Drawings of redundant technologies.

One of my foremost areas of enquiry is finding or creating a space for my voice. It has been difficult to build on spaces and voices defined by previous female practitioners. I have found it difficult to find a way of speaking that is not understood through a particular way of reading. I have explored painting, I have explored the use of textile and knit, I have explored film and photography. All wonderful vehicles for expression, but not for real communication. The message is interfered by the language of the medium. With painting and film the message struggles alongside the narratives of “feminist painting” or “female film”. Textile and knit as the feminine medium. Therefore, opening up a space for illustration in ‘digital’ or ‘video’ whose narrative is yet to be defined, is very seductive.
My working title is ‘Exploring Video as a platform for the voiceless. To discover if the aphonic can exist in the space of Video’. Or ‘Can video be defined as a language or distinct system of communication?’ The aim of the project is to explore the relatively new space created by video game software as a potential vehicle for illustration and art. Objectives within this aim are to define or understand this space, which I’m referring to as ‘Video’. Understand how to use this space for visual communication. Discover the neutrality, language and politics of the space.
As such the next stages of my practical research began with drawing images of redundant video game technologies. This was to familiarise myself with technology that used 8 bit graphics. The project running alongside these drawings is an investigation into 8 bit colour palettes, therefore it seemed natural whilst undertaking the colour investigation that I draw the machines 8 bit was built for.
This is a selection from a number of images I have made demonstrating part of a research enquiry into redundant technologies. This selection of developmental work contributes towards criteria 2.4 and 2.5 particularly as the drawings demonstrate confident use of media and technical expertise relevant to illustration practice. This is a selection of a series of drawings of redundant video game platforms and personal computers. The relate to each other in terms of subject and technique. The project preceding this was the Computer Chess project where I drew in black and white a number of late 70’s early 80’s computers. In this respect this series follows on from Computer Chess developing the investigation in colour. The project that follows, and runs alongside, this series of drawings is an investigation into 8 bit colour palettes. The link here is with redundant technologies and colour. Out of context the drawings are realistic renderings of old computer technology and could be printed as outcomes. So to a first-time viewer looking at the images they might get a sense of retro gaming, nostalgia, may be joy in the colours, or sadness in the loneliness. The wider research project is not expressed in these images which is why this series is an outcome but also a development project.

IMSAI VDP-80 PC (1978) USA
Commodore 64 (1982) USA
Sinclair ZX80 (1980) UK
Sinclair ZX Spectrum (1982) UK
Panafacom C-15E (1978) Japan

Realtime Art Analysis.

‘The Realtime Art Manifesto 12 Years Later’ is the seventh chapter in the book ‘Videogames: Design / Play / Disrupt’ which is the accompanying book of the exhibition at the V&A.[1] I visited the exhibition on the 4th of November this year (2018) and experienced the Realtime Art Manifesto in the context of contemporaries. I am interested in the text as part of my search for spaces or platforms for unheard voices.

Auriea Harvey and Michael Samyn are collaborative artists making art videogames. They launched their Realtime Manifesto[2] in 2006 at the Athens Mediaterra Festival of Art and Technology. The text concerns the pair revisiting their manifesto after twelve years, discussing what has changed. The artists introduce themselves, their background and the Realtime art project. They then proceed to take each declaration in the manifesto and describe and/or analyse the progress made with each statement. They point the reader to the original manifesto online for comparison.

The original Realtime Art manifesto was “a call-to-arms for creative people (including, but not limited to, video game designers and fine artists) to embrace this new medium and start realizing its enormous potential.”[3] The new medium referred to Realtime 3D as “the most remarkable new creative technology since oil on canvas”[4] and “much too important to be wasted on computer games alone.”[5]

The main thrust of the artists work relies on their belief that Realtime 3D is a medium that ought not be limited to the production of video games, and that it should be expanded that fine artists might use it as a space to create work.

