New York

Jennifer Bolande

Baron/Boisanté Editions

Like all convincing sleight of hand, Jennifer Bolande’s show “Forest Spirits” prompted reflection on the technologies of appearance. In the tradition of classic nature photography, her suite of subtle, computer-assisted prints (published in an edition of eight) was unabashedly pretty, a modest and appealing celebration of the ways in which the camera’s intervention creates “natural” beauty. That in this case an appropriated photograph actually replaces a real-life landscape as the object of representation only serves to remind us that the difference between what the camera does and what digital imaging processes can do is one of degree. The monitor has simply displaced the lens.

The images in “Forest Spirits” looked, by turns, like gothic passageways, druggy hallucinations, and animator’s fantasias. Using a computer, Bolande isolated portions of a ’30s picture postcard that a friend sent her from Ireland, flipping and doubling them into lapidary Rorschachs. The prints retain the sepia tones of the original photograph, but they heighten its modest browns and creams to a velvety lushness using the Iris process, which feeds a pixelated image into an ink-jet printer that sprays millions of drops per square inch of traditional uncoated papers. Bolande cut and mirrored slices of the original but did not add to or subtract from them, and the basic character of the postcard—grass, a path, tree trunks, and leafy branches—remains legible in the manipulated versions. Though the postcard was not installed with the exhibition, it was available for inspection in the gallery, anticipating the viewer’s inevitable desire to see “the real thing” and acting—perhaps incidentally—as a reminder that the appropriated object always exists not only as source for but as a gloss on the artworks to which it gives rise.

The prints were grounded in a seemingly natural milieu of dappled light and organized perspectival distance. But the symmetry of Bolande’s fragments pushed them against the picture plane, flattening and abstracting the recognizable parts and allowing new shapes to reveal themselves. In this sense, the computer replaced the camera as the (apparently) innocent extension of the artist’s eye. Through Bolande’s simple mediation, blots of ink resolved into faeries and hobgoblins, giants and elves, a now-you-see-’em-now-you-don’t menagerie flitting through a forest that stretched and soared like the vaulted arches of cathedrals, or crowded itself together into totem poles. Like an archaic demonology, “Forest Spirits” offered a compendium of the creatures that might lurk in an unremarkable section of woods, a roster of the masks substance might wear. (And not all of these were old-fashioned. Here and there, more contemporary cartoon figures—a Japanimation girl’s head, the tiny silhouette of a man on a motorcycle—suggested themselves.) In that sense, all sixteen images were the same though they assumed different guises, creating a kaleidoscopic view that fit snugly into the idea of reality as virtual—which, after all, simply means “accurate in essence though not in form.”

Appropriate to their atmosphere of festive distortion, the decorative symmetry of the image, repeated over the sixteen variations, became a kind of visual rhyme. Funny, fragile, and beguiling, this surface sprightliness also ran the risk that most rhyme does, of becoming pat, cute, or kitschy. German critic Gertrud Sandqvist’s observation that Bolande “uses nature as photographic wallpaper” came precariously close to literal truth in this show. But “Forest Spirits” was saved by its true psychedelia, its exuberant and nuanced interest in the elasticity of what’s visible.

Frances Richard