In an era when paintings are routinely photographed for their consumption on Instagram, online viewing rooms, and websites, Rooney posits, “What if instead of being photographed, a painting could make its own photograph?”
This question forms the core of Rooney’s newest work and is explored through her experimental manipulation of Bluescreen, a free-standing painting at the show’s center. As light passes through Bluescreen’s square cut-outs, the painting casts a gridded shadow on nearby surfaces. Rooney captures this shadow using the camera-less photographic technique of cyanotype, a kind of analogue photography first developed in the 1800s. To create her prints, Rooney first photosensitizes large sheets of fabric using iron salts, and then lays these sheets down in Bluescreen’s shadow. Where the sun’s UV rays hit the fabric, it turns a deep blue; where the fabric is cast in shadow, it remains white. Physical variables such as the angle of Bluescreen’s shadow, wrinkles in the fabric, and the intensity of light cause variations in the photographic print—skewing, blurring, and tinting the otherwise perpendicular blue grid. Viewers may gain insight into this process by scanning the QR code painting, Blueprint, displayed in the Gallery’s street-level window. Scanning this work—which is itself a cyanotype print—leads to a video which reveals its own making, and the process of cyanotype throughout.
These photographic “offspring” of Bluescreen become the basis for the rest of the show’s paintings, installed more traditionally on the Gallery walls. Cutting, stitching, stretching, gluing, tinting, and bleaching are among the actions Rooney performs on the photographic prints as she transforms them into paintings. In works such as OBJ 0622 and OBJ 0824, she leaves the blue grid largely intact in the painting’s middle register. In others, such as OBJ 1021 and OBJ 1007, only slivers of cyanotype are visible, surrounded by a mostly oil-painted canvas. In many, painted passages emulate photographic ones, making more porous the boundary between the two mediums. In each of these works, the sensation of being transported through a portal is palpable, as though one is looking through a window within a window. In this alternate world, gravity is unfixed as remnants of blue squares seem to float across the surface.
Outside the gallery and studio contexts, Rooney activates Bluescreen in yet another experimental way. As part of her ongoing project Bluescreen Greenscreen, Rooney brings this painting and others in the series into public spaces where she and participants activate it to conjure up a site’s history, to imagine its possible future, and to play with the hybrid nature of its present. Using the painting as an actual bluescreen (or greenscreen)—a cinematic tool whereby actors can virtually enter other environments—Rooney “keys out” the surface and replaces it with archival images of the given site. This project is explored in depth through the exhibition’s accompanying catalogue, video footage, and a public workshop held during the show’s run.
“Julia Rooney approaches the canvas from an historic, photographic process to dissect and reexamine our digital world, only to propel us into a more futuristic outlook. While intellectual in thought, the works evoke an introspective examination”.
Terrell Tilford, Creative Director