SPIDER FLOWERS: Katinka Matson's Scanner Art Fascinates With Intensive Clarity
Andrian Keye
Monday, August 1, 2005

Ever since Marcel Duchamp mounted the front wheel of a bycicle onto a bar stool, the anarchic use of everyday technologies has been part of the standard repertoire of Modern Art. Usually such works question our perception by distorting reality. The flower images by the New York artist Katinka Matson are different for their exactness and completeness: the surreal aura of her pictures come from their enormous clarity. The flowers seem to radiate from the inside and the details are recognizable into the last fiber as though they were being viewed under a magnifying glass.

Scanner Flowers
Photo: Katinka Matson

Katinka Matson may not be the first to experiment with this approach to imagery. In the 60s, photo-realistic painters played with this kind of hyper-realism in much the same way as photographers of today such as Andreas Gursky or Loretta Lux.

What's new, however, is the technology that Katinka Matson uses to make her pictures. Instead of oilpaints or a camera she uses a regular scanner. And because the light scanning of such an office machine eliminates even the easiest distortion, she develops a naturalistic effect, which questions our way of seeing, because our eyes have long adjusted themselves long ago to the distortions of photo and movie cameras.

Science historian George Dyson described the effect of Katinka Matson's pictures: "Visual processing (in humans and other organisms) is characterized by layers: not only the layers in the retina, behind the retina, in the visual cortex, and finally in our consciousness and our culture as we interpret the ultimate results. There are also evolutionary layers, and the lensless, scanner-like visual system of the insect still lingers, unseen but essential, in some of those layers between light and brain. One of the reasons—besides sheer artistry—that Katinka Matson's work resonates so strongly with us is that the insect-like vision that results from scanning direct-to-CCD runs so much deeper in us than vision as processed through a lens. By removing the lens, Katinka's work bypasses an entire stack of added layers and takes us back to when we saw more by looking at less."

It began with a coincidence. While scanning a regular photo Katinka Matson put a bunch flowers on the scanner. "I was rather frustrated that day. But the very first flower scans had already inspired me," she said. She has no idea if she was the first, or only, artist to experiment with this new technology. But she was the first to perfect the art of scanning to the point of gaining recognition as an artist. In 2002, The New York Times Magazine included her work in its annual year-end edition of the big ideas of the year. 

For the past five years she has experimented with techniques and materials, until she found the perfect combination of creating images through her scans, working on them with Adobe Photoshop, and presenting them as Iris prints on water color paper, which are mounted on aluminum. Because Iris prints are limited as to size, and are, in addition, extremely sensitive, in her newest series of white spider flowers, she uses a new digital printing process on large canvases which adds even more power to the painting-like structure of her images. She normally makes thirty forty different scans from a set of flowers, before she finds an image that interests her. And recognizing the right state of the dessication of the flower can take days of observation. "Fresh flowers are pretty," she says, "but they only become interesting when they begin to show the first signs of withering."

Katinka Matson's "Spiders" is on exhibition in Munich this week, her first work on canvas, in the context of the Bitfilm Festival for Digital Media in the Bundesgartenschau (German National Garden show). A slide show projection of earlier work is also being presented.


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[Original German Text]


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