Laura Karetzky reconciles an ‘inherent distrust’ of technology by painting scenes from her digital life

By Christina Campodonico

Laura Karetzky’s “Embedded Laundress” (left) and “MCell” give a window into the artist’s digital life

Apple’s iPhone, which just marked its 10th anniversary last Thursday, has become a ubiquitous part of many people’s lives. It’s how we communicate with each other, find our way around, search for information and share precious or everyday moments from our lives.

A world without the iPhone is now almost impossible to imagine — it’s our recent past, most definitely our present and most likely our future, or some iteration of it.

And that future is moving fast. When New York artist Laura Karetzky started painting iPhone screenshots, text messages and FaceTime conversations about two years ago, she was already racing against the clock.

“The interface of the phone kept updating,” she says, “so that every time I made a painting, it was the old interface.”

Outdated before the paint even dried.

Karetzky eventually decided to do away with Apple’s iconography in her paintings, instead focusing on the visual relationship between the two callers on her iPhone’s screen or Mac.

“They became more powerful when I took away all those buttons and whistles and clues,” she says. “I looked to hone the idea down to its very basic relationship. And I realized that the power in this work was really the embedded diptych — one window inside another window, one frame inside another frame, those two frames looking back at you.”

The result is a series of timely double- and self-portraits now on view in the show “Embedded” at Bergamot Station’s Lora Schlesinger Gallery. In these paintings,
a disembodied head (usually the artist’s) hovers over or near another, calling to mind the mediated experience we have whenever we reach out to a friend or loved one via smart phone — two visages, however physically far apart, somehow compress onto a single digital plane.

“It’s a self-portrait, but it’s also a portrait of a relationship — an attempt to be connected,” she explains.

Karetzky finds the outcome to be intriguing, eerie and disorienting.

“When you’re FaceTiming, you’re watching yourself as an outsider. There’s this double portrait that looks back at you and it’s very uncanny,” she says. “In these paintings, what I’m interested in is this embedded window, the moment when two things intersect and that moment where it creates a whole new narrative — where there’s something surprising or something new that happens.”

To capture such happenstance moments Karetzky surreptitiously screen grabs instants from her FaceTime calls with friends and family — people who wouldn’t mind their faces being turned into art, she says.

“Nothing is staged. Nothing is set up,” says Karetzky. “They’re actual events or things that I capture on my phone.”

These include a woman snapping a photo of a man looking at his phone as he walks in front of a trapezoidal window in New York’s Breuer Building, the former home of the Whitney Museum of American Art and now the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Met Breuer.

“There was something so interesting about a man walking through an art gallery looking at his phone and somebody else photographing the window, which is actually kind of an iconic window, and photographing [that] instead of looking at the art,” recalls Karetzky.

It’s a painting based on a picture from an iPhone of a woman taking a picture on her iPhone of a man looking at his smart phone — a frame within a frame within a frame, or a phone within a phone within a phone.

When you think about it, it’s almost like the mind-boggling twist from the end of the movie “Inception,” when the Leonardo DiCaprio character’s dream-hopping bandit isn’t sure where one reverie ends and the next one begins.

Karetzky’s aptly titled painting “Inception” drives this point home. It’s a painting of an iPhone with a picture of an iPhone on its screen based on an iPhone photo — #meta.

“It’s kind of like the game of telephone,” explains Karetzky. “It travels and travels and travels and changes ever so slightly, and you get a new window — a new perspective that you look at it through each time. It’s like an infinity mirror.”

Interestingly enough, Karetzky’s preoccupation with the iPhone and its Apple siblings doesn’t stem from a fascination with technology, but suspicion of it.

“I have an inherent distrust of the computer,” she says. “It was my attempt to try to reconcile that distrust, or just
to try to familiarize myself more with that interface.”

With the prevalence of technology and social media in our everyday lives, Karetzky is surprised that more artists haven’t directly tackled the subjects.

“Everybody’s now a voyeur to their own life,” she says.

And for the moment she doesn’t mind looking back.

 

“Embedded” is on view through July 15 at Lora Schlesinger Gallery in the Bergamot Station Arts Center, 2525 Michigan Ave., Ste. B5b, Santa Monica. Call (310) 828-1133 or visit loraschlesinger.com.

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