Constant Dullaart Delivers the World's First Photoshopped Image

The "URL killer" digs deep for his new show in Paris.

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May 4 2014, 10:42pm
“Brave New Panderers” set-up at XPO Gallery. Paris, France.

Dutch artist Constant Dullaart probably knows more about the digital age than most people. Whether it’s regarding Google’s country-specific legal restrictions or exploring the ways groups like Anonymous use message-encrypted images to communicate, he’s rich with a historic knowledge of internet and technology politics that’s neither boring nor conspiratorial.

But how exactly does that transfer to his art? On one hand, it gives him the ability to balance reverence with irreverence in a way that even his living subjects nod at with respect. On another, it primes his work to effectively pull us out of the sticky sweet of internet coziness, where we can be logged in to 5 different social media sites a day yet still gasp in shock when privacy concerns make headlines. And in “Brave New Panderers,” Dullaart’s first solo exhibition in Paris at the XPO Gallery, he’s successfully wedded this intelligence and nuance with engaging aesthetics into a gallery experience that feels fresh, timely, and important.

But because Dullaart is a conceptual artist first and a digital muckraker second, it’s surprising just how visual this new series of work is. In one corner of the XPO Gallery, you’re surrounded by frames of vibrant, peaceful landscapes and blurs of color. A mural of tropical blues and sandy beiges runs the entire length and height of one wall until punctuated by the distorted body of a topless woman, who faces out of the gallery into her manipulated paradise. Framed and hung throughout her respite are the portraits of a tangerine sunset, an eagle suspended in aggressive flight, and two rectangles of shaded greys and oranges.

They’re images and pictures that seem incredibly familiar—maybe even boring—because of how impersonal they feel. Like stock images used in low budget vacation brochures, or bad bus advertisements. But the thing is, none of the content is actually Constant’s. Each is a relic that’s connected, in one way or another, to Photoshop—the computer program most responsible for our shared love of editing images beyond reality.

Close-up of Jennifer In Paradise

For example, let’s regard the beach mural, Jennifer In Paradise (above). “Jennifer” is actually the wife of John Knoll, one of Photoshop’s original creators. But in a weird way, she’s also one of the most influential women alive today. Why? The image behind that mural is the same one that was included with demos Photoshop’s first edition, which came out in the late 80s.

In other words: she’s the first person to ever have her photograph digitally altered by the public.

Thomas Knoll series. Public pictures taken from Photoshop co-founder Thomas Knoll’s Facebook. Framed in pattern glass.
Death Valley framed over Jennifer in Paradise

The other images—the eagle, the tiger, and the desert sunset—were taken directly from Thomas Knoll’s Facebook page. Knoll, who co-created Photoshop with his brother John Knoll, uploaded the images to his profile without marking them as private. Dullaart downloaded, enlarged and printed the photos, before framing them in patterned glass as an homage to physical “filters” we used before Photoshop and Photoshop-inspired technologies.

Healed. Originally an image of the Jerusalem wall. Manipulated with Photoshop’s “healing brush.”

And although superficially vague, the blurry color gradients, titled Healed, are some of the exhibition’s most remarkable pieces when placed in context. The one with orange hues was originally an image of the Jerusalem wall; the muddy grays, originally an image of destruction following 2011’s Tohoku Earthquake in Japan. Dullaart ran both images beneath heavy doses of Photoshop’s “healing brush”, in an attempt to “heal” these tragic events into visual obsolescence.

“The healing brush is designed to move small spots, specks of dirt from a photograph,” Dullaart explained over a Skype call from his apartment in Berlin. “But the terminology ‘healing’ suggests there are ‘sick’ images. Step by step, then, I’m trying to ‘heal’ the world.” The series has been in development since 2011.

3D printed bust of Brian q Huppi, engineer of Apple’s “Status Indicator Light” (commonly known as the sleep light)
Bust of Brian q Huppi facing Shenzhen Sunsets.

Opposite from these pieces, you have a short hallway that’s centered by another figure: a bust titled Brian q Huppi, based on the engineer of the same name. Huppi was the engineer who created the “status indicator light” (aka sleep light) for Apple’s Macbook, and in this hallway, Huppi’s bust looks out onto a series of Shenzhen Sunsets—photographs of daybreak in the Chinese province where most Apple products are manufactured. The sunsets are framed above electroluminescent panels that glow and diminish with the same rhythm as that little white light near your right wrist.

Shenzhen Sunsets. Region in China where most Apple products are manufactured. Images framed on electroluminescent panels.

In a series of email exchanges with Photoshop co-creator John Knoll, Dullaart discovered that the Knoll brothers are aware he uses their images in his work. Surprisingly, they hardly care. But this further stoked Dullaart’s wonder: can you digitally alter an image so much that it loses its original copyright? Were the Photoshop brothers reluctant to chastise Dullaart because they recognize their program’s ability to alter intellectual property? Maybe. But if they’re willing to distribute intimate photos of their spouses with software demos, it doesn’t seem like they’re too concerned about private property.

Thomas Knoll prints; Revolving Internet
Revolving Internet; Healed

“Brave New Panderers” is showing at the XPO Gallery until June 15th.

All Images Courtesy of XPO Gallery

For more work by Constant Dullaart, visit his website here. This post originally appeared at the Creator's Project.