If hysteria was the pathology of the exasperated staging of the subject – of the theatrical and operational conversion of the body – and if paranoia was the pathology of organization – of the structuring of a rigid and jealous world – then today we have entered into a new form of schizophrenia – with the emergence of an immanent promiscuity and the perpetual interconnection of all information and communication networks.                                                          Jean Baudrillard (1988: 26)

When Picasso painted Still Life with Cane Chair in 1912 he made a profound contribution to the conversation of art that still resonates today. By combining found material and elements from the media into the painted surface, Picasso effectively breached the barrier between the real world of the viewer and the represented world of the image, heralding the emergence of Synthetic Cubism. Picasso’s hybrid of collage and painting included a clipping from a newspaper that stated “the battle has began”, knowing that the foreboding tradition of painting was under attack, and that a shift was underway in the evolution of the medium, challenging the way human beings perceive things to be, and providing a reservoir of artistic material for decades to come. Cubism incorporated the politics of the canvas, picture frame, and surrounding walls, in effect socializing painting. So too, an emphasis on the multidimensional and conceptual thinking, including the influence psychoanalysis and existentialism, altered the way we see the perceived genius of the artist, asking the question: what is in a name, other than signifying cancellation?

Asha Zero is a painter reverse-engineering these once-anarchic, now-traditional Avant-Garde ideas, hard wiring established Modernist perspectives to suite the needs of a ‘post-postmodern’ world. The numerical digit ‘Zero’ being a pertinent replacement for the authors name, Zero’s reinterpretation of identity and representation in the context of the information age finds an association with Francis Picabia’s Cacodylic Eye (1921), where the artist had his studio visitors sign a canvas on entering, not allowing for one single signature to be credited as the maker of the artwork, composed around a huge eye gazing back at the viewer. Parallel to the estrangement of the author, the use of body parts, particularly mouths and eyes, is a mechanism echoed in all Zero’s work, describing the almost prosthetic, cut and paste identities that humans adopt in contemporary society. Reminiscent of George Bataille’s theoretical method known as the Exquisite Corpse, Zero in affect creates a discursive ‘body’ for the current post-industrial information age. Similarly, in Erased De Kooning Drawing (1953) painter and collagist Robert Rauchenberg took the notion of identity, discourse and representation a step further, deleting the subject in his artistic inquiry entirely, revealing more informal considerations based on the absence and ambiguity of the author, concluding his thoughts by erasing a drawing by Willem De Kooning as an act of art in his own name, at once communicating the primary concerns of collage: intertextuality, appropriation, and juxtaposition.

Subscribing to historical collagist practices, notably the work of Dadaists such as Hana Hoch, Raoul Hausmann, and Kurt Schwitters, Zero confronts the medium of painting based on contemporary conventions such as schizophrenia, pastiche, anxiety and erasure. All under the guise(s) of imitation, artifice, and anonymity, Zero takes a cue from Marcel Duchamp’s conceptual art practices and Andy Warhol’s Pop Art wit, approaching painting on the same conceptual grounds as collage, depicting the everyday spectacle of human habituation in the urban sprawl of the modern city. Zero becomes a cipher, an indecipherable title containing no gender or name, the personification of collage: a cyborg. Borrowing from everyday media sources to construct detailed, photo-realistic compositions (trompe l’oeil), Zero presents the status quo of the Global Village as a bricolage, made-up of found objects (objet trouvé) and constructed bodies, using newspaper headlines, various street art elements, billboards, posters, album covers, fashion spreads, and print ads as pertinent social content.

Delivering layered facsimiles and masked captions from ground zero, Zero stumbles upon the defunct and deteriorated relationship between the original and the representation. Where humans once consumed media, it now consumes us, and Zero presents the remnants of this memory, pooled experiences faded and used, somehow tolerating the extraction of intelligible bits of information. Rather than being direct representations from some distant ‘original’ source or ‘authentic’ subject, Zero’s paintings are processed transcripts of lost and found representations, which have lost the agency of ‘origin’. The notions of memory and history are treated in an archaeological manner, mediated and weathered into the surfaces of the urban landscape, peeled back by Zero to reveal the remaining strata of our mediation, all too often hidden from us, or simply ignored and forgotten. “The informational function of the media today would thus be to help us forget, to serve as the very agents and mechanisms for our historical amnesia” (Jameson, 1999:20). Zero finds keepsakes from the fragmented landscape of the city – its histories and geographies incomplete – in order to piece together portraits of its cyborg citizenry, blip culture, raising relevant doubts about the Human Condition.

Saturated in the synthetic culture of the 80s, steeped in Punk and Indie Rock, Zero has a penchant for the appropriation of middle class consumer appetites. Forgetting and indoctrination being the staple of the day, the working class ideology of the Apartheid proletariat gave Zero special insights into the power of propaganda and marketing, and the social programming of the minority white population. In this sense, Zero’s paintings take advantage of the value of deception, equating perception with deception, perversion with reversion, at all times being unsympathetic towards any political agenda. Zero samples glitches and iterations from mediocrity, remixing scraps Xeroxed or stolen from popular culture, numbing as they stimulate, rendering the information age as bits and pieces, hyphens and splices, scratched and scrambled. If Pierneef were alive today, Zero’s portraits would be the landscapes he would paint.

