Eric Buterbaugh & Katinka Matson
True Stem and True Flowering
March 31, 2018
Rarely do flowers shine so strongly as in the photography of the artist Katinka Matson who uses flatbed scanners, avoiding the fuzziness with which cameras map reality.
Coincidences are the key moments in the history of science (the discovery of gravity, penicillin, X-rays, Teflon pans). They are more deliberate in art (Jackson Pollock, Yayoi Kusama, John Cage). Because New Yorker Katinka Matson works on the border between art and science, it seems consistent that her work began with such a lucky mishap. That occurred some 15 years ago, when she put some flowers on a flatbed scanner in her office and pressed the start button. The flowers were crushed. The result was nevertheless startling. Because scanners do not capture points of light through a lens like cameras, but scan them pixel by pixel, the images had a sharpness and luminosity she'd never seen before. The extreme clarity of images was especially unique. Human's visual perception has incorporated the distortions and blurring of camera lenses when looking at printed or filmed reality. In Katinka Matson's work those distortions are mostly absent. The science historian George Dyson described the effect: "Vision evolved to attract insects, and by removing the lens Katinka has taken us back to this direct connection between the flower and the deepest layers of the visual brain. And that makes it so amazing."
Katinka Matson experimented for five years until she developed a technique that allowed her to place flowers on a flatbed scanner, and scan them undamaged, against a black background that made the flowers even more luminous. She also realized the photographs were strongest as Iris Giclee prints on 3' x 4' canvases. "Hyperrealism" is more reminiscent of the botanical illustrations made by Maria Sibylla Merian made in the 18th century as well as other artists of that era. The aesthetic here emerges from the scientific view and precise technique, less from the creative sensibility of the artist. The art book publisher Phaidon, recently published the German edition of the comprehensive work Plant: Exploring the Botanical World, featuring "300 of the most beautiful and pioneering botanical images ever". Katinka Matson's photography is presented here as the apogee of a line in art history that prefers the faithful portrayal of nature to the aesthetic ideas of artists.
A few weeks ago, Katinka Matson opened an exhibition in Hollywood of her new series "White Flowers" at The Eric Buterbaugh Gallery, which celebrates all things floral. Like the best in their fields in Los Angeles, Buterbaugh is not only a gallerist, but also the florist to stars, supplying flowers to Demi Moore, Madonna and Paul McCartney, not to mention the celebrations of the British Royal Family. At the opening, however, there were almost as many scientists as artists and stars. This is because Katinka Matson's main occupation is as a literary agent who represents scientists who write books for the general public. She is also co-founder of the science debate forum Edge.org, a circle that also includes Ray Kurzweil, the inventor of the flatbed scanner. Just a coincidence. ■
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Panelists: Hans Ulrich Obrist, Kevin Kelly, Katinka Matson, and George Dyson