Life in Motion: permeability, transparency and disembodied form in Tommy Mintz and Kaveri Raina

Jun 20, 2019 / by William Corwin / art critical

Formal, compositional decisions can makes strange bedfellows. At first, it may seem odd to pair photographer Tommy Mintz, who utilizes an algorithm to generate temporally structured pastiches of sidewalk and urban life In New York, and Kaveri Raina, a painter who layers acrylic and graphite skeins onto burlap, seeking to approximate a sense of the confusion of cultural assimilation but bear with me for the commonalities are instructive.

Mintz’s photographs utilize an algorithm which filters frames from a stop motion camera set-up— a process which he calls the “Automated Digital Photo Collage” or ADPC—rendering sequences of moving bodies on the sidewalk. The algorithm is empowered to snip and collage the parts of the figure and the background that move. Each motion is captured every few seconds as a disembodied snippet, one that grows out of the previous abstract but recognizable form, creating bizarre growth patterns reminiscent of emanating fungal colonies and sedimentary strata. These plodding biological processes are reflected, ironically, in the recording of the most fleeting moments and interactions.

Rather than yielding authority to a machine, Kaveri Raina, in her exhibition at Assembly Room earlier this spring, , played with segments—body parts vaguely discernible as silhouettes and blocks them out in solid bright colors–that she rests on the surface of her chosen substrate, burlap. In a deft usage of material made famous by Gauguin she exploits the open weft and weave of the fabric to highlight the opacity and materiality of her paint. Her solid segments of color stick to the eye like floating afterimages and counter the sketchy forms she draws in between and over her color forms in graphite and pastel on the unforgiving textile. These bodies at which she hints—composites of painting and drawing–flicker between being and nothingness but generally seem to depict bodies engaged in a solitary dance, as well as fruits like lemons, and enigmaticshapes. Still, like Mintz’s tumbling Duchampian (think Nude Descending A Staircase) or Futurist hybrid forms and shards of bodies in motion, we become obsessed with the parts that tell the story, not the whole.

While Raina finds in the burlap a soft and giving but equivocal base on which not only to paint, but to draw and inscribe, Mintz also disambiguates his subject, the cityscape, one that should be eminently recognizable to a New York audience. He prints on metal, a choice wherein the sheen of the aluminum peeks through the parts on the image which are lighter and less pigment-heavy, often arbitrarily confusing form and ground. Both artists play at accidental diagramming. In Raina’s case, this happens via ghost drawings on the surface, as for example in Le Mon to Hover (2019) where heads and shoulders, arms, hips and thighs, and a lemon are caught in a miasma of gritty pencil glosses. Monochromatic grey additions force a circular movement on the dismembered form, as well as overlaying a phantom being with a single staring eye, evoking a sensation of self-consciously going through the motions, or perhaps a sense of joy with a tinge of paranoia. Mintz’s ADPC is itself the all-seeing eye, and while it does surveil, it does so through an artificial specificity emerging from the mathematical precision of his program, and often at bizarre angles such as the Worm’s Eye View in ADPC of Chelsea Hotel (2016). We watch human being going about their daily routines, talking to each other and checking one another out, but the level of frenetic energy increases top down: from the semi-stable edifice of the Chelsea hotel to a bottom zone composed of literal cartoonish speed-lines generated by fast moving feet, cars and bicycles.

Like Duchamp and the Futurists, motion seems to be the focus of both artists, along with a warm, very present notion of life in motion. Mintz, a life-long New Yorker trained in dance as well as photography, is intrigued by the infinite choreographic iterations possible, à la Poincaré, that are manifest in a passing moment, or, I guess in a New York minute.He does this particularly well in ADPC of 28th Street and 10th Avenue (2018) as we watch a contractor remove his white hard hat and adjust a sign in the absence of time. Raina, who left her native India age 11 to come to the USA, seems intrigued by presenting the swirl of cultures and insecurities present in a dual-life. Le Mon Orange, to Hover (2019) foregrounds an Orange and a tree—a bucolic note, possibly a residual memory. Behind and around this visual diad arms and legs flail in various degrees of readability: some are surface-painted, others are painted on the back of the burlap and seep through—in the confusion of transition, her mind is on the past, on origins. Her color and material choices arise from the raw materials and cuisine of India.

One place where the two artists differ vastly is in the intentionality of their composition. Mintz sees the algorithm, his ADPC, as an excuse to allow for a somewhat overwhelming degree of detail, and the attending confusion—his foreground is littered with bodies and body parts, as in ADPC of 23rd and 7th Ave (2018) keeping with his aesthetic of scientific data faithfully rendered. We are required to read the forms like trails in a cloud chamber, some are clear in their trajectory and classification while others are open to interpretation.Raina’s approach is to present a smaller case study, dispensing with the idea of background or three-dimensional space. These studies may be composed of forms which contradict each other in scale, such as a tree, a body or a lemon, but the action arises from the singular interaction of these parts. Each piece is a monologue whose character study is further explicated by the drawn annotationsof swirls, cyclones and graphite whirlpools, especially noticeable in the series of drawings also on display.Both artists play on contradictions, though, by employing gestures of motion and techniques to construct time. Their work is still, and the moment is frozen more than in flux. Like a museum display, there is little air and space is shrunk to claustrophobic proportions and time disappears almost completely, but our ability to examine a moment, or an emotion expressed as a moment, is exponentially increased.