Calm amid all the clamor of the Armory Show can be found—in a figurative sense, at least—in a series of “Useless Landscape” paintings by New York artist James Hoff. In the Pier 94 booth of the Lower East Side gallery Callicoon Fine Arts, Hoff’s works depict remote zones not yet reached by cellular signals or network interconnectedness. They are “off the grid”—sanctuaries, in a sense, for conceptions of nature.
“These are referred to as ‘dead zones’ because we’re not able to connect to the network,” Hoff said, amid his paintings at the fair. “I wanted to go out and find disconnected places and think about landscape painting as a genre form now—what it means to be working inside that form and whether it’s possible to update it in some capacity by reconciling with newer technologies.”
The materials used for his “paintings” of stilled forest scenes are sheets of copper and fiberglass of a sort used to build circuit boards. To make the works, Hoff takes one of the sheets, makes a silkscreen with a photo of a far-off site he took on his phone, and dips it into an acid bath. “The process of making a circuit board borrows techniques from artists—it’s a print-making technique, a process of etching,” Hoff said. “I’m interested in using these materials and redirecting them away from their functional designation and back to a state of aesthetics.”
Conceptually, the “Useless Landscape” paintings follow a line in Hoff’s art that traces back through his work with computer viruses, whose codes he uses to distort digital music and sound files as well as digital images that he transfigures into abstract paintings for which the notion of “abstraction” has detached from its legacy as an expressive gesture. The newer works address the art-historical conventions of landscapes in a similarly searching way.
Other works of Hoff’s on view are floor sculptures comprising rocks lifted from nature and printed over with a hydrographic technique used for automotive design and other industrial sectors. The process involves a pigment print on water-soluble film; when wetted, the film dissolves, but the print remains on top of the water—so a rock submerged in the bath is covered with the print in a granular fashion. The same black-and-white pattern, based on a digital camouflage pattern used in the Arctic, appears on wallpaper in the booth and adorns the rocks scattered as if on the floor of a forest.
“All the computing technology we use today comes from minerals somewhere,” Hoff said about the denatured rocks. “I think of these as future computers.”