This approach to the present day by way of the art language of the simulacrum, or of the pastiche of the stereotypical past, endows present reality and the openness of present history with the spell and distance of a glossy mirage. Yet this mesmerizing new aesthetic mode itself emerged as a elaborated symptom of the waning of our historicity, of our lived possibility of experiencing history in some active way. It cannot therefore be said to produce this strange occultation of the present by its own formal power, but rather merely to demonstrate, through these inner contradictions, the enormity of the situation in which we seem increasingly incapable of fashioning representations of our own current experience. 
                                                                                   Frederic Jameson (1993: 21)

When viewed from a distance each painting appears to be hyper-realistic visions pieced together from discarded or found media parts. When each of the many segments are appreciated for their individual surface qualities, ranging from topological interactions to hijacked typographical vectors and dirty grunge-inspired textures, they display abstract expressionist tendencies, marking a sea-change in the context of Modern painting. Simultaneously multiple and singular, Zero’s paintings dictate impossible exchanges between different surfaces in a continuous sedimentation of information.

Zero’s own ambiguous identity poses a similar question, where the authenticity of the author gives way to the representation of the brand; a sentiment relayed by Guy Debord (2004:12) when he states: “The whole life of those societies in which modern conditions of production prevail presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. All that was once directly lived has become mere representation”. With this simulated sense of Self Zero plays with the unsolicited aesthetics of the street, in an overwhelming image economy, a contrived society continually referencing itself, feeding off of itself, inviting one to consume. Zero’s paintings illustrate the sales agenda of the Global Village; so pervasive that it almost does not need the consumer anymore. The world is no longer about good or bad, black or white, ones and zeros; it is no longer binary, it is anarchic based on technologies that currently dictate the resolution of reality and the ‘deresolution’ of the body. Everything is transferred and transmitted under tragicomic circumstances, making room for the entropic madness of the machine aesthetic that Futurists such as Fillippo Marinetti envisaged being the culmination of mankind.

The reason I'm painting this way is that I want to be a machine, and I feel that whatever I do and do machine-like is what I want to do... If you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface of my paintings and films and me, there I am. There's nothing behind it. 
                                                                                                                           Andy Warhol

We are all Burroughs’ cut-ups, disposable, interchangeable, random. As passive consumers, compiled identities, and poster egos, most people are bored and nobody wants to change anything, shape it, form it, and translate it into a form of expression. It’s all about imitation, consumption and manipulation, and the only way to arrive at something relevant is to combine elements together, just as Zero does. This boredom is symptomatic of the lack of difference and Otherness in the world. Zero is the only relevant symbol, Zero’s cut-up images are a sign of the times, products of the system. Much like Gustav Courbet, Zero is a realist for the times, a traditionalist conveying the contemporary message of Zeitgeist in Babel, manifesting what it means to be human in the composite landscape of website hits and dots per inch, at all times leaving the debate open and playful.

Alongside contemporary artists such as Gajin Fujita, Takashi Murakami and Barry McGee, Zero draws attention to a society in a state of terminal identity, where the neurosis observed in the everyday becomes the norm. Marshall McLuhan referred to this neurosis as ‘narcosis’ (2001:45), which is an analogy used to describe our addiction to the media and our indifference towards it, linked to the idea that human beings and culture are paramount to a reproductive organ for the media and technology. Zero executes this narcosis through transient and ambiguous mergers of realism, naturalism and abstraction, somehow incorporating small pieces from just about every discursive structure in painting since the Renaissance. Silence and noise find common ground here, where the cosmetic fabrications of the media are expressed through hybrids of texture, colour, and pattern; chimeras that lead to continuing discussion on painting.

Micro Cluster Picnic progresses past Manichean binaries, in a post-hyperrealist realm that is inadvertent towards humanist or capitalist polemics and politics, differing from previous exhibitions, say for me (2008) and macro soda text hits (2009). As the world grows ever smaller, proximity being equal to promiscuity, Zero chooses anonymity over autonomy. Embodied and embedded, disassembled and reprogrammed, Zero’s paintings contribute more than just the sum of all parts, unfixing signifiers, stirring up turbulence, entangled in alienation and artifice to establish a clear-cut message. By piecing together counterfeit truths that can be bought over the counter, Zero makes the distinction between the authentic and inauthentic obsolete, perhaps exposing the only ‘truth’ left. History, identity, representation, culture, and the like, no longer teeter on the opposition between good and evil, or even tinker on the pitting of evil against ‘evil’, Zero simply makes such distinctions null and void.

Text Copyright © Shane de Lange 2011.
Image Copyright © Asha Zero 2011.

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