San Francisco

Rebeca Bollinger

Rena Bransten Gallery

Off-the-shelf electronic devices always seem to have a feature that some engineer gleefully cooked up but few actual users ever figure out quite what to do with. Take the “tile” function on most digital cameras—the button that multiplies an image into a gridded set of sixteen squares, like a sheet of Sanrio photobooth stickers. It’s this type of dubiously useful function that serves as Rebeca Bollinger’s inspiration to explore the found structures of online databases, personal image banks, and sorting programs. The centerpiece of her recent exhibition was a double DVD projection titled fields (all works 2001), a seemingly endless stream of everyday images—urban walls, lines painted on a highway, chain-link fences, patches of grass, delivery trucks, Home Depots—all seen from a machine’s-eye view.

When her digital camera is set to “Multi-Shot 16” and the shutter pressed, the pictures on the camera’s screen tile out quickly in a sequential manner, top left to bottom right, until the grid is complete. To capture this process live, the artist wired a video camera to her still camera; she then snapped pictures of her subjects, generating a pulsating sequence of images of ordinary places. The low-tech conceit is direct—the viewer sees the machine’s automatic decision-making functions, even the blurry movement that doesn’t register on the final digital snapshot—yet the result is infinitely more dynamic than its quotidian sources suggest.

Freed from human-assigned hierarchies and aesthetic judgments, Bollinger’s mundane subjects take on a surprising beauty; the auto-compositions often reference more deliberately framed painting and photography. A grid of brilliant red stop signs channels the best of David Hockney’s photo works; the palm-fronded purple facade of a trashy bar evokes the tropical sensuality of a Jack Pierson picture, while an image of packed stadium bleachers begins to resemble the work of any number of abstract painters when the repeating horizontal sections join in irregular bands of color and pattern.

Bollinger’s strengths as an artist lie in trusting her tools and the purity of her ideas. Here she deftly exploits the element of surprise by presenting the hour-long DVD in a two-channel format in concurrent, out-of-synch loops, an ephemeral pulse of images and random juxtapositions. The piece is silent yet deeply rhythmic, like a John Cage composition for a digital imaging device. Within Bollinger’s oeuvre, fields represents a point of assurance and maturity: It’s a work of digital art that manages to be visually striking while remaining conceptually strong enough to comment on and transcend the banality of its tools and images.

The exhibition also included a series of digital photographs for which computer programs sorted and arranged the fields images by color. In index, for example, the contents of the hour-long video are presented in a poster format. The computer shrinks the images and arranges them in horizontal rows, dark hues at the bottom, pale at the top: an accidental landscape. It’s a dense composition that contains images within images, fields within fields. The stuff of fracture and information overload is transformed here into something not dizzying but meditative.

Glen Helfand