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Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

Kate Steciw’s photographic manipulations reveal a strange new reality


Like everyone with a laptop or a smart phone, bits and pieces of artist Kate Steciw’s life are stored away on hard drives. But unlike the rest of us—who may spend hours clicking through Tumblr and Facebook photos without much thought—Steciw is acutely fascinated by the use of screens to access images and memories.

“Looking at my old jpegs on my camera phone, I really began thinking about the way that the digital photo is ubiquitous in our lives,” says Steciw, reached at her Brooklyn studio. “These images on cameras and computers are at once so much a part of us, and yet they never really find their way into the actual world.”

Steciw brings these fleeting moments into the real world the same way your aunt might immortalize her pet collie on a mousepad. “I was simultaneously getting interested in on-demand printing on rugs or pillowcases,” she explains. “Those services are a mediating factor with images that are no longer film.” With the help of online custom print services, day-to-day iPhone snaps can inhabit unexpected tactile surfaces.

But Steciw isn’t interested in merely translating the digital into physical. Seen throughout her debut exhibition “Love My Way” at the Primary Photographic Gallery in New York, the 33-year-old photographer skillfully mars her images with layers of tongue-in-cheek abstraction.

Curated by Tim Barber of Tiny Vices, Steciw’s show highlights the immaterial or altered nature of contemporary visual experience. From photos skewed onto 70-by-3 inch wooden planks to three-dimensionally remixed shapes, her art juxtaposes playful and contrasting “image data.”

“My work as a retoucher exposed new worlds of strange and interesting computer abstraction,” she says. Removing blemishes from top-end fashion spreads by day, Steciw is well versed in the creative language of Photoshop. “I’ve worked in retouching for seven years now,” she says, adding that beauty, portraiture and a few product gigs help hone her skills.

But Steciw’s literacy in digital distortion is still expanding: right now, she’s reading Vilém Flusser’s Into the Universe of Technical Images. “He’s a philosopher that was writing in the ‘70s and ‘80s at the same time as Marshall McLuhan,” she says.

“He kind of foreshadows our modern relationship to images via the web. It’s mind-blowing, if only for the fact that he preconceives things like Tumblr.”

Steciw is gearing up for a group exhibition at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, where she will be showing a series of new site-specific installations. The 2011 Next Wave Art exhibition will run September 13 to December 18.

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