‘Almost Zero’ reconsiders subjects of nostalgia

Last Saturday, Almost Zero: New Work by Brian Trelegan debuted at 117 Latham St. Curated by Alex Jen ’19, Almost Zero features the work of multimedia artist and musician Brian Trelegan ’16.5. Trelegan’s art takes up both floors of the building. Paper signs on the doors, a floor plan and a 20-page catalog guide viewers through the space. The show derives its name from an old conversation between the two collaborators, in which Jen asked Trelegan how much research he does before making his work. “Almost zero,” the artist responded.

Almost Zero accurately characterizes the gray area between passionless device and sentimental object that technology and digitization seem to occupy in Trelegan’s art. Juxtaposing order and entropy, repetition and discontinuation, Trelegan speaks to the spectral melancholia of technology.

Hallway walls of the Latham house feature the “Greely Road Extension”, a photography series that takes sentimental items and deconstructs them into unfamiliar objects. “Flower over Bidet,” a blown up photograph of a flower painting hanging above a bidet, has been angled in a way that confuses the spatial orientation of the image. Similarly, “Getting Up (On the Shelf)” depicts a blue chair isolated within the corner of some undefined closed space, possibly a shelf as the title suggests. A closer look reveals that the photos have been intentionally enlarged to give each image a pixelated, granular quality, an effect that serves as another speed bump in the interpretative process. Trelegan’s work forces us to think about photography as a digitized medium and reconsider what constitutes a subject worthy of nostalgia.

Meanwhile, the “Landscape” series takes black-and-white images of ordinary objects and enlarges them well beyond recognition to create abstracted landscape scenes that correspond to no real landscape at all. His photos emphasize a strong rectilinear form that gives a sense of distance and vastness. The granular quality of the images denies the viewers an entry into the landscape rather than drawing them in. While geometric forms seem to echo natural geological formations, they still maintain a heavy degree of abstraction. Take the curved gradient in “Landscape #1”, for example, that evokes the rounded steepness of a sand dune. In the context of its space, Landscape faces the viewer on three sides of the walls and bleeds over to the floor as well, challenging preconceived ideas about presentation and effectively giving a sense of fluidity to the rigid landscape.

Upstairs we find Trelegan’s “Basic Steps for Beginners,” a video that samples clips from various infomercials and PSAs, interspersed with the repetition of a blue title screen with the text, “BASIC STEPS FOR BEGINNERS,” as a catchy jingle plays in the background. The clips show quiet isolated motions, like the fumbling of a hand, in between the repeated title slide. Repetitions get increasingly frenzied and distorted, until the video samples are hardly visible from behind the proliferation of text, representing the proliferation of information new digital avenues open up. “Basic Steps for Beginners” inundates but simultaneously maintains a repetitive and rigid rhythm.

If “Greely Road Extension” defamiliarizes sentimental objects, then “Office 3-Space” takes that operation and utterly inverts it. A sound and sculpture piece that consists of various deconstructed elements taken from an office workspace, “Office 3-Space” features a mechanical fan hanging from the ceiling, strips of computer paper attached by binder clips to its suspended electrical cord. Trelegan’s own track hums a converging, tonal oscillation and is “sampled from the printer’s noises as it printed out the paper,” according to the program catalogue. There is a certain roundness to the composition, a repetition of chords slowly fading into each other that evokes the minimalism of Steve Reich. The mechanical fan’s continuous stream of air animates the sheets in a gentle, swaying movement congruent with the sonic shifts of Trelegan’s composition.

The strips of computer paper feature lines of meaningless text, listing alphabetic and numeric symbols in endless repetition. On the page, the characters have been arranged to defy their own strict lineation, diagonally bending across the paper in an entropic descent. These careful deviations imbue the work not with a sense of life but with the uncanny living dead: that ghostly liminal realm which technology seems to inhabit. “Office 3-Space” simultaneously suggests both human presence — the binder clips and table fan — and human alienation, as well as the mechanical indecipherability of the text and ultimately human sentimentality, as a closer look reveals wavy veins of letters that almost suggest life.

Juxtaposing order and entropy, repetition and discontinuation, ‘Almost Zero’ speaks to the spectral melancholia permeating technology. Photo courtesy of Grace Fan.