Unimpressed with the digital effect's of Hollow Man (2000)? Not moved by the human body carved like a rack of lamb and garnished with a filigree of scarlet capillaries? Displays of stretched connective tissue not your thing? Relax, you're not alone. As volumetric modelling programs become evermore precise, quaint Modernist notions such as the simple interplay of light and shadow on an unadorned surface get tossed out in favour of the blue-screen autopsy - of the body made translucent, then transparent, then boiled like a lobster. It's no longer flat versus deep, but flat versus guts. What could be more Existential than the body's core turned inside out, guts made manifest, to reveal... what? More body. To paraphrase J.G Ballard, we have moved beyond the age of skin, and entered the age of goo.
You can't help but make this comparison when considering Craig Kalpakjian's digital paintings of corporate hallways, heating ducts, and airless rooms rendered in Form-Z and Lightscape. Kalpakjian's interiors are all surfaces; a gradually shifting topology of pebbled ceiling tiles, crisp oblongs of light, and beige corridors curving and dissolving into the distance. Bathed in a spectral light, each sterile environment suggests a dusky after-hours or early morning calm rather than ominous intimations of creeping corporate homogeneity; the airless cell as corporate compound and 'debriefing' zone. They're not abandoned, entropic or evacuated - of human presence or their own architectural aura - they're just empty. And as the eye passes through these curling passages lit from the rear with an inviting, diffuse glow, or fixates on a thin slice of light emanating from a door left ajar, we're miles away from the faux-drama of dehumanising modular structures, claustrophobic workspaces, or even anonymous skyscrapers as the physical embodiment of invisible flows of global capital.
I imagine that if I asked Kalpak-jian why he uses so much black in his paintings he would respond like a jaded Dennis Cooper character: 'I like flat black. It doesn't try to explain anything, and it's been hip since before I was born I guess.' Or, in the words of Ad Reinhardt, whose black monochromes seem an obvious influence for Kalpakjian, 'Colour is always trapped in some kind of physical activity or assertiveness of its own.' That is to say, the mere presence of colour in a composition, enacts the narrative of its own historical use, hence removing it from the universal, the ideal. On the other hand, Reinhardt was fond of quoting Lao Tzu's groovy axiom 'the Tao is dim and dark', a bit of mysticism at odds with the kind of cerebral transcendence Kalpakjian is striving for.
A winding hall lit by a bank of overhead fluorescent lights, diminishing in size as the space tunnels into the distance, is not purged of colour for the sake of spiritual asceticism, or even to create an uncluttered greyish stage for the projection of epiphanies, religious or otherwise. Kalpakjian's total fetishisation of surfaces is so complete we begin to take it as a given, a first principle, a basic assumption or expectation that allows our minds to freely wander - not to the skeletal core or blueprint of an air duct (although here, looking very much prismatic, depthless, a void), but to the tension embedded in the duct's very walls. While Hollow Man's digital anatomy models make a virtue out of total disclosure, Kalpakjian inserts a tension within his surfaces, letting it quietly reside there like the hidden wattage fuelling his fluorescent light's dull, steady hum.
First published in Issue 55