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Christopher Taggart @ Eli Ridgway

Photographer Of/On the Earth, 2013, 17 x 13"

Christopher Taggart is what you might call a multimedia phenomenologist.  His photo, video and 2-D “light sculptures” probe the always-fraught link between what we see and what we know.  The material ruptures referenced in the show’s title, Cuts and Splits, aptly describe one vein of the artist’s multi-faceted career: his practice of slicing of paper-based items into thousands of miniscule geometric forms which he reassembles by hand to form fractured images.

Using nude playing cards, aerial surveillance shots of maximum-security prisons and photographs snapped on the observation deck of the Empire State Building as source material, Taggart makes collages that superficially recall David Hockney’s photomontages.  But where Hockney manipulated cubist space, Taggart shatters it, producing in his pictures a constant tension between representation and its polar opposite.   The pieces range from the monumental (Real) Nude (Military Men), which measures just over ten by five feet, to the more intimate Photographer Of/On the Earth.  Unaltered, pictures like these would be banal.  In Taggart’s hands they take on the coloration and patterning of ancient Islamic designs.   
In his video, 100 Years Later, which humorously references Marcel Duchamp’s modernist masterwork Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2, Taggart uses the stairway landing between the gallery’s ground and basement-level floors as a projection site. The 16-second loop features a nude male and female model walking down the same stairway; however we see only quick flashes of flesh that pixilate before we can fully process them.  Again, we’re challenged to fill in gaps between what we see and what we know of the sensuous contours of the human body.  
The basement portion of the gallery contains anodized aluminum plates on which Taggart has etched animal-like forms with a mechanical engraving tool of his own creation.  The managed chaos of these compositions, 13 of which recently went up at the U.C. Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, recalls Hiroshi Sugimoto’s “Lightening Field” photos.  Like Sugimoto’s, Taggart’s joyfully explore order and disorder.  They begin as shallow lines incised on the surfaces; but when overlapped repeatedly, they result in increasingly deep groves that, under direct light, become almost three-dimensional.  

Apache Stump, 2012, Archival inkjet prints, 24 x 18”

For Marder (In the Supermarket), an engraving of a ram's skull on a red background, the artist drew from two references – the iconic photograph of Paul Simonon destroying his bass guitar as it appears the cover of The Clash’s London Calling album, and the word “marder,” red ram spelled backwards and also the word for the modern-day German tank.  The raw, destructive energy of Simonon’s gesture, here heavily obscured by the repetitive path of the engraver, and the reference to martial violence, echo in Taggart’s violation of the pristine aluminum surface.

Cuts and Splits closes with images made from objects being moved across a flatbed scanner.  The results look practically three-dimensional.  In Apache Stump, for example, the artist moved an apricot over the glass surface, creating what look like the tentacles of a marine animal, an impression enhanced by the appearance of the artist's fingers, which in this context become integral parts of the watery composition.  
Cuts and Splits, in its various permutations and media, exposes our perceptual apparatus for what it is: a network of habit-formed connections. Christopher Taggart's art pushes us out our comfort zones and forces us to see things differently.   
Christopher Taggart: “Cuts and Splits” @ Eli Ridgway Gallery through May 4, 2013.

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