New York

Sophie Tottie

Patrick Callery

To judge from her work, Sophie Tottie, a Swede in her early 30s, might be a woman schooled by the idea- and process-obsessed artists of the ’60s and ’70s but who goes home at night to worry about life in the computer age. Cool, muted, obscurely troubled and troubling, Tottie’s images suggest a curiosity about the orders innate to visual technologies and systems, particularly electronic ones. Yet she is as much as anything a painter, if one who also makes photographs and videos, and whose paintings arrive at their quite distinct mood through means less expressive than analytic.

When Tottie executes a large black-ink wall drawing marked by spills and the irregularities of the artist’s hand, the image is a computer bar code. Faint fluctuations in the color level of a greenish-grayish oil-on-canvas monochrome look more like sloppy housekeeping (dust, you know) than anything intentional; but this turns out to be a careful representation of a computer monitor screen, switched on but blank and vibrating. In the context of these and other images, an ink drawing on paper, a fine allover grid, makes one think of a TV-screen raster, painstakingly reproduced in a preelectronic medium.

Tottie likes to arrange works in interrelated groups. That drawing on paper is the central panel of a triptych, Crossed-Outs (all works 1995), completed by two black and white photographs, one showing what at first looks like an outdoor plaza but emerges as a not very polished architectural model, the other of a man sitting alone in some public room, against a wall on which hangs an enormous carpet. How do you make a grid? Perhaps you photograph a carpet’s weave, or a modelmaker’s reproduction of a plaza’s paving stones. Or perhaps you just draw one. The choices are uneven equivalents, for they produce different feelings in the viewer: looking at the photo of the maquette, you tower above a tiny space. The other photo, though, leads you to identify with the figure dwarfed beneath the carpet. The central image is dimensionless, floating: draw a tight grid on a large scale, it turns out, and the hand’s variations will breed shifting ripple and shadow effects in the overall gray.

Questions about process, then, broaden out into a social arena. In Tottie’s photographs, public spaces are large, vacant, cold, and colorless. Or else they aren’t public spaces at all, but constricted facsimiles of them, models. The shifting sense of the viewer’s own bodily scale that these images seem meant to induce is not so much the delirium of growing and shrinking like Alice as the uncertainty of corporeal integrity in today’s urban and technological surround. Artmaking isn’t much help: one of Tottie’s two videos in this show is a parable about a terrorist, a professional in secrecy and stealth, who also writes novels. In the other, an anonymous male expert expatiates on life and art at greater length than you want to hear.

Tottie’s hand is sometimes more conscientious than precise, but since it is at other times immaculate one suspects this is a deliberate attempt to reveal the method of the images’ making. She is a better painter than she is a photographer by quite a way: her photos are more compelling conceptually than they are visually. Perhaps this too is deliberate. Combining media and methods, she defines herself as “artist” rather than “painter,” and tries to make art’s interest in itself come out on the other side, in the wider world.

David Frankel