Monday, May 26, 2014

Interview with Joseph Nechvatal

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excitatiOn emigratiOn, 2011, computer-robotic assisted painting on canvas, 14 x 22cm



On the occasion of his latest exhibition at Galerie Richard in Paris, Joseph Nechvatal met with Taney Roniger to discuss his work. What follows is a transcript of their conversation supplemented by excerpts from their previous interview, conducted in 2012. Titled prOtOcOls nOn, the show will be on view from May 30th through June 24th.
(Website: www.galerierichard.com)


 

Taney Roniger: prOtOcOls nOn (no rules). You have an interesting relationship with rules, it seems. On the one hand, your work, being digital, is fundamentally rooted in rules, in the binary logic and clockwork rigor of the digital computer, while on the other hand your entire oeuvre seems emphatically oriented in the direction of freedom – freedom from oppressive forces, unexamined conventions, and stultified thinking. Can you talk about the title of your show?

Joseph Nechvatal: The suggestion of “no rules” in the title is a mere provocation to thought. All software runs on strict rules. And of course I want some rules, at times, to be observed in art. Indeed, your question reminds me of three events that illustrate that need and desire.

In 2012 I was at the Fiesta del Corpus in Granada and at the tauromachie, drinking some fino and tinto verando in the sun. I could see the snow-capped mountains of the Sierra Nevadas behind the arena. I was watching Enrique Ponce work a huge and magnificent black bull, a real bête noire. What I love about bullfighting is its complete lack of cynicism. The matador is always deadly serious and noble, as is the audience of aficionados, unless he does something stupid, in which case the crowd whistles to show its disapproval. Even then, it is an art without a trace of cynicism, without a trace of irony. It is a classical rule-based art, set in ritualistic repetition (with difference).

Anyway, Ponce had done magnificent muleta work with this stately bull, and when it came time for the estocada (killing) he chose the dangerous al volapié approach, where the bull charges on its own initiative. This gesture is the hardest and most dangerous one in current bullfighting when properly executed, as the bullfighter loses sight of the bull's horns, which may, in a defensive reaction, raise up and gore him.

There was this dramatic pause, as Ponce waited in the recibir position for the charge of the bull, when a young American lad seated behind me loudly cried out “olé”! It was the most inappropriate expression imaginable, and a breakage of the classical rules that horrified me and everyone as it destroyed the élan of this classical art form.

The next night, after going to the Alhambra, I went to hear a classical music concert of Bach at Santa Inglesia Cathedral. During a wonderfully sublime passage, someone arrived late to the concert and walked their way to the front of the church to sit down. The only problem was, their shoes made the most ignoble, horrible squeaking sound, again destroying the nobility of the moment and the art form.

The point I wish to make here, and with the exhibition, is that of course art may show and hence create its own meanings and complex values by breaking expectations. Rules in art, like image logos and short sentences, do not make the hum and buzz of life any simpler. But steady rules and conventions can prepare us, if we observe them with an educated readiness for openness, for the possibilities of free emergings useful in experiencing and capturing the quivering vibrancy of life. This is why I often critique the always-shifting relational aesthetic that seems to hover over many exhibitions in France as a great correctness that cannot be questioned, but only tampered with. I see it as the relegation of all aspects of art to exchange value, something that more or less sums up bourgeois society. So long as we submit with humility to certain rules of the past, we can actually experience better the un-ironic hallucinatory mix of will and daydream that is at the heart of art.

I close this answer with a final recollection from that trip to Andalusia. After Granada, I went to Ronda to visit the Plaza de Toros, where I saw a blind man, cane in hand, slowly walking his way down the Orsen Wells path that leads directly to a steep cliff edge, which was providing me with a beautiful vista. I was ready to shout out (not “olé” - but perhaps - “señor”) when he, at the very last moment, swerved to his left and avoided the cliff. He must have been counting off his paces – playing by his own rules.