Beneath this primary conviction other ideas are proposed and debated in the document which include:

  • The notion that Realtime 3D is a form of life as we experience the medium in ‘time’.
  • That author is equal to participant, and that a dialogue between author and audience is a necessity.
  • That art made in Realtime 3D should be a ‘total experience’ and therefore more than the limited experiences provided by painting, writing (novels) and film.
  • That the user, or audience, must feel embedded in the environment created by computer based art.
  • That stories ought to be told through nonlinear, autonomous structures based around spectator interpretation.
  • That the freedom of spectator interactivity is paramount in communicating meaning.
  • That the gap between the substance of art and the craft of video game production should be bridged.
  • That conceptualism should be rejected in favour of acquisition of skills.
  • That the natural phenomena that is technology needs embracing and sharing.
  • That a punk economy might evolve from working in and exploring the potential of Realtime 3D.

There are a number of unjustified assumptions within the text. In particular a statement that illustrates a binary positioning that sets up Realtime 3D against modern/contemporary ‘art’. “In the high technology of the digital we found a way to reconnect to artistic traditions that had been muffled by the abstraction and conceptualism of Modernism.”[6] The text does not explain this further or elucidate with examples. The artists so not describe how their use of digital technology connects with artistic production previous to Modernism. Furthermore “The synthetic nature of these creations allows us to express our art more directly – as did the early painters – creating a potential for depth that had to some extent been forgotten through the shallowness of photography.”[7] I am not confident I understand what is meant by ‘shallowness’, the text does not specify whether they mean that photography cannot communicate complex concepts, or, by it’s 2D nature photography is shallow and therefore inferior to a digital 3D space.

There is a strong chain of reasoning throughout the chapter. It is with consistency that the artists argue their stance that the strength of Realtime 3D is in audience participation. “A painting on a wall in a museum only turns into an art experience though the activity of the spectator. It is the spectator’s work that animates the piece. The artist merely creates context.”[8] Meaning the value of the piece of work exists in a dialogue between the creator and the receiver, through interaction with the artpiece, and, according to Harvey and Amyn, that interaction between artist and audience is stronger and more relevant in digital 3D form than in other artforms. They describe artwork as the software written by a creator, and warn against considering software as able to think. Moreover, coding software is a “form of human expression. Every algorithm was written by a person. That person carries the responsibility for what is produced by the algorithm.”[9]

The structure of the chapter is interesting as it is based on the structure of a previous manifesto that the pair wrote in 2006. The previous manifesto may have been arranged arbitrarily but as this text uses this previously established structure, then the composition of the chapter is not in itself arbitrary. It seems to be a sensible approach to an analysis of a manifesto. Harvey and Amyn assess their manifesto and describe how they have changed as practitioners over twelve years, and how their context, their political surroundings and the world they live in has changed.

Towards the end of the chapter the artists begin to speak more emotionally about where they see their practice “At this point we feel that it is very difficult to ‘embrace technology’ anymore. What once presented itself as the foothills of paradise has turned into a hell from which no escape can be imagined”.[10] This negative outlook towards the end of the paper describes the artists disillusionment over recent global events and authoritarian politics, and the reemergence of corporate broadcast models.

In terms of the quality of the arguments presented, even though a scholarly article written by practitioners, many of the concepts are based on assumptions and the personal experiences with little corroborating evidence to support the artists statements. More work would be needed by the researcher in order to trust the judgements made in the article.

In terms of the content, the artists write with passion and experience of embarking on a project with much hope to find the once open space of the Internet, through politics and economics now seems confined and managed.

I find the chapter intriguing and want to understand more about the digital space that Harvy and Amyn describe. I wonder if there is potential still that can be uncovered. Equally, I find this article biased against recent art without demonstrating a nuanced understanding of Modernism in all its various and complex forms. To disregard, or pit against, Modernism seems rather a problematic and perhaps inapposite exercise.


Auriea Harvey & Michael Samyn, Graveyard, screenshot ‘Approaching’, (2008).
© Tale of Tales. Accessed 19 Nov 2018.
<https://frieze.com/article/design-play-disrupt-va-what-happens-when-we-break-video-gamess-black-box>

References:

[1] Various Artists. (2018). Videogames: Design/Play/Disrupt. Exhibited at the The Victoria and Albert Museum, London, September 2018 to February 2019.

