In Level 9, Ry David Bradley presents a series of mechanically produced tapestries of images created by digitally manipulating photographs sourced from the never-ending churn of social and news media. Bradley’s digital manipulations reconfigure these raw materials into oneiric compositions that are both familiar and strange, comfortable and uncanny. With their lush, textured fabric surfaces, these works manipulate the viewer’s experience of digital imagery as ephemeral, screen-bound and indeterminate, offering instead strange visions of potential futures where information is something to be touched, breathed in and felt. Transferred from an ephemeral digital space to a permanent physical platform, these works contest the impermanence of digital culture.
Bradley’s new works are produced in Japan on a high-resolution loom that produces full-colour images that seem almost to have been printed rather than woven. This process uses red, green, yellow, blue, white and black threads to create an image in much the same way that the red, green and blue LEDs that make up a computer screen produce the coloured graphics scrolling through our feeds, games and browsers daily. In Bradley’s works, the digital space is a zone of potentiality, a flux state where the content of any image is purely contextual, dependent not only on its linkages but also its purely arbitrary placement in a feed of other images and concepts.
The title of this exhibition alludes to what Bradley views as the “point based and gamified” nature of contemporary existence (think of credit scores, Uber ratings or social media “likes”), in which any given action becomes merely a progress point towards an arbitrary goal, stripped of any affective power or intrinsic meaning. By showing the works on wallpaper printed with a tessellating image of a stone wall, Bradley creates an artificial environment, a context in which the works function as paradoxically physical objects in just such a gamified, throwaway virtual space. The repeating pattern of the stones alludes to the textures found in three-dimensional videogames, endlessly repeating two-dimensional images that are wrapped around polygonal game elements to create the illusion of a naturalistic world.
The wallpaper also introduces an element of quasi-historicity into the work, encouraging the viewer to read these woven works as tapestries hanging in some pseudo-medieval castle. In this scenario, the works become doubly abstracted, digital images that are also objects in a video game. There is a tension here between the physicality of the works, their woven surfaces speaking of both the inexorable physicality of the global supply chain and the intimate, personal connotations of fabric, and the airless digital spaces they gesture towards.
By transferring his digital imagery to the intensely physical medium of tapestry, which has a lineage dating back hundreds if not thousands of years, Bradley invokes ideas of permanence and historicity. In our present digital ecosystem, content is perpetually being created and destroyed while updates and bug-fixes silently re-configure the software environments through which we move. The idea of any object reaching a “finished” or permanent state is seemingly obsolete; everything in the online space is re-writable, temporary and malleable. Very few digital images ever escape the phantasmal realm of the cloud; Bradley’s works, in this respect, function as monuments to a digital ancestry that is being erased as quickly as it comes into being.
The softening of the boundaries between the digital and the physical is happening alongside a dissolution of the consensus view of reality. Bradley notes the phenomenon of “fake news” as a particular reference point for these works, and the concomitant softening of the idea of legitimacy itself. In an environment where any given data point can be dismissed as “fake,” the status of the real becomes uncertain and problematised.
For Bradley, the physical and the virtual exist on a continuum, along which he looks both backwards and forwards. From bricks to pixels, his works describe the constituent building blocks of the world being recycled and reconfigured, both physical walls and images the products of a similar impetus to create and re-create meaning.