Between the normalization of “alternative facts” and the speed with which false information spreads through social media, evidence doesn’t seem to count for much these days. Anouk Kruithof’s “#Evidence,” the Dutch artist’s first solo exhibition in the United States, presented a suite of novel works, many of them sculptural—some wall-mounted and others floor-based—that test the concept’s elasticity. Although rooted in the techniques and technologies of digital image-making, the pieces are not photographs proper. Conceptually sticky, materially beguiling, and heavily shaped by online processes of sharing and exchange, the prints and print-based assemblages provide a very contemporary way to visualize an old problem: the treachery of images.
Kruithof looked to a classic for the conceptual scaffolding of the works. “#Evidence” functioned as both a tribute to and an extension of Larry Sultan and Mike Mandel’s highly influential 1977 exhibition, and later book, of similar name. For “Evidence,” Sultan and Mandel selected and re-presented cropped versions of photographs taken for research and other internal purposes by government and corporate entities including NASA, the Bechtel Corporation, the Los Angeles Police Department, and the Stanford Research Institute, creating an ambiguous procession of context-less images with a decidedly futuristic bent. Kruithof likewise drew her source material from such corporations and agencies, pulling images from the organizations’ Instagram accounts. Whereas Sultan and Mandel presented their archival material in a distanced, elegant way—the photographs at once attracting and repelling meaning—Kruithof disseminates what amount to digitally manipulated data dumps. The distortions witnessed in her works suggest the shifting forms and political significance of images as they circulate among different users, platforms, and software programs.
For the wall-mounted print Carry On . . . (2015), Kruithof started by rephotographing a montage of 2,212 images of firearms confiscated at United States airport security checkpoints in 2014. Created and posted to Instagram by a TSA employee, and then widely circulated on social media, the original collage was unintentionally ironic, given the staggering number of gun-related deaths in America due to legal firearms. Kruithof underscored the irony by digitally cutting out the firearms so that all that remains in her print are their ghostly outlines.
Kruithof’s “Neutrals,” four of which were on view, further explore the implications of digital erasure and circulation. These sculptures consist of angular spray-coated metal armatures, over which photographic prints on colorful sheets of PVC plastic and vinyl are draped and hung, appearing like giant Fruit Roll-Ups. The source materials are again from the TSA’s Instagram account: the blurred ID cards belonging to owners of contraband materials (such as the firearms from Carry On . . . ), which the TSA, despite the indecipherability of the people pictured, bizarrely posted in an attempt to deter criminality through the shame of public display. Kruithof renders the already fuzzy IDs, with their various official insignia, into glowing washes of purple and blue. With their slick, repellent surfaces and spindly metal extensions, the “Neutrals” are anything but. Like the constantly mutating alien force in John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982), they remain interstitial, unsettled, unsettling. They are reminders that evidence can itself carry malicious intent.