For the first half of 2012, Thomas Julier was artist-in-residence at the New York studio owned by the Swiss canton of Valais. Glitch in the Sunlight, curated by Alexandra Blättler, presents material assembled by Julier during his period in the city: three photographic works, one audio installation and six video pieces. Humanity seems absent in Julier’s New York; there are occasional human likenesses in pieces such as Ladies and Gentlemen / Girls and Boys (2012), a series of inkjet prints pasted to the wall. But even these are faces culled from advertisements, already heavily manipulated, their vacant carapaces shot obliquely, their heads stretched to the point of seeming even less real.
The exhibition comprises works that seem to thwart or blockade. For several years Julier has been interested in the possibilities of surfaces, conveyed through digital media, sculptures, photography and video. These are informed by Julier’s ongoing consideration of architectural facades (both as idea and subject matter). Some of his sculptures, hanging shapes cut from sheets of Plexiglas, often offer little for the viewer to glean. In this new body of work, though, rather than working with surfaces or templates that rebuff interpretation, his works actively aggravate, in a sense seeking out the glitch alluded to in the show’s title. While it is in the nature of video and photography to suggest transparency, to claim to faithfully transmit what is seen through the viewfinder, Julier’s videos resist viewership while calling attention to the medium itself. The two-channel video No Tree To See (2012) rejects the viewer from the outset: installed on the ground, the screens have their backs turned to the centre of a modest room, forcing you to view them from a sharp angle. The screens show images of tree branches in a park; rather than a receptive recording, the lens seems to have furiously scrubbed the subject, as if the apparatus were a sort of cleaning cloth.
As well as the city’s appearance, the sound and form of New York are also presented. A local municipal bench, installed in the exhibition space, is the seating provided to view a looping reel of five video works from 2012 that merge scarcely perceptibly one into the next. Here, too, the image is disrupted; though the projection is in a darker area of the gallery, the pulsating images are lukewarm in intensity, not bright enough to make a distinct impression, so where projection ends and wall begins is frequently unclear. Meanwhile, a small portable amplifier (Pointless Pierce: Way Down Yonder in the Meadow, 2012) plays a melancholic guitar instrumental, performed by an unseen busker over other urban noises. As this loops, the player’s only respite is when a mobile phone rings to halt a performance that is never acknowledged by passers-by.
The location of the residency, it seems, offers cold comfort to the artist, though Julier, in his defence, never claims to document. In what amounts to a parasitic use of the city, Julier’s New York is a source of impressions that he can bounce back onto the surface of different media. This series of work bears a form of emptiness, filling the image with its own noise so that little space remains for anything else. While this may be interesting in theory, it offers up little reward to the viewer. The amp’s mournful music is a manipulative reminder of a potential affect that’s markedly absent from the show. Hopefully in the future Julier will offer more in return than the sight of a dead end.