Ivan Iannoli uses photography as a catalyst. He uses its unique scientific, artistic, and mechanical histories: as the standardization of the width of a film negative begat photographic paper sizes; as precut acrylic sheets fit perfectly into manufactured frames; as the industrial revolution set into motion the uniformity of items that were previously made to order. He taps into the ways in which artists before him have advanced photography beyond its material constraints—in the way that, say, Caspar David Friedrich rendered the sublime out of nothing but oil paints and brushes when he stood a man on top of a mountain overlooking a sea of fog.
(left) Ivan Iannoli, Untitled (Friedrich), 2016, Archival Pigment Print, 14 x 10 inches
(right) Ivan Iannoli, Untitled (Space), 2016, Acrylic paint on plexi, construction paper, archival pigment print, 14 x 10 inches
Iannoli looked to that wanderer made out of paint as well. Revealing his breadth, he places a framed, black and white photographic reproduction of the painting, aged cracks and all, directly next to a framed, black and white backdrop of the universe, painted with a pastel overlay. It would be easy to say that he is focused on the everyday—that topic so dutifully explored by Wolfgang Tillmans, William Eggleston, or in the early photographs of Iannoli’s former professor James Welling—but stopping there would be a false and lazy claim.
His treatment of and investigation into the objects that compose our daily lives is what reveals expansive thought, creating links between mediums, philosophies, and histories. If a piece of drywall, a blue line of paint tracing a crack across its surface, is inserted behind a frame’s transparent layer of acrylic, but in front of a 1:1 photograph of a piece of marble, do we call the drywall a picture? A sculpture? Part of a diorama? Is the marble emblematic of the material because of its realistic proportions? Or does it suggest falseness, its alternate identity as a colorless photograph? Are the two objects—drywall and photograph—in concert with one another to tell a unified narrative or are they sequestered, alone?
Ivan Iannoli, Untitled (Drywall), 2016, Acrylic, spray enamel on plexi, acrylic on drywall, archival pigment print, Unique, 14 x 10 inches
The most surprising piece in the exhibition looked, when I first walked into the room, like an afterthought: a waist-high projector shooting out a looping video of whitewater, its image landing on a nearly opaque panel painted acid blue, neon pink, and yellow. Passing through geometric cutouts in this freestanding glass plate, the remaining bits of video eeked onto the wall behind. Sublime geometry, sublime nature. Except one of the circular holes is covered by a translucent hand that throws a ghostly shadow, like a colorized Man Ray. I tried to avoid looking at it entirely, instead opting to walk the gallery’s periphery, dissecting the methods Iannoli applied to the framed works hanging in the space. In each, I found pieces of clear acrylic sandwiched between the frames’ foreground glass and background image. One was painted with thick, white strokes and frosted with a hot pink, airbrushed shell; another was caked in a light yellow, which was chipped away to reveal the blue eyes and blond hair of a white nobleman in a reproduction of a cracked oil painting. I was captivated by the way that adding one altered, extra layer of transparency within an otherwise traditional frame could conflate time so powerfully, as if slamming the subject to its historical core, demanding new meaning be wrought.
Ivan Iannoli, Untitled (Landscape), 2016, Single-channel video projection, spray enamel on glass, transparency
It was the deconstruction of these neatly packaged objects in the projector-based sculpture that made me avoid direct eye contact, as if the smartest, dreamiest man were calling to me from that far side of the room. Why was it here, what did it want from me, and why couldn’t I stop sneaking glances? I thought: I’ll walk the room, keep my head down, have a nice conversation about the history of art, and go home as shy and alone as before without having to engage this three-pieced enigma. But as I tried to make my leave the voice inside my head rattled, You’re annoyed! What the fuck!, as I said aloud, and to my great surprise, “Ivan, can you tell me about this piece?” A dog approaching the outstretched hand hoping to be petted and not smacked.
And here it all was. Yes the water was moving, but only enough to make me recognize it as more than a traditional landscape photograph. One vignette on the wall revealed branches stretching out over the river, another a few inches away rippled with water alone, and the third a window to the disembodied hand—the hand of an unknown god overseeing its creation. The images playing on the wall were separate and unified, videos and photographs, aged and contemporary. If I stood near the projector to view the colorful, holey plate and the images on the wall simultaneously, I couldn’t focus—on anything. My mind saw the neon colors and started down a comfortable path of 90s abstraction. Then I tried to string it together with the video on the back wall and almost kept it together: a color video of an early-20th-century landscape photograph—with a sepia hand—dancing mostly along a contemporary painting. Okay, got it. But when I couldn’t find traces of colored light coming through the translucent painting my knees got weak and I’d have to start over. Abstraction, landscape, video, photograph, projection, sculpture. History, method, document, art. What was going on? How was this cycle sparked by the deconstruction of what I could previously accept with ease?
Ivan Iannoli, Untitled (Colors), 2016, Spray enamel on plexi, archival pigment print, 14 x 10 inches
The very act of confronting this skipping chain was what connected the swirling streams of thought I had about Iannoli’s work. By embracing the deconstructed pieces I could at last understand the whole. In staring at that which made me uncomfortable, right in the eyes, I came to understand the themes of his creation. The way humans slogged through revolutions of industry, thought, art, and being. The cheeky manner in which we look back and ascribe meaning from afar like some kind of prophesy told in reverse. Nothing in life is as simple as a historical textbook or contemporary sitcom would have us believe. Not that marble countertop or the drywall of your room. Not staring up at the night sky or the light as it refracts through the water droplets of your sprinkler. Not painting a smiley face on glass or raising a child. The most mundane task or object or momentary sight carries with it a history as complex as the cosmos themselves. Whether we choose to question the delicacy and depth of the radical act of living is up to us.
Peter Cochrane is a San Francisco-based artist and author.
(Image at top: Ivan Iannoli, Installation view of solo show at Bass & Reiner Gallery, San Francisco, June 10–July 9, 2016. All images: Courtesy the artist and Bass & Reiner Gallery)