PRINT October 2015


Andrei Koschmieder, Untitled #03 (Plant on radiator series), 2012, spray paint, ink-jet dye, paper, metal, 43 × 31 × 4". From the series “Plants on Radiators,” 2012–15.

THE PATH from the Epson tray to the gallery wall to the museum collection has never been shorter. Over the past decade or so, we’ve seen scanners, plotters, and all manner of digital-reproduction devices become thoroughly naturalized as tools for art production, and artists who engage directly with postphotographic reproduction technologies have become canonical at midcareer. Today, a younger generation has moved on from flatbeds and ink-jets, now as tinged with nostalgia as a slide carousel or a bank of CRT TVs, to emerging technologies whose problems and implications are not yet fully articulated but are sure to be radically different.

Art produced with nascent technologies often positions itself as reflecting on their potential disruptive impact—dissecting new regimes of production and consumption before they’ve been fully disseminated and adopted, in a kind of hands-on trend forecasting. The use of these devices can afford artists a breezy air of criticality concerning the economic system that develops and promotes them—a position as cheaply bought, in terms of political commitment and theoretical rigor, as the technologies themselves are expensive. A prosumerist technology promising mass customization and radically flattened distribution networks, 3-D printing lends itself well to this position. But we’ve seen a more promising dystopian turn borne out in the art of Yngve Holen, who uses 3-D printers to manufacture series of quotidian objects with a subtly disquieting difference, such as the product line of frowning custom security screws named Hater Head, 2013, and in that of Andrea Longacre-White, who uses selective laser sintering to fashion accumulations of Apple products and their respective plugs and chargers as cancerously deviant, Hans Bellmer–esque forms.

These younger artists seem unconcerned with using new technologies to trouble traditional media divisions between painting and printing, or even between printout and file, perhaps because these technologies threaten to make any such borders indefensible and not particularly thrilling to transgress. This is not to rehearse tired late-twentieth-century narratives about the progressive rapture of specific materials into an undifferentiated sea of raw data flows. Rather, such materiality is uniquely articulated to the devices that support or instantiate them, refusing to come to rest at any given node in the network of their production—one of the more sanguine and useful conceptions of so-called post-Internet art. On the other hand, critiques of capital’s newest gadgets can sometimes collapse into an early adopter’s zeal: It’s not hard to imagine an upcoming gallery show in which guests are invited to submit biometric iPhone selfies via Bluetooth to customize designs for an immersive VR headset, printed on-site by an awaiting MakerBot and used to traverse a glitchy Unity environment produced by mashing up the visitor’s Instagram account and a Doom 3 emulation. Or something.

Of course, an artist need not be such a tireless adopter to engage with “the conditions of living in and through new media,” as Claire Bishop described it in these pages in 2012. Over the past few years, Andrei Koschmieder, a young German-Korean artist, has created a diverse body of work that subtly and wryly grapples with those conditions while refusing the kind of technofetishism that occasionally makes gallery openings feel like booths at a tech-industry trade show. Whereas artists such as Holen and Longacre-White integrate new fabrication technologies directly into their practices, Koschmieder takes on these media as if staring into an eclipse, examining the corona of discourses and effects but not the device itself directly, constructing an image of it and its import in negative.

Instead of recoding printouts as painting—a tactic thoroughly explored by a previous generation—Koschmieder’s work often seems to start comfortably within one medium, only to strike out for another and get stuck along the way, hesitating in an uncanny valley, a field identifiable only in terms of some operational modality so distended—let’s call it printing-in-general—that it threatens to subsume everything. And why shouldn’t it, after all, when everything will soon be printable? Far from sinking into dystopian melancholy, however, Koschmieder’s work betrays a subtle, nervy glee: a parallax view of the holodeck Earth that awaits us. The artist is essentially a booby-trapper, the kind of miscreant who might glue a wooden nickel to the floor of a subway car, performing a bait and switch with a nearly bare hook—sparking an infinitesimal desire before denying it to us in the double take when we see it for the nothing it is.

Andrei Koschmieder, Untitled, 2012, paper, ink-jet dye, epoxy, 48 3/8 × 28 3/4 × 2 3/4".

MANY OF KOSCHMIEDER’S ongoing concerns have been clear since his first New York solo show at Foxy Production in 2011: the negotiation of messy media boundaries, printing as an increasingly greedy category subsuming other types of artistic production, and a bogglingly involuted praxis that includes both cutting-edge and traditional techniques. That show, the aptly titled “Android Koschmieder,” reworked advertising images for touch screens, enlarged and often montaged with grasping, claw-like hands. Printed on foil, the images, still wet with ink, were applied again to paper. These secondary prints were encased in resin and either loosely hung from the walls or compiled into anthropomorphic columns, with their swarms of hands, some fleshy and some skeletal, frozen under epoxy in a rictus of desire; there’s something campily moralizing about them. The translucent prints and wrapped columns—like touch screens of coagulated, pure fascination unhinged from their back ends—present psychedelic allegories for the ways in which such screens renegotiate the circuit between desire, vision, and touch in their depthless depths, slyly instrumentalizing the hands that use them.

Koschmieder’s playful antagonism to categorical distinctions became both less compromising and subtler in the work that followed his solo debut. The empire of printing-in-general expands almost invisibly across borders, as all sorts of production increasingly fall under its sway. Take, for example, a series of transitional works in group shows over the next three years: The first of these, an untitled contribution to “TEN TEN” at Jason Alexander in New York in 2012, suggests a link between the earlier resin columns and the more austere forms of travesty that would follow. Koschmieder’s piece, an ink-jet-printed-paper and epoxy replica of the kind of steel bar used to mount stop signs, discolored blue-green and purple and coiled into the shape of a sideways long intestine, painstakingly mimicked an industrial material while striving to subdue its form. The piece retained the glazed-over surfaces of the earlier resins: an iridescent, goopy depth in which one’s gaze gets stuck like a fly in honey.

This trompe l’oeil faking of something not worth the trouble reappeared more emphatically in a series of works produced later in 2012, first exhibited that year at Frieze New York but not shown again until group shows at Milan’s Gasconade in 2013 and Los Angeles’s Michael Thibault in 2014. For each of these, Koschmieder contributed not an implausibly manipulated industrial material but an object aping a typical metal steam radiator, painted white, with a potted plant perched on top. In Milan, in a small tiled room dominated by two large floor sculptures—an extended white tuber-shaped object by Lupo Borgonovo and a circular polyurethane rug by Piero Gilardi depicting a hypermagnified grassy meadow spotted with red blossoms—Koschmieder’s radiator, fashioned from corrugated metal crimped at top and bottom, slipped quietly into place on a wall adjacent to the gallery’s actual radiator. In contrast to the art that surrounded it, the impostor radiator seemed demure at first, even coy, an imitation readymade trying to pass, if not for a functioning appliance, then at least for its recontextualized commercial double.

Why bother faking a readymade? And would 3-D printing a Kohler urinal straight from the corporate catalogue constitute a readymade? It might, once that’s the fixture’s typical distribution system. In 2007, when personal-fabrication technologies were just cresting the horizon, artist Josiah McElheny laid out three general post-Duchampian strategies for readymades in these pages: One could fake a commercial product by making an imitation of it, often in another material; borrow objects and deploy them largely unmodified in assemblages; or steal “the methods of capitalist production itself, by accessing an industrial process and adapting it for one’s own use” (“Readymade Resistance,” Artforum, October 2007). But when the entire aim of the process in question is to bend to your personal will, the possibility of stealing is sapped of resistance: The more you make full use of the process’s adaptivity, the more you realize the dreams of its creators. As McElheny succinctly put it, “How does one produce idiosyncrasy in a future where everything that is made already looks idiosyncratic?”

In his imitation-salvage industrial material and banal appliances, Koschmieder opts to fake his borrowing, emphasizing the impending exhaustion of interesting possibilities for theft. The asymptotically customized works of Jeff Koons are, as Artforum editor Michelle Kuo has written, “haunted by the readymade [but also] projections of the made-to-order,” showing us “the commodity not as it is, or how it was, but how it will be”—and Koschmieder’s faux assemblages and tricky digital and handmade prints portend a world of infinite customization. But whereas Koons endows the froth of mass culture with monumental permanence, Koschmieder prints predistressed, transitory detritus from fragile materials. In place of highly finished reflective steel, whose shaping employs bespoke technologies and the collaboration of boutique firms or high-end engineers, many of the materials necessary for a Koschmieder plant or bit of rebar could be picked up at OfficeMax.

