Petals to Pixels

Sarah Meyohas

June 13 – July 20, 2019

MINE PROJECT is pleased to announce Petals to Pixels, the solo exhibition of French-American artist Sarah Meyohas. Her first presentation with the gallery, as well as in Hong Kong, the show brings together works from two of her projects, Cloud of Petals and Speculations.

Rose petals cannot digitize themselves. At the site of the former Bell Labs, a gigantic hanger in the rural New Jersey farmland, sixteen workers gather to photograph 100,000 rose petals, one by one. Human hands must individually open the flower, pick the petal, place it under the lens, press the shutter, and upload the image to the cloud. The workers set aside one petal per rose that they consider most beautiful and put it in a press—preserving it as a physical artifact. From this trove of images, an artificial intelligence algorithm emerges, allowing for the creation of new, unique petals forever.

Shot on 16mm film, Cloud of Petals traces beauty and subjectivity within the systems of automation and artificial intelligence. Inside the static confines of the once-modern but now-shuttered Bell Labs, the place where the world’s brightest minds came together to invent the future, Sarah Meyohas has captured a haunting vision, punctuated by arresting visuals—at one point, a live python is let loose amid the piles of petals. And above all, it tracks the transformation of these most elemental markers of color—the bloomlets of flowers—into nothing but data, ones and zeros. The cloud of petals sprawled in the building eventually becomes a cloud of pixels.

The film, along with 3,289 pressed petals, sculptures, and six gaze-based virtual reality experiences were presented during a large-scale solo exhibition at Red Bull Arts New York. The Cloud of Petals exhibition becomes a site for contemplation about a post-human reality and the future of labor in the face of automation. The film has been screened at various festivals, including the Minneapolis St Paul International Film Festival, Slamdance, NY Times Talks, CogX, and the Locarno Film Festival.

For the virtual reality pieces, 3-D models, derived from both the AI-generated and original photographic petals, become particles in simulated systems, floating in space like a cloud. Meyohas writes in ArtForum: “The current physical state of these systems, in turn, exists only through the agency of a viewer. That is because of the critical difference between a physical artwork and a virtual-reality piece: A physical artwork requires a one-to-one physical confrontation, which anchors subjectivity in the body; in virtual reality, by contrast, the viewer is a point in space, both physically disembodied and embedded in the work.”

Greenway writes: “Meyohas’ quest to make the invisible visible continues in the ongoing Speculations series, which represents the boundless of the digital world using specular tactics. The photographic work heightens the void-like effect captured from two mirrors facing one another. Staged with foliage, canvas, and/or obscured figures, the unending visual illusion pulls the viewer into its limitlessness. Described by Meyohas as a “stasis, made of a constant exchange and a series of specular relations that never find a definitive end,” the photographs transcend the two dimensional plane, transporting the viewer as if through a portal. Tangentially themed shadow boxes with items such as maps, shells, mables, and clay pipes by Joseph Cornell, a self taught artist and filmmaker, enact a gateway into the artist’s enclosed world. Kenneth Goldsmith defines Cornell’s boxes as an interface, one with in-built “operating and navigation systems through which we may experience it.” He goes on to draw a parallel between Cornell’s subdivided boxes and computer technology, specifically the layout of desktop “windows.” Not unlike Cornell’s boxes, Speculations casts a visual spell strongly reminiscent of what it means to exist and navigate within digital platforms. Whether in virtual reality or photography, the unending replication of the plant, flower, and or petal within an infinite plane enacts the experience of our digitized and endlessly categorized reality. By using the natural world as her references, network as her medium, and the specular as her mode of contemplation, Meyohas’ Infinite Void offers a timely and aesthetically stunning depiction of the growing darkness that is our technological dependence.”

The Speculations were initially conceived to back a cryptocurrency Meyohas created in early 2015 named BitchCoin. Each coin was backed by 25 square inches of her photographic prints: a currency with optionality and one of the first examples of tokenization in the cryptocurrency space. Bitchcoin presaged the most important use case of bitcoin so far: speculation! With a nod to relational aesthetics, the artist created a market as her first major artwork, with a constant play on language describing space, materiality, and value.

Value is thought to be currency, stocks, big data. Those are the artist’s materials, from which she reveals value as subjectivity, representation, beauty. The artist’s work is located in those constructed intersections. Speaking to established spheres of language and contextual frameworks, the production of meaning is located in the analogical shift.