Rob and Nick Carter: Scanning for Signs of Life | Forward for exhibition catalogue

We do not grow absolutely, chronologically. We grow sometimes in one dimension, and not in another, unevenly. We grow partially. We are relative. We are mature in one realm, childish in another. The past, present, and future mingle and pull us backward, forward, or fix us in the present. We are made of layers, cells, constellations.
— Anaïs Nin, The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 4 (1971).

Bridging the small but vital gap between ontology’s quest and identity’s panic is the alphabet of phenomenology. One’s essence and how that comes to be labelled is articulated and governed by ‘things’, with such ‘thingness’, itself, mutating between states of dimensional objecthood and propulsions of process, whether conceptual, ideological, or physical. We arrive at a semblance of self-signification by allowing our unconscious desire for acknowledged presence to yoke itself to more liminal designs of individuality. So it is that iconographies of contemporary personality are excavated from ancient archaeologies of cryptic being, with the supposed certainty of such discovery – the what of who and who of what we are - ironically anchored to the nebulous bubble of possibility we call life; that tapestry of experiences stitched by an indeterminate fluidity, slowly eroded by that other shapeless force we call time, but which offers, amidst its flux, flashes of beauty and glints of meaning. It’s these glimmers of illumination that prop up our architecture of being – whisper some shape for our sense (or lack thereof) - and it’s the dig for and discovery of these flashes of significance, hidden in such epistemological gaps, which motivates Rob and Nick Carter’s exploration. An enterprise that – quite literally – scans for life.

The artist’s latest body of work, Oil Paint Scans, continues their ongoing examination of the field, faculty, and fallacy of light and the life it subsequently nourishes (which, after all, neatly sums up the art of photography). However, light – and thus life – is probed more profoundly in this series of new work; the artists unveiling a far more visceral and laminated process than that which the mere mechanics of photography would ordinarily yield. Gesture, weighty like both mark and intent remains as inquisitorial as ever, functioning as both statement and question, but now, choreographed by colour, plays a far more pregnant role in their creative process. The artists first drag different colours of oil paint across a sheet of glass in juicy, sticky swathes that would make Herr Richter smile. This process is then repeated several times over on different glass panels, which are then layered together to fashion a multichromatic, abstract, painterly surface that reverberates with a depth born from its mantra-like repetition but not necessarily because of the artists’ efforts to model or fashion any illusion. Once mounted on aluminium, the final act of the object’s realisation sees the artists apply one final layer of ambient strokes of oil paint across the scanned print.

A curious shift in the dynamic of mimetic desire thus occurs in these Oil Paint Scans. Marks, whilst meticulously copied as digital scans, in their multilaminated state serve to inveigh against their status as copies. They slowly become something else over time. Each layer of painted glass, rather than shaping a faithful likeness, does the opposite, providing instead an increasingly pitched ground upon which the contest between marks made, then found, then scanned, then reconstituted – ad infinitum, ad absurdum – occurs. The result is a surface that (un)folds time into space, triggering its viewer as both disciple and agnostic, asking us to believe in one set of marks and observations only to have such conviction flustered by their replication then reapplication. And so on, and so on.

So it is that the ghost in Rob and Nick’s machine continues to challenge arcs both phenomenal and perceptual, as it scans various pools - made, found or repeated - for Signs of life. These stunning works satisfy because of their joyous, oily, abstract abandon, exemplifying their apparent love of and for that process and media. Yet, of course, they also don’t. Rob and Nick cleverly trick their viewer into puffs of aesthetic swoon by flattening such stirring gesture, sterilising the emotional elasticity of mark making with a scanner whose task it is to objectify - to the nth degree – such matrices of passion or sentiment. What feels hot, is cool. What seems choreographed is calibrated. What appears out of control is, indeed, anything but. If anything, Rob and Nick’s Oil Paint Scans remind us that our past does, indeed, catch up with our present. Shadows of what once was may dim the light or clarity of what is, but they never quite eclipse its meaning. In the case of these new works, that eclipse becomes an ellipse. We arrive at an alternative arc of understanding, engineered from and by the very shadows of memory, that only shines, like time, in lamination and repetition.