by Nadia Egan // Mar. 15, 2022
Inspired by his own time in lockdown and experience with an increasing amount of digital human contact, Pieter Schoolwerth’s ‘Rigged’ at Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler explores the ways in which we see the world and ourselves in an age of hyper-mediation. In the exhibition—which constitutes the second half of a two-part show with Petzel Gallery New York—his methods reflect the destabilised process of identity construction during a period characterised by increasingly abstract social relations.
The series aims to pull back the curtain on the visual logic of 3D-modelling. Believing that hyper-mediation has turned images into a de facto runoff grate for a torrent of anxieties, Schoolwerth addresses questions such as: who gets to be a person, to be alive, to be animated, to be on display? This unease around who counts and who doesn’t is endemic to the series and can be seen through Schoolwerth’s blending of virtual and reality, and the exploration into the instability of our digital presence.
The vibrancy of Schoolwerth’s works immediately hits you. The prominent use of primary and secondary colours evokes a playful first impression in the gallery, with the swirling, cartoon-like characters appearing even comical. From a stretched-out face superimposed over the body of a horse, to an upbeat girl-band of Sims characters rocking out in their living room, it’s easy for this eccentric imagery to take over and produce a surreal, dreamlike setting. Yet, on closer inspection, the once light-hearted tone takes on a more sinister quality.
Through the use of CGI animation, Schoolwerth divides what could be body and soul as the figures’ physical selves detach from a mannequin-like or virtual space. By dissociating and melting away into wavy noodles or flimsy copies of their former selves, they leave behind transparent cavities or soulless marionettes in the space they previously occupied. In one image, we see a figure, still attached at the feet, being carted off in a wheelbarrow by its virtual remains. In another, a couple appear to float or fall away from their original form, ambiguous as to whether their remaining virtual selves prevent or encourage this divide.
Schoolwerth traces and overlaps the contours of figures from premodern narrative tableaux to create permutations of a single hybridised time. Images purchased by Schoolwerth through sites like Turbosquid and GCTrader are digitally manipulated, printed on canvas and finally painted over and manipulated to add detail and texture; the final product being multidimensional, whimsical yet disorienting. The combination of clean lines and the unblemished skin of his figures clash with the violently distorted faces of select characters, as their facial expressions are given a dramatic gestural treatment through the use of impasto.
The sense of instability created through this surreal fusion of what is real and what is not highlights the premise for Schoolwerth’s series, positing that online platforms are not stable places to be a person. This visual intermingling and detachment of the virtual and corporeal self summarises and seeks to answer the questions initially raised by Schoolwerth. Addressing the theme of who counts and who doesn’t, the series shows how easily our virtual selves can occupy and take over from reality. The unsettling, post-human display conveys how intermingled the digital and real world have become and how the ever-changing forces of abstraction in the world affect the task of representing the human body.