Images arrive apace in the act of scrolling through feeds, streams and websites. The pulse of thumbnails compete with clickbait captions for sponsored content. When online, we receive images we never asked for. Coming and going, images become fleeting memories the moment they are received. Like visions, they haunt us.
In a two-person show produced by Apparatus Projects, the photographs of Kate O’Neill and the paintings of Neal Vandenbergh tinker with the transmission of these images.
Vandenbergh’s pair of six-foot tall works on paper—raw edges curled upwards—hang side-by-side, life-sized and seemingly levitating. The paintings depict ghoulish figures suspended in Jolly Rancher-hued grounds. On the left, a warped door, slightly ajar, gives way to a vision of a disembodied head emerging from an acid-green flash. Akin to a freeze-frame or a subliminal image, the spectral halo serves as a jump-scare, foretelling the horror of what may lurk behind the door’s nefarious shadow. On the right, a blue man stands solemn against dusk-kissed drapes. Two phantom hands, fingers spread and coated in a lubricious sheen, form a web around the man’s yellowed eyes; his frame of vision subsumed by parallel red orbs. Vandenbergh’s citation of real-life personas—in this case, a royal figurehead and a local politician—underscores the circulation of their likeness in the public sphere. Decontextualized from digital tabloids and reinserted into enigmatic vignettes, Vandenbergh muddles the media atmosphere through which we have come to see these figures on display in the public eye.
O’Neill’s small-scale photographs scattered across the adjacent wall provide a documentary foil to Vandenbergh’s phantasmagoric machinations. Combining studio imagery and screengrabs from YouTuber channels by adolescents, O’Neill explores the rabbit hole of tween leotard hauls. She isolates the gestures of young athletes caressing, displaying and modeling their bedazzled gymnastics gear. Hands dance around the shapes and silhouettes of leotards. Close-ups of fabric—the fluff of tulle and the luster of sequins—create a haptic environment where the viewer feels with their eyes. The photographs accentuate a tension between showing and concealing: in “Untitled (Display),” a girl undresses, her head obstructed by the camera flash; in “Untitled (22 06 03),” another girl raises a leotard to the camera, the oval-shaped hole framing her partially veiled visage. A QR code accompanying the photo installation links to excerpted transcriptions from the self-narration that typically accompany these videos. In describing to the viewer what they see, these youthful commentaries become an ekphrasis for O’Neill’s photo excerpts.
Both O’Neill and Vandenbergh enact disclosures. Like overdetermined allegories, their images portend the existence of some deeper yet ill-defined meaning; here though, significance lies in the staging of revelation itself. They show us that we have been shown something. In decelerating the act of looking, they allow us to sense the initial moment of recognition before it passes us by. (Alexandra Drexelius)
“Kate O’Neill, Neal Vandenbergh” is on view at Apparatus Projects, 2501 North Spaulding, Apartment 2, through September 19.