TR: I love your evocation of the ritualistic solemnity of bullfighting – without which, I suppose, the whole thing would devolve into mere blood sport. Ritual – whether religious or otherwise – seems the very paragon of the prescribed endeavor, but one where adherence to the rules is intended to promote not mindless obedience but a kind of self-expansion, or self-transcendence. On the subject of rules, I want to ask you about Manuel DeLanda, because I know he’s been influential for you. His automata theory, which explores the cellular automaton as a general principle underlying the evolution of the universe, presents a convincing challenge to the view that clockwork mechanisms (i.e., rules) can’t possibly account for the complexity, diversity, and splendor of our world. (Even early emergentists were skeptical, I understand.) Can you talk about what you find so philosophically potent about his work and its relation to yours?

JN: I was very taken by how my work, for this show, connected with DeLanda's exploration of simulations of emergence in systems of different scales, from the atomic to the social. As an artist, the concept of emergence is particularly interesting because of the dynamic qualities implied by the individual mechanisms of emergence. The distinct concepts of properties, tendencies, and capacities suggest an art that is conceptually flexible and ephemeral, yet materially imbedded, if not always fully visible, into structural (albeit OOO) objects.

This was an epiphany for me, and especially interesting because it rubs up against my larger viractual project. The idea that a virtual possibility can be a result of actual material properties, tendencies, and capacities (and not always/only the other way around) helped me reach a higher degree of chance-based rule decision-making for my art.




nOise anusmOs, 2011, computer-robotic assisted painting on canvas, 112 x 168cm




TR: What were some of your other influences?

JN: While I was reading Manuel DeLanda’s book Philosophy and Simulation I was listening to a lot of Roland Kirk and late John Coltrane – all this avant-garde sax.

TR: And Speculative Realism? Did that play a role?

JN: Yeah. I’d already been reading Speculative Realism the year before, specifically Quentin Meillassoux’s After Finitude, which is the one that got me started on Speculative Realism. I refer to him in my book, Immersion Into Noise. Actually, that book prepared me for all the other stuff.

TR: It seems there is, with Speculative Realism, a reintroduction of metaphysics into a climate that’s been hostile toward it for some time now… Metaphysics is now okay again.

JN: Yes. I think that’s the key thing. It’s a hodge-podge. And in fact, Ray Brassier, who is the translator of the Quentin Meillassoux book, and who I’ve read (he has a book on nihilism, and he wrote a piece on noise music), he actually says that it’s not a real movement, and that you can’t lump these philosophers together. You have object oriented ontology, you have some neo-vitalism, you have transcendental materialism, and you have an interest in science fiction. No, it’s a real hodge-podge, which I think is just grand. But depending on how rigid you are as a philosopher, people could be put off by that. I was prepared for this by Deleuze, because for him philosophy is the creation of new concepts.

TR: I recently read Bruno Latour’s We Have Never Been Modern, and I was struck by what seems to be a movement toward becoming a little bit more friendly toward the object world – the non-human realm. It’s not entirely off limits to us anymore, in other words – with our subjectivity “over here,” and it “over there.” That perhaps the twain can meet after all…

JN: Yes, that is central to the Speculative Realists. Their whole jumping off point is refuting Kant. Correlationism is the big thing they’re trying to escape – where we can only understand the world because we have this human spectrum of perception, and so that’s Being. And they say no to that, that being is post-human – it’s much bigger than us. Again, that brings us back to the sublime and transcendental metaphysics and all that. So, in a nutshell, they basically say: We have to explore philosophy and being – ontology – outside of the Kantian strictures.

TR: And that we can do that; it’s not beyond our capacities.

JN: And science fiction and speculation and art are all part of that because they’re very much into systems, the environment, the cosmos. It’s a real area that we have to explore and try to comprehend, but it is tough.



transcendental fundament, 2011, computer-robotic assisted painting on canvas, 168x112cm




TR: I see so many parallels between what you’re talking about and your working process. Here’s my understanding of the process, and correct me if I’m wrong: You and your programmer author a piece of viral code, which is then inserted into a selected image from your database of previous works. As the viral code transforms the image by altering its colors and configurations, you select “stills” from the process from which paintings will be made. During the painting process, your hand does not touch the canvas; rather, the application is made by a robotic device acting on commands issued by the computer. The whole thing strikes me as a sort of wonderful dance – a dialectic, perhaps – between human agency and non-human processes. You don’t seem to privilege one over the other; it’s just this back and forth.

