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Cliff of Anxiety

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Date Minted: March 31, 2020

Artist Description: Cliff of Anxiety A collage composed of artbreeder elements and destruction. 4000 x 5000

CohentheWriter’s Commentary:

Surrealist is perhaps too cohesive a term to describe Julia K Ponsford’s Cliff of Anxiety, a mind-melting metamorphose of face to flower, color to cliff, swabbed over with enough abstraction and downright delusion to give critics fits for weeks. What are we to make of this piece, one without a clear color palette, quite disturbing but also so clearly playful? Everything in this piece is in a state of change: Things melt into other things, colors stop and shift suddenly, textures and surfaces and images seem to blow-up at random points, but blow up into what? Anyone’s guess. The outputs are as fascinating, confounding, and outrageous as the inputs.

Let’s follow the rule of importance-via-scarcity and start examining Cliff via the two faces quasi-hidden within the image’s many folds and abrupt edges. They do not appear to be the same faces, or at least, if they are, they have been changed by their surroundings, presented with different eye colors, different skin textures. They are half-faces, foreheads and cheeks and noses, made to look like Phantom-of-the-Opera-style masks, and they sit sluggishly around the midpoint of the piece, looking, each of them, outward, into a middle distance which doesn’t exist. The larger face, or the one closer to us, has two piercing blue eyes. The smaller seems to have green or grey eyes; it’s hard to tell, as many of the colors around it have melted and conjoined with the face, coloring irises. Both faces possess disturbing voids where noses should be, either outright holes or suddenly-emerging lines of bright color. Either way, it lends an artificiality to the faces, ones which are otherwise quite realistically-rendered (look at the skin on the larger one!) Approaching this uncanny valley, especially as the image’s centerpiece, lends the whole thing a disquieting air; sensible for a piece titled Cliff of Anxiety.

The faces themselves are part of an exploding bouquet of textured color, layers and layers of color which burst outward, flower-like. They provide halos or crowns around the faces, but in other spots seem to evolve out of them, flowers that are skin-tone (yikes; imagine a flower covered in skin). Those kinds of suggestions are hard to avoid, especially in a piece as interested in textures as Cliff. The texture of skin abuts, and mixes in with, a series of odd textures, some like paint impastos, others very much digitized, and some seemingly solid, stretching downward in poles like thin, colorful stalactites. In places, the image seems to dissolve from its solid state into a ribbon-like form, garnering depth and volume from the folding over of colors onto each other. Lines of dripping paint have been scattered around the piece’s edges, descending yellows and blues are the most notable, appearing as much like glitches in the image’s code as falling paint.

I like using the idea of glitchy code to describe Cliff of Anxiety. Once defined in such a way, it's hard to can’t the sense that there is an underlying corruption to this piece, corruption in the computational sense that is. Cohesive and congruent imagery seems to exist somewhere under the surface in Cliff of Anxiety but is constantly thwarted by destructive shapes, lines, colors, and effects which disturb any specific segment’s attempt at harmony: harmony of image, harmony of color, harmony of form. Is now a good time to reference the piece’s title, and the analogies we are asked to draw between the image’s construction and its interest in anxiety?

Because anxiety, also, functions in a similar way. From underneath pleasant or placid surfaces (like the faces here) come random jagged juts of bizarre and misplaced feeling, things that are sharp and scary and frustrating, causing self-doubt and fear and nerves, making life twitchy, just as everything within the image is twitchy too. As a representation of anxiety, Cliff is both effective and unique. We can see how ideas, influences, and techniques keep jostling against each other, bursting out of each other, and, ultimately, becoming entangled. And this leaves us with a garbled image, uncertain and frenetic. It is very much a corruption of the original form. Beautiful as it may be, interesting as it may appear, it is nevertheless a seemingly deliberate attempt at disharmony. Is that not the sharpest trait to appear from out of Cliff of Anxiety’s mess: disharmony, discord, dissociation? 

And placing human faces so central does seem to lend credence to this idea; at the very least, it makes personality the piece’s fulcrum. Nothing else is so obviously degraded as the people within this image, who are quite obviously unwhole, who are quite literally breaking apart into discordant images and ideas. With the anxiety-provoking nature of this image fully realized, the two faces seem quite a bit more disturbing. Their placidity seems more like pain now. Their faraway gazes come loaded with emotional inferences. Elsewhere, behind the explosion of color, we spot other skin tones: Is that an ear? Could that be a cheek or chin? How many disintegrated faces are hiding in this piece, not just coming apart due to Ponsford’s chaotic effects, but wholly eaten up by them, reduced to single organs, gone all but for a single defining characteristic? 

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