A dialogue between contemporary and historic practice, Mattern’s works places the implications of technology under examination, focusing on its subsequent authority and visibility in our everyday lives.
A photographic series, Average Subject/Medium Distance, captures vintage “guides” or “computers”, a common photography tool used in the 1940s and 1950s to adjust exposure, depth of field, and lighting prior to the widespread dissemination of the automatic consumer camera. A small card comprised of paper dials with numbers and notches designed to output recommended camera settings, this humble apparatus promised greater control over our environment- a technological perspective that flourished under the auspices of Modernism. While each paper card carries a trove of information and a host of recommended settings, the advent of the automatic camera suppressed the availability of these very decisions- ultimately moving these processes beneath our awareness.
While Average Subject/Medium Distance provides renewed visibility of form, the artist has concealed a majority of the guide’s original text and visual information such as numeric marks, explanatory text, andexample imagery. Stripped of essential markings, the technology is rendered useless- calling into question the hierarchy implicit in our reliance on the automation of process. Evading initial recognition, Mattern’s use of bright colors, nostalgic composition, and flat space presents a series that exists on the edge of photography. In the absence of visual context, Mattern’s artistic decisions play into our aesthetic schisms of past and present, reality and fantasy. Using digital manipulation to obscure recognition and erase functionality, Mattern has tactically preserved a single word on each object- “[to] operate as a spring-board for interpretation while nodding to the priorities and conventions presented in the original object. ”Words such as “correct” and “average” point to user norms and value judgments, establishing a prescribed process and pre-determined end goal.
Using photography to underlie the medium’s basic structures, Mattern positions the promise of technology in direct contrast to its reality- calling the Modernist ethos into question. Average Subject/Medium Distance provides a space for this very questioning, especially in an age when iPhone photography has slipped into our pockets and the ubiquity of our lives. While technology promises greater control over our environment, it has simultaneously retracted the number of choices we have in determining this very control.An essential re-evaluation of the mechanisms we have built and since forgotten, Mattern’s series prompts a critical reflection on the automation of technological processes, and our automatic reliance on this assumed ‘ease’.
– Alison Roberts