Sandro Kopp ANALOGUE
by Carolin Ackermann
The invention of photography precipitated a crisis for painting in general and portrait painting in particular, as photography was quicker, more comfortable and more accurate. Unsurprisingly, these characteristics made it the medium of predilection for the rational, normative times of industrialization. While science found its tool par excellence in photography’s seemingly unnegotiable objectivity, painters used photography and subsequently electronic media not only as a model for the reproduction of reality but also as a tool to question what we understand as reality. A portrait serves as representation and biography, as document and theatre of the self. The question it raises is: Who is this person? Sandro Kopp’s portraits offer a transfiguration of this question and hence of our conception of Being.
It seems anachronical at first glance to encounter a contemporary painter whose medium is oil and whose mode is the live sitting, but Sandro Kopp’s investigation of the portrait is relevant to our time, as he seeks to understand the experience of the present and of presence, the metaphysical question of what is. He combines the old-fashioned technique of oil-painting with one of the most dominant contemporary media: Skype video chat. Skype lets you spend time with the people you love who are far away. It allows you to deny the distance for a second, but only to painfully remind you of it a second later. You might see your loved one’s face, hear their voice, but you can neither touch nor smell them, nor look them straight in the eyes. Once you accept that you are looking at a box of light and colour instead of at the physical person, it is suddenly a reminder of the person’s absence rather than their presence. In this respect, it is not dissimilar from other forms of mediation, for example painting. So how do you depict the presence of a person when you are presented only with their absence? And what can it teach us about presence?
Sandro Kopp’s portraits of people who are literally and figuratively more or less close to him invite the virtual space into painting and reflect the distorted quality of mediation. He accepts the deficiency of digital transmission and invites it into his depiction. Sometimes to an extent where a painting is made up of vertical and horizontal colour patches that evoke the form of a person and emulate the pixelized image that is sometimes caused by a bad internet connection. It is virtually impossible to recognize the person depicted, but we do know that they have been there, somewhere behind the fog of the binary code. Their presence is undeniable and unattainable at once. This also hints at another understanding of the actual presence: the superposition of two forms of mediation, video-chat and painting, reflects on the painter’s gaze as a third medium that already comports the distortion of subjectivity. Rather than asking whether the subject of the painting is represented truthfully or whether the painter has accurately reproduced what he saw, we are pushed to wonder what we see and how we come to consider our perception is the truth. The question is not anymore: Who is she? But: What version of herself is she? It throws us back to the multiplicity of possibilities of what a person can be.
By using the contemporary technology of video-chat in the live sittings Kopp goes beyond painting purely from the physical presence and moves on to exhibiting a situation of communication. In several of his paintings shown here we can see references to the painter’s presence through his absence. As a squared patch of light reflected on the iris of “Terence”, as a reflection of the screen on the glasses of “Maria”, or even as an actual although abstract self-portrait within the screen that is reflected in the mirror behind “Dulce”. We are reminded of the dimension of dialogue, the fact that the painting has been produced between two people. The positions of subject and object present themselves fundamentally entangled. The question is not anymore: Who is she? but:” Who are they?. We are reminded that identity is not only located within the self, but is always already determined by the Other.
In contrast to painting from photography, Kopp paints not only one moment but several moments from a moving image, which is a sequence of multiple images. But unlike the cinematographic image, which is a register of the invariable past, the interactive image is as much unforeseeable as it is random. With each brush stroke the painter is chasing the present moment but is never able to attain its full representation, as it changes to the next present moment. His paintings are condensing time and layering it onto a canvas. The question is not anymore: Who is she? but: Who is she becoming?. Rather than of immutability, his paintings are mirrors of incessant change.
All of these questions are contained in the series Caro and Cy. In this series, Kopp painted twelve pictures of two people over a period of twelve months: A heavily tattooed man on the right and a fair-skinned woman on the left, whose hair gets shorter and more colourful in each frame. Whereas her physical appearance is different in every painting, his body is already marked as different.