” defined by critic and art historian Michael Betancourt as the “recovery of technical failure as the formal basis for media practice.” Imagine that a high-resolution image of Bernini’s The Ecstasy of St. Teresa — say, a TIFF — is cropped so that all that remains is the saint’s head. Imagine, too, that this cropped head is compressed into a .JPG, and subsequently sized and resized by various photo-editing programs. Anyone familiar with digital files knows that the reduced weight of a .JPG comes at a cost: pixelation, fuzzy edges, noise, and other types of compression artifacts.

Santos takes this digital phenomenon and translates it onto canvas as a metaphor for how the transfer of knowledge is imperfect. The paintings in Index possess the hallmarks of lossy data compression but they are produced by Santos through traditional painting methods. Index plays with anachronism by introducing “digital” randomness into works of art that were originally made before these glitches were possible, with the further complication of these glitches being depicted via paintbrushes and pigments by a human artist instead of a technical failure.

Index, which is, at first glance, a compact show composed of black-and-white reproductions of familiar images, reveals itself to be more complex the more one thinks about it. It attacks from several conceptual angles as it touches on redacted or erased information, historical revisionism, the foibles of documenting as a form of archiving, as well as the possibilities of glitch art within the traditional realm of art-making.

—Sam Marcelo