JN: I would not ever say a dialectic, because I don’t believe in dialectics. Deleuze completely does away with dialectics. It’s too limiting. Because you have all the little differences in between the polarities – all those micro-areas that are far more rich and interesting and complex. So I would say: dialogue, but not a dialectic. A conversation or dance.

TR: When you’re selecting your host images for a viral attack, is it significant that they’re always your own images, your own prior works?

JN: Yes. The only other example I used in an attack was two paintings of Andy Warhol’s money paintings, which I just did for a short little YouTube thing, because that was a specific thing for the Occupy Wall Street blog that I was happy to participate in. Otherwise, no. It’s got to be within the family. It’s not applicable for all things, in my mind. Or it would lose its meaning, it would dilute its usefulness.

TR: You mean if you took an image from… well, from anywhere out there in the culture. You could conceivably do this to any image, right? And interesting things would happen.

JN: Absolutely. It could be any image. And then the question is why. That’s why when I talk about losing focus and the impact getting lost, that’s exactly what I’m talking about. If it’s any image, then why any one image? So I’m trying to maintain its function as art. I think I talked about that in the introduction of the book that it’s important to maintain this – even if artificially constructed – definition of art as something other. As a form of ideology. That’s what artists are supposed to do: challenge ways of thinking.

TR: That certainly comes across in your work. So thinking about thinking is really important.

JN: I do think so. That’s why I try not to make too much of a division between my philosophizing and my artistic creation. I mean, I’m not a philosopher, hard-core. But even Nietzsche himself said that the ideal philosopher would be an artist. And I’m trying to live that out, at least on a mini-scale, at least for my life. Yeah – keep it moving back and forth between the categories but not looking for homogenization, looking for those differences which make for creation, that suggest new avenues of creation. Difference is novelty. I believe that art should try to be something novel, and I do believe in innovation and invention. And I don’t fall prey to these postmodernist myths of stasis and decay and repetition and simulation. That’s a trap you can fall in if you want to, but I don’t want to go there. I don’t want to over-determine the interpretation of the work. At the same time I don’t want to deny where it came from or how it’s done – the viractual materiality it’s embedded in.




madOnna cOl bambinO, 2011, computer-robotic assisted painting on canvas, 168x112cm




TR: In your first book, Towards an Immersive Intelligence, you explored the shift in ontology that you saw emerging as a result of a nascent immersive consciousness connected to virtual reality. How did your interest in immersion come about, and how did it come to focus on noise, which is the subject of your latest book, Immersion Into Noise?

JN: It started, first of all, with my ideal for looking at most painting: that you enter the painting. Like Kandinsky said, he wanted to viewer to enter and sort of exist in, and explore, and be, and travel in a painting. So already I was on board with that. I just think it’s the total use of your imagination as an artist or as a viewer of other artists, to give all and just get into it, and drop what you’re doing and go there. But then it got more specific with my research with Roy Ascott for my Ph.D. There I wanted to take that immersive use of the mind and see how it could apply to new technology. So I started to study virtual reality and its ideals. And the idea for virtual reality is that you’re immersed into a virtual world which you can navigate. I did my thesis on that topic, and I revisited art history and the history of architecture and ritual and different cultural manifestations through the wide lens of immersion. What I call the immersive impulse or desire for immersion. So that was where it became concrete, with the head-mounted device. And then I applied immersion to audio aspects when I created the viral symphOny. Then I started to write the Wikipedia page on the history of noise music. I did quite a bit of research on audio and sound art, and anything that was non-musical in terms of audio experiments and that’s what led me to the book about immersion into noise. So then I could use some of the lessons I learned from the VR research, and that idea of environment, of ambiance, of surround sound, and apply it to a noisy surround vision. Pushing our sensibilities behind our head as well as in front of our eyes. Trying to use the full instruments that we have available to us to feel. And that was the basis of the book Immersion Into Noise.

TR: What I see underlying your whole project is a kind of syncretistic vision in constant search of destabilizing rigid polarities. But it’s not like you’re bringing the two poles together in order to form some third neither-here-nor-there thing; you’re putting the two together in a kind of dynamic tension…

JN: Dynamic tension! Beautiful. That’s the noise aspect. It has to have a tension, a kind of provocational element. It’s not trying to say “Everything is everything.” That may be true on one level, but we don’t live on that level. I think it’s more intellectual to perceive the minute differences, and that’s what a connoisseur does.

