Digital Post-Pop

"It Could Be You" by Marina de Stacpoole, Lambda C-type print, 36 x 49cms, 2011. Copyright the artist, reproduced with permission
“It Could Be You” by Marina de Stacpoole, Lambda C-type print, 36 x 49cms, 2011. Copyright the artist, reproduced with permission

This month’s artist turns Pop art on its head and gives us a digital take on painting that forces us to confront an uncomfortable truth about modern life. British artist Marina de Stacpoole plays out a scene from popular television series Desperate Housewives against a richly-coloured backdrop of the kind more typically seen in computer games animation. Read the full article here: http://www.bcs.org/content/conWebDoc/42102

Richard Hamilton: 1922-2011

I was saddened to hear of the death of Richard Hamilton a couple of days ago. Although I never managed to meet him, his ideas were an important part of my research into the origins of computer arts & ideas in Britain. He is remembered as the father of Pop Art, but less often discussed are his early activites which had an important bearing on the development of digital art in Britain. He had a broad vision of the artist unconfined to one discipline who could think across outmoded divisions in the arts. He ran a groundbreaking course in Basic Design with Victor Pasmore within the fine art department of King’s College, University of Durham at Newcastle-upon-Tyne (early 1950s). This was the most radical and progressive art education available in Britain at the time and was of central importance in creating a context for later developments in computer arts in this Country.

This is Tomorrow catalogue for an exhibition of the same name at the Whitechapel, 1956
This is Tomorrow catalogue for an exhibition of the same name at the Whitechapel, 1956

Hamilton was also involved with the avant-garde exhibition This is Tomorrow at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in 1956. The catalogue of this show contains what I believe is the first published allusion to the computer in relation to artistic practice in Britain.

Hear a good obit on BBC Radio 4, including an interview with Michael Craig Martin who says Richard was fascinated with everything to do with modern technology.

Remembering 9/11

September by Gerhard Richter, 2005
September by Gerhard Richter, 2005

It has been ten years since the devastating attacks on the World Trade Centre and many tributes and analyses are appearing in the media. So much has been written on the astounding and tragic events of 9/11, both at the time and subsequently, that it is difficult for me to know what I can add.

How can art respond to war? I couldn’t resist re-posting this image from a thought-provoking article published last month in the Sunday Times Culture magazine by Bryan Appleyard which addressed this question (28/8/11). For me, this quietly powerful painting, like a lot of Richter’s work, falls within the Romantic tradition and exploration of the nature of the sublime. The 19th-century interpretation of the sublime as something astounding, awe-inspiring, almost un-knowable was formed in relation to man’s concept of the natural world. Here Richter inverts this tradition, painting the almost unbelievable moment that the second plane ploughs into the south tower an act of terrorism seemingly un-knowable. The familiar landmark of the towers is barely visible here as though seen through clouds of carcinogenic dust, ash and soot that their destruction released into the air and which continues to poison those New Yorkers who breathed it in. Curator Robert Storr has written about this picture and says that the unsettling nature of the image is due to its indeterminate depth of field and lack of vanishing point as well as all the baggage of his/her own that the viewer brings when looking at it. Each one of us already has our own visuals of the event as the dramatic media images unfolded live before our eyes as people everywhere watched stunned, glued to the television. Storr continues, September states nothing This is a figment rather than a record of history. Compared with what eyewitnesses can recall even with the passage of time and what video and photography have captured and preserved, Richter’s version or, better said, vision of 9/11/01 is an eroded representation of a monument blown to smithereens, the ghost of a ghost.

It is both representational and abstract and it is the tension between the two that makes this painting more interesting than a documentary photograph.  Storr again: The sense that the image dissolves in front of your eyes is literally part of the illusion.

This modern take on history painting is to be included at a major retrospective of Richter’s work which opens next month at Tate Modern (6 October to 8 January 2012).

I found Why Art failed Us After 9/11 by Nick Gillespie on a similar subject fascinating.

A discussion of what place memorials can have by Simon Schama in the FTWeekend (The Remains of the Day Sept 3-4, 2011), was also well worth reading and described the permanent memorial currently being finished by Arad and Walker at the World Trade Centre site, which will include a museum due to open next year. This prompted me to remember a trip I made to Berlin not long after the wall had come down when I happened by chance upon a memorial by Israeli artist Micha Ullman in the Bebelplatz. This is the site of the infamous Nazi book burning of May 1933. I have a fascination with memorials and the relationship of artists in the creation of these; I would love one day to embark on a project recording and researching particularly war memorials around the world. I have never forgotten this particular memorial for its profound subtlety and aspect of supreme quietness. Nothing is visible above ground as you gaze across the grand, 18th-century architecture of the square; it is not until you are almost on top of it that you notice a small window into the pavement and peering through, realisation dawns that you are looking at row upon row of empty bookcases, partially illuminated by the sun that streams in at an angle. A world without books would be very quiet indeed.

