On October 31, the photographic duo Inez Van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin will open an exhibition titled “Hi-Lo Transformers” at the Palazzo Reale—a 7,000 square foot former residence for Italian nobility—in Milan.
The show, however, does not include any photographs. Rather, eight preexisting images have been converted into billboard-scale paintings that are “hi” in artistry but “lo” tech. There is an accompanying video series that splices together imagery from the twosome’s archive, but the centerpieces of the presentation are the mammoth paintings.
Unlikely balances—and a filter of dissonance, if not oddness, within them—are something Inez & Vinoodh have long tinkered with in their work. The pair tends to photograph their subjects with minimal editing and stagecraft, but the end result is not necessarily straightforward. There is usually a quirk, an emotive hesitation, or a wrinkle-in-the-norm that causes the familiar to suddenly seem extraordinary. Examples: a black-and-white photo of the model Hiandra Martinez, positioned awkwardly in a chair while wearing fishnet stockings and roller-skates, her face obscured by an overexposed orb of light. Or 3 Yellow Roses, a rendering that details the flowers with hue-attenuated stems and a stark contrast tweak that suggests something urgent and immediate.
Hiandra and 3 Yellow Roses are about as opposite as can be in terms of subject matter, yet both depict entities that are at first forthright before turning mildly disconcerting. The pair’s aim is to continue to expand a “perfectly imperfect” visual language. In doing so, the gravitas of their images grows in tandem.
Transforming photographs into paintings is, by nature of the medium, going to be more of a complex process than a clean one. But the artistic broadening does not detract from Inez & Vinoodhs’ tension as much as it boosts the provocation.
A 1994 photograph, the wildly named Well Basically Basuco is Coke Mixed with Kerosine, is one such work turned over. The original image features two models in hot pants and tank-tops pausing on their bicycles and sharing a popsicle, while a Space Shuttle takes off across what one would presume is Cape Canaveral’s Banana River in the background.
It is among Inez & Vinoodhs’ more striking (and saturated) ideas, a semi-twisted, question-asking snap of ingrained American cliches suspended in a high-gloss timestamp. As an extra-large painting, the mood shifts from bizarre-slick to slightly humorous, with brushstrokes instead of pixels lending a sort of context-brightening impart. Regardless of how one interprets the nuances of Inez & Vinoodhs’ work, one takeaway is certain: the duo are experts in honing in on arresting (even if subtle) exaggeration, and the photos-to-paintings concept only heightens this notion.
Hi-Lo Transformers is on display from October 31 until November 13.