I was reading a little Judith Butler this week, and her ideas about the difference between expression and performance came back to me when I was thinking about Thomas Roach’s photographic work at Document. When I parse the five photos, I don’t come up with anything expressive. Roach’s images—technically, silver gelatin and archival pigment prints—are produced by placing a small television tuned to daytime programming and New Wave cinema on a flatbed scanner. They show spaces, text and a face that are broken along vertical lines, squeezed and interrupted by the oscillations of analog and digital information. The images have that remote, bloodless, mediated quality which characterizes so much art whose subjects are the processes and technologies of reproduction. When I learn from a gloss that Roach has produced thousands of these images, it is clear that whatever the images might represent, it is the process or the performance that is significant. The obsessive futile aphasiac activity that produced the five works on display is the meaning itself, despite the stylishly printed, two-thousand-word accompanying essay that name-drops a lot of influences and visual art allusions.
Imagining a young man alone in a studio spending all of his energies matching up the old cathode ray monitor and a scanner bed makes me think of something the Austrian writer Thomas Bernhard might dream up. And despite the long essay, the artist seems to imply that words, these days, or rather broken words, have drifted a long way from their signified meanings, by titling the exhibition “Weling,” a word derived from the distorted communications that resulted from the coupling of two remotely related species of apparatus. (Janina Ciezadlo)
Through May 31 at Document Gallery, 845 West Washington.