TR: I think that’s a really important distinction to make. It’s not the unification of the two, it’s the tension between them.

JN: I do think that’s the real payoff for this – the knowledge that things can be contradictory and true simultaneously.

TR: Right!

JN: If you’ve got that, then your life opens up and you’re far more tolerant and understanding, and a better and wiser human being.




anuscOsmOs, 2011, computer-robotic assisted painting on canvas, 112x168cm




TR: Another thing that I definitely want to ask you about is digitization. You’ve called it “the universal technical platform for networked capitalism.” It’s also your chosen artistic language. Can you talk a little bit about what makes it the ideal language for you?

JN: Okay. It’s the idea of the Trojan horse. If you’re going to be an agent of political consciousness, of resistant awareness, of non-acceptance, you still have to work within the language of the power. Otherwise, you’re immediately marginalized and cast aside and have no subsequent contribution that’s recognizable. So I think, again, you have to be driving a Trojan horse; you have to enter the dialogue, the vocabulary, the system, the semiotics, and then from there subvert. In other words, you can’t subvert from the outside. You have to subvert from the inside. This is Baudrillard. And I don’t like a lot of Baudrillard, but I do think he was right in this case. Yeah, it’s subversion from within. And that’s really why I started doing the big blow-ups and got into the computer. If you read my artist’s statement from Documenta, it’s all about this subversion. Yes, I’m using the computer because the computer IS the dominant language of military economics, and we have to confront it head-on. So it is a kind of realism. Of course, you have to be very careful with that, but that was my intension. I mean, it’s easy to make like an avant-garde stance and then end up just being swept up inside of some kind of slick production that plays along with the themes, so that all of your criticality is glossed over. And it’s hard enough already to maintain criticality in cultural production, but once you’re inside the slick game, you have to really be subversive. For me, of course, it really comes down to the imagery. I guess that’s really why I decided the anus was an important image. It wasn’t to be a sexual or provocative or funny image; it was to be a key portal to poke into the post-industrial information age.

TR: You’ve talked about things like “digital fluidity,” which is in some sense an oxymoron. You know what I mean? Because digital language is binary. So it strikes me as curious that if what you’re after is in some sense exposing the fallacy of rigid binary thinking that your chosen language is itself binary.

JN: The string of zeros and ones underlying everything – you can’t get more binary than that. I totally agree. But that’s almost like, water is made up of certain chemicals, but what we do with water varies drastically – we swim in it, we brush our teeth with it, we pee in it… It’s undeniable that zeros and ones make up the structure of the medium, but I think it’s almost not important because the medium is so fluid.

TR: Well, talk about the fluidity, then. As a medium, it does lend itself to a certain…

JN: Transformation, metamorphosis.

TR: Yes.

JN: You can take the same data that’s being produced, and you can output it as a visual or as an audio production. It’s so easy to convert signals into whatever you want to. You just change the parameters. It’s very, very easy to do – almost too easy. The question always comes down to: What are you doing? Why are you doing it? And not so much how you do it. But the fluidity part. So, of course when we think of the digital age, the fluidity of the internet, the networked connectivity, we think of flows of data. But for me it’s an interest also in human potentiality, which is one of the reasons I got interested in cyberculture in the early 90s. It seemed like the platform for transformation. And that folded me back into my interests in Classical Greek poetry – Ovid’s Metamorphoses in particular – where things become other things, and flowers become people, and people become clouds, and this kind of super-fluidity, which we do experience in dreams sometimes, if we’re lucky. But it has to do with a symbol, a poetic metaphor, for realizing our human potentiality and our full sensibilities towards our real life, the real people in our lives, our real politics – how we live our lives economically, and the decisions we make in the real world. So in that sense I’m a materialist. Actually, that’s why I became interested in Speculative Realism, because they don’t shy away from what they call transcendental materialism, which I really think kind of nails what I’ve been feeling and groping for. And it sounds of course oxymoronic, and certainly paradoxical – but maybe not! You have to dig in and dig around. Anyway, that kind of idea of human potentiality interests me. And I think that’s the reason we have great art. I think art is to change consciousness.

