Just like you can’t step in the same river twice, you can’t witness the same moving imagery in the systems-driven works of seminal new media artist Casey Reas twice, either. The UCLA professor's work is constantly changing as it carries out the coded instructions that Reas has written for it. There’s No Distance, his current exhibition at bitforms gallery, highlights this unique quality in Reas’ oeuvre by presenting older works alongside his most recent.
Reas works with digital systems and the process of emergence, so while a work may appear to be a video or animation of some kind, it’s actually generated by software running in real-time for viewers to witness. A quote from Reas in the gallery’s press release clarifies this process, along with the origin of the exhibition’s title: “With visual arts, the work is ‘made’ in the studio, then it comes to the gallery or the cinema to be presented. With performance, the work (music, theatre, dance) is planned in the studio and then ‘made’ for the audience. My software work is more like a performance; there’s no distance between you and the image being made.”Casey Reas, Still Life (HSB A), 2016. Custom software (color, silent), computer, screen. Dimensions variable, portrait or landscape orientation. Courtesy bitforms gallery, New York.
Reas has a long history with bitforms gallery: his work was featured in their inaugural exhibition in 2001, and There’s No Distance will kick off the gallery’s 15th anniversary season. As Reas tells The Creators Project, “bitforms gallery launched my work into the world and our identities remain deeply intertwined. This is my fourth solo show with the gallery. Looking at the documentation of these exhibitions is the history of my work and ideas.”Casey Reas, Still Life (HSB B), 2016. Custom software (color, silent), computer, screen. Dimensions variable, portrait or landscape orientation. Courtesy bitforms gallery, New York.
There’s No Distance features work from Reas’ Path series—some works from this series were also included in the inaugural exhibition at bitforms gallery—while other works in the current exhibition are from his Still Life series and were created this year. Reas explains to The Creators Project how the works in the exhibition relate to each other: “These works have different ideas behind them, but they operate similarly. They are both systems created with code that perform continuous drawings. However, Path is an exploration and implementation of emergence, as I understood it then through the ideas of the neuroanatomist Valentino Braitenberg. Path is a synthesis of ideas about drawing and animation with ideas from artificial life. The Still Life works are about something else entirely. They relate to the space between perception and the way the world is measured and quantified—they are simulated constructions viewed through the data generated by the system. They reference analytical paintings made by Impressionists and Cubists as well as contemporary ideas about simulation and data.”
Just like Reas’ visuals, the technologies that he works with are constantly changing. And, although Reas’ work has certainly evolved since it was featured in bitforms very first exhibition, he’s still trying to push the boundaries of new media art just as hard as he always has. “I need to work with my ideas today, with today's possibilities. The goal is to think around and over the constraints imposed by current technologies.”