Ugly Girl Hand Cream | Gitte Möller

Wed, January 16, 2019 to Thu, February 7, 2019

SMITH is pleased to present Ugly Girl Hand Cream, a solo exhibition by Gitte Möller and her first with the gallery.

In this new body of work Möller continues her development of a contemporary arcana. Accomplished through an iconography that draws on both religious imagery and online fan art, and a compositional logic that finds itself lodged between painting and digital media’s mutual ambition of disrupting their own flatness through the illusion of depth.

Möller’s meticulous oil on panel paintings in particular allude to the linear perspective and geometric figuring of Quattrocento painting, while simultaneously evoking the isometric and first-person perspectives of early 2.5D video games. This style is itself a departure from previous work; kaleidoscopic depictions of otherworldly landscapes from multiple perspectives have given way to singular and imposing perspectival representations of cold interior spaces, enforced by the sharp right angles of walls, floors and low ceilings. The stylistic change highlights a broader thematic shift from the alien to an alienation, with the limitless virtual worlds we were promised by the advent of digital technologies now beginning to resemble a solitary and isolated purgatory.

Yet the discrepancy between the capabilities of paint and digital media is perhaps best captured in a single recurring motif throughout the panel paintings: the tiles. In each of these paintings Möller has meticulously rendered tiled patterns on the walls, floors and ceiling of the interior. In early video games these tiled patterns were a quick automated way to cover large swathes of game levels with textures, but here they become an almost Herculean task, building the scene brick by brick, painting the shadows, the highlights, the gradients.

While the panel paintings resemble austere paintings housed in chapels, the oil on tracing paper paintings are closer to the marginalia in medieval manuscripts, or the small retablos in the homes of the devout. In these tracing paper paintings there is a correlation between religious imagery and online fan art. Both are devotional images produced by a community of individuals, based on and reinterpreting a central canon, and both are equally informed by their own preceding histories and the broader cultural impressions at the time of their production. This process concentrates representation into shorthand symbolism. Here the depictions of saints and deities are replaced by equally familiar icons and logos: anime characters, video game sprites, Microsoft clipart, ornate hearts and angel wings. The configurations of disparate illustrations and styles of painting recall ciphers, asemic writing, and pictogrammes.

The tracing paper paintings were initially produced as digital collages, but it’s largely due to their materiality, fragile physicality, and size that they read as votive offerings awaiting an altar or shrine to be placed at, like prayers composed in Photoshop and read aloud in paint.

In Ugly Girl Hand Cream, we witness the uncanny union of an unemotional and restrained symbolic architecture with the over-wrought and heavy handed metaphors of youth. Ugly Girl Hand Cream opens on 16 January at 17h30. For press enquiries or to request
a longer format essay on the exhibition written by Mitchell Gilbert Messina, please contact Jana Terblanche at jana@smithstudio.co.za.

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