In utilizing texture maps—a form of visual data generated by the rendering of objects into 3-D digital models—Clement Valla’s new series, “Surface Survey,” 2014, highlights the eroding boundary between the real and the virtual realms. But beyond simply demonstrating how a “new aesthetic” emerges from digital forms of representation, Valla subjects this technology—and the rhetoric around it—to scrutiny. In reproducing (as either prints or sculptures) the maps from which 3-D digital models can be constructed, Valla exposes the underlying algorithms upon which these models are based. Notably, the maps utilize the same planes as encyclopedias, atlases, and light tables—in other words, media that historically have articulated objects into instruments of knowledge and power. If 3-D digital modeling is a futuristic panacea, it’s one with a troubled past.
The objects manifested here by that technology are not insignificant: Many are ancient works belonging to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, while others are everyday things whose texture maps have been uploaded to online databases (the virtual equivalent of a trash heap). Though the series consequently invokes the discipline of archaeology, it upsets the scientistic expectation that new tools produce new insights. In Surface Survey 24.97.15 (Marble head and torso of Athena), 2014, the fragmentation effected by texture mapping exacerbates, rather than ameliorates, the physical damage the relic has sustained. Even the sculptural objects in the show, such as Surface Survey 74.51.2868 (Limestone recumbent lion), 2014, are compelling not because of their fidelity to the originals, but because of their inevitable difference.
Though the works effectively resist the hype around 3-D modeling, they also comment upon the objects they depict: By subjecting them to an algorithm’s gaze, Valla’s works transform the originals from the unitary, transcendent objects of our contemplation into provisional artifacts whose reception is necessarily conditioned by discourses and technologies alike.