An Art Show Inspired by Skype
By Isabel Wilkinson
It feels a little bit silly to be calling Sandro Kopp on the phone. That’s because for the last few years, the painter — who is based in the small town of Nairn in Northern Scotland — has made Skype the central subject of his work.
This week, Kopp presents “FeedbackLoop,” a show at Five Eleven in New York, consisting of dozens of paintings he’s made over video chat — including portraits of his partner, Tilda Swinton, and the artists Chuck Close, Michael Stipe and Rashid Johnson. Kopp has long painted portraits over Skype (he showed a similar body of work at Lehmann Maupin in 2012 and in a London townhouse in 2013), but with “FeedbackLoop,” he takes the process a step further: the portraits are presented in a series of three or four — a string of canvases, each increasingly abstract. “It’s this way of connecting a classical painting practice, which is something I really love, with something very contemporary and very now,” says Kopp.
To create the portraits, Kopp sits with each person (sometimes having a “long conversation; sometimes we’re silent,” he says) for up to five hours on Skype. He creates a finished painting, and then takes it down the long corridor of his studio, where the WiFi is patchy. He sets up a laptop and video chats the portrait back to a computer in his studio. He then sets out to create a painting of the painting, capturing all of the granulations from the interruptions. The result is an image with a lot of interference — a grainy version of his original portrait; which, as Kopp puts it, is the point. He paints that abstracted rendering, and then repeats the process — yielding an even grainier result. The result is a series of gridded pixels — a famous face reduced to abstraction. “I like the idea that there is a mediation of someone’s presence within something like Skype or FaceTime,” he says. (Kopp is a fan of experimenting with grids and series: For an ongoing project, called “The New Me,” Kopp paints self-portraits every day for a month. He repeats the process every five years.)
The works in the show will be accompanied by an installation conceived by Kopp and the architect Alberto Alfonso: Steel structures enable each painting to pivot in place, allowing the viewer to see the works from multiple perspectives. The sound artist Simon Fisher Turner visited Kopp in Scotland and recorded the sounds of him at work in the studio — which he has edited into an aural piece to accompany the show.
Kopp says that for “FeedbackLoop,” he was fascinated with methods of communication and how people maintain connection in the digital age (he communicates with friends and other artists primarily over video chat from Scotland). “I think there’s a broadening of culture through the Internet — it’s getting wider and wider and wider — that it’s spreading itself so thinly,” he says. He adds that, with his work, he is “looking for the poetry within the breadth of what’s available on the Internet nowadays.”