New Orleans

James Hoff: Bricking at the Contemporary Arts Center New Orleans

James Hoff: B=R=I=C=K=I=N=G is the first solo museum exhibition of the artist’s “virus paintings”—works shaped and mediated by Hoff’s engagement with digital technology and computer viruses as opposed to brush or paint. Functioning as a series of études to contemporary computer code, these paintings flirt consciously with the provocative gestures and meta-questions of conceptual art and the heavy visual language and history of abstraction. Shaped only by the rabid aggression of the autonomous computer virus, Hoff’s works raise questions about the circulation and reproduction of digital information in a world marked by WikiLeaks, drone warfare, and the threat of cyberterrorism.

Installation view of James Hoff: B=R=I=C=K=I=N=G at the Contemporary Arts Center New Orleans. Image © Traviesa Studio.

James Hoff: B=R=I=C=K=I=N=G, 2015; installation view, Contemporary Arts Center New Orleans. Image © Traviesa Studio.

Bricking is a term that describes the overload of an operating system when infected by malware, a process that renders the system useless, or at least unable to work for its original purpose. Hoff infects JPEGs, PNGs, and TIFFs with specific forms of malware such as Skywiper and Stuxnet—viruses that have become synonymous with international cyberterrorism[1]—and then digitally converts them into image files that can be transferred to canvas or aluminum. The political weight of these viruses rubs against the formally expressive character of the final works, which seem to engage more with the history of abstraction and the cool, detached vocabulary of formalism than the language of computer code. Thin, horizontal striations of vibrant neon colors seem to liquefy and drip, creating an unusual grainy texture across the surface of the aluminum paintings, whose markings bear a kinship to rough textiles such as coarse, unprimed canvas. The cosmic forms, pulsating colors, and abrupt shifts in tone call up the rich history of pure abstraction, from the cosmic utopian canvases of Wassily Kandinsky to the colored depth of a Mark Rothko.

James Hoff. Skywiper No. 50, 2015; Chromaluxe transfer on aluminum; 60 x 40 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Callicoon Fine Arts, New York.

James Hoff. Skywiper No. 50, 2015; Chromaluxe transfer on aluminum; 60 x 40 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Callicoon Fine Arts, New York.

Despite the hostile process that Hoff uses to compose these works, each painting seems to domesticate the digital attack within the bounds of the frame, turning Hoff’s disruptive gestures into something lyrical. Skywiper No. 50 (2015) is a bacterial force field of battered digital saturations, where mysterious forms seem to bleed into each other, recalling biological arrangements or CGI environments. And yet these works stop short of creating the emotional pitch that abstract art seems to still depend on. The soft pastel colors and delicate fragility of line in a work like Skywiper No. 57 (2015) seem to run uncomfortably close to abstract kitsch, asking viewers to regard the difficult question that surrounds abstract painting today: Has it become a placeholder (or stock image) for pure presence, instead of a politically charged genre that worked to resist materialism? One is left with a disconcerting feeling that Hoff’s paintings are efforts to visualize the mundane, banal, and detached forms of political investment the West seems to depend upon as bombs from unmanned aerial vehicles continue to fall across the world.

James Hoff. Skywiper No. 57, 2015; Chromaluxe transfer on aluminum; 30 x 24 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Callicoon Fine Arts, New York.

James Hoff. Skywiper No. 57, 2015; Chromaluxe transfer on aluminum; 30 x 24 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Callicoon Fine Arts, New York.

An installation of Hoff’s sound work electrifies the gallery and expands Hoff’s serial corruptions in painting to another sensory mode, drawing the visitor’s attention to the relationships between the visual, the spatial, and the auditory. The lazy echoes and deep thumping cuts warm the environment for the works and the listener, as the sounds resounding through the gallery recall the empty, repetitive lulls of easy listening music or the earworms attributed to pop or house dance beats. Gently wooed by the audible materializations of these invasive mutations, one might leave the gallery disturbed and estranged from the works on display, pondering the dazzling efficiency of our digitally resplendent 21st-century society.

James Hoff: B=R=I=C=K=I=N=G is on view at the Contemporary Arts Center New Orleans through February 28, 2016.


[1] These malicious computer viruses are self-destructing worms believed to be jointly built by the American and Israeli governments in order to carry out undetectable attacks against Middle Eastern countries, and in particular Iran’s nuclear program by compromising Iranian nuclear centrifuges and other industrial electromechanical systems to shut down nuclear facilities and conduct espionage from 2005 to 2010. While there are many sources that prove Stuxnet to be the cause of the many breakdowns across Iran’s major nuclear facilities, security expert Bruce Schneier’s “Another Piece of the Stuxnet Puzzle,” published on February 23, 2012, is the most comprehensive. The article can be accessed at The Guardian reports that Stuxnet was used as early as President George W. Bush’s second term under the administration of security company Symantec. See Charles Arthur’s “Symantex Discovers 2005 U.S. Computer Virus Attack on Iran nuclear plants,” published online February 23, 2013. Accessed at A report by Reuters has alleged that the NSA launched Stuxnet to sabotage North Korea’s nuclear program in tandem with the targeted Iranian centrifuges. See Joseph Menn’s “Exclusive: U.S. Tried Stuxnet-Style Campaign Against North Korea But Failed—Sources,” Reuters, May 29, 2015. Accessed at: