Lara Langer, What Decomposes Is Nature, 2017, photographic transfer, acrylic, and marker on canvas, 43 1/4 x 31 1/2".

Lara Langer, What Decomposes Is Nature, 2017, photographic transfer, acrylic, and marker on canvas, 43 1/4 x 31 1/2".

Laura Langer

Lara Langer, What Decomposes Is Nature, 2017, photographic transfer, acrylic, and marker on canvas, 43 1/4 x 31 1/2".

The paintings of the Argentinian artist Laura Langer combine virtual images with analog procedures, and she interweaves them with poetry and performance. Her recent exhibition “More” included a group of six pictures titled God’s Speed (all works 2017), based on enlarged cell-phone photographs printed on paper and coated with acrylic medium before being transferred onto canvas. When the paper sheet is peeled off the canvas, some dried pieces of clear acrylic may be left behind along with the image, as if not only these leftovers but also the image itself were an accident, a mere unintended residue of the transfer process. Langer then works over the canvas with a paintbrush. For example, on one of these pictures she painted small white dots that turn three small nocturnal street scenes into luminescent snowstorms. In another, the viewer might have read a single circle in the middle of the picture as a moon; it has been painted over with watercolor and acrylic, with the result that its contours have blurred, making it look like it is shining through a veil of mist. In yet another, a translucent layer of paint covers a photograph of a collection of pinned butterfly specimens; the artist has painted thin white circles over and among the insects. These painterly additions not only distance the nature morte but also animate it, making it both more elegiac and more artificial.

By contrast, What Decomposes Is Nature has an excessive quality: Green leaves, sprigs of fir, dry branches, and orange winter cherries fill the picture plane without any apparent compositional order. The remains of the acrylic medium on the upper part of the picture make it look colorless and damaged, as if the surface of the image has been violently ripped away. The left-hand edge of the picture is sealed by a broad red brushstroke like a piece of duct tape. Individual flowers are outlined with a thin red line, and in two places this brightly glowing paint is used to seal off the picture and make it impermeable. Langer’s work hinges on indeterminacy: Is the paint in this particular place hiding a patch of acrylic—that is, an accidental residue of the transfer process—or has the red pigment been placed there precisely in order to introduce a defect into the picture and lend drama to the painting? Langer treats canvas as if it were a natural conductor of the most varied processes, materials, and motifs.

The show was accompanied by a poetic text by Luzie Meyer, “Je Veux Plus,” which Meyer performed at the exhibition. It includes the lines, “The things I have done remember each other / this reminds me to repeat . . . I want more / that human tale.” In one of two paintings on display here titled Human Tale, the entire surface has been covered with a black marker, so that nothing of the photographic transfer remains visible. Nevertheless, the original picture is present as the bottom layer of a palimpsest of various temporal strata that make it a space of memory. Its surface is monochrome but not closed; rather, the insistent reworking with the marker makes it seem broken and fragile. Could that fragility be the “human tale”—one that might be imagined in epic terms, but that also implies a process of constant reformulation and reworking of fragments?

Maja Naef

Translated from German by Nathaniel McBride.