But should it ‘just’ be about memorials? If art reflects the state of the society in which it is made we can look to it to offer clues as to why life is the way it is. Shouldn’t we be seeking a more active role for art, other than memorialising the dead (important though that is)? Art that is interactive and participatory has the power to change people’s lives in the here and now. Brazilian artist Vic Muniz’s inspiring work with garbage pickers in the world’s largest dump outside Rio de Janeiro shows this concept in action to profound effect (documented in the brilliant film Waste Land – easily my favourite art documentary). Muniz’s project highlighted people who tend to be overlooked by society, who felt disenfranchised and gave them a voice in a positive way. Terrorists also want to be heard, whether we wish to acknowledge their complaints as valid or not. Of course this does NOT give anyone the right to perpetrate violence under any circumstances. However surely dialogue is the way forward (look what happened in Northern Ireland when the various parties finally started talking). Buckminster Fuller believed that we are all equal members of one global system and we all need to manage this to keep it in balance. Surely the majority of people would rather see Art than War. Artists occupy a uniquely valuable position they act as creative mediators and facilitators between objects and experiences (real or imagined) and viewers/participators/the rest of us. Let us make more use of them where it counts.

David Hockney: I’m very busy painting England

It was good to hear David Hockney speak of his love of nature when interviewed forBBC’s Front Row tonight. He said that England was a beautiful country and we should all get out more and see it. He also called for a return to studying the discipline of drawing in art schools, as it teaches artists how to look. A show of his landscape painting, mostly of Yorkshire, will be at the Royal Academy next year. Also on view will be drawings from his iPad series and I hope to be able to feature one of these in my column Computer Art Image of the Month next year.

A Sense of Place

Un_Space Mountain, digitally manipulated image by Orly Aviv, 2011
Un_Space Mountain, digitally manipulated image by Orly Aviv, 2011

A ghostly, lone figure appears out of the mist as if something half-remembered from a dream in September’s artwork by Orly Aviv. It’s an image with strong representational, even narrative elements; although the typography of the original location is subsumed the work manages to create a real sense of place. It is a reinterpretation of the Sublime facilitated by the artist’s use of digital technologies. Read the full text here: http://www.bcs.org/content/conWebDoc/41489

Mapping Norfolk, exhibition by Kabir Hussain

I was pleased to attend an excellent exhibition of work by Kabir Hussain from his on-going landscape project – “Mapping Norfolk 3” at the Greyfriars Art Space Kings Lynn, held over the August Bank Holiday weekend. On show were charcoal drawings complimented by wire sculptures both of which had a spacial and linear quality, which he says are “based on a general aspiration of landscape rather than specific locations, they essentially are an exploration of mark-making. These deceptively simple works have a beauty and purity of line that associates them with the tradition of minimalism.

Kabir is involved with the forthcoming Fakenham Contemporary Art show 2011, which also looks to be well worth a visit.

Snettisham, charcoal drawing by Kabir Hussain
Snettisham, charcoal drawing by Kabir Hussain

A Magical Forest That Reacts To Your Presence

Alsos* (installation view) by Scenocosme, 2011. Copyright the artists, reproduced with permission.
Alsos* (installation view) by Scenocosme, 2011. Copyright the artists, reproduced with permission.

Currently on view at Waterman’s in London is this recreation of an imaginary forest by French art duo Scenocosme (Grégory Lasserre & Anaïs met den Ancxt) which aims to turn spectators into apprentice musicians. Read the full article here: http://www.bcs.org/content/conWebDoc/41054

Light Constructed by Numbers

This month’s image is a selection of stills from an interactive digital artwork by French artist Anne-Sarah Le Meur, who is interested in questions such as: How does light behave in a virtual space, constructed only by numbers? How do these numbers allow one to play, to disturb, to possibly twist physical laws of light, when one is not looking to simulate realistic phenomena? Read the full text here: http://www.bcs.org/content/conWebDoc/40701

Still images of Red to Come, performance (30 minutes), computer rendered, by Anne-Sarah Le Meur, 2011
Still images of Red to Come, performance (30 minutes), computer rendered, by Anne-Sarah Le Meur, 2011

Report from the Venice Biennale

The 54th Venice Biennale (titled ILLUMInations  get it?!) is, as to be expected vast but manages to be largely underwhelming, full as it is of found objects, re-positioned, a la Duchamp. However there are some gems to be uncovered spread around the city, if your feet can take the seemingly unending strain.

The prize for Best Artist, rightly in my opinion, went to Christian Marclay for The Clock, 2010 (previously shown in London). The artist has made a composite of film clips that show clocks and watches; he runs these in real time  so if it’s 3.30 pm we might see a clip starring, let’s say, Tom Hanks’ acting in a film in which the fictional time is 3.30; a minute later we might see Nicholas Cage (from a different film) looking at his watch and it’s 3.31. The artist must have used literally thousands of clips from old, middling and current movies; some last a few seconds, others maybe a minute. As an artwork it works on several different levels: It is incredibly seductive to watch. And fun to try and spot the films from which his clips are taken. Marclay also manages to run a loose narrative  people from several different films clips run up stairs, for example, or it rains for several minutes  in a couple different clips. Even people who don’t like art seem to love it. The time involved to produce this, not to mention the skill, is seriously impressive. Can we please have a DVD, so we can watch the entire 24 hours at home?

