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Christopher Taggart @ CCAS

"Ta Ta", 2006 – 2011, UV-Laminated photographs, polyester, resin, fiberglass, wood pole

If you were looking for an artist who takes to heart Jasper Johns’ advice – “Do something, do something to that, and then do something to that” — Christopher Taggart would be your man. (Yes, I realize I’m recycling this quote from a recent review, but in Taggart’s case it truly applies.) Straight out of art school, Taggart achieved the art world equivalent of a moon shot by landing representation at Ace Gallery. The nine-year relationship dissolved in 2009, but the innovations that brought him there continue –a fact recognized by San Francisco dealer Eli Ridgway and by Renny Pritikin, the curator of this show, Time Fugitives. It’s a tidy but representative sampling of the Berkeley artist’s achievements to date.

Taggart makes photo collages that resemble mosaics that have been shattered and painstakingly reassembled. His sculptures, built of photographic prints, physically replicate and sometimes exaggerate – in three dimensions — the same objects he photographs. Video projections, which work hand-in-glove with wall installations, hover between surveillance and portraiture, while his photo-derived portraits on paper appear as ghosts of a sort you would not want haunting your dreams. Taggart also makes etchings on aluminum whose lines dance in mid-air, like some sort of electric filament spun into webs by a hyperkinetic insect. (This fall, a 50-foot tall example of the latter will go up at the new School of Veterinary Medicine building on the UC Davis campus.)

Taggart earned his undergraduate degree in physics, and it shows. When he started etching aluminum by hand, he realized he could automate some of the labor. He attached a compass to an electric drill. Then, to further speed the process, he wrote a computer algorithm to control the action of homemade etching device.  For the ghost series Taggart drew concentric circles whose density was determined by the tonal values found in images he downloaded from the Internet. (The darker the tonal values, the more closely packed the circles.) How Taggart determined this technique would produce images that read as human faces is as much a mystery as how he transforms physical objects into photos and then back into objects. Taggart explains it all matter-of-factly in audio blurbs you can hear in the gallery – none of which will enable you to envision yourself actually doing what he does.  
"Portrait of a Photographer" (with a dozen of her portraits), 2011, hand-cut UV-laminated photographs glued to board
Merging applied science with art, Taggart has proven himself adept at turning one thing into another. The most notable examples on view here are his photo-based sculptures. He begins by drawing triangles on objects to grid them off into sections. He photographs them over and over, progressively magnifying (or reducing) the size of the images. Arrayed over delicate armatures, the assembled images can mimic the source object as in Pigberry for Sizemore, an inflated football made of photos printed on fabric. Or, they can morph unpredictably, as in Ta-Ta, an enormous nautilus-shaped form that originated from close-up pictures of a plastic dental model. 
“The forms,” Taggart explains, “are a result of the photo process — the pushing and pulling that happens as the photos create their own spatial change of form.”  An even more radical example is a sculpture made with a 3-D printer, which turns scanned objects (in this case the component pieces of an old pay phone) into plastic replicas of themselves. Taggart, by progressively reducing the physical size of the output, is able to assemble from the miniaturized pieces, a sculpture shaped like a Bonzai shrub.  He likens such forms to “3-D fractals. The final shape of the piece is not determined by my decisions, but by the angles defined originally by the system itself.” Hence, the title, Filling out Forms.
"Kudu (in the International Style)", 2011, scribed and engraved anodized, aluminum panel
That his methods seem to be imitating biology isn’t lost on the artist. Of Pigberry, the football piece, he says: “there’s a kind of relationship to natural growth… all the little bumps and little nodules or cells seem more animal” than in the original. Through the photo/sculpture process, he observes, “pigskin becomes more animalistic when the images “stack up.” But the realization of it, “that whole chain happens after the fact. “
Taggart’s photo collages follow a similarly unpredictable path. The largest and most dramatic of the three on view, People Looking at People, was built from 100 photos taken from the observation deck of the Empire State Building. Taggart sliced up them up into thousands of thumbnail images and reassembled them, rotating each 45 degrees. What we see is a wall-sized blizzard of visual information that resembles a TV screen after the cable connection goes haywire.  Yet out of the pieces – fragments of heads, telescopes, guardrails, water, buildings and sky – we almost instantly assemble a coherent picture.  it’s a demonstration of how the human brain creates meaning out of chaos.  
Visual monkey wrenching of this sort is not a new thing. David Hockney’s photo collages injected a similar style of image confusion into the public consciousness in the 1980s, giving a filmic twist to ideas Cubism introduced in the early part of the last century, although it must be said that Taggart introduces far greater dislocations than Hockey.  Likewise, historical and contemporary analogies exist for almost everything else Taggart does – none of which detract from the quirky originality of his vision.
The point behind Taggart’s work, I think, is that technology, whether harnessed to art or to commercial products, will continue to erode whatever boundaries we think exist between things. Like the elements, which change from solid to liquid to gas, Taggart’s work shows that boundaries, real and imagined, will continue to remain fluid.   
Christopher Taggart: "Time Fugitives” @ Center for Contemporary Art, Sacramento, through February 12, 2012.  Taggart will speak about his work @ CCAS on Feb. 11 @ 3 p.m.  


About the author:

David M. Roth is the editor and publisher of Squarecylinder.

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