Jeff Zilm’s multimedia practice investigates the slippage between technological platforms and ways they are consumed and decoded in the social realm. His best known Film Paintings take as their starting point the physical properties of film stock and cinema as a material medium. Like the Structural filmmakers of the 1960s, Zilm emphasizes the materiality of film and its apparatus. For over a decade the artist has sourced 8mm, 16mm and 35mm black and white films for this ongoing project. Using a homemade bath, he chemically destabilizes the emulsion so that he can extract the filmic image and optical sound track from the reels of celluloid. The film, once fully extracted and finally in a liquid state, is then transcribed in its entirety onto a single canvas.
Each canvas is prepared with an undercoat of screen paint, the kind used by home movie enthusiasts, so that the support itself is literally a screen onto which the painting is materially ‘projected’; this material collapse of image, time, sound and narrative onto a fixed canvas-as-screen becomes a kind of ‘terminal projection’ of the film, a ‘petrified cinema’.
The extreme aspect ratios of the canvases are also based on mid-century wide screen formats such as Cinerama and Todd-AO. Each painting consists of abstract/semi-abstract, spectral, monochromatic forms, simultaneously re-engaging early 20th Century black and white cinema and the tradition of the Modernist monochrome. Recalling X-Rays, Rayographs and other technical images, this new work triggers the latent tendency toward pareidolia, the psychological condition of finding figurative images in abstract forms. It also asserts one possible recalibration of painting toward an emerging way of seeing. Viewers, in an act of seeing that mimics current facial recognition software, begin to assemble a complex web of spectral figures and formal relations.
In other series such as Cheats and Password Paintings, Zilm continues to engage with screen mediated- culture by deconstructing the language used to navigate digital realities. Password Paintings are created using real passwords or phrases that offer potential access to a normally private, protected body of knowledge such as email accounts or private databases. Zilm uses an online password strength generator to gauge the viability of these passwords, adjusting and manipulating their power by adding random spacing. Formally, they reference online text fields such as the Google search field windows.
Zilm’s interest in engaging with text, virtual realities and the specific narrative structures adopted online is explored further in Cheats. The texts utilised are derived from video game cheats appropriated from online fan sites. Read out of context and isolated from their original coded environments, these texts become confused and redundant, read as directives through unseen spaces with unknown objectives.
Directly engaged with the ubiquitous presence of the screen in both private and public realms, the evolving role of painting and the technical image, Zilm’s work seeks to express another kind of relation of the analogue to digital – of subject to object, data to facta. Knowingly drawing on these multiple histories, positions and relations, both materially and conceptually, Zilm seeks to pose some provocative questions regarding the evolving role of painting and the technical image in the society of control.