"The Shadow of the Virtual Sun," Spike Art Quarterly No. 41 (Autumn 2014): 88–99.
The virtual sun — that illusive light source loitering off the top left corner of our computer screens — rose in 1980, with the first graphical user interfaces. That sun produced the most durable of the screen age's design features: the drop shadow, whose sempiternal penumbra falls just below and to the right of windows and icons. The drop shadow gestures toward some space in there that obeys similar laws to the one out here, where things can be dragged and dropped, pointed at and piled up, where, in short, gesture itself can happen. But the drop-shadow is not long for this world; the virtual sun is setting, taking with it not just an aesthetic, but an ethic. That our computer screens should defer to a physical world is a concept retreating behind, ironically enough, the touch screen. Recent flat-based design templates like Metro for Windows 8 or Goggle's Material Design green the new interface epoch with a quasi-Bauhausian rhetoric of "truth of materials": Let a pixel be a pixel! No more false shadows in false space.
Were Laura Owen's latest paintings imagined as an elegy to this shadow world? Probably not. But as I sift through images on my own computer screen, trying to remember what it felt like to see them — twelve magisterial paintings, three meters wide and nearly three and a half high — I am awakening slowly to a nostalgia I didn't know was in me, much less in them. What happens to touch when we practice it on pixels, when it falls on surfaces that don't touch us back? ...
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