blackbird spring 2002 vol.1 no. 1


ADAPTATION SYNDROME  |  Painting in Contemporary Image Culture

Curators’ Introduction:
Reappearing Out of Everything

Adaptation syndrome: a-dap-tá-shun sin’-drom (noun) the defensive response of the body through the endocrine system to systemic injury evoked by stresses and worked out by an initial stage of shock, a stage of growing resistance or adaptation, and a stage of healing or of becoming exhausted if adaptation fails.
Webster’s 3rd New International Dictionary, unabridged

The artists in Adaptation Syndrome represent ideas that emerge from “a stage of healing” in adaptation rather than in exhaustion, acquiescence, or non-adaptive resistance. They accept the inexorability of this kaleidoscopic culture and do not see art as separate from it.

We made the conscious decision to select for this exhibition only artists who are painting—applying pigment to a support—rather than to include artists who are exploring post-painting processes. Although almost all of the painters in Adaptation Syndrome come to their work through technologies that inform both image culture and what has come to be called “new media,” in the end their processes emphasize painting.

 Adaptation Syndrome
 January 21 - March 13, 2005
 Visual Arts Center of Richmond

Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe suggests an interesting benchmark when he says, “[t]oo much in contemporary art defines itself by what it struggles to resist, particularly since a formulaic resistance is now what would need to be subverted were there to be life left in the idea of subversion.” To use Gilbert-Rolfe’s phrase, these painters don’t resist in a formulaic fashion; they resist the old subversions and capitulations through works that emerge from a combination of alertness, curiosity, and adroit painting. Their work asserts that painting can hold its own as part of the overall cultural mix, without being arcane or archaic. Their “images”—the visual attributes of each work—are a byproduct of thinking worked out in the expert use of the language of painting, in much the same way that the most stunning images in computer and scientific technologies are often the byproduct of programming expertise and methodological inquiry.

Through a wide range of technical practices in painting, the work here alludes to such varied image sources as medical and scientific imagery, advertising, custom-car culture, the computer, consumerism, kitsch, and issues concerning privacy and surveillance. At the same time, these paintings possess an aesthetic and conceptual integrity that functions separately from their image sources. Other associations and intentions outside of image culture exist for the individual artists in Adaptation Syndrome but, in this context, their work converges.