One of the gifts of covering the social scene has been an opportunity to become more familiar with the local amazing art museums, which, in turn, has unearthed a love for, and curiosity about, the art world. Throw in the intersection of technology and well, there’s even more to be wowed by, as this compelling post by new Diary contributor ROBB JAMIESON for Diary Vol. 6 underscores.
What’s art, you ask? Any old, ordinary object, according to French artist Marcel Duchamp, who came up with this concept over a century ago. Conceptual art (amongst many other important events in the art world) followed hot on the heels of his revelation. It prized the idea as paramount and the material form as secondary. With these barn doors blown wide open, artists started looking anywhere and everywhere for new avenues of production, and it was only a matter of time before art and technology began to mingle. Fast forward to today, when something as low-rent as a video of a cat playing the piano on YouTube or as sophisticated as 3D printing can be used to make or be art, as artists are always lurking in the background, ready to exploit technology’s latest – or overlooked – offerings.
From the endless possibilities of the internet and ease of creating digital video to popular gaming culture and the ever evolving smartphone, what’s exciting right now is how accessible and readily available all new technology is. Gone are the days when artists had to grovel to use a video camera the size of a carry-on suitcase (aka the Sony Portapak) to make an art video with the resolution of your grandmother’s needlepoint. Now we all walk around with cameras capable of shooting in high definition and have access to tiny computers powerful enough to manipulate photos and video, or create bespoke content as polished as that of most digital effects companies. All this – plus a generation of young people who’ve grown up only knowing life with computers and the internet – has created a wave of energetic new artists who are as comfortable creating content for Instagram as they are for an art gallery.
“Artists are often the first to take technology that was intended purely for the marketplace and industry to deeper levels, in order to realize their ideas and visions,” explains Cheryl Sim, curator of Montreal’s DHC/ART Foundation for Contemporary Art. “These applications can be celebratory and also critical, but in most ways, artists’ use of technology – from video in the 60s to the re-emergence of virtual reality today – serves to challenge entrenched perceptions of what technologies are meant for and who they serve.”
Take Brooklyn-based Cory Arcangel, one of the first generations of artists who grew up with the technology of computers and video games. He not only uses new forms of technology in his art, it’s also steeped in nostalgia for the digital culture of the past. Gaining international attention for his Nintendo game cartridge manipulations, where he modified circuit boards to create works of art, Super Mario Clouds (2002) is a Mario Brothers game that was modified to only play the clouds that would normally pass by almost unnoticed in the game’s background. The result is a deceptively simple digital piece; a minimalist meditation on art, video, and gaming culture.
Jon Rafman, a world-renowned Montreal artist who is also considered a new tech pioneer, examines the culture of computers and the internet. His ongoing project, 9-Eyes, captures odd and poetic moments taken by the nine cameras that are mounted on the roofs of the cars that take images for Google Street View. Rafman explores the street views for hours, isolating images inadvertently photographed by an automated machine, looking for the art in everyday life.
Another Montreal artist and experimental musician Adam Basanta uses technology, sound and sculpture to show us real, human expressions of emotion using mediums like the smartphone. “Creating work with new technology speaks to this immediate and current understanding of devices,” says Basanta. A Truly Magical Moment is an interactive kinetic sculpture that uses two iPhones mounted on separate selfie-sticks that are facing each other and spinning. The two devices are connected via FaceTime and as they become visible in each other’s screens they start to rotate, recreating the spinning of two lovers gazing into each other’s eyes on a dance floor.
Finally, Nova Scotia-born Hannah Epstein’s tongue-in-cheek approach is very much rooted in pop and online culture as she links DIY video game making, video art, and surprisingly, rug hooking. Epstein weaves hooked rugs with contemporary imagery, from texting symbols to sushi, bringing the old-timey tradition into the Etsy, digital now (Epstein even created a hook rug GIF). “I always describe the hooking as analog pixel art as they’re filled in square by square to complete an image, just like your computer screen does,” says Epstein. “The hook rugs reach into popular culture for dialogue, and because new technology makes the architects and actors of that world so accessible, it’s that part of the digital that somehow comes back and influences the physical.”
Regardless of how these artists are putting it to use, technology is just a new set of tools for them – a means of creating new ways to see and experience the world around us. And if ready-to-use paint in a tube was once considered a new technological benchmark, just imagine how far we’ve come … and where we’re going.
Photography: 3081 Valmont Rd., Boulder, Colorado, USA, 2012, archival pigment print, 101 x 162 cm (40 x 64″), courtesy of the artist and Galerie Antoine Ertaskiran, and for others: HANNAH EPSTEIN, ADAM BASANTA.