The artist’s radiators are a reflection on the flow of prefabricated objects into art contexts as subjects of discourse and repositories of value at a time when new production regimes threaten to drastically shift the nature of such objects in general. But they hide their surreal aggression and resistance to use; they seem more like spies or moles, a posthuman version of the grotesquely sinister hyperrealism of a Duane Hanson museum guard. Outrider replicants for some strange global mimetic impulse momentarily held in check, they might just as easily double as light fixtures, folding tables, floor tiles—Koschmieder induces an objective Capgras delusion.

From a distance, the plants seem to confirm the shambling authenticity of their folded metal supports—potted beards, of a kind. Up close, they turn out to be a different breed of ersatz, produced entirely from thin ink-jet printouts covered, as we’ve come to expect, in resin. The vegetation has been laboriously reproduced from originals put through a typical flatbed scanner, down to the grainy, printed dirt. Snippets of language have been hidden in some of their translucent leaves, recirculating gallery-world etiquette (IF THE PHONE RINGS MORE THAN ONCE SOMEONE IS IN TROUBLE), parodic slogans (LEAF NEW YORK CITY and WTF!!? COLLECTOR), and advertising (a sentence from a press release for a 2012 Josef Strau show at Greene Naftali in New York). They wear their cache on their sleeve: Recursively bugged, they surveil the various environments that have produced them and play back the discursive soup.

The printed plants act as winking half-spoilers, their lifeless, protocol-ridden surfaces a quieter version of the earlier psych-out touch screens. They’re craftily digital and cast a creeping doubt on their unassuming metal supports, allowing for a montage anamorphosis in which the radiators come to seem both more or less than they would alone: enhanced prints, trump appliances, or dumb fetishes from which grow a ready-made discursive system.

“Rainbow,” Koschmieder’s solo show at Dold Projects in Sankt Georgen im Schwarzwald, Germany, in 2013, engaged in a similar dialectic of dubiousness. “Untitled (Bonsai series),” 2013, a group of digital prints on paper that imitate traditional Japanese watercolors, featured mass-market online pornography collaged with photographs of bonsai trees taken by the artist. Each bears a stylized stamp of the artist’s initials and a title in expressive calligraphic Korean script, a phonetic translation of the name of the company that produced the particular bit of smut the print repackages. The subtitles—handsonhardcore or naughtyamerica—dump the artist’s browser history, endless aggregated digital sites that constitute the image’s provenance, substituting partial corporate URLs for the Hokusai-esque View of Mount Fuji. The screen grabs from Reality Kings and other purveyors of online hard-core porn are mostly taken from the narrative interlude prior to actual intercourse—the slack, scene-setting filmic context consumers likely click past. Nestled into the branches of an enormous bonsai, a woman in an orange sundress greets two soldiers in fatigues; in another work from the series, a man looks up from a tablet under the bonsai’s leafy shade to meet the gaze of a woman seated nearby on a bend in its trunk. Freed of their purpose, the banal figures eerily approximate Rockwellian American dross, lampooning Western appreciation for traditional Asian painting. By superimposing the pornographic and Orientalist gazes, these deeply insincere imitation objets d’art turn the fetishizing eye back onto itself. While the scenes of some of the prints flirt with foreplay—a man who appears to be a physical trainer makes a therapeutic adjustment to a woman’s buttocks—only one is explicit. In Untitled (shemalehuntboys), a naked man surmounts a bonsai to receive a hand job, revealing the contemporary derivation of the group of images, a genealogy elsewhere obscured in their bleary, digitally assisted imitation of traditional kitsch.

View of “Andrei Koschmieder: Iodine Poisoning,” 2014, Real Fine Arts, New York. From left: Untitled #7, 2014; Untitled #12, 2014. Photo: Joerg Lohse.

