Pixelated Realities

The “modern” internet began as a network for academic research in 1983. Ten years later, the World Wide Web became public domain – providing a universal language for people across the globe to share information, communicate and connect. Around the same time, imaging software, such as Adobe Photoshop, came onto the market with hundreds of new editing techniques. Tools, including brush, clone stamp and spot healing, pushed the boundaries of photography, marking an era of airbrushing and filtering.

This groundbreaking technological advancement is what first sparked the artistic collaboration of Anthony Aziz (b. 1961) and Sammy Cucher (b. 1958). The pair explains: “The confluence of all of these developments seemed to point towards a major transformation in the way we understood our bodies, social relations and the history of images. Our work at the time tried to address all these concerns by using a variety of means, methods and media.” Aziz + Cucher are now recognised for their cross-disciplinary projects that navigate the impact of technology on people’s appearances. This November, Gazelli Art House, London, celebrates the duo’s 30th anniversary with a career-spanning exhibition.

You’re Welcome and I’m Sorry moves from never-before-seen paintings to socially-reflective films and prints that mediate on the complexity of identity. Photographic series Dystopia (1994-1995), for example, reworks iconic portraits from art history for the digital age. Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring (1665) and Man Ray’s Black and White (1926) are given a contemporary makeover with grim consequences. Nude subjects are depicted against muted backdrops: one with a pearl earring, another clutching a statuesque object. Yet all is not as it seems – the sitters’ features are hidden by a film of skin. Lips, eyes and noses are removed to leave behind a flattened, clone-like profile, commenting on a loss of individuality in a society obsessed with manipulating physical attributes.

In video installation You’re Welcome and I’m Sorry (2019), dissolved faces are swapped for material masks and power suits. Pixelated compositions are spliced with footage of anonymous characters dancing in corporate locations and animations of slot machines with revolving emojis, internet symbols and banking logos. The six channel work is a sensory overload, yet emphasises the absurdity of our political and economic structures and how, increasingly, “irrational forces” shape our economic systems. “Social media, consumerism and the processing of financial and personal data all came together,” explain Aziz + Cucher. “From this, we represent our understanding of the menace exhibited by the master of our global economy in our deeply entwined digital age.” This mix of visual languages to create an environment of unpredictability is reinforced by Elon Musk’s unprecedented $44 billion acquisition of Twitter in October 2022. The artists reflect: “His purchase will result in greater misinformation and chaos, which will ultimately serve his libertarian financial interest.”

This immersive, multilayered show positions Aziz + Cucher as true surveyors of contemporary life, constantly developing their artistic language to reflect on the two worlds we inhabit: the real and the virtual. By breaking the boundaries of media and branching out into “post-photography,” the pair encourage us to reflect of the lineage of the digital realm, but also ponder themes of personal autonomy and physicality as we move into the future.

Gazelli Art House, London | Until 14 January

Words: Saffron Ward

Image Credits:
1. You’re Welcome and I’m Sorry, Installation view.
2. Aziz + Cucher, The Hard Sell, 2021
You’re Welcome and I’m Sorry, Installation view.