The aesthetics of the pixel are marked by paradox: Large, ungainly squares in video and still images connote "old technology" cheapness, an undesirable lack of smooth, bright HD quality. But those same pixels, newly ripped away from their LCD screens, have made their way onto everything from Marine Corps fatigues to Dunkin' Donuts coffee cozies. Off-screen, pixellation is often used in all facets of design, as shorthand for a sense of contemporaneity. Want to make something look now-ish? Pixellate it.
But pixels can also be beautiful. And at the newly opened High Line Park (New York's public got its first bated-breath view today), American artist Spencer Finch has created a public art piece that celebrates pixellation in all its four-sided rapture. With The River That Flows Both Ways, commissioned by Creative Time, Friends of the Highline and The NYC Department of Parks and Recreation, Finch reinterprets the Hudson River in a series of 700 colored glass windows placed in the extant structure of a loading dock -- a leftover from the High Line's former days as afunctional train track. 700 is the magic number: the artist created the source images for the piece by photographing the Hudson River 700 times in 700 minutes, in one single day. Finch captured the Hudson River's unique quality: it has currents that flow in opposite directions at once ("one of the few rivers of this kind in the world," according to the project's curator, Creative Time's Meredith Johnson). The artist traveled up and down the river by tugboat, using only the river's currents as propulsion, and photographed the same moment in 700 different points in space and time. Then, says Johnson, Finch isolated a pixel from each photograph and used it as a narrative point. From there, the squares were reproduced on uniquely printed film, which was then laminated onto each pain of glass.
The resulting structure is a large, multi-paned gradation of greens, blues and purples, which moodily filter the sunlight that passes over the Hudson in the late afternoon. The feeling one has when experiencing Finch's piece is that of being in a forgotten pre-war train station; there's a sense of romantic dereliction that is highlighted by the disused train tracks that have been kept in place throughout the park. While the High Line Park itself is wonderfully imbued with the possibilities of improvement (poppies and irises sprout up everywhere, beckoning rebirth), Finch's piece allows for a quiet moment of remembrance.
The piece has a cousin -- cosmetically, at least -- in what has become one of the most popular public art projects in recent history: Gerhard Richter's Domfenster (2007), which the artist made for Germany's Cologne Cathedral. For that piece, Richter reinterpreted an older "color chart" painting he created, 4096 Colors (1974), by taking each individual block of color in the work and reconfiguring it as individual panes of glass in a Gothic stained glass window structure. While Domfenster is, in some ways, a secularized interpretation of religious cathedral windows, The River That Flows Both Ways introduces a healthy dose of American, Robert Smithson-tinged Transcendentalism to the medium. (This makes sense: Prior to joining Creative Time, Johnson was Assistant Director at Minetta Brook, which presented, in 2005, Robert Smithson's "A Floating Island to Travel Around Manhattan"). Finch brings things forward, however, and his own conceptual reconfiguring of the Hudson River reflects on the spiritual nature of time and circumstance, while encouraging alternate modes of aesthetic thought around the ever-ubiquitous pixel.
2012, aluminum, wood, sublimation print on polyester and concrete, 71 3/4 by 122 1/2 by 135 inches overall. Courtesy Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New Yor