TR: That was actually going to be my next question. Because I feel like it’s so important to your project, this idea of self-reprogrammability. I mean, that is such a crucial insight – that we can change, that we can be liberated from our conditioning. At a time when we’re flanked on all sides by so many determinisms…

JN: The human spirit is being tamped down and down and down. We must strive to overcome the bullshit…It’s a metaphysical battle. And each person, each woman and each man, is a soldier, and we all have to fight. And art I think is the domain for that.

TR: And you feel that – this potential to change – when you’re with not only your own work, but when you have a profound experience with another work? You feel that it’s changed you in some way?

JN: I do. Almost chemically. And it stays with you. And not that we don’t outgrow our appreciation of certain artworks, particularly when you’re young. In my case, I had a passion for Jasper Johns. I just couldn’t get enough of him. I was in love with him, you could almost say. But then I outgrew it, you know? So that’s part of the maturation period, I guess.




anus, 2011, computer-robotic assisted painting on canvas, 168x112cm




TR: Let’s turn back to Immersion Into Noise. I just want to say that I found the chapter on Paleolithic cave art, where you describe your descent into the Lascaux cave (among others) so moving and so powerful.

JN: Thank you. I do think that’s sort of the core of the book, and I try to make the case for the art of noise visually based on that, because I think it was the most concrete example – in immersive terms – that I experienced and that I could write about first-hand. I mean, as you can tell in the book I tried to write about visual noise from my travels and experiences. But yes, the cave of Lascaux was a transformative moment.

TR: One of the things I was struck by in this chapter was the element of danger inherent in making the descent into those caves. I mean, it wasn’t exactly like stepping into the studio for a day’s work for these early artists. I wonder if there’s something of that element of danger, or fear, or incomprehensible enormousness that attracts us to the internet. I think you’ve touched on this somewhere.

JN: I have talked about how computers stimulate us almost like sublime vastness, which is both enticing and scary. Your typical sublime reaction to enormity is a mix of attraction and fear. There is a re-interest in sublime art, as you might know, in Brooklyn with the metal group Liturgy and the movement called transcendental black metal music. They’re connecting music back to the vastness of nature. It’s almost Wagnerian in intentionality. And I found that very moving, and it was one of the influences on my show at Galerie Richard.



euphOricanus, 2011, computer-robotic assisted painting on canvas, 112x168cm




TR: You clearly travel a lot. Travel is incredibly immersive.

JN: Yes, it’s inherently immersive. Couple that with reading about what you’re doing, the history of where you’ve been. I think that’s true knowledge. And then having physical experiences in space, and the cultural things – the wine and art. The art is key for me. Looking at this painting here [points to painting in studio], it’s easy for me to wrap it around my head. It’s very easy. It’s like this rectangle becomes a bubble that goes behind my eyes. And that’s what I’m hoping that people can project when they look at the work – is to get into it.

TR: That’s the thing. It doesn’t have to be an installation environment for you to experience immersion.

JN: Right. I don’t feel it has to be. It can be, and that’s obviously the most literal. But the literal way isn’t always the only or the best way. For me, I tend to use all-over compositions – not always, but often. That suggests that it could go on forever. I think in the chapter on Pollock I tried to make that clear. With the two museums that were proposed of his work – one by Tony Smith, a hero of mine. But they took that idea – the derogatory comment that Aldous Huxley made about Pollock’s work at the Museum of Modern Art, saying “Oh, but it’s quite a bit like wallpaper. It could go on forever!” You know, disdainfully.

TR: Aldous Huxley said that? Wow.

JN: Unfortunately, yes. And actually that’s the power of the work. That’s what Allen Kaprow saw in Pollock’s show at Betty Parson’s gallery, where he said: “Okay, I understand. It goes around the whole room, meaning it’s all the world, meaning it’s the street, meaning it’s a happening.” That’s where he got his idea to create the happening, it was from seeing this exhibition of Pollock’s. So this idea of expansion, of distribution, of availability all around us is really a suggestion that has many applications.

