Stefan Stux Gallery is pleased to present “Decompose/Recompose: Resurrect,” the first one-person exhibition in New York of recent photo works by Alex Guofeng Cao.
Confronting the viewer with a large-scale, imposing photographic image, one that is on the face of it, very familiar—a well-known celebrity photo—Alex Guofeng Cao connects the circuits of historical meaning by breaking down this memorable face into a grid of thousands of copies of a smaller, related image. Marilyn Monroe decomposes into strings of repeated pictures of JFK, or of the Mona Lisa; Pamela Anderson dissolves into tiny reproductions of Courbet’s L’Origine du Monde; Andy Warhol emerges from a sea of Mao’s.
These finely produced photographic mosaics, inspired by Cao’s interest in similarly pieced works from Greek and Roman antiquity, leverage the new technical possibilities of digital images, making the pixel itself a new, self-conscious carrier of meaning itself, and not merely a structural support for its expression. Cao takes this a step farther, replacing some of the thousands of embedded images in each work with other pictures (requiring closer investigation in order to find them), casting deeper reflection on the historical or cultural field of meaning already generated by the two primary interwoven images. In JFK vs. Marilyn, for example, the ‘pixels’ numbered 1962 and 1963 have been replaced by an image of a candle and of a rifle. The artist renders what Barthes formulated as the photograph’s intransigent presence as what-has-been porous to the narratives of history and the process of representation itself. The process of decomposing the original image allows it to re-emerge with a new lease on life; to be resurrected, as it were.