Anouk Kruithof’s Pixel-Stress is the kind of innovative, interdisciplinary project that is upending how we think about contemporary photography. Part Internet appropriation and rework, part public performance/installation, and part iterative photocollage, all wrapped up in an unconventional photobook form, it’s an exercise whose center lies at the confluence of these methods and forms, pushing and pulling on our expectations and definitions.
Kruitfhof began with a simple Google search for images related to “stress”, ultimately choosing 14 images which she appropriated, cropped and then enlarged to maximum size, turning the stock images of men and women staring at computer screens in head-in-hands disbelief into abstracted grids of pixelated color. These seas of morphing color were framed and brought out to the sidewalks of Wall Street, where she set up a makeshift installation under a temporary scaffolding and attempted to sell the works to bankers on their lunch breaks. Pictures of the interactions and transactions (she actually sold 8 of the prints, but then gave them to their buyers for free) were later further manipulated into a jittering set of after the fact photocollages.
Pixel-Stress collects all of this activity together into a single volume, but to call it a “book” would be a vast oversimplification of the formal originality it represents. Tiny thumbnails of the original “stress” images float on open white pages, the pixelated up close versions found on the backs in slippery high gloss. All of the works are then folded into a loose binder, held together by an elastic band; when you flip through the book, it comes apart in your hands. In the center, a stapled paper insert documents the sidewalk installation, complete with short quotes and reactions from the shoppers; the men in suits are then transformed into multiple image collages, where the pattern of a shirt collar or the splash of a pocket square is mixed together with the white frames and pixelated colors.
What is so satisfying about this project is that Kruithof’s layers of conceptual thinking aren’t brought together into some inscrutable art school obtuseness, but instead try to capture the essence of something inherently unphotographable, i.e. the complexities of stress. She brings together images of what the Internet thinks is stressful, how the bankers reacted to the works and defined their own stress, and how her performance itself had its elements of personal stress, moving back and forth, comparing and replaying. We might also conclude that the book itself is designed to cause the reader some stress, as it doesn’t function as we expect it to.
Kruithof’s approach isn’t to point her camera at something and tell us with plainspoken obviousness that ”this is stress”; instead she offers a diverse set of interrelated data points, which she then uses to triangulate toward a more rounded expression. Along the way, she dissects different photographic modes, breaking them down and reassembling them to fit her artistic needs. That she could draw such nuance from such a seemingly simple construct is a testament to the impressively structured thinking going on here.
Collector’s POV: Anouk Kruithof is represented by Boetzelaer Nispen in Amsterdam (here). Her work has not yet reached the secondary markets, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.