TR: So these new paintings that we’ll be seeing in Paris, these are still part of the Computer Virus Project…

JN: Yes. Almost everything is now to some extent. Everything has something to do with the technique, at least. It’s my vocabulary. I don’t necessarily forefront that aspect of it all the time, but it’s impossible to leave it out at the same time. Because I just find the viral techniques very valuable for getting unexpected results.

TR: To what extent is it important that people know how the paintings are made – your process, your involvement with artificial intelligence, etc.?

JN: Very important, and then I hope they’ll forget it. Because I want them to go to their own place with them. I don’t want to over-determine the interpretation of the work. At the same time I don’t want to deny where it came from or how it’s done – the viractual materiality it’s embedded in. But it’s more than that, so I don’t want to be self-limiting, and I don’t want to limit the viewer. It’s complicated.

TR: I see such a consistency across all your various media. Your prose style in Noise, for example, is characteristically syncretistic, non-linear, “all-over” – in other words, it’s noisy.

JN: Yeah. I thought it would have been silly to do a strictly academic style, when you’re exploring something that is the opposite of that.

TR: It’s not like it’s stream-of-consciousness, with no punctuation… There’s certainly a structure there, but the voice is ecstatic, personal, mercurial, even. And the text moves in unexpected directions.

JN: I agree with you. I think it’s my allover approach to life that provides a moveable aspect that we’re talking about.

TR: You make it explicit that your subject matter is ideology.

JN: Yeah. That started back with my early drawings. And that’s why I started to draw these cliché images. When you look carefully at some of those – most of those – early gray drawings, they’re pile-ups of biblical imagery and Playboy imagery and military or “macho man” cowboys. Because I was trying to work on cultural ideology and the visual language in which it’s spoken.

TR: I know a lot of artists who wouldn’t want to admit that their work carries with it an ideology.

JN: Right. Because I think we’re talking about our own upbringing, our childhood, our relationship to our parents. Our relationship to our church, or synagogue, or whatever. Whoever – our boy scout master. Baseball coach – what else is there? All the adults that teach us how to live. Which is not a bad thing, obviously, but it’s something to be scrutinized. Particularly when you reach maturity. That’s just the power of scrutiny, of self-reflectivity. That’s how you can get to reprogramming yourself. First you have to get to what you don’t want to do, and stop doing that.

TR: So that’s what self-transcendence means to you – moving beyond our unreflective cognitive habits, our conventional notions of the self, our utilitarian consciousness…

JN: Yes. And a kind of connection to the immanence of nature and materiality, the full vibratory spectrum. That is where it gets back to Speculative Realism, to understanding the limits of our perceptual spectrum and at the same time acknowledging that reality and being are beyond us while we still try to understand.

TR: That seems crucial.

JN: Yes. I think that’s an important understanding, particularly in urban life, for people to reflect on. I hope that’s what they’ll get from this show. That’s what my intention is – that urbanites, sophisticated art viewers, will for one instance think about the grander beyond that and have appreciation of it. The great outdoors indoor. Yeah, connecting the anus to the cosmos is for that purpose. To place an extremely personal, sensitive, human aspect, in a poetic marriage to that divine humongous “beyond us.”

TR: Huston Smith comes to mind: “The larger the island of knowledge, the longer the shoreline of wonder.” Always expanding, but with full knowledge that there’s always that “magnificent more,” as you say.

JN: I see it in some young artists who are really trying to work with getting back to respecting the enormity of nature. And of course it has everything to do with a kind of dialogue with cyberculture. The insufficiency of cyber-interactivity and networking and all that. No one ever said that would be the be all and end all.

TR: I’d like to end with a question about the rise of sci-art we’ve been witnessing over the last decade or so. In her book titled Art & Science, Sian Ede points to a fundamental rift between art and science today that has its roots in two very different epistemological approaches to knowledge. Science, as she puts it, has always been founded on the belief that there is an “implicit reality” out there to be discovered, while in the arts, that view is pretty much anathema. In our field, the idea that everything (including science) is a “construct” seems to be the prevailing view; knowledge and meaning are inherently slippery, unfixed, culturally and historically conditioned. I’m wondering, given your interest in the nexus of art and science, what your view of the situation is. Do you see the current increase in sci-art collaborations – or “science-based” art – as a promising move that might take us beyond this epistemological impasse?

