On a recent outing to Bushwick’s Brooklyn Fireproof building, I paid a visit to the studio of Jeremy August Haik, who shares the high-ceilinged space with a handful of fellow local artists. Here, Haik photographs, prints, cuts-out, arranges, and re-photographs small assemblages to produce works that are both playful and considered. He set up shop here shortly after completing his MFA in photography, video, and related media at the School of Visual Arts. Originally from Maryland, Haik still bears a bit of the scruff and scrap that many associate with the art milieu of the Old Line State. He displays his work in traditional formats – large inkjet prints, books, and small magazines – but Haik is a man of many talents who can move fluidly between the realms of digital video, image manipulation, and analog photography. To boot, Haik also writes and contributes to the local publishing venture Conveyor, which is not altogether surprising given the literary nature of his artwork.
The aptly named Un-titled, one of his better-known series, comprises images of vintage book covers that have been digitally denuded of their titles and authors. These literary classics have been manipulated and re-contextualized as mere “containers of information,” as Haik puts it. At the outset, Haik was solely working with books he owned, but as the project progressed he began purchasing others to flesh out his library. We can judge from what Haik has left untouched on each cover that these are seminal works of science, philosophy, and Western thought. Illustrations incorporating Classical iconography and astronomical imagery abound, all inflected with mid-century style. Crucially, we can identify these works as belonging to the libraries of the Baby Boomer generation. For Haik and others his age, these are books that have been handed down from parent to child. This aspect of the series seems to hint at how history and culture are transmitted over time. The books are given additional gravitas through their careworn appearance – they are dog-eared, scuffed, and foxed. Haik’s work to date demonstrates consistent aesthetic and conceptual themes surrounding the malleability of codified knowledge, with each project in his portfolio acting as a chapter of a larger whole. To distinguish between bodies of work, Haik shifts his methodology, variously using erasure, distortion, and the recombination of images to construct his compositions.
The title of his current endeavor, A Unique and Non-Repeatable Science, borrows a bit of verbiage from Roland Barthes. Specifically, Haik is referring to Barthes’s proposal for a utopic blend of the personal and the universal, what the philosopher dubbed a mathesis singularis or a science of individuality. The language of knowledge is the focus of this project, an ongoing body of work that blends clean and minimal surfaces with spontaneous uses of color. To create these images, Haik re-photographs printed imagery from scientific and classical sources through Plexiglas with the use of colored lighting gels. The works in this series are not so much premeditated compositions as they are the confluence of chance and artistic choice. Each picture in the series is the result of experimentation with hundreds of images in which Haik employs varying combinations of colored light, arrangements of printed material, and instant photos. This methodology reflects the artist’s interest in the pliant nature of knowledge and history. Haik’s curiosity is piqued by the implication that the deleterious aspects of transmission could effectively upend our most codified and rigid universal truths. Despite the powerful conceptual current, Haik manages never to get pulled under. He leaves ample room in his work for a far simpler and yet equally provocative implication – beautiful pictures can still be beautiful.