Acheiropoieta are religious idols that appear miraculously, independent of the human hand. As truthful representations of their divine subject, most commonly the holy face, acheiropoieta act as the authoritative image from which subsequent copies can be authentically made. The contemporary model of image distribution resurrects this notion. As technology renders the origin ever more irretrievable, the miraculous and the mechanical become indistinguishable. Digital images travel through seemingly alchemic devices. Where the origin eludes us, we can interpret this as little else than magic. In their ubiquity, these devices, and the images they proliferate, become a focus of popular devotion. It is in their disavowal of human mediation that acheiropoieta are revived.
Though a product of the artist’s hand, photorealist painting forms a surface worked meticulously to the point of self-erasure. It feigns the machine-made. This mirrors an imitative form of magic, where to imitate what one desires is to produce it. The sense of an abstracted labour typifies that found in the industrial propagation of imagery, where the machine replaces the human copyist. This is reversed in a photorealist mode of painting.
Sculpture maintains an enduring relationship with the copy. As motionless, easily lit and uncomplaining, sculptures were proposed as models to be imitated. In accommodating lengthy exposure times, it was among the first subjects to be photographed. Further extended into painting, they are transferred weightlessly from one flat surface to the next. Henry Moore spoke of painting as a framed world into which we are imaginatively enclosed, whereas a piece of sculpture shares our realistic environment. Here this relationship is inverted. These monolithic giants are contained, divorced from the great landscape to which they are associated. The monumental is miniaturised.
In extracting and photographing cuttings of the great outdoors, Karl Blossfeldt presented natural forms mediated through a mechanical eye. Like the sculpture casts of an academy’s halls, Blossfeldt’s photographs were invitations to copy nature through premeditated observation. Intended as pedagogical tools for industrial design, his oeuvre underlines solutions that are already anticipated in nature. Nature is replaced with an architectural and mechanical likeness.They are miraculous in their detail, the work of a divine hand. Entirely new structural formations are revealed in their reproduction and enlargement by hand as paintings. The miniature is monumentalised.
Current techniques in photogrammetry allow the archival subject of the paintings to be extended beyond their surface. In the use of photographs to form three-dimensional digital facsimiles, immaterial casts of the paintings are extracted. Our attention is diverted from the flat plane and divided across illusionary three-dimensional surface. Here, a return to sculpture can be found. Paintings subjected to this process can continue to be endlessly reconfigured in their physical absence. The archetypal authentic and singular art object is rendered infinite. Herein lies potential for unrelenting proliferation and a further distancing of the artist’s hand. As the lineage extends and the origin distances, these motifs appear as if of their own accord. The multiplication of an image, far from diluting its cultic power, instead increases its aura. It is the viral image as deity. Here, acheiropoieta manifest.
Realf Heygate (b. 1994, Leicester) obtained his BA (First Class Honours) in Fine Art from Central Saint Martins in 2017.
Recent group shows include: ‘No Motion Occurring, Many Hands’, Shipment, London (2019); ‘Through The Looking Glass’, COB Gallery, London (2018); Elephant X Griffin Art Prize, Elephant West, London (2018); ‘Sense’, Spanish City, Whitley Bay, UK (2018); ‘Extended Call’, Subsidiary Projects, London (2018); FORM, COB Gallery, London (2018); - ‘Woon Foundation Prize’, BALTIC 39, UK (2017); ‘Tempting Fake’, Noble Studios, London (2017); ‘Array’, Art Licks Weekend, London (2017); ‘Mutants’, Burlington Camden, London (2017).
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