Number 583, Mar 1, 2007

Skin Trade

Cockiness, Copyright & Colour

It seems the dividing line between art and entertainment is hazy at best. We go to galleries to look, chat, and to pass the time. For some of us looking at art is no different than puttering around on the internet, looking for a bit of fun. For Toronto-based multimedia artist, Johannes Zits, his artistic practice, at least lately, is woven together with online photo rummaging and YouTubery. His latest exhibition, Digital Twist: New Works On Nakedness, is largely comprised of found/borrowed/stolen digital photographs and video stills that explore different incarnations of public nudity. From playful free spirits running through a library, to a defiant streaker being hauled off of a soccer field, the images are about bodies, and how they are mediated.

In these prints, images of naked bodies are clear and unobstructed, while the surrounding clothed people are heavily pixelized, to the point where there are large flat squares of colour throughout. These flat areas are an exploration of formal elements of colour, composition, and space. Zits himself says these squares “represent my love/hate relationship with formalism and minimalism. I see these squares as being sort of vacuous, meaningless, and aggressive.” They correspond to colours found elsewhere in the photographs, and act to disrupt expectations of continuity.

Seeing as the idea of “digital democracy” is being tossed around so readily these days, making art based on internet photos and video stills seems quite timely. Zits says, “I see the photos as being more of a collaboration, as a form of sharing. People on YouTube are sharing their videos. People that are taking the streaking photos are sharing them on their websites.” This strategy of using found images challenges traditional ideas on authorship. Presumably, an obvious question to ask is, how can these images belong to Zits’ since they aren’t his in the first place. There is no clear answer here. Although he didn’t take the photographs himself, he has manipulated them and changed their context.

The name Digital Twist refers to the way in which Zits reframes existing images, but it also refers to the performance piece he’ll be doing on opening night. In the simplest of terms, the performance is a big naked game of Twister. The performance begins by participants painting each other in colours inspired by French artist Yves Klein. Once everyone is painted, the game begins. Throughout the performance, the paint transfers from one person to another, and also to the board. The piece is a performance and a spectacle, but it will also create temporary incidental paintings in the process.

Much like Zits’ previous work incorporating magazine photographs of figures and interior spaces, Digital twist relies heavily on the idea of collage. Although not immediately evident, these works owe their existence to images and ideas that came before. Whether it be references to art historical movements, technology or cheeky exhibitionists, Digital Twist is a response, and an offering. It builds upon the history of body-based art, and asks viewers to reconsider ideas on public nudity.