Digital Approaches to Fine Art: Afterthoughts

So as one last assignment, we have been asked to reflect on digital approaches to fine art after having spent a semester researching and making digital art. To be perfectly honest, I had no idea exactly how broad of an area digital art is. The notion of “digital approaches to fine art”, I have come to find, includes not just Photoshop and photography, but also video art, sound art, and the Internet itself, to name a few. It also refers to the ways in which various media can be used, either to evoke a certain response from the viewer, or to explore new uses of new media.

The digital art world often references the ever growing impact that technology has on our daily lives, making it an art form that is quite relevant to our times. More and more frequently, artists use the technology that we see on a day to day basis in order to create art that comments on the omnipresence of technology in our lives. So in a way, I guess my thoughts on digital art have remained somewhat the same: in an age when technology has become intertwined with how we go about our lives, it seems only natural that art has evolved in such a way that it uses digitalized media to comment on current culture. What has changed, however, is my understanding of the various levels that digital art acts on. As an art form, it is extremely thought provoking in that deals with the immediate present – as technology is an ever evolving category, so is digital art. It is also an extremely exciting art form because it goes far beyond traditional techniques, pushing the limits of what art is and how various media can be used, while pushing the viewer’s understanding of the work.

Lantern Project

Stephen Vitiello

Stephen Vitiello is an electronic musician and sound artist from Richmond VA, who also works as a curator of of film, video, and sound art for Electronic Arts Intermix, an important distributor of artist’s videotapes. Vitiello originally started working at Electronic Arts Intermix as an electronic guitarist, but his interests evolved over time as he became more exposed to artists and their ideas. Today, he blends “incidental atmospheric noises into mesmerizing soundscapes”. His work is highly experimental, and fuses sound and installation to manipulate our perception of the surrounding environment.

I don’t have much experience with sound art, but i thought Vitiello’s work was really cool. His soundscapes are quite complex – he experiments with a wide variety of sounds, ranging from more traditional musical instruments such as the clarinet, electronic guitar, voice, and windchimes; to the less traditional, including rice, chocolate sprinkles, broken records, tape, and street noises. Although many of the soundscapes are without an underlying melody, they are extremely intriguing because of their ability to alter mood. Vitiello achieves this though subtle techniques such as the use of minor keys, dissonant chords, rhythm, crescendo, etc. Vitiello pairs the soundscapes with large-scale installations – he typically designs a room in which people can sit or lie down and experience the work. The types of installations range in complexity and aesthetics – Some are almost psychedelic, as in Something Like Fireworks, where people lie on their backsĀ  in a room, while sound and colored light emanate from a giant speaker installed in the ceiling. Others are stark – the setting might be in an open warehouse or a make-shift shack in the desert. In this way, Vitiello utterly manipulates our environment as we experience his work, and thus manipulates the overall experience.

Measured Time

“Where the two times meet, desperation. Where the two times go their separate ways, contentment. For, miraculously, a barrister, a nurse, a baker can make a world in either time, but not in both times. Each time is true, but the truths are not the same.”

– Alan Lightman, Einstein’s Dreams

Paul Pfeiffer

Paul Pfeiffer was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, in 1966, but grew up in the Philippines. He moved to New York in 1990, where he studied at Hunter College and was involved in the Whitney Independent Study Program. Pfeiffer’s work has often been described as “groundbreaking” – he combines sculpture, video, photography, and computer technology to “dissect the role that mass media plays on our consciousness”. As such, Pfeiffer’s work generally focuses on sports events. What makes his work “novel” is the method in which he uses computer technology to remove visual information, such as the numbers and names on player’s jerseys, or the actual players themselves, which ultimately focuses our attention on the spectators. As a result, we are able to objectively view our reactions as a culture to things like sports matches and celebrities.

In my opinion, the fact that Pfeiffer often displays his work on tiny LCD screens is the most interesting aspect of his art. The edited films are sometimes displayed on what appear to be camcorder screens, which not only creates a very intimate relationship with the documented event, but also references our culture. As a culture, we have become obsessed with sports to such an extent that we feel the need to document individual games so that they live on for eternity. In a way, we glorify the game and the players in such a manner that they are elevated to the status of eternal beings – essentially, we put them on a pedestal, to be admired and emulated. I think Pfeiffer also does an excellent job in portraying this mindset by focusing our attention on one solitary figure, as in The Saints, or by totally removing the players. The roar of the crowd and the faces and gestures of the spectators become our main focus. Personally, I think this technique suggests that the fans are the driving force behind sports culture, and are directly involved in the glorification of the game and the players.

Muybridge Exercise

Bill Viola

Bill Viola is a contemporary conceptual video artist whose work appears mostly as video installations. He grew up in New York and graduated from Syracuse University in 1973 with a BFA in Experimental Studios. Viola’s work is mostly about experience – he strives to capture human experience such as birth, death, consciousness, and the vast array of human emotions. His work also has a spiritual element, and explores traditions from both Eastern and Western cultures. In my opinion, his portrayal of the two cultures acts as a way to bridge the gap created by their differences. One of the major themes in Viola’s work is that it is easy to identify with it – despite our individual cultures and backgrounds, Viola’s art appeals to us as humans largely because we can relate to it.

