PRINT January 2007

Amanda Ross-Ho

TO CREATE HER WORK SEIZURE, 2006, Los Angeles–based artist Amanda Ross-Ho incorporated several dozen images she had culled from the Internet into a single large laser print. They were photographs of contraband: caches of weapons both primitive and automatic, drugs and paraphernalia, and repetitive stacks and radial piles of (minted or counterfeit) cold cash—all forms of capital extracted from an illicit economy and carefully arranged for the camera by cops unwittingly negotiating issues of morphology and presentation while creating perfunctory documents of their night’s work. Ross-Ho printed the images, singly or in groups, on 8½-x-11 inch bond paper and taped the images to a backdrop in a seemingly artless composition that was then rephotographed as a single seamless image.

The “seizure” of Ross-Ho’s title, of course, deliberately calls attention to her act of appropriation by evoking a parallel black-market economy of images and signification. A related strategy is in play in the ironically titled photo Have the Courage to Be Yourself, 2006, in which she posits a found image of a young Asian girl making Jackson Pollock–esque splatters as a self-portrait, suggesting the banality of the idea of self-expression(ism). In these and other works, Ross-Ho traces an art-historical lineage extending back to the “Pictures” generation—to, say, Richard Prince’s theft of popular 1970s advertising images. One might also see a relationship between her work and Mel Bochner’s Working Drawings and Other Visible Things on Paper Not Necessarily Meant to Be Viewed as Art, 1966, which employed then-new Xerox technology to level the hierarchies between fine art, invoices, and scientific diagrams. An analogous leveling effect takes place in Ross-Ho’s presentation of images—which range from the seemingly banal and generic (doilies, gift baskets, stemware) to the specific or potentially charged (Jay-Z, a black dog fucking a white dog)—but the grouping of similar images paradoxically serves to highlight the individuality of each single image. Put another way, the generic easily slides into the specific: Doilies unexpectedly become as unique as snowflakes; an appropriate gift basket emerges for every conceivable occasion.

Ross-Ho’s post-“Pictures”-era investment in the image is further complicated by her transformation of such readily available imagery through various sculptural negotiations. As a graduate student at the University of Southern California’s Roski School of Fine Arts in Los Angeles, Ross-Ho began an ongoing series titled “Black Widow,” 2005–, which consists of enlargements of the intricate weblike patterns of paper doilies (or images of paper doilies found on the Internet). These cutouts, each nearly seven feet in diameter, are made from canvas drop cloths and coated in black latex. Considered formally, these works compound flatness and dimensionality, bringing to mind photographic negatives of white paper doilies while affirming sculptural objecthood in the removal of canvas to create the voids.

The sculptural properties of Ross-Ho’s work were brought to the fore in a recent solo show at Western Exhibitions in Chicago, where Black Widow #4, 2006, was displayed on a setlike, three-angled Sheetrock wall that replicated the gallery perimeter. Next to that canvas work, Ross-Ho created another doily pattern (Gran-Abertura, 2006) by roughly cutting voids into the Sheetrock, allowing light to pass through and form a radial pattern on the gallery wall. Several empty, readymade gift baskets were placed throughout the gallery.

As suggested by the layered, gendered title of the “Black Widow” series, Ross-Ho’s work constructs a web of associations in which something personal gets entangled. Perhaps it is not surprising that she once worked for a company that designed embroidered gift pillows with corny phrases—WHAT PART OF “PRINCESS” DON’T YOU UNDERSTAND?; QUESTION AUTHORITY / ASK ME ANYTHING!—that aim to find their target audience by implying personality while remaining impersonal enough to appeal to a wide audience.

The gift baskets that appear frequently in Ross-Ho’s work—both as found images taken from commercial websites and as readymade objects—also reflect her thematic concern with locating the personal within the impersonal: Their prepackaged contents are seemingly chosen for a specific recipient. At the same time, they signify abundance while establishing a physical limit that prevents their bounty from overflowing its woven container, suggesting an endless, if paradoxical, struggle between infinity and limitation. Indeed, Ross-Ho’s work as a whole might be said to productively inhabit this conundrum, too, oscillating between the dimensional materiality of sculpture and the endlessly reproducible, scalable mutability of the photographic image.

Michael Ned Holte is a Los Angeles-based writer.