The title of Analia Saban’s exhibition, ‘Punched Card’, hints not only at its subject – the history of computing – but also at a specific genealogy thereof: the jacquard loom, invented in 1804, which employed binary punch cards, empty or full, to mechanize weaving. In Tanya Bonakdar’s ground floor gallery, two matching bodies of work, ‘Pleated Ink’ and ‘Tapestries’ (all 2018), capture the same subject – microchips and circuit boards from the 1970s – rendered in different mediums. ‘Pleated Ink’ are made of laser-carved paper inked and mounted on panel, whereas the ‘Tapestries’ are woven from dry black acrylic paint and linen thread. The works’ titles identify each as a representation of a specific historical device: Pleated Ink (Computer Chip, TMS 1000, Texas Instrument, 1974) (2018) or Tapestry (256-Bit Static Ram, 4100, Fairchild, 1970) (2018). Blown up as large-scale paintings and tapestries, their pathways are recognizable as circuitry, though it is not clear why Saban chose these specific chips.
Upstairs, the same materials repeat: there are circuit boards wrapped in distressed canvas and a couple of magnetic core memory chips rendered in acrylic paint, which has been dried, rolled and woven through a mesh of linen thread like wires through a toroid. These are simply referred to as ‘circuit board compositions’, though one is identified in the press release as a recycled motherboard from a dating app.
The irregular, novel use of materials on display here is in keeping with Saban’s larger body of work, in which she explores the tension between medium and form. In Saban’s hand, marble becomes a soft, droopy matter (Draped Marble [St. Laurant, Bianco di Carrara], 2015); canvases are left un-stretched (Paint Rag, 2015); and paint bulges out from a canvas that contains it like a sack (Discharge #2, 2013). These works all subvert common properties of materials closely associated with art history. While some references remain present here – the all-over black ‘Pleated Ink’ series, for example, bring to mind Ad Reinhardt’s abstractions – the representation of technology in these works marks a departure from Saban’s pure formalism, allowing her to engage directly with material histories that her other works imply.
In the late nineteenth century, a computer was a job – a person who performed calculations. Computers were so often women that when computing machines were invented during World War II, their units of power were called ‘kilogirls’. For girl-power to be used like horsepower, and for a traditionally feminine trade like weaving to be a first site of industrialized production, testifies that questions of technology have always been questions of labour, gender and their place in society. Saban’s material references thread these histories together, drawing attention to the labour behind the essential goods of modern life.
‘Punched Card’ is named for a specific textured object which, like the 1970s microchips represented within it, transmits information. Abstract paintings and sculptures, too, are information systems to decode. Here, as always in her work, Saban is preoccupied with the meaning embedded in cultural objects, and our ability to understand them.
Analia Saban, 'Punched Card' runs at Tanya Bonakdar, New York, until 18 October 2018.
Main image: Analia Saban, 'Punched Card', exhibition view, 2018. Courtesy: the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles. Photograph: Maris Hutchinson