[2] Auriea Harvey & Michaël Samyn, Realtime Art Manifesto 2006, Belgium, accessed 19 November 2018, <http://www.tale-of-tales.com/tales/RAM.html>

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid

[6] Harvey, A; Amyn, M,. (2018). ‘The Realtime Art Manifesto 12 Years Later’ in Foulston, M, Volsing K,. (2018). Videogames: Design / Play / Disrupt. London: V&A Publications, pp. 90 – 97.

[7] Ibid

[8] Ibid

[9] Ibid

[10] Ibid

Project Development.

In the first draft of my proposal I set out my interest in exploring the female viewpoint in the film Computer Chess. My interest in this film went further than enjoying the dry wit of this mumlecore comedy. What bothered me was the lack of recognition given to the female role, who is actually the most significant character, or player, in the movie. With further research it appeared that from the filmmaker to the critics, the female role is dismissed. Far from a maguffin or muse, she is the key to the success of the story, she is the hero, the saviour. However, her essential part is seemingly unacknowledged. Because I felt so strongly about this lack of recognition, I made a comicstrip/visual narrative in response. I decided to do this after reading a copy of the journal ‘Beneficial Shock’ which “aims to use illustration … in humorous and irreverent ways to expressively interpret film related content” (www.beneficialshock.com).

These are some of the images from the comicstrip I developed. The strip is eighteen frames long and the text is taken directly from the film script. Using examples of rhetoric from the male characters when they are being particularly boastful and/or sexist. The majority of the images are drawn from film stills with some coloured images of chess pieces and a chess clock.

Frame 4.
Frame 11.

I called the comic ‘Shelly’s Conference’ as it is her experience of the computer chess conference.

Frame 5.
Frame 17.
Frame 15.

Whilst making this comic strip I began thinking about technology in terms of male and female spaces, and then began thinking about the differences between computer hardware and software, and what unexplored spaces there might be. I then began to research the space of computer software as an environment for artistic expression. I came across many interesting ideas including manifestos claiming digital space for the unheard creatives.

One of my foremost areas of enquiry is finding or creating a space for my voice. It has been difficult to build on spaces and voices defined by previous female practitioners. I have found it difficult to find a way of speaking that is not understood through a particular way of reading. I have explored painting, I have explored the use of textile and knit, I have explored film and photography. All wonderful vehicles for expression, but not for real communication. The message is interfered by the language of the medium. With panting and film the message struggles alongside the narratives of “feminist painting” or “female film”. Textile and knit as the feminine medium. Therefore, opening up a space for illustration in ‘digital’ or ‘video’ whose narrative is yet to be defined, is very seductive.

My working title is ‘Exploring Video as a platform for the voiceless. To discover if the aphonic can exist in the space of Video’. Or ‘Can video be defined as a language or distinct system of communication?’ The aim of the project is to explore the relatively new space created by video game software as a potential vehicle for illustration and art. Objectives within this aim are to define or understand this space, which I’m referring to as ‘Video’. Understand how to use this space for visual communication. Discover the neutrality, language and politics of the space.

As such the next stages of my practical research began with drawing images of redundant video game technologies. A selection from a number of images I have made:

Alongside drawing these consoles and computers, I am also investigating how to use redundant technologies as a medium for drawing. There are USB attachments that can be used to enable C64 machines improve the range of user interfaces and to increase speed and memory. Also there is a new version of Atari 2600, in a mini and planned full size model, with digital drawing programs and wireless interfaces. I have begun exploring the potential of 8 bit grids as a structure for illustration.

Grids have been a theme for me during my creative career, beginning when studying painting at Winchester School of Art, through exploring knit, and in storyboarding for film.I have a background rooted in the writings of Krauss and Barthes, semiotics, post-structuralism and grids as visual languages. So it is not a surprise to me that grids are significant in these early stages of research. Chess relies on a grid, the visual narrative/comic in response to Computer Chess is  a grid. Pixels are a grid and drawing in bytes uses a grid.

Recently I backed a Kickstarter campaign to re-print an early work by Emily Noyes Vanderpoel. I had not been aware of her before, however colour investigations and descriptions of objects, communicated through a 10×10 grid are fascinating to me (fig.1). Another practitioner new to me is Lorena Lohr, an American photographer who uses old film point and shoot cameras to document the drab realities of life as she travels around the southern states (fig.2).

