Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The Art of Coding

Two small exhibitions are triggering deep cogitations about the relationship between art and technology. At first sight, they do not appear to have a connection, one features abstract landscapes, the other figurative pieces, but they both involve computers. B=R=I=C=K=I=N=G from James Hoff and Digital Pictorialism: An Exhibition of Images Produced With Code from James L Dean are located in different areas of the city, the former at the Contemporary Arts Center in the New Orleans Art District and the latter at Staple Goods, a collective art gallery in the Saint-Claude Arts District.
James Hoff's works fill one room on the second floor of the Contemporary Art Center in a traditional display of "paintings" lined up along the four walls. An odd addition is brought up by holes in the walls exposing wooden structures from the building itself. A closer look at the abstract works is a surprise due to the texture of the "canvas" and the consistency of the "paint". The eight numbered Skywiper are chromaluxe transfers on aluminum. David Everitt Howe wrote a detailed critique about the resulting pieces in Art Review . The title of the works are worth an explanation. Skywiper is the name of the virus which after infecting a program produces the abstract landscapes. A wall text at the entrance provides a description of the process involved: "Hoff distills the visual file to code, unearthing a subtext, underlying every image, as well as competing visual field, a linear mapping of signs and alternating color. He then infects that field with contemporary malware, in this case the Skywiper virus". More information is available about the virus and its previous use (politics are involved). The artist who relates to William Burroughs's ideas has previously experimented with viruses in music and now applies the technique to visual art and also architecture. The holes in the wall are designed according to a jpeg picture of the room infected by the virus. Contrasting with the Brooklyn's artist threatening world of viruses, uncontrolled replication, disease, corruption and ultimately destruction, Dean's works bathe in a peaceful atmosphere, filled with bunches of flowers, still lifes or calm interiors reminiscent of seventeenth Century Dutch paintings including a classic memento mori. This time, in the realm of photography, the creation of a program is the key to the production of the art. The process involves several stages described with minutia at the start of the exhibition. A very informative text written by Minka Stoyanova Reading Digital Pictorialism completes the display.
To appreciate the two exhibitions takes some background in computer technology. Did you know that bricking, the title of Hoff's exhibition, refers to "the overload of an operating system when infected with malware, which renders it useless, at least for its originally intended purposes." Nevertheless, the two artists's use of the technology as a new medium to produce visual art is futuristic and inescapable. Abstract or figurative, through the manipulation of images, art is becoming deeply involved with the world of computers and the artist may not need assistants to mix paint or prepare a canvas anymore, but will need coders, developers, engineers...
At the end, can the list of processes used to produce the art be replicated? We all heard: "My child could draw like that" Are we going to hear "My child can code like this". If you are computer savvy, it seems that you can become an artist. The use of the technology is here to stay, the resulting piece of art ultimately will define who is an artist.

photographs by the author

James Hoff "Skywiper No.52" and "Skywiper No.83", 2015
                   "Skywiper No.33", 2015
James L Dean "Haydel-Jones Plantation House in Edgard, LA"
                       "Broad Stroke Chrysanthemums"

B=R=I=C=K=I=N=G till February 28 at the CAC
"Digital Pictorialism: An Exhibition of Images Produced With Code" just closed this week

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