Fall 2013: Digital Art sells!
Show Off: Dominique Moulon guides the special visit for ACM Siggraph members.
Digital art in Paris blossomed this Spring, and matured for the Fall harvests.
- Nothing so new. More a stability on some lines, including a come-back of kinetic and lights arts.
- An impressive success of Show Off, with more than 70 artists.
- Sales seem to increase, and enough to feed the profession (artists, galleries, shows).
One month ago, we set out three questions about digital art in the Parisian Fall:
-1. how far will progress the most advanced techniques, like generative creation, interactive works and immersive worlds, not forgetting the "transmedia" environment?
-2. how will the public and the collectors will take it? Will the collectors forget their prejudices and dare to buy these "soft" products?
-3. and, of course, but that kind of information is difficult to gather by the critic, how will behave the prices?
Unzi Kim: Be-ing in space. Asia emergence in the digital art world.
The remarkable success of the Show Off, due to the strong engagement of Vanessa Quang and Dominique Moulon, with some 70 artists present, brought us clear and optimistic answers. Digital works were also present in (see our reports): Fiac, Slick, Art Elysées and Design Elysées, Cutlog and YIA. We found this Fiac particularly boring, as it was probably the case for ArtPress reporters, since their "Special Fiac" issues does not says a word about it. Once again, thanks to Galerie Denise René, who was presenting several digital artists (but remains very attentive not to limit itself to this specialty). Digital works were present also on other events this fall: La Panacée in Montpellier, Biennale de Lyon and Ars Electronica in Linz (Austria) all three reported on by Dominique Moulon. In later articles, we shall deal with the digital literature event Cherchez le texte and with the Parisian presentation of Anaheim's Siggraph.
Then we dare present a synthesis based the hundred artists exposing this Fall. With the inevitable risks of omissions and inaccuracies in so vast a topic and sometimes due to the lack of information in the catalogs and websites. Before a detailed presentation organized mainly by the different techniques used, let's answer to our three opening questions.
1. - Advanced techniques. We are a little disappointed. Generative creation, interaction, immersion and transmedia did not break new grounds this Fall. We shall have to understand why in later analyses. Let's propose just two lines of explanation:
. Art shows and galleries, with their "white cube" mode of presentation and reception of the customers are not appropriate to immersion (as explained Moulon about the Langheinrich work, presented in spite of a non adequate environment), to interaction (which its high demands on the public to engage seriously into, or possibly to mediation staff), less even to transmedia (here looking more as a sort of parasitism than as a natural extension and remix process).
A visitor spreading (to use a Jenkins word) from a Chevalier's work.
. Galleries and collectors need some guaranties on the perenniality (technical and economic) of their investment. Some stabilization of the creation on stable lines and types of work may help bring confidence. They may be reassured by the come back of pre-digital art forms, mainly kinetic and lights. A trend attested as well by young artists like Tim Lewis as by vintage ones like Tinguely. As says Moulon (our translation) "We have seen this year in Paris the re-emergence of kinetic art on the market, from public places like Palais de Tokyo and Grand Palais to Denise René Gallery. That proves an evident filiation, and digital artists like Dombis know what they owe to an Art history which validates the contemporary digital art practice".
2. Public and collectors respond positively. Several artists we know are more striving to deliver than lacking customers. All the shows were successful and sometimes crowded. And still better for the artists, galleries and show organizers, they sell! Enough to "give work to the galleries" or to pay off for a generously open event as is Show Off. This exhibition brings argument in favor of a digital art proud of itself rather than trying to melt into the general "contemporary art" market (which no doubt is healthy, as prove the 3% increase in sales announced by Fiac
3. As for the prices, Show Off proves here also its openness, with the pages "Price variation selection" in its catalog, ordered by price ranges, from "less than 1000" euros to "more than 15 000 euros". It seems clear that digital art is globally too young for the high prices reached by more classical forms of art. But the future could be bright, if we consider that "light art", for example a rather simple work by Morellet (a white neon tube and some acrylics) may sell for around 50 000 euros.
A word about digital art geography: from a worldwide standpoint, a Parisian fall can't do else than show a pre-eminence of French artists. But Show Off made an opening with an important Canadian presence. They bring a kind of soft humor that contrast with the serious/anxious attitude of most French artists (including diccan). And we could see the first fruits of Asian digital art, with a work by the Chinese Du Zhenjun and one by the Korean Unzi-Kim at (Slick). From Asia, it's too early for a global appreciation. Up to now, Japan has been much more an inspiratin for Western arists than Chinese or Indians. And Koreans are really newcomers in the Cultural "petit monde". One thing is sure: that will change, and perhaps rapidly.
