Event: Now is the Time, Media. Digital Elements In Analogue Artworks.

On: October 6, 2008
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Digital Elements In Analogue Artworks.



Background of the Lecture Series


Now is the Time, Art & Theory in the 21st Century (www.nowisthetime.nl), seven lecture evenings dedicated to seven themes that encircle the complex arena in which the arts of the new millennium are situated. Socially engaged themes like 9/11, globalisation and the turn to religion of our contemporary society are juxtaposed with subjects that are more directly related to art, such as the return of Romanticism, the primacy of design and the status of the artwork in what is referred to as ‘the postmedium condition’.

A unique collaboration between Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, University of Amsterdam, W139, Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam and Metropolis M. The project aims at stimulating the study of the visual arts of the present day and recent history, and promoting dialogue between both art theory and art practice, and art and society at large.


Friday 3 October 2008 the lecture series got kicked of with the theme: Media.


What is the status of the medium in art production and the discourse in art, in this situation referred to by Rosalind Kraus as the ‘postmedium condition’? 1 How can an artist act critically in this complex cultural field now dominated by multimedia and mass media?




Kaja Silverman (US), Professor of Rhetoric and Film at the University of California, Berkeley. Topics: cinema, phenomenology, psychoanalysis, photography, time-based visual art and literature. Publications: Speaking about Godard (1998), World Spectators (2000) and Flesh of my Flesh (will appear 2009)



Laura Marks (CAN), Professor in Contemporary Arts at Simon Fraser University, Canada. Topics: New media art, experimental cinema, film theory and Arab and Islamic arts. Publications: The Skin of the Film (2000) and Enfoldment and Infinity (forthcoming).




Silverman, Digital and Analogue Last Supper by Coleman and Da Vinci


Kaja Silverman 2 uses the works of James Coleman and Leonarda da Vinci brought together by the Louvre (summer 2003) to built her theory on the interaction between analogue works (da Vinci) and digital works (Coleman).



The Last Supper, Leonardo Da Vinci, 1498



There were three works of Coleman: 1) wall text 2) four editing monitors 3) digital last supper. The wall text positioned Coleman as an artist ‘re-doing’ some works (selected by Coleman) of Da Vinci rather than ‘(re)presenting’ them. The digital Last Supper was destroyed by Coleman and no documentation of the work was allowed. But Silverman has found a way of showing us an example of the work. What Coleman did was setting coordinates of the picture into a software program that would scan the picture according to these coordinates. The screen on which these elements were projected thus showed details, zooms, pans and parts of the picture. Silverman had to think of slides in libraries used by art historians for the same purposes, she then scanned the slides and put them in a PowerPoint presentation so we could have an idea of the work of Coleman. What struck me instantly was the fetishist notion of showing only parts of an object of desire. This may not have been as strong a sensation in the actual exhibition because on the editing monitors you could see the continuous position of the computer operated camera toward the analogue fresco. You probably were very much aware of the computed part of the work and that is maybe less fetishist. At least it was not something Silverman brought up.

Silverman defined the works of Coleman as an ephemerical memorial or a kind of archive, it was more of a process than a product.

Another important notion was that of transmission versus reception. She states that transmission is patriarchal, and used in representational practices to ‘transmit’ something to prosperity (the Mona Lisa). And reception is like broadcasting, arriving at a location. Because Coleman set an expiration date you could say that he was not transmitting for prosperity and in that sense the work is not patriarchal.


Da Vinci

Da Vinci is perceived upon being almost ‘God’ and in that sense very partriachal (the Mona Lisa), but when you look closely you will find a lot of hints that are more matriarchal in the works and in the way of working of Da Vinci. Silverman explains this by focussing on the drapery studies by Da Vinci. In these studies headless maternal figures are seated with open legs and inviting laps, hinting on the archetype of Virgin Mary with her Child, receptive aspects of motherhood. Also Leonardo had no children so he had no physical inheritants. As Silverman suggests there is a relationship between transmission and fraud (you can copy and transmit). On the floor in the Louvre, the names of Da Vinci’s competitors were written, he himself used no examples, did not imitate and copy. Moreover Da Vinci is well known for leaving works unfinished and even The Last Supper is disappearing (and being restored) from the day it was created. Da Vinci uses a mixture of two layers of tempera that is likely to decompose fast, it is as if he didn’t want to preserve or didn’t care about the preservation of his work. In that sense he is an ideal artist being a receiver not a transmitter, ‘the image enters my eye’.


Drapery studies, Leonardo Da Vinci (around 1490)


Is Da Vinci a historical new media artist? In the way that the Last Supper is not a representation of a Christian narrative but rather a composition of change (agitation through all the pointing fingers) and an animation of constant dying (through the decomposing fresco), Silverman would say yes.

Silverman concludes with two striking remarks. 1) “every form takes physical shape as it wanders”, “death is not the end of form but actually animates it” 2) In the works of Coleman a figure is composed out of data in real time, “until this image in the making was visible it did not exist, when it came to life it would die”.



Marks, Algorithm in Islamic Tiling and Carpets and Social Networking Sites


Detail from a Burrell Dragon-Carpet


Laura Marks 3 starts with a picture of the ceiling tiles in the Yazd Mosque in Iran. She draws a comparison to digital social networks by naming parallels such as the collective view, the abstract algorithmic level of the pattern and the way you experience through your body. Analogue and digital worlds are written in a common code. The virtual in virtual worlds is mostly a ‘lame’ virtuality (programs producing worlds). Looking out the window gives a better view on virtuality (with God as the only one comprehending). What is an image more than the end result of codes of information? The visible layer is permutable, exposing the underlying code.

Media art is an-iconic (a phenomenon is impossible to represent) just as Islamic art, it’s dealing with abstract structures (line and forms free of figuration) and anti poësis. Another parallel may be that media art and Islamic art are rather temporal and social than visual and in that sense they create haptic spaces (going around in a real space with your body (a caressing gaze) and in a social networking space).

Marks wants us not to look upon Islamic art only in its religious function, it is also meaningful in the way that it denies a subjective approach. It shows the organization of life through matter by a genetic algorithm.

Her main statement is (by citing Deleuze) immanent infinity, everything that is both actual and virtual.


The paneldiscussion is led by moderator Sudeep Dasgupta (NL), Senior Lecturer in the Department of Media and Culture at the University of Amsterdam. He gives a short summary of both lectures and remarks that they have a lot in common: There is a overlap between analogue and digital art and there is something hidden that both speakers try to unravel. Then Arjen Mulder is invited to ask the first questions. He asks Kaja whether her approach isn’t too constructivist, she answers by stating that there are larger ramifications than only comparing Da Vinci to new media artists and she had to bring up these maternal aspects to make her point. Mulder asks Marks whether we are leaving the visual world and are now entering an an-iconic world? Marks says that we are perceiving the world more and more through a filter of information, so that we are indeed living in an information culture.


This concluded the evening for me with a lot of theory and a lot of analogue history to be rethought by me.




1 Reinventing the Medium, Rosalind Kraus, 1999








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