Annika Koops

At this point in the twenty-first century, we have a long story of painting centred on the expressive mark behind us, and a host of “AI art” images being rapidly produced before us. At the meeting point between a modernist art history and a future rich in automatically generated signs, Annika Koops’s paintings explore who gets to be expressive, now.

In Koops’s Double Binds #10, 2022, traces of oil paint are at once lyrical and jarringly inert. A creamy strip of what looks like fabric – maybe ribbon – drapes eternally over a frame of metallic blue curves, which work their way down the image plane like a racetrack seen from above, or like a worm from another dimension. The painting was produced by creating what Koops describes as digital “doubles and models of painted marks,” by using physics simulation software to let them “flop over themselves and interact with each other.” With this in mind, a number of questions might arise for viewers of this work: What is, and what has been, “alive” and acting in this image? Who, exactly, is the painting subject, and where is the subjectivity? Where is that strange, slightly tragic emotional charge coming from?

Meanwhile, on haveibeentrained.com, artists can see whether their images have been used to train text-to-image AI models such as Imagen, Stable Diffusion, and others. Koops’s exfoliation of the knot between gestural “liveliness” and sophisticated technologies of image capture, codification, and production does reflect anxieties which have emerged into the public consciousness at scale with the advent of AI art – largely concerning the notions of authorship, creativity, and expressiveness which underpin artmaking both as a practice and as an industry. However, it also responds to longer artistic histories, and more complicated stories about visual culture and digital technology since the latter decades of the last century. 

Take, for example, Koops’s video work Strokes, 2022, which shares much of its imagery with the paintings currently exhibited as Shadow Moves at Bett Gallery, Hobart, including the Double Binds series. In this work, a feminine CG figure dressed in a hooded costume in chroma key blue performs a digitally generated movement sequence. The character’s “dance” is based on data gathered from sources as wide-ranging as Charli D’Amelio’s TikTok performances, rhythmic gymnastics footage, videos of painters at work, and archival footage from Disney’s live-action animation studio. Their movement is eerie; we sense that there is something feeling and knowing that generates the gestures, but we struggle in vain to locate the single “subject” from which this sense of liveliness flows. Whatever it is, it is both of and entirely beyond the human. 

Koops’s interest in the expressive qualities of gesture is tied up with her research into the role of surveillance networks and their linkages to affective computing algorithms that are “set up in cities to detect people in distress or people who are aggressive, ostensibly so that intervention and safety can be achieved.” She finds that “there are ethical questions here, but also a question of what indicates distress, and how you can tell a soft, a threatening, and a joyful movement apart.” The context that is shared by both Strokes and Koops’s paintings is, then, a set of present conditions in which “spontaneous movement – the very spark of being alive – is framed as a site of extraction.” 

This last phrase, from the artist’s statement accompanying Shadow Moves, positions Koops’s work in a kind of dialogue-dance with the morphing form of capitalism in the twenty-first century, as our attentions and actions themselves become generators of economic value. Enriching this dialogue is Koops’s long historical gaze, cast back towards the brash, masculine marks of abstract expressionism, and her focus on the distinct ways that each of her media can frame the conversation. “It is important to consider these different registers,” she says, “as they contribute to this central idea of how the bodily trace and the painterly gesture are specifically coded and instrumentalised.”

Shadow Moves will be followed by the exhibition of Strokes at FRAME: A Biennial of Dance, in March 2023, with the work presented at the Abbotsford Convent, as part of the Body Cites project curated by Priya Namana. 

Strokes has been supported in part by an Australia Council for the Arts, Projects for Individuals grant and a City of Melbourne Sustaining Creative workers grant. 

Shadow Moves
25 November – 17 December 2022
Bett Gallery, Hobart 

FRAME: A Biennial of Dance
March 2023
Various venues, Melbourne

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