The kind of matrix that Desbazeille applies , alas too well, to art discourse (digital or not). By itself an Oulipian sort of generative art
For the detailed presentation of the artists, we shall follow the different media or techniques they use. A perhaps materialist if not marxist approach. We have tried an approach by the themes dealt with, the kind of emotions artists want to arise in their spectators. It does not work. Nearly all of them attempt to create surprise, sometimes to destabilize. Some call for attention to general issues: ecological (waters rising) or political (surveillance). Others play technique for technique sake. The global mood is a slightly schizoprenic or paradoxical attitude: use the latest technologies to stir technophobia.
Unfortunately, the "art discourse" of the artists, their communication advisers and the critics as well do not help to draw a better landscape of emotions. This vacuum was presented at Show Off as a sort of meta-digital art... the performance of Desbazeille about the discourse on digital art. She plays it à la Oulipo, with sentence parts used in infinite combinations. Dominique Moulon, as a journalist, was open minded enough to promise that he would try to write better (Desbazeille did not tell about diccan's talk, but we hope that she will apply her humor to us also, and help us to make progress).
Diccan in itself can be considered a sort of work of art, trying to apply hypertext commodities as far as possible to an understanding in depth of digital art. But, as other artists, we must face uncertainty and at times, wrong tracks. In any case, we give here links to all our sources, and if they can be of use by other critics, with other standpoints and conclusions, we shall be happy to signal them to our readers.
Let's now dive into the living rising tide. For each artist, we give a link onto their item in diccan. If not specified, the works were presented at Show Off. The links LP (La Panacée in Montpellier) , BL (Biennale de Lyon) and AE (Ars Electronica) connect onto Moulon's posts about these events.
Spamm in performance: real time image and music.
Art fairs are not the right places for sound and music creation. But music accompanies mavy of the presented works and installations. Mestaoui, Nyeki or Vernhes, among others consider important the part of music composition in their graphic or plastic oeuvre. Note the complex sound interactions of Gommel (LP)and Random (AE). And of course the Spamm/Sliders performance.
Still graphics: Photography and what remains of painting
At the limits of the digital, several photographers show pictures interesting by their subject, although with minimal or simple touch-up. We could speak of documentary art. Wagon is daring mainly by the locations and characters she presents (dancing poses of soldiers and passers-by in Irak) Fournier shoots curious things. Hillaire records casual sights, which he calls Photomobiles.
Rauh adds some local effects, adding flat hues here and there. Brunet touches more in deep, with blurred landscapes (BL). Duval and Ronsiaux use special effects to call attention of the effects of Earth waters rising.
Du Zhenjun: compositing in the deep.
Deeper processing is presented along two axes: compositing and rendering, both ways possibly leading to completely abstract images.
On the compositing axis, Levesque is the most basic. He superposes several stripes of images (possibly coming in real time from Internet), with the expected effects or similarity and contrast. Zhenjun combines manually a lot of similar images, for example of large towns, evoking for instance the Babel tower seen by Brueghel. Maubert inlays seismic records of Fukushima into cloudy backgrounds. Dombis applies algorithmic iterations nearly down to white noise.
On the rendering axis,
- Couzinet-Jacques (BL) blurs and process portraits down to cloudy shapes (which would be compared to the abstract forms of Le Meur, for instance,
- Moben, transforms images as a "collective retinal memory",
- Hershman draws a target sign on the blurred image of persons,
- Luxereau gets a model of cranium then gives it specificity by meaningful hues (red for Ferrari...),
- Melançon is perhaps the most geek of all, shooting not with a camera but with a scanner and working them up with a lot of tools.
Rioux: back to basics. But why not?
Rioux with his 4096 cubes seems to do once more what Mohr or Molnar did some 50 years ago. But, after all, since Tinguely and Morellet are selling today, why not to keep on old recipes. But it is surprising from a competent computer specialist, albeit with a mainly musical curriculum.
Video and animation
Documentary, realistic, figurative nature
As in photography, some artists propose mainly documents. Digital tools may be a way to get original image. For example, Daniaux makes use of a webcam to give images of a remote place (Antarctic) and get them in a place when you cannot actually live.
Sester: photography by other means than a camera.
But the processing can go deeper. Sester captures the real through X rays. Vehicles, for example, then works digitally on the shots. Sufrin films the night down to nearly black images. Trafik does the same, in a more abstract, stylized form. Perconte starts with normal films but processes deeply.
Langheinrich: take your time if you want to get the gist of it.