PRINTED REPLICANTS RETURNED with a vengeance at Koschmieder’s 2014 Real Fine Arts show in Brooklyn, “Iodine Poisoning.” If his earlier objects could conveniently be thought of as resins, these require an even more fluid designation. Portrait-oriented, painting-size boxes resembling cheap metal siding, fashioned by molding layers of paper around roofing material, painted white or an oxidized silver, they arrived already in decay, variously scraped, chipped, or rusted. Passing themselves off as ready-made abstraction, a contiguous set of boxes hung on one wall, while a reserve stack of metallic multiples leaned against another, waiting to be installed. Implied was a contemporary critique of the all-too-Brooklyn interest in the redemptive authenticity of postindustrial urban landscapes, the kind of impulse that might stock a gallery show with assemblages of discarded scrap sourced from the parking lot under a nearby overpass. But that wasn’t all. The rough surfaces of these would-be shed walls and scaffolds hid a crucial detail: Nestled in the upper or lower edges of each box was a tiny garnish—a preternaturally, perpetually fresh shrimp, made from printed ink-jet scans applied to translucent cast plastic. The shrimp gave the show its title: the name of a difficult-to-diagnose disorder that folk wisdom holds might result from one too many shrimp cocktails and that dangerously mimics minor ailments. As Koschmieder’s discursive plants betrayed the nature of the radiators on which they sat, these ominously everlasting crustaceans brought a disparate set of symptoms into relief, cluing a viewer into the debased materiality of their richly textured paper supports.

The gallery wall across from the meet-cute between faux shrimp and metallic siding was papered over entirely with prints. As one progressed along the wall, what looked at first to be black color fields or rhythmic, Motherwellesque blotches gradually resolved into handmade prints of squid. Wallpaper (Clouding series), 2014, superimposes traditional and contemporary printing technologies: from gyotaku, a practice originating with Japanese fishermen directly pressing their catches, dipped in ink, onto paper, a kind of accounting that ended up as an art unto itself, to photo-printer cartridges harvested for their store of CMYK. Squid (more than a few were required) were pressed in their own ink and stamped on sheets of paper; then, stacked, they were doused with black printer ink, separated again, and hung. Soaking through the pile of stacked monoprints, the printer ink obliterated the trace of the artist’s hand in each of the unique printings, along with the image of the squid stamp—marks of traditional, individuated imagemaking that are gradually restored toward the bottom of the stack as the cartridge runs dry.

Squid possess two options for self-defense: They may eject a large quantity of ink that acts as a smoke screen, or they can choose to darken their color intensely, then release a squid-size, squid-shape pocket of ink called a pseudomorph, blanch, and jet away, leaving a confused predator grasping at a vaporous facsimile. Some Caribbean reef squid are even capable of imitating their own pseudomorphs, tinting themselves an inky black as they hang in the water among them. In Koschmieder’s prints, the eye is lured and pranked by elaborate transpositions of technique: On one wall an interrogation of printing disguises itself as a ready-made industrial shrimp cocktail, while on another it dresses up as AbEx inkblots that resolve into gyotaku. When one tries to grasp the artist’s program in its entirety, one is left holding only a fluid set of resemblances, ink-jet-doused selfies left behind by an artist as evasive and cunning as the animal that serves as his stamp.

A clear line runs from the works in “Iodine Poisoning” to Koschmieder’s most recent gallery outing at the time of this writing, in “Paris De Noche,” a show with Amy Yao and Pentti Monkkonen at Night Gallery in LA in 2014. The artist again presented a set of faux readymades and a monoprinted wallpaper—this time, of an Internet-sourced image of a pigeon’s head. Here the oblong metallic and pre-weathered corrugations had been cut from larger rectangular sheets, formed using the same procedure as in Brooklyn. The cutouts, resembling locket-shaped crops of a photo or slugs punched out of metal, took up portrait-like positions in a line along two walls, facing the scrap bits of the sheets they came from, hung together end to end so that they preserved the negative image of their corresponding lozenges, a row of rusted metal teeth. Whereas a visitor previously had to infer the connection between an urban postindustrial landscape outside the gallery and the works inside it, the press release for “Paris De Noche” made explicit that Koschmieder’s works were created in the interest of reflecting “the beauty of the trashed industrial non-site surrounding Night Gallery”—a kind of spoof grit. Following from the works’ suggestive hanging and shape, one might say they mirror that landscape, or the art world’s appropriative interest in it: We would like to look at it and see ourselves there, but we are gazing into yet another decoy.

