Visual Culture: John Garcia Turns Sound Clash Tapes Into Photorealistic Paintings

November 25, 2015

Words by Jesse Serwer
Images Courtesy of the Still House Group

Before the advent of YouTube gave everyone with an Internet connection immediate access to a massive global library of recorded video, documents of underground culture were shared, quite literally, hand to hand. For fans of reggae sound clashesโ€” short of being in the room yourself at one the events themselves โ€” experiencing this sub-culture required one to obtain video tapes of dubious quality, via street vendors or through mail order from a small community of specialized archivists. These tapes (or, in later years, DVDs) often reached the end consumer in a degraded state, their fuzzy quality the result of multiple duplications, or perhaps previous viewings of that same copy. Today, this degradation โ€” once an unfortunate but unavoidable byproduct of the process โ€” adds to the charm of these antiquated analog artifacts, many of which are now accessible instantly online.

Sound clash tapes, and the many layers of audio and visual duplication involved with them, are among the inspirations in “An Echo is An Echo is An Echo,” the debut New York exhibition from Spain-born artist John Garcia. Currently on view atย The Still House Group gallery in Red Hook, Brooklyn, the show “examines how breakdowns in recorded sound and image create echoes, and how this mechanism has both been affected by, and the inspiration behind, technological advances in recording and production.” In other words, it’s an art show inspired by the act of dubbing, both of the audio and visual variety.

The show illustrates how antiquated and obsolete modes of communication are being coveted once again. As the artist points out in his notes for the show, superior digital technology is now used to mimic outdated tape delays and analog methods in audio recording; high-quality images shot on state-of-the-art cellphones are shared on Instagram using digital recreations of Polaroid artifacts.

“An Echo is An Echo is An Echo,” which runs through Dec. 4, includes displays of early tape delay units such as the Tascam Porta 02 and the Roland Space Echoโ€”machines used by engineers and producers to create the echoes in early dub recordings. As if to clarify exactly what dub is in its most purely analog form, the show’s opening included a live performance by a trio of guitarists executing live auditory delay.



The show also features a series of paintings based on screenshots from the title screens of Garcia’s own collection of sound clash and sound system videotapes. The photorealistic canvas paintings capture the fuzziness familiar to anyone who recalls watching sound clash tapes during the VHS days. (Or, anyone who’s spent time viewing those tapes as they now appear on YouTube). “The majority of the soundclashes were shot on VHS, and now prominently bear the artifacts of the medium,” Garcia tells LargeUp.ย “Some of them Iโ€™ve already lost and some of them I donโ€™t even remember having. Taken from low resolution uploads, digital pixelation also affects the type and image.”

Garcia further explains the process used to make the images in the show: “Once I had the images I wanted to work with, I printed them on canvas. This added another layer of duplication, and another layer of artifacts, to the image. Finally, I paint the surface of the canvas. This allows me to alternately bring out or push back specific parts of the image, such as interlacing or printer stains.”

Adding further context, Garcia says: “These soundclashes remind me a lot of dub music in generalโ€”the modulations they have gone through are a result of multiple [duplications]. Dub producers take existing tracks and riddims and rework them, adding delays and reverbs, and sub-tracking various musical information. Recreating and reworking a piece of music, these producers do the aural equivalent of what is done with these soundclash videos… As strong as the visuals are, the music from these soundclashes is the real attraction.”

Here, the artist offers some notes on the origins of the paintings in the series.

Metromedia and Fatman

Technically, this event was Metromedia vs Aries. Late 1980โ€™s in Jamaica โ€“ Dancehall Fever series. There is some Danny Dread, of the Volcano Posse, snuck into the video as well.

Jah Shaka
john-garcia-sound-clash-tapes-jah-shakaLondon, 1989.ย  Zulu Warrior is featured as well. Mainly, Jah Shaka dances around the stage in between tracks.

Don Champion john-garcia-sound-clash-tapes-don-champion
Taken from a video of Jamdown Rockers performing live in London. The special guest and star of the show is Joe 90.

Mikey Dread

This image originated in the Deep Roots Music documentary series. The titles were the same for each episode of the show, but the screenshot is specifically from the Black Ark episode. The first shot is of Lee Scratch Perry suddenly emerging from the ocean.