New York

Analia Saban, Pleated Ink (Computer Chip, TMS 1000, Texas Instrument, 1974) (detail), 2018, laser-carved paper and ink on wooden panel,  60 × 60 × 2 1⁄8". From the series “Pleated Ink,” 2016–.

Analia Saban, Pleated Ink (Computer Chip, TMS 1000, Texas Instrument, 1974) (detail), 2018, laser-carved paper and ink on wooden panel, 60 × 60 × 2 1⁄8". From the series “Pleated Ink,” 2016–.

Analia Saban

Why did Analytic Cubism have to be so drab? All that black, ocher, and gray. Something about Picasso and Braque’s joint effort to pry apart the conventions of naturalist painting—linear perspective, chiaroscuro, modeling—drove them toward the dullest of hues. Analia Saban’s exhibition “Punched Card” betrayed a similar impulse. Her work waged a campaign to disarticulate painting in a muted palette of matte black and linen beige. But whereas Cubism targeted painting’s signs, Saban’s post-centennial update took aim at painting’s techniques.

The exhibition centered on two principal bodies of work. For her “Pleated Ink” series, 2016–, Saban covered shallow pools of black ink with paper templates laser-cut to match the circuitry designs of historically significant microchips, all of which were cited in the paintings’ titles, such as Pleated Ink (16K Dynamic RAM, 4116, Mostek, 1976, and Pleated Ink (Programmable Logic Chip, PAL 16L8, Monolithic Memories Inc., 1977) (all works 2018). As the viscous ink dried over several months, it puckered and curled over the paper lattices in countless folds and creases. A second series, “Tapestry,” 2018–, hung from the ceiling. These works, too, referenced the dense architecture of microchips; only here the images were rendered as woven patterns via a computer-programmed loom. Linen ran through the tapestries’ warp—that is, the threads that run up and down a loom’s full length—while its interlacing weft consisted of thin black coils made from hardened acrylic paint.

Saban has employed a number of these methods in previous works. However, up until this point, her oeuvre has been interpreted primarily as testing the boundaries between painting and sculpture. Here, Saban’s juxtaposition of tapestry weaving and microchip architecture marked a turn toward questioning the supposed distinctions between analog and digital. The exhibition’s title refers in part to the punch cards that guided the operation of the Jacquard loom, a nineteenth-century invention that partially automated the weaving process. Long before the invention of the code of zeros and ones that determined the path of a laser cutter over paper sheets for the “Pleated Ink” series, there existed a binary language of punched holes capable of controlling a tapestry’s warp and weft. Much as Cubism’s interrogation of representation coincided with the emergence of structural linguistics, the shift in Saban’s work seems to parallel certain recent developments in the humanities and social sciences—in particular, the study of Kulturtechniken, or cultural techniques, a movement that, though originating in Germany, has found its way into American art criticism. (For instance, a leading figure in the field, Bernhard Siegert, was interviewed in these pages for the June 2015 issue.) “Punched Card” enacts a historical investigation that traces modern-day computing back to the textile industry, performing precisely the kind of counterintuitive detective work that cultural-techniques scholarship has applied to a broad range of everyday practices. The introduction of this mode of analysis into (and onto) painting has enormous implications. Painting’s continuity as a medium has traditionally been understood in relation to its material supports. Now, in an era when images are transmitted as data packets and reassembled upon a browser’s request, paintings such as Saban’s present themselves as ensembles of various technical protocols.

The viewer’s awareness of the sophisticated processes that feed into a painting’s production does not dispel a work’s sensuous immediacy, but it does inevitably inflect the encounter. Again, the comparison to Cubism is apt. The thorny pleasures afforded by the fractured grids and scumbled facets of Picasso’s Ma jolie, 1911–12, are palpably different from those offered by any given naturalist composition. Standing before a “Pleated Ink” work such as Pleated Ink (Computer Chip, TMS 1000, Texas Instrument, 1974), we experience not a static object, but a set of operations temporarily paused. In these paintings, there are no pictures, only x and y coordinates; no brushwork, only ink desiccating; and no subjects, only pairs of eyes adjusting to register heightened levels of complexity.

Colby Chamberlain