The press release accompanying “Paris De Noche” references the sociopolitics of history and contemporary consumer culture—the exhibition’s title refers to both the nineteenth-century Haussmannization of Paris and a popular Mexican cocktail—winkingly acknowledging the traditional role of art galleries as the avant-garde of gentrification. This is a dynamic from which Night Gallery is hardly exempt, operating out of a newly redesigned warehouse space in south downtown LA. The show also included a version of that other mainstay of artsy gentrification, an artist’s bar, conceived by Monkkonen. There’s a microtrend in recent gallery shows of using installed bars partially as a shorthand for network aesthetics, a tactic that Koschmieder employed with bracing, cynical glee. Whereas the earlier radiators slid unobtrusively among other work, here Koschmieder colonized the bar stools with prints of birds, rebranding the bar with pigeons. The bar as prime nexus for the production of artistic social capital and gentrification was fed directly back into a gallery show—Koschmieder’s so-called Bar des Pigeons may be a better framework for the production of institutional value than Marcel Broodthaers’s Musée d’Art Moderne, Département des Aigles, 1968–72. Taking Broodthaers’s punny metacuratorial gambit and mashing it up with a contemporary trend that is in some ways its descendant—with a splash of Maurizio Cattelan’s more lowbrow bird—Koschmieder localized and finalized the gambit, turning its screw one more time.

Though there’s a conceptual depth and restlessness to Koschmieder’s contributions, all of them—monoprint wallpaper and paper bar-stool upholstery, corrugated cutouts and scraps—have the same material at their base, a salmon-colored heavy-duty rosin paper. Here we can see a high-water mark of the counterfeit empire’s expansion: The artist treats himself increasingly as an all-purpose reproductive machine, like the 3-D printers and their selective laser sintering he eschews. In marking and manipulating the same standard input to diverse ends, Koschmieder jumps ahead to a future world where everything can simply be printed—and he does so by printing simply everything.

Koschmieder’s mimicry approximates not just objects but the discourses that generally adhere to them: fake readymades, fake zombie abstraction, fake post-Internet sculptures, fake Asian watercolors, fake institutional critique, fake meme appropriation. He does this the better to dispel our enchantment with them while jamming the channel with noise. Not readymades (though not not readymades), not post-Internet (though not not post-Internet), not 3-D printing (though not not it, either), but something, indeed, like iodine poisoning—a disease that covers its tracks, a pseudomorphic disorder that generalizes its paranoia, infusing new discourses with old technologies and vice versa.

As if everything up to this point had been mere rehearsal, initial prototyping for a mass counterfeit to come, Koschmieder’s most recent project radicalized the insinuating nature of his printed replicants and pointed toward a possible critical endgame. On June 23 of this year, large rectangular slabs of salmon-colored imitation siding, manufactured along the same lines as those that had appeared at Night Gallery, were installed along a block in Little Italy, on Lafayette Street in New York. The outdoor project was probably illegal but not exactly covert: No one attempted to intervene in the daytime installation by Koschmieder, who announced the mini-show via an e-mail to a private list, inviting recipients to meet him for a drink on June 26 at a bar across the street during typical opening hours, from 6 to 9 PM. The guests could observe the work’s in situ fate: For a time it blended seamlessly, unrecognized by passersby who blithely kicked litter under its lower edges, and it escaped notice until finally being removed days later. The components of Koschmieder’s “Paris De Noche” contribution, previously contained and contextualized by the space of the gallery itself, were now disarticulated and deployed in the wild, as the poles of an opening staged in an exterior social and commercial space: the real street, the real bar. The gallery printed out into the world at large.

Localized and contextualized travesty is psychologically manageable; less so when it threatens a general collapse of the ground on which it was so recently the figure. That double threat is the conceptual end of Koschmieder’s printing-in-general. When the replicant object goes native, potentially slipping away from the contexts and discourses that fix it as an aesthetic object and reversing the flow of value accretion, it thwarts the systems that produced it. Who couldn’t foresee some budding young assemblage artist salvaging attractively rusted hoardings from a corner in Bushwick or Red Hook, only to discover, crestfallen, that he’s been duped by paper Koschmieder fakes?

At the same time, these counterfeits usurp an irruption of production technologies promising an increasingly personalized environment. It used to be enough to enjoy your symptom; Koschmieder suggests it’s time to love your psychosis. If the world itself will soon be printed, Koschmieder’s wry art preemptively fakes this emergent reality, giving us the necessary room to plan our escape, in and among the images we resemble.

Jeff Nagy is a writer based in Palo Alto.