JAMES MALZAHN

ARTIST BIOGRAPHY

     As an interdisciplinary visual artist whose work draws on my extensive background in Internet technology and data forensics, I view technology as an artistic collaborator and as an essential feature of my practice. My work proposes links between human perception and corrupted digital imagery, advancing a critique of state surveillance and the abuse of technology by government agents. Recent works expose mounting threats to privacy, aesthetically and functionally embedding photography, painting, print, video and installation with surveillance and security technology to visualize omnipresent and corrupt government entities. Image loss and data corruption function to create unsettled atmospheres, to mimic the workings of corrupt systems, to paradoxically re-humanize digital images and to create momentary disruptions that prompt viewers to pause and reconsider the content.

 

     The theoretical history of glitch art plays a role in my work. The incorporation of glitch was in one way a response to the hyper-realistic or perfect imagery produced and manipulated through editing software such as Photoshop. Artist Iman Moradi says that while the world moves towards making error free technology the glitch is “linked with a sense of nostalgia and a longing for how things used to be, in that they were imperfect; it humanizes technology and somehow makes it more human and flawed, like ourselves.” This glitch or corruption also interests me because it creates a sense of collaboration with the machine rather than a domination over it. This space of the unknown is where the medium’s voice exists. In my practice I search for ways to transfer this concept through corruption in a way specific to the material.

 

     In my 2016 exhibition – Privacy Forboden at Flux Gallery – I critiqued a joint surveillance program called Optic Nerve which is conducted by the National Security Agency and the Government Communications Headquarters. Optic Nerve secretly targeted public and private internet chatrooms to create a bulk collection of people’s portraits to build a massive facial recognition database. Privacy Forboden included eerie paintings of these agency directors in a partially broken or decayed style influenced by Romanian artist Adrian Ghenie. The exhibition also included glitched digital prints of screen-captures that I collected of people in public chatrooms.

 

     My current body of work continues to critique Optic Nerve but the process is more heavily weighted as I place myself in the role as the silent surveillant by entering chatrooms and recording screen captures of the participant's camera feeds and conversations. My intention for this new body of work is to draw the viewer’s attention to the permanence of their Online existence by capturing the “ephemeral” and exhibiting it as art in a gallery setting. For this series I have shifted away from framed photography and traditional painting. These current works consists of gel-transferred monochromatic laser printed images of the people I recorded. These transfers exist as the hardcopy records of the user and also provide a layer that I can corrupt in a way that is specific to the material. The images are applied to canvases which are first silkscreened using UV sensitive pigments to incorporate hidden content – reflective aesthetically as the phosphorescent glow of a computer screen and conceptually as clandestine surveillance software. Portions of the screened content include chat transcripts of the unaware subjects, which is intended to evoke a sense of voyeurism in the viewer.  Technology also plays a strong part in this series – and turns the voyeur in to the surveilled - as functional hardware mounted on wooden panels, surveillance cameras, glitched digital video and audio, and computer controlled lighting. This installation based portion of the series relates to the work of Montreal based artist Raphael Lozano-Hemmer as we both seek to engage the viewer – experientially and emotionally - with the work in a way that manifests the eerie reality of the surveillance state.