(fig.1) Emily Noyes VanderPoel, (1901) Plate LVIII, The Circadian Press, accessed 05.01.2019 ‘www.sacredbonesrecords.com/products/emily-noyes-vanderpoel-color-problem

(fig.2) Lorena Lohr, (2016) Untitled Downtown el Paso 2, accessed 05.01.2019 ‘www.lorenalohr.com

Inspired by Noyes Vanderpoel colour grids, I began making colour palettes of Lohr’s photographs. I changed the grid to 8×8, 64 squares, to be in line with drawing in bytes. Here are some sketchbook pages working through this process.

I continued to make these colour palettes and included works by Agnes Martin and Wayne Thiebaud in the experiment.

With colour palettes and drawing redundant technology, however I am planning the next steps. I am in the midst of setting up a Commodore 64 console with old TV screen and have acquired a copy of original C64 drawing software and a Trojan screen drawing pen. Next I will be beginning an experimental journey into 8 bit drawing.

Shelly’s Conference.

I’ve watched the film ‘Computer Chess‘ many times. Released in 2013 and directed by Andrew Bujalski, it is shot in black & white analogue. The film documents a conference held in a hotel over a weekend sometime between 1981 and 1983. The conference is to debate the potential of artificial intelligence beating a grand master at chess. Various groups of programmers and their computers then spend the rest of the weekend in a computer chess tournament against each other.

Set over the course of a weekend tournament for chess software programmers thirty-some years ago, COMPUTER CHESS transports viewers to a nostalgic moment when the contest between technology and the human spirit seemed a little more up for grabs. We get to know the eccentric geniuses possessed of the vision to teach a metal box to defeat man, literally, at his own game, laying the groundwork for artificial intelligence as we know it and will come to know it in the future.” – (Andrew Bujalski, accessed 13.12.2018 www.computerchessmovie.com/aboutthemovie.html)

Andrew Bujalski, ‘On set photograph’ from the movie Computer Chess (2013) accessed 13.12.2018 www.computerchessmovie.com/images/bistonfacingcamera.jpg

There is one female engineer, Shelly Flintic, who is the character that has the knowledge and skills to create the artificial intelligence the male engineers are so concerned with. However, her voice or viewpoint does not feature with any significance. This bothered me more with each viewing so I decided to redress the balance.

Taking some inspiration from ‘Beneficial Shock‘ a magazine that aims to interpret film through illustration, I prepared to make a visual narrative or ‘comic’ of the film to tell Shelly’s story. Using stills from the film, I drew a number of images. From these images I selected those that worked together to form a narrative or sorts. I read the film script and chose sections of dialogue that seemed particularly sexist or uncomfortable. The following image illustrate this process.

Frame 13.
Frame 5.
Frame 6.
Frame 8.
Frame 15.
There were many layout ideas, this is one of the first attempts.
The dialogue from the film script that was used.
The final layout.

References:

Website for the magazine ‘Beneficial Shock’: www.beneficialshock.com 

Website for the film ‘Computer Chess’: www.computerchessmovie.com

Investigating colour problems with Emily Noyes Vanderpoel.

Emily Noyes Vanderpoel at home (www.sacredbonesrecords.com/collections/emily-noyes-vanderpoel)

Emily Noyes Vanderpoel (1842-1939) is a largely overlooked artist and writer. Her first book Color Problems, A Practical Manual for the Lay Student of Color was first published in 1901. It contained beautiful diagrams to describe the science of colour theory, and charted objects she deconstructed using colour analysis.

Plate LXXVI Colour Analysis from Spanish Embroidery (from Noyes Vanderpoel, E., (2018). Color Problems, A Practical Manual for the Lay Student of Color. New York: The Circadian Press with Sacred Bones Books).
Plate XCVII Colour Analysis from a Chinese “Eggshell” Plate (from Noyes Vanderpoel, E., (2018). Color Problems, A Practical Manual for the Lay Student of Color. New York: The Circadian Press with Sacred Bones Books).