Here are some more of my highlights:

The Japanese pavilion displays animation by Tabaimo (Ayako Tabata) a young artist inspired by traditional floating world woodblock illustration and contemporary manga imagery. The result is an imaginary city invaded by a creeping sense of unease; at one point a hair-like mass takes over the city a subversion of her inspirations, but a work that still manages a pleasing aesthetic.

Tabaimo, “teleco-soup” still image, 2011 video installation
Tabaimo, teleco-soup still image, 2011 video installation

At the Guggenheim Collection (the former home of American art dealer-patron Peggy Guggenheim), is a show of New York dealer/curator Ileana Sonnabend. A delicate Sol LeWitt wall drawing joins a host of other exquisite things collected by Sonnabend during the 60s and 70s, all of which have a connection with Venice (where she too had a home). Wonderful to see this historic stuff exhibited in the same city as the cutting-edge Biennale art, but makes me wonder if we’ll pay to see the work of today displayed in 40 years time.

Sol LeWitt, Arcs From Four Corners, 1971
Sol LeWitt, Arcs From Four Corners, 1971

Apart from the official exhibitions, many other Venice museums and institutions mount shows during the months of the Biennale. To my mind one of the most rewarding of these for the art lover is at the Palazzo Fortuny (entitled TRA. Edge of Becoming). Here on view is a wonderful kinetic art work by Davide Boriani (b. 1936) from the early 60s  Superficie magnetica. It consist of tiny metal filaments encased in a clear disc, a hidden magnet rotates behind that moves the grey filaments around creating intriguing patterns. This is just the sort of thing, with its connotations of entropy, that pioneering cybernetic artists would have found fascinating.

Superficie magnetica by Davide Boriani
Superficie magnetica by Davide Boriani

Here are rooms full of a wide variety of art and objects from a range of periods and locations collected by the Fortuny family over many years which presumably they lived with and loved, displayed to great effect in a palace which is currently under restoration. What makes this such a marvellous place to visit is not only the opportunity to glimpse a collector’s mindset  they were clearly attracted to the weird, the surreal, light and optical illusions (including a James Turrell light installation), but also the manner in which diverse objects are put together with much thought and care as to placement and ideas (a whole floor is devoted to the concept of doorways). An interesting comparison can be made with the Francois Pinault collection on view at Ponta Della Dogana at the end of the Grand Canal. Here we have a fabulously wealthy collector who appears to have bought, almost as if from a catalogue, one of each of the most famous and bankable contemporary post-pop artists (Hirst, Charles Ray, Jeff Koons, etc). This is not to do down these artists particularly, nor indeed the beautiful restoration of the former Venice customs house that houses it all, but the collection clearly lacks that idiosyncratic, personal touch of artwork acquired over a lifetime, that tells us of the collector and makes a collection like the Fortuny so memorable.

But the best thing so seen so far at this year’s Biennale is an exhibition entitled Penelope’s Labour: Weaving Words and Images at the Giorgio Cini Foundation on San Giorgio Maggiore (the same island that hosted last Biennale’s wonderful Peter Greenaway digital installation). This thoughtful and beautifully-curated show explains the importance of the Jacquard Loom, especially in relation to contemporary tapestry art. I particularly like the apt quote from Ada Lovelace to Charles Babbage (from 1843), printed up on one wall which arguably marks the beginning of the digital age.

Ada Lovelace quote
Ada Lovelace quote

Alongside antique tapestries are displayed works by British artists Marc Quinn and Grayson Perry, whose Walthamstow Tapestry, (following the example of the Bayeux piece) tells an ironic story of 21st Century consumerist life in Britain and is a magnificently witty contribution to contemporary art that deserves to be put on display somewhere permanently. (I hear some of his work is heading for display at the British Museum later this year, maybe this work will make it?) Perry is a consummate draughtsman and this fine work does justice to a skill sadly too often overlooked in avant-garde contemporary art. Here is a blind Guggenheim being led by a guide dog – Sotheby’s:

Detail of Walthamstow Tapestry by Grayson Perry
Detail of Walthamstow Tapestry by Grayson Perry
Marc Quinn quote
Marc Quinn quote

Autonomous Art Making Machine

Following his recent show in Cork Street, this month’s image is by that great pioneer Harold Cohen, the only artist I know who is tackling the problem of building a program that actually makes art, rather than modelling human art-making.  Summer Equinox (below) is representative of the latest development of AARON his art making computer program, and uses paint applied by Harold by hand over underpainting produced by the program.  Read the full article here :http://www.bcs.org/content/conWebDoc/40294

Summer Equinox by Harold Cohen, 2010. oil over pigment ink on canvas, 121.9x192.7 cms. copyright the artist, reproduced with permission
Summer Equinox by Harold Cohen, 2010. oil over pigment ink on canvas, 121.9×192.7 cms. copyright the artist, reproduced with permission