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CNET

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Homemade undersea scanner finds strange new world
Nathaniel Stern dives beneath the sea armed with DIY photography rigs toggled from custom electronics. The artist’s results? Bizarre and beautiful.
by Leslie Katz for CNET

Nathaniel Stern dives beneath the sea armed with DIY photography rigs toggled from custom electronics. The artist's results? Bizarre and beautiful.
This rig has a bicycle valve so Stern can vacuum-seal it closed when he goes underwater. He got it down to 30 feet before experiencing leaks.

It’s easy to find a good compact underwater camera, but artist Nathaniel Stern opted to go a different route for his deep-sea imaging. Really different. He strapped on homemade rigs built from custom electronics and software, melted and welded plexiglass, plastic bags, duct tape, and other bits and bobs and proceeded to dive into the subaqueous world.

The resulting odd and beautiful renderings make up “Rippling Images,” a new series of fluid and often-abstract images of flora and fauna created as Stern and his marine-rated contraptions dove along a live coral reef off the coast of Key Largo in Florida. Because Stern wears the gizmos, his movements help compose the shots, some of which would look more at home hanging in the Museum of Modern Art than among other, more typical undersea photographs.

As he puts it, “I perform images into existence.”

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Stern gets up close with a three-eyed undersea creature, or maybe that’s just the photographic effect.

“My movements underwater, my relations to life and gravity, what I see and cannot see, fish and plants, breathing and fluidity, all affect and are affected as these images [are] being made,” Stern, a professor of art and design at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Peck School of the Arts, says on the project’s website.

Nathaniel Stern dives beneath the sea armed with DIY photography rigs toggled from custom electronics. The artist's results? Bizarre and beautiful.
Nathaniel Stern dives beneath the sea armed with DIY photography rigs toggled from custom electronics. The artist’s results? Bizarre and beautiful.

The images are an outgrowth of Stern’s ongoing “Compressionism” series, in which he hitches a flat-bed desktop scanner, computing device, and custom battery pack to his body and moves through the terrestrial world doing things like swinging over flowers or jumping over bricks to capture images of objects and spaces. When he captures a shot, every part of the image is broken up into moments of time because of how the scanner beam moves across the surface of the scanner and how Stern maneuvers the entire custom rig across the landscape.

For the aqueous version of his art, Stern spent three months getting certified to scuba dive. He and his team designed 10 underwater systems, and built 5 of them to completion. He toted 3 of these hacked-together getups under the sea.

“They leaked, they broke, they scanned scratches on the surface of the boxes, they reflected, they captured things that I never wanted and never intended,” Stern reports, “and that is precisely the nature of experimental work.”

Stern, whose art often focuses on how people engage with and experience the world, previously afforded us Earth-bound social-media addicts the chance to tweet to aliens.

“Rippling Images” will be on display at the Turbine Art Fair in Johannesburg from July 17 to 20, and as a solo show at the Tory Folliard Gallery in Milwaukee in October. For a deeper dive (so to speak) into the project, watch this video.

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“Flower,” a digital print on metallic paper. “The colors and hairs and mossy-like textures came out stronger than I ever could have imagined, in formation, soft and aqueous,” Stern told Crave of his technique.

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“Metallic,” one of the “Rippling Images” pieces created with one of Stern’s undersea rigs.

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Some of the works from the series look like they’d be at home at a modern-art museum.

Read the original article on  CNET

Rippling Images

For Rippling Images, I worked with a team to produce a marine-rated scanner rig, including custom hard- and software, and performed a new series of digital works while scuba diving on a live coral reef off the coast of Key Largo in Florida. My goal was an exhibition where where site and technology – their limitations, possibilities and potentials – take greater agency in the constitution and construction of printed forms. My movements underwater, my relations to life and gravity, what I see and cannot see, fish and plants, breathing and fluidity, all affect and are affected in and as these images, being made.

Everything leaked, everything broke, nothing did what I wanted or expected: and this is precisely what must have happened to finally see the 18 wondrous prints that premiered when I was the featured artist at the Turbine Art Fair, Johannesburg in July 2014, and as a solo show at Tory Folliard in Milwaukee, WI in October of the same year.
At stake are not only the ways we perform our bodies, media, concepts and materials, but also the implications of water and land, life and non-life, that we per-form with every day: as individuals, and as a people.

Scuba Scanning

SUCCESS! The latest version of my sub-aqueous scanner rig didn’t leak a single drop at 15ft/30mins, and should be able to easily withstand pressure for two atmospheres / 60ft! Here’s a short video I recorded for play at the Joburg media launch today.

Radio feature

The 8’oclock Buzz: Frankensteined Scanners Under the Sea

Last time the Monday Buzz talked with Milwaukee artist, Nathaniel Stern, he was sending tweets into space and subverting Wikipedia for his own nefarious artistic ends. Now, he’s jerry-rigging flatbed scanners for high-resolution, time-shifting underwater duty. Listen as Nathaniel explains to host Brian Standing how to turn a flat imager into a self-contained scuba camera, the philosophical nature of an image, and more.

Download the mp3 (13mb), or listen to the entire interview about performative printmaking / Compressionism with host Brian Standing:

M Magazine

Scanning the Artscape
Five artists on the rise in the cream city
by Tory Folliard with Christine Anderson; portraits by Dan Bishop

Milwaukee’s Third Ward has been named one of America’s Top Twelve Art Places 2013, which recognizes neighborhoods in the largest 44 metropolitan areas in the country where the arts are central to the social and economic vibrancy of a neighborhood. Even with a flourishing art scene and a wealth of talented artists — in the Third Ward and beyond — many artists still remain unknown to most Milwaukeeans. Here are five artists to watch chosen by Milwaukee art curators….

nathaniel-lynden

“I believe that art can change what we see and do, and are.”
— Nathaniel Stern
, Milwaukee: Interactive, Installation and Video Art | nathanielstern.com

Giverny of the Midwest (detail) - R5

Curator: Graeme Reid, assistant director of the Museum of Wisconsin Art.
“Stern is one of the most creative, articulate, imaginative artists in the state and, frankly, the country. He should be an international art star. Actually, he is! I can’t think of too many other artists in the state who are building a similar resumé.”

nathaniel stern scanning water lilies

Back Story: The former New Yorker has an impressive resumé of exhibitions and awards from all over the world. (He recently exhibited in January in Johannesburg, South Africa.)

Stern’s interactive art often centers on bodily performances. In his current “Compression” series of prints he straps a laptop and desktop scanner to his body and performs “images into existence.”

Moving his body while he scans the landscape around him, Stern creates images that are later made into prints. He is an associate professor of art and design at the Peck School of the Arts at UW-Milwaukee. His work is on exhibit locally at Lynden Sculpture Garden in a collaborative piece with Jessica Meuninck-Ganger.

Download full / print article (PDF, 1.5mbs)
M-Magazinepage74

Sunday Independent

Sunday Independent, Nathaniel SternCreating new Impressions
This article by Mary Corrigall appeared in both the online and print editions of the Sunday Independent

Impressionism has become so unsexy in the last couple of decades. Well, in art circles, that is. Mostly it’s because this once avant-garde French movement has been embraced with such gusto by the masses. For this reason many overseas public galleries wishing to up the foot traffic in their institutions and assert their relevance to society stage themed shows from this period, or exhibitions by artists connected to it.

The frequency of these impressionism blockbusters has rendered the art from that movement blasé. So it is surprising to find a multi-media artist who embraces what is termed “contemporary practice” to be so captured by the art of Claude Monet and in particular his artwork Water Lilies (1914-1926). As the title suggests they are paintings of the most banal of still life subject matter: tranquil ponds dotted with lilies Monet spied in his garden in Giverny, France.

For Nathanial Stern the radicalism of the impressionist vocabulary hasn’t quite worn off. He returns to it anew with an eye for reinventing it for the digitised era. Like many viewers who have stood in front of Monet’s large scale paintings in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Stern was seduced by the romantic, hazy lens through which Monet depicted this bucolic scene. In his version of Monet’s Water Lilies he has retained the large scale in his triptych Giverny of the Midwest – the pond he studied was in Indiana. Stern was aware scale played an important role in creating an immersive experience for viewers. He deconstructs and then reconstructs Monet’s approach, but this activity is not in service of demystifying, or satirising it, but re-enacting a moment in art history using digital media.

“Immersion” and “deconstruction” inform this body of work and Stern’s mode of documenting reality, which involves an HP scanner harnessed around his neck as he wades through the pond. Put plainly, he scans his subject matter. Because he does not remain static while doing this he generates images that appear life-like, but distorted. Not too unlike the kind of distortion reality undergoes under Monet’s heightened gaze, which amplifies the physical and sensual properties of his interest.

Just as Monet realised a purely figurative rendering of organic life doesn’t quite relay the physical experience or weight of reality, so does Stern recognise a straight life-like scan won’t do so either. Stern’s proximity to his subject matter facilitates a level of abstraction before he has even begun his process of “decompression”, which involves undoing the compression of the image. He is so close to his subject matter he doesn’t necessarily observe it, but is immersed in it. Because of this the view is distorted. It is a bit like putting the lens of a camera right up against that which is to be photographed.

Physical distance is a prerequisite for representation. Stern’s approach challenges this idea for not only is he immersed in his subject matter, but ironically he equips himself with a gadget that has no view-finder so he is unable to see the images he is capturing. As a result he records while not being trapped by, or implicated in, the act of recording. Thus representation is separated from seeing, it becomes an intuitive act of another kind.

This, of course, is the antithesis of the effect digital mediums have had on a society which has become more consumed with the act of documenting life that reality is viewed through a lens. In this way Stern succeeds in achieving what Monet never could: he is able to exist in a moment without the burden of reconstructing it. For this reason he is a participant rather than a detached observer. Stern is able to produce images that relay so much detail, like a insect caught in a petal or the veins of a leaf. These details might have evaded his detection despite his proximity and immersion. This suggests he was unable to fully appreciate the scene in its totality. In this way the full weight of reality is always withheld.

It is only in the processing of his scanned images, in which he stretches them out, that another encounter with his subject matter becomes possible. This encounter is obviously subject to his manipulation; he heightens the colours and decompresses the images to such a point that they are abstracted.

Stern doesn’t present one cohesive view of the pond, but a plethora of cropped details of it. The images are pieced together to form three larger “canvases”. They need to be scrutinised up close, where you can spy traces of the submersion of his physical being in the work – denoted by finger prints.

These works are excessively beautiful and compel immersion. Viewing them is a time-demanding exercise, which defies our usual consumption of imagery. This is exacerbated by the number of small canvases one must view, which appear like pieces of a puzzle even though they do not fit together to create a complete image. These are fragments of reality. Stern suggests a scene cannot be relayed in its entirety, so despite his reverence he challenges Monet’s work. Stern doesn’t order the visual world; he casts his garden pond scene as an indeterminate one that exists beyond the boundaries of any frame.

*Giverny of the Midwest has been on show at the Art on Paper Gallery in Joburg.

read the entire article online
see it in the print edition