Information is hard to kill. By now we all know the strange life of data: its capacity for infinite reproduction, the aesthetics of its compression and failure, and its litigious potential to topple our concept of a one true whatever. What is perhaps less explored is the question of data’s death—and, as Christopher Meerdo explores in his exhibition, “Anthology,” its resurrection.
When you delete a file on your computer, the data is not immediately destroyed. Instead, it remains until the storage is written over by something new. While there are programs that will replace your data rather than erase it, these are more of a specialty option for those rare cases between “Who cares who sees my homework?” and putting nails through your hard drive before the cops show up. In the case of magnetic storage, data leaves something behind, even if it’s a rusting pincushion at the bottom of the river.
This enduring quality of data, and the uncomfortable question of if or when a file is really gone, is the meat of Christopher Meerdo’s latest data visualization project. The artist collects used memory cards (the most common form of mobile storage for digital cameras) from eBay and runs data recovery software to bring back those images wiped by the card’s former owners. And the results are appropriately zombified. Half destroyed, corrupt, or violently abstracted by the event of their death and rebirth, the images embed their narrative pathos into the glitch genre.
However, the resulting images hinge on the banal. Meerdo’s process is timely (and is detailed well by an accompanying essay by Emily Kay Henson), but the pictures it delivers are quickly run down between ambitions. Printed small, they prevent any optical dive into the beauty of their glitch. Their variance in scale and irregular (aesthetic) installation cancels conceptual serialism. And between the glitches, not quite redeemed by concept, Meerdo’s found imagery looks absolutely flat. The mountains, lakes and hotels deflate the mysterious potential of those too obscured by artifact. What lies behind these crushed bits? By extension, I’d guess a really neat tree.
There is something familiar about this banality, but it remains slideshow-boring. Given the depth of his collection, Meerdo’s aesthetically neutral selections come off as semantically evasive: by offering so little, they can only refer us back to the process of their (re)generation, which is in turn devalued by the little it offers. Assuming the files weren’t printed or backed up before wiping, the artist has recovered a forgettable past. (Steve Ruiz)
Through April 20 at Document, 845 West Washington, third floor.