Artist Nick Gentry’s ‘Social’ Media Brings Dead Technology Back To Life

By Shayne Benowitz

Inside Nick Gentry‘s temporary studio in Miami’s Wynwood Lofts are cardboard boxes filled with other people’s floppy disks. On a shelf, inside small manila envelopes, an assortment of film negatives and x-rays are arranged based on their tone, from dark to medium to light. There are wooden bakery boxes from the 1930s collected in a corner, repurposed as the frame for a new series of light box works. These materials are Gentry’s medium in creating large scale portraits. The face painted onto the canvas of floppy disks is merely a representation of the information stored on them.

“It’s a history of the things that happen in a life, collected into one portrait,” Gentry says.

The London-based artist is in Miami in preparation of his solo exhibition XCHANGE opening at the Robert Fontaine Gallery on April 13 during Wynwood’s Second Saturday Art Walk.

Opus

While the materials he works with have been rendered obsolete — most of them recent relics left behind by the ever-increasing pace of technology — Gentry’s found a second use for them in his social art project. Over the last four years, through his website, he’s put out a call for people to send in their old floppy disks, and most recently, x-rays and film negatives. And the packages have poured in from around the world. Through this media, he’s examining today’s state of identity, privacy, and security, especially in regard to the time and energy we put into curating a second digital identity online through social media.

“You look at some of these disks,” Gentry says, “And the labels written on there, it’s like the first status updates. They’re the first documents out there that people were sharing. It’s private stuff, but they’re still sharing it, so it’s kind of like we were just delving into that digital life.”

Protolife03HR

So what are some of the more unusual early “status updates” that he’s received by way of floppy disk labels? Everything from old computer games, to baby geese, lambs, and ducks, to pornography with labels like “XXX” or “big tits.” Some of the labels have even been blacked out with a permanent marker before arriving in his studio.

“I try to let the disks show through as much as possible,” Gentry says of his painting process. “One of the most interesting things with the disks is all the labels and the things that are written on them.”

His newest works are composed by layering collages of x-rays and film negatives between sheets of plexiglass backlit by LED strips. The amalgam of images strikes an immediate cord. There are film negatives of dogs, babies, grandmothers, family reunions. To whom they all belong is unknown. “It’s funny what people take pictures of,” Gentry notes.

The x-rays garner just as strong a reaction with electronic pacemakers exposed amongst organic tissue, brain scans, metal screws from surgery clearly visible in the ankle joint, and ribs composed to illustrate the subject of the portrait’s hair. It’s anonymous, privileged information that one is not accustomed to having access to.

Metamorph

Gentry recalls that gallery director Robert Fontaine was at first nervous that the use of x-rays would be “too close to the bone,” literally, and make people uncomfortable, but Gentry explains that this media creates not only an emotional history, but a biological one, as well.

With the show’s title XCHANGE, this notion of giving and receiving is at the very core of Gentry’s work, from the materials sent to him, to the art that he creates, to the experience of the patron inside the gallery. With sensitivity of the use of x-rays and the gratitude towards people sharing them with him, he’s also elected to donate ten percent of the show’s sales to the Miami Children’s Hospital Foundation. It’s just another form of exchange between artist and community.

  • http://twitter.com/AntoineBecaglia Antoine Becaglia

    Amazing work by Gentry. Amazing idea to recycle or upcycle obsolete objects to use as support for his pieces.