Online Exhibition: CASS | ANDRÉ HEMER
“Sampling freely from conventional and new media sources, and adding his own interpretations to the mix, Hemer emphasises the sense of separation these endlessly multiplied facsimiles create, relating it to the physical inaccessibility of Cass itself, currently stored within the earthquake-closed Christchurch Art Gallery building.”
The exhibition CASS was developed as part of the Christchurch Art Gallery’s ‘Rolling Maul’ series- a set of exhibitions responding to the museum’s inaccessibility resulting from the Christchurch earthquake in 2011. The public inaccessibility to the museum building and the exhibition’s resulting placement at an offsite venue, was a starting point for the development of the work.
One of the most recognizable and prominent regional works in collection of the Christchurch Art Gallery is the work Cass painted by Rita Angus in 1936. Cass has prominence within popular culture in New Zealand due to its importance as a key piece in New Zealand painting history, and more infamously as being voted ‘New Zealand’s favourite painting’ on a television arts program in 2006.
CASS uses this prominence to investigate not just the displacement of the physical work to the public, but also the many iterations of the original work already existing as copies in the public domain. The exhibition CASS was created by combining these iterations into one large meta-wall. Various images of Cass that exist throughout the real and virtual worlds were utilised, ranging from high-quality, ‘legitimate’ reproductions to cropped, blurred and otherwise corrupted versions. Everything from personal blog photos, artist-themed birthday cakes, gallery licensed posters, and artist interpretations abound.
Alongside found images there are also various examples of artist-driven manipulations in the exhibition. A high quality image supplied by the gallery was smudged in Photoshop to produce a series of ‘painterly’ adaptions and an official online media guide narrated by the actor Sam Neil was also used- the image and audio being distorted via a simple hack in the file coding. In both instances copyright was likely broken, but in each outcome the resulting image and video were almost unrecognisable from the original content.
Other videos also propagate the exhibition. In the most direct copy, a video camera streamed back live footage of the original painting sitting in situ in the museum storage rack. In another series of videos the official Cass poster is filmed pinned-up in the offices of various artist-run galleries.
Working within the context of a museum collection, underlying questions about the problematic ways in which visual culture is accessed and shared were raised. The nature of copyright has become increasingly complicated due to the sharing of user created versions of artworks shared via online social networks. Inherently very few of the images returned in the Google search for ‘Rita Angus Cass’, are from websites with legitimate copyright claims. The vast majority are digital copies recompressed and reformatted many times over, to produce new generations, each differing slightly from the original file. How should we view these digital manifestations and how does this change our relationship to actual objects in the world?