Spamm tends to integrate documents, but only as secondary, let's say decorative motifs in complex real-time video performance Abstract, tending for document integration. Nyeki is nearer to animation, but on biologic themes.
Human body and faces may be interesting just by the subject play, for instance the self-filming of Cortright. It may lead to interaction, as does Ikam. Or bio-art with Orlan. This year we could see new ideas. For instance the sort of shower cubicle installed by Unzi-Kim (Slick). A sort of inverted immersion, should we say. And, difficult to apprehend without effort and patience, the slow evolution of dancers by Langheinrich. All these works (but Cortwright who is rather funny) speak with a sort of gravity. Human body demands respect.
On the opposite, pure abstraction... we find also oppositions. For example in two technically simple works, the RGB presentation of Biederman or the quite blank/gray noise of Schmitt. With a little more complexity, and some interactivity using tactile screen, we find the recent works of Agam (Fiac) or Cruz-Diez (Fiac). Torres (Fiac) grows each season in complexity, this time with some kind of texture.
Myrvold explaining her multiplied images
Others reach abstraction through deep processing of images: Chatonsky with enlarge fingerprints. Leegte lends a "natural" texture to a monochrome (blue) picture, à la Yves Klein. Difficult to find the starting point of Quevillon or Catala (BL). Dupuis operates generation and filtering.
Let's conclude with three artists stressing technical advanced techniques:
- Guess and his abstract games on pixels, somehow comparable to Perconte's glitch, but with totally different means,
- Myrvold, multiplying her images through a bush of screens, with the wires evoking roots and stalks,
- Lemercier (see above).
Lemercier: projection mapping.
Video is combined with sculpture by several artists : Penelle (Slick) in a large installation, Paris setting a 3D object on a screen born by a plinth, Schmitt (at Galerie Charlot) and his new projection of pixels on pebbles, Verlinde lighting a translucid mass with generative light moves,
More complex are the Indelible by Vernhes, with both a projection and an animation on a screen, parted by wooden slats. And a summit is reached with Fitch (BL), with its large sofa facing a screen, with several projectors and enhanced interaction.
Kinetic and lights
Simple, mechanic plus some lights
It may be surprising that motors and lights keep such a place in the realm of digital art, much more "modern" and possibly complex. But the reality is here: in Show Off like in all the events of this fall, kinetic and light artists are significantly present.
Lewis: Indelible... and perennial?
Younger artists carry on this form of art:/ the opening/closing books of Moody, or the bizarre garden machine of Villeneuve (The last March of the King), the circulating tapes of Ei_Wada (AE) and the vinyl sphere of Suzuki. Deserving a special mention, the drawing machines of Lewis (at Cutlog) are purposely crude in their material, their design and the repetitive kind of work they do. Crude but not so easy: each one draws, repetitively of course, a not so bad drawing: a love heart or a rabbit's head.
Castonguay makes an elegant and funny use of LED on bicycle wheels. Using the retina remanence, a proper control of the LED's let generate any form. He has chosen texts. LEDs also are displayed and dancing on the cable sculptures of Le_Boucher (AE), in a totally different way (that proves the vertiginous versatility of thes small light devices!).
Saint-Aubin: will you play with me?
Saint-Aubin, a highly technical man, just shows here a form of humor with spoons and eggs, evoking the complexity and randomness of daily life.
Sculpture and robotics
About the present fad for 3D printing, one can understand the irritation of Christian Lavigne, a pioneer in digital sculpture and 3D printing, about the present fad for this new creation tool. He presented sophisticated works for instance at a show at Cité des Sciences in 2005 organized by the Paris ACM Siggraph (see its former website). At Siggraph 2006, we could see a sophisticated work, the Hilbert Cube by Carlos Sequin which we commented about.
Hence the works of Babiole and Chevalier, from this standpoint, look like first pies in a sandbox. But Babiole makes it into a conceptual art, and Chevalier, with its large material voxels, extends the process far beyond its standard dimensions (some centimeters, generally). And his "Thinker" has style, no doubt.
Chevalier: Think, real size.
We get mixed feelings also with the not so digital (or did we miss something?) ceramics of Nogues, the recycling by Guez of standard objects into a meditation about numbers, or the modeled craniums of Sismo. The big tree roots by Margolis are beautifully carved, but the technical gimmick of videos seen through polarizing slides are not highly digital (we feel). At least it takes to a quiet and possibly collective interaction play.
Robotics proper is quite absent, if not with the elaborate works of Demers (AE). That may be due to the disappearance of Aibo dogs and similar high level toys. So we no longuer see the Red Riding Hood of Aziosmanoff of the dogs of Cadet.
