Berlin

Florian Meisenberg, FM/M 188, 2016, airbrushed india ink, oil paint, and iridescent acrylic paint on canvas, 54 1/2 × 112 3/4 × 1 1/4".

Florian Meisenberg, FM/M 188, 2016, airbrushed india ink, oil paint, and iridescent acrylic paint on canvas, 54 1/2 × 112 3/4 × 1 1/4".

Florian Meisenberg

Wentrup

Florian Meisenberg, FM/M 188, 2016, airbrushed india ink, oil paint, and iridescent acrylic paint on canvas, 54 1/2 × 112 3/4 × 1 1/4".

German artist Florian Meisenberg has repeatedly staged confrontations between painted pictures and their digital siblings, and this was the case again in his recent exhibition with the lengthy title “Um, nice guy, good hospitality, but . . y’know . . I-I- I don’t think he knows how to turn on a computer. (brief pause) So . . . but th-the good thing is he’s filling the void . . uh, with coverage in xxxxxxxxxx at the moment so y’know they’re-they’re not drowning.”

Three sets of pictures were on view: a digital video tiled across four monitors, projections on the floor, and paintings on canvas. The video, which shares the exhibition’s title (all works 2016), shows elderly men playing tennis for nearly an hour. Serene close-up shots tracing their movements are accompanied by the soughing of the wind. There’s nothing out of the ordinary about the scene, and yet the images are spellbinding. One could imagine wanting to watch endlessly, so it’s a good thing there was a large white carpet on the floor to lie down on (though it did have sand on it). Just when I made myself comfortable and started following the picture, though, sentences began appearing in white letters superimposed over the footage of the tennis game: statements extolling efficiency, mobility, and performance—the virtues of a digital age in which these old men seem a bit out of place. The text quotes a young Wall Street employee whose chatter Meisenberg accidentally recorded during a train ride from New Jersey into the Financial District. Meanwhile, glowing letters flitted over the carpet and everyone sitting on it. It was difficult to make out more than a word here and there, partly because the writing was in a cursive script of Meisenberg’s own design. This near-illegibility was perhaps appropriate given that the text for this work, Blowing from the west, fallen leaves, gather in the east, was sourced from the WikiLeaks website by a computer program Meisenberg developed with the coder Tommy Martinez; the fully automated setup precluded any human intervention into the selection of texts.

Meisenberg contrasted these two manifestations of digital visual culture with painted pictures. Mounted on the wall, the paintings seemed to be at peace with the world, as though in quiet defiance of the circus of evanescent images filling the room. The works on canvas, in various shapes—a droplet of water, an eye, an arch, a tondo—were each titled From the Series: I don’t think he knows how to turn on a computer (brief pause). Scattered across their colorful surfaces partitioned by lines and wedges—presumably an allusion to the tradition of geometric abstraction—were sexualized body parts, clouds, a sun, teardrops, oversized eyes, and a red-haired man with a pipe who may or may not be van Gogh. Unlike the digital visuals, which render snippets of reality (tennis matches, a banker’s ramblings, material on WikiLeaks) and are governed by the inexorable rationality of algorithms, the canvases are projections of the imagination. Here, too, reality might have been the artist’s initial source material, but what reasoning controls fantasies?

These figments of fancy—or perhaps recollections—are commonplace enough; they might even be drawn from the memories of the tennis players we saw on the monitor. But no mechanism yet exists to transmit them. In the face of imagination, the algorithms for which WikiLeaks files are easy prey seem impotent. So Meisenberg picks up the brush to project them onto his canvases, making his own choices and creative decisions. And all at once the question of why we still have pictures that do not conform to the efficiency of the algorithm is moot. These pictures, it turns out, are simply there: on the canvas, in our minds.

Noemi Smolik

Translated from German by Gerrit Jackson.