New digital paintings by Petra Cortright

For her contribution to the ongoing online exhibition "Brushes," presented by Rhizome and the New Museum as part of the First Look series, artist Petra Cortright presents two versions of a Photoshop composition titled all_gold_everything.psd: a GIF that cycles through all of its layers, and a video that uses wipes and dissolves to offer a slowly shifting view of the same imagery.

Click here to view a 140MB high-resolution gif.

Writing in Spike Art Quarterly, artist Paul Chan once described Petra Cortright's artistic approach as "disinterested," in the Kantian sense:

We are ruled by our interests (because who doesn't want a leg up?) and that is why there is very little freedom or play when our interests are at stake. Cortright's work, on the other hand, exudes the disinterestedness that only comes from a form of creating with nothing particular on the line, and this is what affords it a kind of freedom that becomes, in a word, delightful.

Cortright brings this same disinterestedness to her works in various media: performance videos, digital paintings, and spammy texts. Her studio is a domestic-style space with carpet and curtains in an otherwise industrial building in Los Angeles, where she surfs the web and "paints" in Adobe Photoshop using a stylus, creating files that may have hundreds of layers, accrued over time through daily activity. However, once these files are complete, they are then translated to different forms, from physical objects to various digital formats. In this case, the gif and video versions of all_gold_everything.psd tell very different stories about the same set of images.

The gif begins with an image of a golden dress worn by a catwalk model, a jpeg copied from the web. From there, the relationship between one frame and the next is unpredictable; in some cases, there is a small change, but often the changes are abrupt, with large images or fields of color covering the entire canvas, concealing what came before. There are effects, transformations, copied elements, and brushstrokes, which are sometimes delicately rendered and sometimes scribbled roughly.

The video, in contrast, has a much more deliberate staging of elements. The same dress appears onscreen at the start, although its form has been abstracted, with no clear demarcation between foreground and background. As the image comes into focus, animated elements begin to sparkle; golden sunflowers appear until a wash of magenta spreads slowly across the image. Elements seem emerge from the depths of the image, are drawn to it from above, or grow within it. Where the gif presents a kind of record of Cortright's process, the video seems to offer a self-contained narrative. 

The gap between these two works reflects the importance, in Cortright's work, of everything that happens after a .psd is finished. A single Photoshop file can serve as the source for a number of finished works. In some cases, the works are exported to material form—printed onto aluminum or silk, materials which can be thought of as different analogies for the digital image. Alternatively, they may be translated to video. Whatever the format, the works can be thought of as singular views or interpretations of a fluid composition, each of which may bring a different temporality and perspective to the same digital object.