günther selichar

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Günther Selichar: Media Machines

Installation views of the exhibition
Photos: G. Selichar, Vienna

Tufts University Art Gallery at the Aidekman Arts Center
40R Talbot Avenue, Medford, MA 02155
September 8 – November 19, 2006

Generous support comes from:
Bundeskanzleramt, Vienna/Austria, The Austrian Cultural Forum, New York
and the Department of Cultural Affairs, Upper Austria.

Exhibition Design Consultants: PAUHOF, Vienna/Linz, Austria.

Thanks to the team of the tufts university art gallery, medford, Amy Schlegel, Jeanne Koles, Doug Bell, Kristen Perkins and Anna Lovecchio.

The Tufts University Art Gallery was pleased to present the first major survey exhibition in the United States of Vienna-based media artist Günther Selichar’s work as well as a mobile public art intervention taking place at different sites around the Boston metro area this fall.

Selichar’s highly detailed, large-scale digital photographs are inspired by a strain of mid-20th century abstract painting that referenced its own structure in its making. Frank Stella’s landmark Black Paintings, whose stripes corresponded to the width of the canvas stretcher bars, Barnett Newman’s colored stripe paintings, Franz Kline’s calligraphic brushwork, and Aaron Siskind’s photographs of graffiti and other mark-making, are all conceptual sources for Selichar’s blend of photography and new media concerns.

The graphic strategies of mass media advertising have always played on viewers’ subliminal needs and desires in order to sell products. The manipulative power of “The Media” became synonymous with Madison Avenue’s seductive magic. Fast forward to the digital age: Selichar investigates how those advertising strategies of embedding a subliminal or manipulative message into the very structure of the image persist in the engineering and design of the ubiquitous digital machines and interfaces that deliver the information we consume and that structure the way we communicate. Selichar uses various specialized cameras to expose hidden or obscured structures that the human eye cannot see, such as “cold” computer screens (turned off), film and video lamps, and the stand-by mode of television screens.

“New Media”

The term “new media” describes the transformation of traditional media, such as printed words and images, into a digitized format. Those machines and devices that display and process digital information, like televisions and computers, are also generally referred to as “new media.” Selichar regards himself as a “media artist” because both his subject and his practice involve a critical examination and rethinking of the uses and forms of digital media, rather than its content.

Digital information is made accessible to the user through an electronic interface. An interface allows the user to see, organize, and manipulate this information. (A common example is the computer desktop, a virtual space in which digital data can be viewed and managed.) The interface functions as a threshold to information and images, which users access through the media device. Selichar’s work focuses on the metaphysical meaning of the interface and on the formal, physical appearance of screens. Selichar sees his artistic inquiry as similar to an archeologist’s practice. He “excavates” the interfaces and apparatuses used by media producers but chooses not to represent the content and narrative forms of media. His seemingly straightforward, documentary images deliberately contrast with complex social questions. Selichar’s main subject is the pervasive impact that these technological mechanisms have on our everyday lives.


We are likely to encounter interfaces in the form of screens, whether the screen is a computer monitor, a television, the display panel of a mobile phone, or the viewing screen of a digital camera or video recorder. Screens are the flat, physical surfaces that allow us to access information visually through an illusion of three-dimensional space. Information and images become visible, and hence accessible, only when screens are turned on.

Selichar complicates our normal relationship to screens by asking us to consider them as objects in their own right. Using highly specialized cameras, Selichar photographs the surfaces of screens either turned off, on stand-by, or in a test mode. He calls our attention to objects often overlooked and only recently regarded as industrial design objects with their own aesthetic merits--information delivery devices or “media machines.” He asks viewers to reconsider the ways in which the content of media is consumed as entertainment, pablum, or leisure activity.

Aspect Ratio

Screen sizes conform to certain standardized proportions called aspect ratios. These ratios, which vary by screen type, are determined by a screen’s width divided by its height. Televisions, computer monitors, and movie screens all offer unique aspect ratios that allow for the display of a range of media. Selichar uses the ratios of these types of screens to determine the proportions of his photographic objects and associated public art intervention.

Painting and New Media

All images have a structure that is hidden or only partially visible, and all images have a unique surface/ground structural relationship. In painting, the ground (the canvas or other supporting structure on top of which paint is applied) is masked by the surface (the image created by the application of that paint). In digital images, the ground is a screen comprised of a grid structure of thousands (or millions) of pixels to which certain colors are assigned. The digital ground/screen is similarly masked by the surface—the overall image that is “built” with these pixels.

In his Black Paintings of the late 1950s and early 1960s, American artist Frank Stella painted stripes corresponding to the width of the stretcher bars on which the canvas was mounted. By reflecting the painting’s own hidden construction, Stella eschewed expressive narration and eliminated creative image-making. Instead of canvases, Selichar focuses on digital screens as material thresholds. Like Stella, Selichar reveals the internal composition and patterns normally masked by content or narrative.

In form and tone, Selichar alludes to the rectilinear Color Field paintings of American artist Barnett Newman). In his series entitled Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow, and Blue?, Newman painted the three primary colors in unadulterated, juxtaposed bands. In his ongoing series entitled Who’s Afraid of Blue, Red, and Green?, Selichar acknowledges Newman’s work and updates it to reflect the three primary colors of digital media. By focusing so intently on the “radical” essence of the medium (blue, red, and green pixels) à la Newman, by enlarging his digital images so that they are many times larger than the original object, and by choosing a pristine, high-gloss surface and a floating, frame-less mounting material called Alucobond, Selichar presents an exquisite conundrum: How do we relate to a seductively beautiful object that demands close scrutiny but resists identification and reflects back our own image?

The artist hopes that we as viewers will “hold a microscope” to and think critically about the effects the mass media has on us as consumers of information. Close visual analysis of Selichar’s photographic works allows for critical reflection on our relationship to and use of these media machines, and the ideological forces behind their creation and design.

--Amy Ingrid Schlegel, Ph.D.
Director of the Galleries and Collections, Tufts University