PRINT Summer 2002


Manual Labor

EXHIBITIONS OF NEW MEDIA tend to focus on the new; as a result, artists working with computers in the ’80s who set precedents for today’s technologically savvy photographers, video artists, and Net artists often get overlooked. Take Ed Hill and Suzanne Bloom, aka Manual: The duo has been experimenting with digital manipulation since 1985, eleven years after they pioneered montage and text techniques that eerily presage many a Photoshop construction or Flash animation, yet Manual is rarely referenced in articles or shows of new-media art. This summer, Hill and Bloom—who contributed to Artforum in the ’80s and early ’90s—get their due when a retrospective of Manual’s work from the mid-’70s to the present opens at New York’s International Center of Photography (June 28–Sept. 1). The show features a hundred photographs, a series of early digital animations, CD-ROMs, and a new three-screen video installation based on Virgil’s Eclogues.

Viewed as a whole, Hill and Bloom’s oeuvre, primarily concerned with finding new ways to express the often discordant relations between the natural and man-made worlds, reflects the evolution of digital imaging in artistic practice. The 1993 series “A Constructed Forest,” for example. showcases rudimentary digital collages, including a paint palette and a computer motherboard superimposed on a woodsy photograph; while images from the series “Arcadian Landscapes,” 1998–, are more sophisticated morphings of seamlessly blended ideal settings. As the show’s curator Edward W. Earle says, “Hill and Bloom have always chosen appropriate technologies to accomplish a task. Yet they also bring some healthy skepticism to our technologically driven world.”

Reena Jana