Sublime Relevance

Written by Joe Bendik on . Posted in Arts & Film, Posts.

Bitforms Gallery specializes in media-driven, (mostly)
digital works and is one of the more distinctive galleries in the city. They
have included robotic installations, sound-scapes (that respond to the viewers
interactions) and automated paintings.

The current exhibition of Michael Najjar’s work, High Altitude, seemed like a departure
at first: Twelve panoramic ink jet prints of photographs of mountain
landscapes. Even at first glance, however, something seemed to be not quite
normal. The density of these works is enormous, and the contrast is sometimes
unreal. This is hyper-realism at its most sublime.

I found myself being continuously drawn into these large
works, feeling the space not so much as a version of reality, but more so as if
I were an avatar in cyberspace.

I hadn’t read the artist’s statement at that point, but was
intrigued by the “otherness” of these prints. I often like to experience the
artworks before reading about them or talking to the artist. This way, I can
gauge the success of the artist’s intentions. I sensed there was something very
deep beneath the surface, in this case, something of a slow-burning feeling of
doom—and my first intuitions were confirmed. Even before I knew what this was
about, I knew what Najjar was trying convey.

These aren’t mere photographs, rather they are digital
hybrids of a specific kind. These works, by the Berlin-based photographer,
explore the idea of risk taking. Najjar uses mountain peaks and rock formations
as metaphors for the modern, computer-driven economy, while somewhat ironically
utilizing digital processing.

All of this is based on a recent mountain climbing
photography expedition. Najjar climbed Mount Aconcagua in the Andes, the
highest mountain in the Americas, in January of 2009. For three weeks, Najjar
photographed this wonder of nature, providing the raw material from which he
would later adapt these prints.

The overall theme is an attempt to visualize the past 30
years of global stock indices. Through a process that is beyond tedious, Najjar
altered every rock to reflect the charting of the markets. The result is
basically a mash up of Mount Aconcagua with stock market charts. The underlying
presence of this data supplies an unsettling vibe which is dark in an
unassuming, yet dramatic way.

Najjar makes comparisons between the timeline of the
mountain with the stock market by emphasizing (and highlighting) each
individual rock, crack and crevice along with a sharp juxtaposition of the
skyline, melding the mountain with the data. This premise is further driven by
exploring the era of the information age: the computer-driven systems that
predict and report. As computer systems are updated constantly, they also usher
in an age of constant flux and uncertainty. “The information society has
brought about a tectonic shift in our understanding of space and time,” Najjar
explains in a statement that accompanies the exhibition.

I’ve seen artists attempt to tackle the financial crisis
before, some more successful than others. Often this kind of art reduces itself
to “in your face” proclamations or overtly obvious analogies. Najjar succeeds
because he expresses the internal turbulence and relates it, in a subtle way,
to nature. Brilliant.

Michael Najjar’s
High Altitude through Oct. 24 at Bitforms
Gallery NYC, 529 W. 20th St., 2nd fl. (betw. 10th & 11th Aves.),