Visiting the new Michael Riedel show is like stepping into a PowerPoint presentation. I felt like an avatar, moving between lines, shapes, codes and text, half expecting something to swipe past me on my way round.
PowerPoint. The word conjures dreaded memories of antiquated designs for clumsy high school presentations with slides of rotating, circling texts and crude clip art images used in an attempt to jazz up the almost-always tedious topic under discussion. The days of relying on the once ubiquitous Microsoft program may (thankfully) be behind us but the German artist Michael Riedel resurrects it to inspire two new digital prints on honeycomb panels exhibited at Michel Rein’s newly opened (October 2013) Brussels space.
Upon entering the bright, airy gallery, the colors of the outside world dissipate as you walk within the monotone, computerized forms. Small, indecipherable texts and geometric blocks of black appear camouflaged against similar background posters and a series of twenty-one small square black and white digital prints. I surveyed the space with a nostalgic air, recalling my own PowerPoint days while skeptically trying to decipher the texts sprawled on the walls.
Upon closer inspection, these texts emerge as HTML codes taken from websites documenting the artist’s work. Riedel placed these files in PowerPoint slides, along with a geometric design repeated in two of the exhibition’s twenty-one smaller prints, and took screen shots of the moment the slides moved.
The prints are thus an image of two PowerPoint slides merged together, creating a juxtaposition of mechanization and abstraction: they are abstract depictions of a technological system. Repetitions of the word “PowerPoint”, although sometimes fractured or incomplete, provide a semblance of reality to cling to by hinting at a mechanical, organized creation. The works appear spontaneous but the sensation is jeopardized by the realization that these prints have been created using the very mode of presentation they present: PowerPoint. According to Riedel, the prints are a “copy of a copy of a copy”.
Being documents of the past, the prints factually record an Internet page that was viewed by the artist. This idea of referencing past and future technological possibilities is made more intense by the fact Riedel has created a dependency of the prints upon the gallery space: the prints work best when viewed in relation to the background posters of silkscreen PowerPoint works Riedel showed at New York’s David Zwirner earlier in 2013.
This show marks the first time Riedel has produced digital prints but it is also a continuation of the artist’s oeuvre. Often taking a set of photos, texts, and videos as a starting point, the artist reproduces them in different formats to question the means of communication in the art world. Known for presenting these reproductions through silkscreen prints on canvas, Riedel has taken his concern for spatial awareness and mixed it with an interest in the creative capacity of digital technology. He is copying and reinventing his own work.
Among the confused lines and shapes that fill the gallery space, a conceptual notion comes to the fore: it is the unseen act of reproduction after reproduction that becomes important, a challenge to artistic authenticity. The art system is compared to a PowerPoint presentation whereby artist after artist displays duplicated images and texts repackaged for the same audience. Riedel's use of PowerPoint represents systems, which dominate our lives, regulating and restricting creativity while blurring the claim of authorship.
Ultimately, the show feels like a work in itself, encompassing new and old by copying designs displayed at David Zwirner and on the Internet. It is one big presentation of a system that you are invited to participate in, that of the gallery exhibition. Your character within this system is that of the visitor. You are a copy of a copy of a copy, helping to cement Riedel as the king of reproduction.
(All images: Michael Riedel, installation view, Michel Rein, Brussels; Courtesy the artist and Michel Rein Paris/Brussels.)