Nate Boyce: Polyscroll


Nate Boyce: Polyscroll

By Monica Westin March 24, 2015

At a recent screening accompanying Nate Boyce’s Polyscroll exhibition at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA), the artist presented a group of abstract films and video/media art that have been influential to his work, particularly as examples of how film can approach being painterly. 

While the films Boyce showed—Robert Breer’s menacing but playful frame-by-frame animations, Paul Sharits’ violent, physically distressing flashes in Ray Gun Virus—address many of the themes central to Polyscroll, it’s Boyce’s own supercut of a Willem de Kooning documentary with clips and sounds from Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) that is the most critical for uncovering some of the exhibition’s deeper impulses. Boyce’s mash-up combines shots of the hyper-canonical abstract expressionist creating larger-than-life painterly gestures against what Boyce calls the “visceral, biomorphic” aggressive presence of the alien’s uncanny movements and breathing. The resulting effect is grotesque but formally fascinating: How is the creation of a creature like the alien as a sculptural, kinetic, and cinematic object akin to a brushstroke? The question is a timely one, especially now that we are in the age of digital rendering and modeling; Boyce cited the zbrush tool as an analogue to oil painting. How have the some of the most basic art-historical relationships like painting and sculpture changed, and what are the new potentialities for crossbreeding?

Nate Boyce. Render Cage 1, 2015; powder coated steel and airbrushed urethane; installation view, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco. Courtesy of the Artist and Altman Siegel Gallery, San Francisco.

The range of work in Polyscroll provides one set of answers to these questions. The majority of the work in the show consists of the “video sculptures” that Boyce has become known for, created by feeding information from modeling software back onto handmade sculptures that the software initially analyzed. The pieces recall both computer-generated imagery and traditional sculpture; affectively, they fall into a kind of uncanny valley in which they look half-rendered, not quite sculpted by a human hand. Understanding the process creates an additional effect of infinite regression, and a sense of systems closing in on themselves, smoothing material away into nothingness. Because many of the sculptures look radically different from all sides, it’s almost impossible to orient oneself in space toward them in a satisfying way. Curator Ceci Moss has thoughtfully placed the sculptures both in gallery spaces as well as more startling, disarming locations like handrails and stairways, where the pieces seem to be using the very infrastructure of the museum itself as an armature, seeping into the institution not unlike an alien parasite. 

Nate Boyce. Polyscroll II, 2015 (still); HD video. Courtesy of the Artist and Altman Siegel Gallery, San Francisco.

Several of Boyce’s large time-based videos (a few newly commissioned for YBCA) are also on display, offering an effective counterpoint to the sculptures and deepening the experience of disorientation. The direct subject of the new Polyscroll video series is specifically painting and the achievement of illusion in two dimensions across media. Using the same digital rendering software that he uses for the video sculpture, Boyce superimposes 3D models onto large digital screens, where they slowly turn to show all sides (jarring any sense of a constant subject position) and appear to melt into and out of the picture frame. The background for these models is itself pockmarked by handmade marks, both drawn and painted, that are more akin to Breer’s loose improvisations than to high abstraction. The overall effect is akin to walking around a sculpture in a completely unanchored plane in space that occasionally drifts into and out of alignment with other planes and other worlds.

Nate Boyce: Polyscroll is on view at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, in

San Francisco

, through April 5, 2015.

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