I’ll admit, I was most impressed with Viola’s work when it was in the form of video stills. Although the full length videos are impressive, the stills have an immensely a dramatic quality to them, which I feel encapsulates the emotion/experience that is portrayed. Part of the reason why they are so effective in this form is that they present the emotional experience without any context. Because of this, it becomes both an emotional and a visual experience.The viewer can then be free to interpret it in such a way that relates to him or her in the best way – it allows the experience to be more open ended. That said, there are certain aspects to the videos that can only be expressed in video form. In Reflection Pool, for example, the central figure hangs suspended in air for minutes at a time, while the reflection pool underneath him ripples peacefully and, at one point, shows the reflection of two figures as they walk around it. Three quarters of the way through the video, the pool becomes rippled as though someone has jumped in it, although the figure continues to hang frozen in air. The main intent of the video, I think, is to capture the precise moment where the tranquility of the reflection pool is disturbed, and then to hold it there. In this way, the entire work is almost like a photograph in and of itself, in that it captures time and distinctly describes a moment. What causes it to differ from photography, however, is the sense of tension that is caused by breaking the tranquility, and the subtle passage of time as the figure hangs motionless, then slowly fades away.

A couple of his other pieces struck me as particularly impressive. Silent Mountain shows a man screaming violently, expressing extreme anguish. It is a powerful piece because we can relate to the emotion being expressed, but at the same time it maintains a layer of ambiguity – we empathize with the man, but we also wonder what circumstance could have produced such extreme despair, and find ourselves reflecting on our own such experiences. Additionally, it deals with dualism, which Viola uses in a lot of his art. The main idea behind dualism is that we cannot fully understand the extent of an experience until we have experienced its opposite. Observance as well deals with human emotion. In this case, the video features a line of observers. As the people in the line make their way to the front, we catch a glimpse of silent grief on each of their faces. The video is in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The black background focuses our attention directly on the faces of the figures illuminated in the foreground, reminding us of the impact the event had on our lives – it touched everyone and enveloped the entire country in fear and grief. I think Viola intentionally leaves the video somewhat open-ended by not showing what the observers are looking at so that the viewer can reflect on his or her personal experience. Overall, I was extremely intrigued by Viola’s work because of just how relateable it is to the viewer. What I find most intriguing about it, though, is that despite the fact that it is easily relateable, it remains open to interpretation. At the same time that Viola expresses his own experiences, he allows us to experience them as our own, and allows us the freedom to derive our own individual interpretations.

Jenny Holzer

Jenny Holzer is a conceptual artist from Ohio with a diverse education in fine arts, including several degrees from RISD. Her work focuses on public space, and mainly involves LED projections of text in a public atmosphere. Holzer’s use of media includes bronze plaques, painted signs, stone benches and footstools, stickers, T-shirts, condoms, paintings, photographs, sound, video, and the Internet, to name a few. Holzer’s use of language in her work is meant to provoke a response from the viewer, and often comments on society. Her intent is to address things that are often overlooked, or hidden.

Holzer’s work reminded me greatly of Barbara Kruger’s, a conceptual artist who combines text and image to comment on society. Kruger’s bold assessments of contemporary society have made her one of my favorite artists, so naturally I loved Holzer’s work. It is explicit enough to be recognized as a critique, yet at the same time it remains slightly ambiguous, so that the meaning is specific to the viewer. I think it is fascinating how the use of text manipulates what the viewer is thinking, but at the same time allows the viewer to derive his or her own meaning from the words before them. It generates an emotional response that is so unique, and so powerful. A couple of my favorites were projections on what appears to be a cityscape in the first, and a cloudy night sky in the second. The first proclaimed, “This is no fantasy”, while the second warned “Don’t allow the lucid moment to dissolve”. The actual photographic quality of the projections is stunningly eerie, especially in the second. Both i felt demonstrated this sense of ambiguity yet specificity that I think is a driving force in Holzer’s work. Although I derived certain meanings that I could apply to my own life, I thought that Holzer’s main intent was to denounce complacency, and to encourage viewers to be more aware of reality of the world we live in.

Jeff Baij

Jeff Baij does not provide a lot of information on himself which, as we discussed in class, i found to be an interesting comment on the availability of information on the web. What I have gathered from looking at his work is that he is a digital artist who uses the Internet as his medium. His work includes GIF files, sound bites, text and sound collages, photoshop images, and several interactive pieces, to name a few. I was particularly intrigued by his latest GIF files (3/7/11), which reminded me of MRI brain scans that quickly morph into imploding and exploding brains, respectively. I found myself mesmerized by its simultaneous clarity and ambiguity.

Baij’s work to me seems to cater largely to the viewer, whether it deals with viewer interaction, as in ANIMALMIXUP!, the manipulation of visual information to control our perception of the work, or the actual reaction of the viewer. He seems to be establishing a method of communication with the viewer. That said, he often leaves the viewer wondering, what exactly is it about his work that makes it art? Much of what he does deviates from what we expect to be seeing from a working artist. A large portion of his work appears to be rudimentary exercises in photoshop, as with Animals Made of Things, in which he creates animal shapes using (what I assume to be) preselected prints in photoshop. However, a large portion of his work is quite complex, such as hisĀ  GIF and mp3 files. What I think is unique about his work is its novelty. Yes, some of it might seem rudimentary, but what is exciting about it is that he is one of the first to present what you can do in photoshop in an artistic context. Furthermore, Baij interacts directly with the viewer in a humorous way. My favorite example of this was Shitty Food in a Gallery. Baij pictures some debatable looking concoctions, then adds gallery-style lighting which ultimately glorifies the shitty food. Overall, Baij’s work struck me as uniquely creative and quirky.

The Outerbanks Project