Trinidad and Tobago-born artist Rodell Warner situates his work in the space between digital and physical, making use of projections and gifs to animate the everyday. Greatly intrigued by his approach to art-making, we began a conversation that opened up the history behind the work, his influences and the phenomena of what was once described as the “poor image” by Hito Steyerl.
Becoming an artist was something that Rodell could only say was the result of an accumulation of small decisions and collective coincidences. What began as a dissatisfaction with the fashion he could access throughout his high school years, led him to design and make his own t-shirts. Stencils and iron-transfers soon gave way to experimenting with Photoshop where he was no longer limited to stock-photos but could use his own photographs for his designs. It wasn’t all just fun and games though because before long, one thing led to another and he was able to use these skills to find work in advertising and as a graphic designer. Fortunately the advertising agency where he worked was a creative hot-pot and he was able to interact with many other creatives, as well as continuing to pursue his own art and he was even encouraged to take part in exhibitions and residencies. Despite enjoying his job in the advertising sector and being rewarded with more and more responsibility, Rodell couldn’t but help feeling that the trajectory he was on was taking him further and further away from his own practice.
As an artist there often comes a point where one has to choose between the day-job or the art career as both perhaps have become too big to sustain simultaneously, and while taking that plunge is not always easy, for Rodell Warner, it’s a decision he has never regretted taking. He also acknowledges the role that those experiences played in shaping the work he makes now; “Over time I created projects and collections of images with greater and greater awareness of what it means to make art, and that’s what I do full-time now.”
Treating the image as an object has always been central to Rodell’s practice and therefore the projector became the ideal bridge between the digital and the physical. As he told me, “The projector also literally adds dimension to any image I’ve captured or created. The projected image exists in three dimensions, so images that existed previously only as 2D representations on-screen can be wrapped around objects and beamed all over the place.” This can especially be seen in his series First Light (2013) which played with projecting kaleidoscope-like forms onto the human body, highlighting the symmetry present in the human form, as well as distorting and thus highlighting what we take for granted every day.
The intriguing relationship between the virtual and the physical can especially be seen in the work produced for the BiWay Art Foundation group exhibition in 2015, where Rodell experimented with wrapping images onto virtual “3D” objects that would distort the appearance of the objects’ form. The result was a mesmerizing, gif-like rotating palm tree, covered with digital black and white dots, something that Rodell had noticed occurring when he exported bitmap images from Photoshop. Desiring to see what the effect of this sort of process on real “3D” objects would be, Rodell began projecting and painting these black and white patterns onto found objects, resulting in the incredibly dynamic body of work, T.M.C.N.E.C.i.a.D (The Most Corrupting Notion Ever Captured in a Dream, 2017). In this way, Rodell’s work has gone to the root of image production and circulation in our current day and age. Meditating on the space where the contemporary image exists Rodell commented; “When I think of this overlap between the digital and physical I love thinking about what happens when images are cycled over and over through digital and physical spaces via cameras, computers, projectors and printers. The outside and the inside have access to each other and become a circular path. Digital images can be projected or printed and re-photographed. Images of physical objects can be imported, augmented, and output to the real world again. Every pass from medium to medium produces effects, and effects can pile up and compound each other, create feedback, harmonies, and distortions, creating new entities unfamiliar to either the digital or physical space.” This sentiment we see reflected most notably by Hito Steyerl, an artist and theorist who published a now-famous essay titled “In Defense of the Poor Image,” in which she says; “The poor image is no longer about the real thing—the originary original. Instead, it is about its own real conditions of existence: about swarm circulation, digital dispersion, fractured and flexible temporalities. It is about defiance and appropriation just as it is about conformism and exploitation.” (2009)
Hungry to continue exploring and creating, Rodell is currently working on a new photographic series, where he continues to combine projection with portraiture in innovative new ways. For exciting work in progress, his Instagram is where it’s at. Most recently, Rodell was commissioned to create Davidoff Art Initiative’s Limited Art Edition for 2017, which involves the artist travelling to Switzerland for this year’s annual Art Basel.