She deployed ‘the Grid’ long before it became a stage for formalism.  I am interested in her forgotten voice and her early use of the grid as a method of studying colour as visual language. The extent of her influence on early modernist aesthetics is unknown and the reprinting of her first book by The Circadian Press with Sacred Bones Books is an attempt to instate Vanderpoel as a visionary who influenced minimalism and formalism.

Plate XC Colour Analysis from Japanese Cloisonné Vase (from Noyes Vanderpoel, E., (2018). Color Problems, A Practical Manual for the Lay Student of Color. New York: The Circadian Press with Sacred Bones Books.)

Vanderpoel used a grid of one hundred squares to analyse the colour of objects. Inspired by her method of charting colour and my interest in drawing in 8 bit I am interested in making some colour analyses in grids of 64 squares, 8 by 8..

Tectonic Mapping.

Project Context

I like visual journals, graphic narratives, comics, illustrations, stories, and film. I make films, I draw, use hand printmaking techniques, develop photographic imagery. I seem to need to combine, twist, break and fix images. This is my visual language and method of production. My context is one of feeling, being, voiceless. Working often in collaborations, not feeling I have the space to tell the stories I want to tell, the stories I feel need telling. I think this journey I have begun is about finding, negotiating and staking claim to a space in which my voice can exist. I am starting this exploration in a tectonic space, a fluid space.

Project Outcome

A probable and quickly realisable outcome for this project is retelling stories from the viewpoint of traditionally female roles. For instance, in the film Computer Chess1, the female characters are typically a receptionist, a hooker, a middle aged swinger/predator, a mother with baby and, a computer engineer, the first woman to ever enter the computer chess tournament.

Documented perspectives of the film include:

  • The computer engineers and programmers are men that are finding the complexities of humanity unresolvable with their code and stunted interactions.(2)
  • An exploration of the strangeness of a world run by computers and the unfulfilling reality this offers to the men existing within.(3)
  • The female role in the film described as a missed opportunity by the male protagonists to reach sexual fulfilment. But these do not mirror my understanding of the film and I cannot find a review or analysis of this film that reflects my understanding. To me the story is of the female engineer. She is the character that creates the thing the men are intellectually and virtually competing to achieve, and it is the very man that asks for her help who inadvertently destroys what she has created. Her story needs to be told. I want to tell this story. This will be the first outcome exploring and establishing a voice, a space that I can own and work in. In terms of client and audience, Beneficial Shock is a magazine that asks illustrators to describe their perspectives of film through drawn narrative. I may well submit the results of this first outcome to this publication for review.

Project Manifesto

As for a manifesto, I don’t believe I am ready yet to write this. I do know however what it is not. This is not my manifesto:

Shooting must be done on location. Props and sets must not be brought in (if a particular prop is necessary for the story, a location must be chosen where this prop is to be found). The sound must never be produced apart from the images or vice versa. (Music must not be used unless it occurs where the scene is being shot.) The camera must be hand-held. Any movement or immobility attainable in the hand is permitted. The film must be in color. Special lighting is not acceptable. (If there is too little light for exposure the scene must be cut or a single lamp be attached to the camera.) Optical work and filters are forbidden. The film must not contain superficial action. (Murders, weapons, etc. must not occur.) Temporal and geographical alienation are forbidden. (That is to say that the film takes place here and now.) Genre movies are not acceptable. The film format must be Academy 35 mm. The director must not be credited. Furthermore I swear as a director to refrain from personal taste! I am no longer an artist. I swear to refrain from creating a “work”, as I regard the instant as more important than the whole. My supreme goal is to force the truth out of my characters and settings. I swear to do so by all the means available and at the cost of any good taste and any aesthetic considerations. Thus I make my VOW OF CHASTITY. Copenhagen, Monday 13 March 1995 On behalf of DOGMA 95 Lars von Trier & Thomas Vinterberg.(4)

References:

  1. www.computerchessmovie.com
  2. www.indiewire.com/2013/01/sundance-review-is-the-hilarious-computer-chess-a-change-of-pace-for-andrew-bujalski-41829/
  3. www.newyorker.com/culture/richard-brody/andrew-bujalskis-computer-chess
  4. www.dogme95.dk/the-vow-of-chastity/