JN: Explicitly theoretical discourses such as science, but also philosophy, have no problems finding phenomena which may accommodate them with different sorts of practices. On the contrary, there are many who see these hybrids not to be the exception, but the rule. For example, Bruno LaTour in his book We Have Never Been Modern. But many besides him. In other words, in a certain sense, of course sci-art combines opposing theory and practice and may serve as proof of the fact that theory and practice are not opposed in any field. But so do many other social and political phenomena.

However, some maintain that this combination does not prove anything against theorists who still try to avoid all contact with intuitive practice, because it is the pursuits of both pure theory and purely intuitive practice which ends up allowing for such combinations, such as that which takes place in sci-art. They would say that it is the idea that there are two separated realms of the symbolic and the imaginary which ultimately invites and makes the transgression of the boundary between them possible. Many post-Foucaultians maintain this.

I am sorry to use the third person while exposing these positions, but I haven't worked them enough to endorse or reject them fully yet. The point on which I agree with you concerning a promising move is that the way sci-art combines theory and practice does not mean that art cannot transcend its own theory. Quite the contrary. However, when art tends towards a dependence on the constructs of scientific theory, that may be a loss in its powerful freedom to imagine the unreasonable.
 



autOmata retinal, 2011, computer-robotic assisted painting on canvas, 168x112cm







Since 1986 Joseph Nechvatal has worked with ubiquitous electronic visual information, computers and computer-robotics. His computer-robotic assisted paintings and computer software animations are shown regularly in galleries and museums throughout the world. From 1991-1993 he worked as artist-in-residence at the Louis Pasteur Atelier and the Saline Royale / Ledoux Foundation's computer lab in Arbois, France on The Computer Virus Project: an experiment with computer viruses as a creative stratagem. In 2002 he extended that artistic research into the field of viral artificial life through his collaboration with the programmer Stéphane Sikora. Dr. Nechvatal earned his Ph.D. in the philosophy of art and new technology at The Centre for Advanced Inquiry in the Interactive Arts (CAiiA) University of Wales College, Newport, UK where he served as conference coordinator for the 1st International CAiiA Research Conference entitled Consciousness Reframed: Art and Consciousness in the Post-Biological Era (July 1997); an international conference which looked at new developments in art, science, technology and consciousness. Dr. Nechvatal presently teaches at the School of Visual Arts in New York City (SVA). His book of essays Towards an Immersive Intelligence: Essays on the Work of Art in the Age of Computer Technology and Virtual Reality (1993-2006) was published by Edgewise Press in 2009. In 2011 his book Immersion Into Noise was published by the University of Michigan Library's Scholarly Publishing Office in conjunction with Open Humanities Press. (Website: www.nechvatal.net)

Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Irrational Geometrics of Pascal Dombis

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Post-Digital Mirror, 2011–2013, TZR Galerie Kai Brückner, Düsseldorf, 2013




For nearly two decades Pascal Dombis has been using computer algorithms to produce excessive repetitions of simple processes that create unpredictable, unstable and dynamic visual forms. By computationally reproducing a geometrical or typographical sign, he creates destructuring structures and develops irrational environments. He exploits the paradoxical coexistence of orderly control and chaotic aleatory forces to produce unpredictable, unstable and dynamic visual forms which he synthesizes into digital wall drawings, lenticular pieces or video installations. Dombis's work has been shown in numerous exhibitions around the world and is part of several public and private collections. Recent exhibitions include the 2008 retrospective Imaging by numbers: a historical view of the computer print at the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art in Evanston, IL. In 2013, Dombis participated in Noise, an official collateral show of the 55th Venice Biennale of Art, based on Joseph Nechvatal’s book Immersion Into Noise. He presented Post-Digital Mirror, a large lenticular piece that follows the observer’s movements and produces organic and irregular shapes and lines. In May 2014, he will have a solo show at Holly Hunt New York based on his Irrational Geometrics works.

The following is an essay by Joseph Nechvatal written for the occasion of Dombis’ upcoming exhibition, Irrational Geometrics, at Holly Hunt (150 E. 58th Street, New York, NY). The show opens May 19th and will run through August, 2014. Gallery website: www.hollyhunt.com. Artist website: www.dombis.com.



