Brooklyn-based artist Jeremy Haik is trying to confuse you. Not in a mean-spirited, "gotcha!" way, but in a way that may inspire you to ask questions and challenge your perceptions about the things you see on a daily basis.
These questions may come from the imagery seen in his technicolor pieces, which feature antique charts, diagrams, and vintage photos of Greek sculptures seemingly torn out of textbooks from the '60s, coupled with effects from the digital era, like pixels, gradients, and the use of what looks like scanning beds. Why are these two aesthetics combined, you may wonder—and, better yet, why do they look so good together?
Confusion may also arise from Haik's image-making techniques. The final product, flat on a computer screen or page, collapses space and removes the perception of depth in the composition. Are they physical collages? Works of Photoshop wizardry? "I'm interested in the idea of illusion in the images I make," Haik says, and it shows, especially in his new book, Permanent Constructions, available now from Silent Face Projects. The book is an ode to his equally beautiful, engaging, and confounding work.
We sat down with Haik to figure out just what was going on.
How did you arrive at your current style?
For a long time, I made images with a scanner, mostly because I wanted to make large-scale prints and needed high-resolution files. At a certain point, I went back to shooting more straightforward photographs in the studio and some of those characteristic qualities of the scanned images seemed to follow along. In other words, the photographs I've been making tend to have a very flat appearance, but in actuality, the setups that I'm photographing have quite a bit of physical depth to them. I like the idea that the illusion of flatness actually comes from a physical space that is not at all flat.
How do you find your source material?
Typically, I look for materials that attempt to explain the world in some grand, overarching way, so this usually means history or science or mythology. I think that all of these topics are in some way attempting to do the same thing, but from different perspectives. What's interesting to me is how differently these perspectives appear when placed in concert with one another. I also look for the way that abstract information and ideas are translated into a visual form, so diagrams and graphs tend to find their way into the work quite a bit.
I'm most interested in looking at the idea of historical narrative or the continuum of knowledge and information across history, so including materials that are immediately recognizable as old or antiquated, combined with the saturated slickness of the digital components, offers some good contrast and act as bookends.
How do you make digital and analog work together?
Part of what I like about the flatness of the recent photographs is the illusion of flatness, and so to a larger extent I'm interested in the idea of illusion. A lot of the work might look like it was generated in Photoshop but is actually done with physical materials, and there are other components that look "real" that are constructed digitally. So in a way, a lot of the work is one end of the analog-digital spectrum masquerading as the other.
Your new book contains different paper stocks with differing levels of opaqueness and transparency. What informed that decision?
When we started working on the book, I wanted to recreate my process of making work in the studio. A lot of the colors you see in the work are made with colored transparent gels (an example of something that might look digital but is actually not). I wanted to reference that in a tactile way in the book so I was excited to find the colored vellum that ended up in the book and use it as a design element.
The book also sometimes repeats imagery, referencing previous compositions. What do these duplicates say about the nature of the work?
Since the book was meant to be reflective of my studio practice, I felt that repetition was an important thing to include. A huge part of my image-making practice involves very minor shifts in the arrangements of materials, so for every "final" image, there is a family of images that are similar but not quite the same. I never really make just a single image from a setup. I'm always capturing a moment within a flow of movements and arrangements. I think this also has a relationship to history, in the sense that it tends to repeat itself with tiny changes at each turn, so this is a way to represent that idea visually.
What kinds of questions do you hope to pose to viewers of your work?
I'm most interested in artwork that makes me wonder how the elements are connected. When I see a combination of elements that don't make sense at first glance, I'm more inclined to try and figure out what the connections are. I think, in a broader sense, I'm trying to understand my own place in the world as an individual, and of our place in the universe as a species. While I don't have any specific answers to those questions, prompting a viewer to consider the same questions would be a success in my eyes.