John Gerrard’s CGI Predicted Brexit

THE DAILY PIC: At Simon Preston, Gerrard offers a virtual England that's wobbly and slicked with oil.

THE DAILY PIC (#1582): There’s a wonderful tradition in Western culture whereby artists simply observe and depict quiet little moments in daily life. After flourishing in painting for centuries – think Roman murals, then Italian, Dutch and French still lifes – it took hold in photography and then continued on into experiments in film and video, by artists such as Tacita Dean and Sam Taylor-Johnson (nee Taylor-Wood). A brilliant new piece by John Gerrard, now on view at Simon Preston Gallery in New York, sits deep in that tradition – except for the “simply observing and depicting” part. (Click on my image to watch a clip from Gerrard’s piece.)

Flag (Thames), presents a view onto a little oil-slicked patch of London’s great river near the Houses of Parliament, and tracks the rippling reflections in it over the course of 24 hours. Like all of Gerrard’s wonderful works, however, Flag is not made from actual video footage shot of its scene, but rather uses CGI technology to build and present a digital recreation and fiction.

In the past, Gerrard’s illusionistic magic has been evidently impressive, but what I love about the new piece is its utter modesty. There’s no technophilia involved this time, since few viewers would ever realize that they aren’t witnessing an actual stretch of video. Instead, Gerrard uses CGI very much in the tradition of oil painting: His 21st-century update on oils simply gives him the ability to construct the realistic vision he wants, as a painter might, without ever making the construction itself the point of the endeavor.

That means that we can see through his techniques right to the subjects he depicts – in this case, a world where all water comes sullied with oil, either literally or as metaphor, and where Britain’s Houses of Parliament can only be seen as a dim and wobbly reflection, as through a slick darkly. Launched at Preston just days after Brexit, Gerrard’s piece felt sadly apposite. Its title seems doubly ironic. (Image courtesy the artist and Simon Preston Gallery, New York)

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