From random pixels, abstract photography grows

A balky DVD player inspires ‘DwarfGlitch,’ a new exhibit by photographer David Holzapfel

BRATTLEBORO — Photographer David Holzapfel believes that sometimes art comes from the mundane, random accidents of life, such as when one's DVD player fails to work properly.

That is the subject of his new series of photographs, “DwarfGlitch,” which he will be displaying at A Candle in the Night on 181 Main St. throughout May. A reception for the opening of the show is Friday, May 3, during Gallery Walk.

Holzapfel explains, “'DwarfGlitch' comes from lived experience, from the techno-nonsense that is a part of the everyday: the network is down, the [document] deleted, the hard-drive crashed. All we want is for our devices to work properly; we're tweaked when they don't.”

The digital C-prints of “DwarfGlitch” are straight photographs of his television screen on a Friday evening when, with his wife, Michelle, he was attempting to watch a rented film, “The Red Dwarf.”

“Immediately, upon pressing 'play,' the DVD began to stutter, freeze-frame, pixelate, tile and scramble,” Holzapfel says. “The mash-ups were delightfully whacked, outside control and beyond comprehension. The presence of disjointed subtitles and scrambled messages in some amplifies the incoherence of the whole.”

Although his wife (like most of us) quickly got irritated with the breakdown of technology, Holzapfel was fascinated and began photographing the random images that appeared on his television screen. He watched the film two more times, and photographed these glitches too, which changed with each viewing.

“The digital antics were unpredictable and irreproducible. Each time, they occurred at different points in differing ways on the DVD. Aside from tonal adjustments, the images are exactly as they appeared on the screen,” Holzapfel says.

Holzapfel has chosen the tondo format for the presentation of “DwarfGlitch.” A tondo is a Renaissance term for a circular work of art, usually either a painting or a sculpture. The word derives from the Italian rotondo, or round.

“The 4 X 6 (inch) images are mounted on randomly selected vinyl records,” Holzapfel says. “The analog 33{1/3}LP adjacent to the digital photographic images mirrors our daily experience as we oscillate between modalities. LPs, though subject to nostalgic reminiscence, are artifacts of our near-memory relative to digital information clouds systems. The larger format tondi are mounted on painted hardboard.”

How the mounted images are displayed introduces additional layers to “DwarfGlitch.” According to Holzapfel, each tondo exists “as a point on wall-space.”

“A series of points establishes a line and plane, an array,” he says. An array is a systematic arrangement of objects, usually in rows or columns. “The options for arrays are abundant and are influenced by the space and surfaces upon which the tondi are affixed. The interaction of the space and of each array affects how the viewer experiences the work at a remove.”

Holzapfel adds, “Close up, each image tells its own intimate, glitched narrative.”

Before he turned to photography, Holzapfel was a furniture maker.

“Thirty-some years ago, when I began to make furniture, I used these castoff woods because they were exotic: not in the usual imported sense but strikingly or excitingly different or unusual,” he says. “They were comparatively inexpensive then, they were local and I knew their histories through the loggers and foresters involved in their harvest.”

Although he has evolved as a furniture maker since then, he still clings to his early basic aesthetic.

“In harmony with [woodworker] George Nakashima's sensibilities regarding the inherent beauty of trees, of solid wood and the desire to sing their natural praises, most all of my furniture is made of whole, single boards and integral tree forms,” Holzapfel says.

In 1976, David and Michelle Holzapfel opened Applewoods Studio and Gallery in Marlboro. Their handmade, hand-carved furniture and vessels can be found in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, The Museum of Art and Design in New York, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., as well as many businesses and private homes.

In the late 1980s, Holzapfel also began to teach fifth- and sixth-grade at Marlboro Elementary School.

“So you see I have two full-time jobs,” he says.

His interest in photography began when he taught himself to photograph pieces of his and wife's furniture for catalogues and gallery shows. Soon it became a creative endeavor in itself. He has twice shown his photographs at the Vermont Center for Photography.

“It is always strange to see one's work outside one's studio,” says Holzapfel.

Nonetheless, Holzapfel is happy to be displaying his work in the furniture and rug store, A Candle in the Night. Although most will be displayed in the back gallery, the photographs will be on view throughout the store.

“Art too often is lost in museums,” says Holzapfel. “In Candle, among the furniture, seeing the photographs becomes more like it should be, like in a home.”

Holzapfel is not sure what people will make of “DwarfGlitch.”

“One of my favorite quotes is by [American artist Alexander] Calder, who said something like, 'A work of art would [be] easier to understand if it meant anything, but then it wouldn't be as worthwhile.' Another is by the poet T. S. Eliot, who responded to a woman at a party asking what one of his poems meant, by saying, 'It can mean anything you want it to.'”

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