Rather simple interactions with beautiful digital objects are offered by the matrix of fans by Djeff , the mirrors of Rozin and the bowls of " Courchesne. The interaction is more engaging with the woman in the mirror by Dubois. We are called to a more meditative, with moves, sounds and lights in the nearly mystic, oriental mood, of Mestaoui.
Toma: art engaging in a semi-real entrepreneurship.
Performance is not easily welcomed art shows, even if the auditorium of Espace Cardin among others venues offers some possibilities, used by Slide with Spamm, see spamm.arte.tv 1.2 . A performance of Galloway and Rabinowitz was documented at La Panacée in Montpellier. Cod Act presented Pendulum choir, a complex work with performers, at Ars Electronica (under document form only). The same for Shonibare's Odile and Odette.
Meunier: How often is "Je pense" written on the web? Web search is here translated into kinetic art.
The web is here seen mainly from outside. To give of it a global view is a recurrent topic for Moben, with its Mechanics of emotions, a kind or artistic cartography. Maigret combines multiple images into a global one, as a sort of control room. Levesque does it with just some superposed image stripes. Meunier searches for moves on the web including the "Je Pense" (I think) sentence, then uses that to control a bizarre (but of pleasant design) sort of counter.
More from inside, Fornieles selects objects, and let you enter the history. (BL) and Hansen opens a new kind of dialogue, working also with Ben Rubin.
Desbazeille , working here more as a sociologist than an artist, makes visible the fact that SMS constrains users all over the world, including countries with ideographic writing, to use the Western alphabetic means to transcribe their phonetics.
Desbazeille: SMS exchange demands every language to be translated in Wester alphbet.
Bio-Art is a technically difficult, costly and potentially dangerous. It may be practiced at different experimental depths, which were all present this fall:
- properly speaking, it works with living material: Eduardo Kac with his rabbits, Vanmechelen (AE) with his chickens, Orlan with her own body; as nearly always, these experiments are not really exposed, but presented through documents (photos and videos), or through performances (a specialty of Stelarc, a forerunner in this domain). Orlan made a step ahead, with a complete modeling of her body, presented as a cutaway moving video, a non-photo-realistic rendering using Lambert shading.
Orlan: after bio-art on her own body, modeling and non-photo-realistic rendering to send her feminist message.
- it can be shown or presented by any form of art, images, videos, possibly interactive Nyeki with music and humor
- it can be abstractly modeled with "artificial life"algorithms, abstractedly by Zajega (Slick) or in concrete presentations like the typewriter of Sommerer and Mignonneau or the viral effects of Nechvatal (a forereunner, aptly included in Show Off).
A wave to the geeks
Let's conclude with a wave to the few artists who seem really engaged in sophisticated technical constructions. Their works have not always a very "artistic touch", or may look rather poor at first sight, none the less bearing complex techniques. Some examples on this Fall:
Bianchini presents a bugging program writing about himself. Something like the good old paradoxes of Cretan liars (if not, for the fans of formal logic, the Cantor's diagonals).
Dullaart (YIA) has hacked Google and you will see your screen rotating but still really connected and answering your requests.
Nyeki: a digital anti-algorithmic approach...
Lemercier shows videos quite dull at first sight, with some ochred or dithered polygons. But if you look carefully, you note the precision of some moves, of the correpondence between lines and lights. And some kind expert around will tell you about projection-mapping and its rich promises.
Perconte. On first sight, the large video projection by Perconte will let you think that something bugs in the projector or film reader. But Perconte is an expert at turning glitch into artistic effects. He pushes the compression/decompression algorithms to their limits and uses the defects to generate indefinitely new images, even when he starts from a long camera shot on sea waves. He is also able to control the effects in real time, offering then a constantly renewed experience, and possibly cooperating in the show with the composer or his music.
Sester Her X-Ray videos present nearly scientific/industrial schemes of engines or vehicles. But that's only one facet of this many talented artist, an architect by his first studies. Click on the links we give on his item in diccan. Note that Vernhes also was at start an architect.
Electronic Shadow: Le cristal de personnalité (Personality crystal). A very small part of this groups multi-faceted oeuvre.
Electronic_Shadow pioneers video mapping presented only an abstract (?). Just here a sculpture Here: non-figurative auto portrait.
The most ambitious, finally are Toma and his nearly real corporation, with ample social if not economical views, without forgetting humor.
Pierre Berger, Nov. 6, 2013
Paris ACM Siggraph, the French chapter of ACM Siggraph, worldwide non-profit organization of computer graphics.