New York

Josh Tonsfeldt, Adrenaline Tattoo, 2015, UV-cured pigment print on Hydrocal, spray paint, epoxy resin, ink, 32 × 48".

Josh Tonsfeldt, Adrenaline Tattoo, 2015, UV-cured pigment print on Hydrocal, spray paint, epoxy resin, ink, 32 × 48".

Josh Tonsfeldt

Simon Preston

Josh Tonsfeldt, Adrenaline Tattoo, 2015, UV-cured pigment print on Hydrocal, spray paint, epoxy resin, ink, 32 × 48".

In Josh Tonsfeldt’s recent exhibition “Adrenaline,” images had a curious, often fugitive relationship to their sources, supports, and meanings. The New York–based artist prints photographs onto a variety of fragile-seeming surfaces and employs unusual processes such as hydrography to investigate the visual, conceptual, and emotional arenas of everyday life as mediated by the ubiquitous electronic screen. “Familiarity becomes something slippery in the timespan of making a picture,” he writes, characterizing this mutable relationship as “a machine-body behavior ready to play itself out in situations untethered from its source.” Juxtaposing his part-photographic works with part-sculptural objects, Tonsfeldt holds our certainties about space, time, and the “real” up to a penetrating light.

The smartphone has long been an important tool in our filtration of reality; for Adrenaline Tattoo (all works 2015), Tonsfeldt makes the ubiquitous device the conceptual center of a composition that collapses the intimate into the public, the observer into the observed. The work, a pigment print with ink and spray-paint additions, depicts a man receiving a tattoo while holding up a phone to document the process, as seen through a store window printed with the word ADRENALINE. This image layers representations that range from the material (the letters on the window), to the immaterial (the image transmitted by the phone), to that which is inscribed on the body (the tattoo). Printed as it is on a sheet of crumbling gypsum cement—a support more often associated with the architectural construction of a gallery space than with its contents—the work evokes a tenor that is doubly hard to establish.

The small Lenox Hill, which features a photo of the artist’s wife’s hand, one of her fingers encased in an oximeter, after she gave birth at the titular New York hospital, and the much larger triptych BOM-DAC, a view of an airplane passenger’s decorative hat or scarf shot from the seat behind the person, both show Tonsfeldt taking a similar approach to their respective subjects, fragmenting and re-representing them as skeins of more-or-less blurry color just barely coating stuff that appears on the verge of dissolution. But what could so easily convey little more than a tentative hand—a self-effacing aesthetic of provisionality—comes across instead as a subtle play on intimacy, vision, and the weird selectivity of memory. There’s an unexpected poignancy to these works, a sense of struggling for definition that locates the technological firmly within the human.

Stranger still are three untitled works in which framed sheets of prism film entomb wire bundles and the like so that the impersonal objects seem to float in fields of silver. There’s also a television, stripped of its screen and hung like a painting so that its grid of blue-white LED lights casts a cold glow across the room, suggesting that everything we see is defined in large part by these semi-visible patterns of light. Another flat-screen television lies on a pedestal, opened partway like a book so that the video that plays on it arrives chopped up into its component parts: It has dissolved into part-images and shadows, harsh brightness and impenetrable shade. The electronic production and dissemination of pictures has become so effortless that it’s almost shocking to see their carriers pulled apart. Much more than a “simple” set of media, this system, with all its promises and demands, Tonsfeldt reminds us, is in our blood.

Michael Wilson