Post-Digital Mirror, 2011–2012, Lenticular mounted on alu-dibon, 3.30m x 1.80m (3 panels)



The Irrational Geometrics of Pascal Dombis
by Joseph Nechvatal

In our era of the late-capitalist circulation of digital signs, French artist Pascal Dombis has been creating perverse computer-assisted paintings that seem to try to overthrow, or at least displace, modern rationality in favor of a digitally debauched version of some vaguely remembered, disordered, non-mathematical emergence, now numerically manipulated and prefigured. This techno re-invention of emergence is accomplished by Pascal’s manipulating computer-generated hyper-structures which he synthesizes into abstract digital paintings. To my eye, within the borders of his post-conceptual practice, Pascal's complex results automatically hasten an elaborate visual irrationality via the most rational of means.

Just as antediluvian groups attempted to deal with the repetitious cosmos through irrational excess, so seemingly do these computer-performed simulations operate to make the rational/geometrical world move inexhaustibly towards irrationality. Thus his is a post-structuralist address to the fallacious nature of the former. Consequently, his hyper-geometric art leads us to a teeming process of rational expurgation through supra-rational excess.



Post-Digital Mirror (E1, E2), 2013, Lenticular mounted on alu-dibon, framed, unique piece, 0.90m x 1.20m


To do so, Dombis methodically uses an elementary warped prototype as his computational starting point, so as to advance an inhumanly complex pictorial space in which he addresses a miscellaneous collection of network issues such as complexity, perpetuation, enrichment, and chaos. By commencing with a singular and uncomplicated warped constituent (a lonely fragment of a curve or a diminutive portion of an arc) and by maniacally computationally reproducing it, Dombis achieves an intensely elaborate geotectonic optic structure, rich in associative significance. Into this elastic virtual matrix rushes a relentless machine-logic, one bent on achieving a contemporary techno hyper-irrationality of the sort which is becoming more and more familiar to us in all aspects of our lives.

This process of irrationality is ironic in that Dombis uses the computer in a simple, fundamental, computational way so as to incessantly compute the curved geometric element (the resulting intricate geotectonic configurations would be impractical to generate by hand as they are made up of tens of thousands to several million bowed constituents). Indeed, Dombis sees this methodology as "a kind of Arte Povera within new technologies." [1]



Post-Digital Blue, 2013, Lenticular mounted on alu-dibon (2 panels), 1.10m x 1.80m each



Post-Digital Blue, 2013 (detail)



Regardless, Dombis uses the resultant manic geometric hyper-structures so as to create an illusionary space that plays with the ambiguity between the mathematic structure produced by the computer and its metaphorical elucidation on a pictorial surface—elucidations in which the original motif disappears into the scrolling network. Dombis terminates this hysterical process at the point just before what Severo Sarduy calls the "black out". [2] According to Sarduy, in his book Barroco, if a structure is developed incessantly it will end up as a perplexed all-black facsimile of itself and thus attain its own "black out."

So long as his rational-irrational fabrications can mathematically multiply and permutate undisturbed by any apparent coherent restraint (short of "black out") there is no impeding them or, by implication, our own supra-rationality from attaining ever amplifying spectral capabilities. Hence I am delighted to see his rational-irrational simulacra proceed to blast away prior rational geometric pretexts so as to bring us closer not to our own limiting geometric "truth," a category long ago shattered by post-structuralism, but to the denuded realization of our own supra-rational coercive animus, now purified of all non-fantastical, non-multiplying delusions, including, finally, our own inelastic actuality.




[1] E-mail interview with the artist by the author
[2] Sarduy, S. (1975). Barroco. Paris: Editions du Seuil





SpamScape (Triple), 2010, IBU Gallery, Paris,
3-screen video installation. Video software: Claude Micheli





SpamScape, 2011, Lenticular mounted on alu-dibon, 1.20m x 0.90m




CensorZip, 2011,
Lenticular mounted on alu-dibon & PMMA (Plexiglas), 5 panels: 0.35m x 1.80m each





Post-Belaga (square), 2003–2004, Cháteau de Linardie, Senouillac, France,
Lenticular mounted on light box, 0.90m x 0.90m each