Friday, October 19, 2007

An Interest in the Use of Artificial Light as an Artistic Medium

The study of light began with painting and its study and depiction of light from the universe - the sun and the moon. With the invention of artificial light at the turn of the century, there was a paradigm shift from "representing light" to "using" light. The visual world is a world of light, and art has always been connected to the visual and to light.

With the invention of artificial light, it became a sign of the modern world as homes and cities lit up. This inspired artists in the electronic age to develop a new medium - light art. In the 1920's and 1930's, basic sources of light art emerged from new technologies of photography and film.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


BLOOD ARTISTS

The following are artists who use blood as a medium in the expression of their work:

FRANKO B
Franko B expresses a strong relationship between the body and power. A London-based, multi-media and performance artist, his work focuses on an extreme and powerful expression in his art. He utilizes his own body as a canvas, and his blood as paint to express strong feelings he calls: "the pain, the love, the hate, the loss, the power and the fears of the human condition". Michel Foucault, French philosopher, was also interested in the human body, its history, and how the body is manipulated by the various types of power and social control - that the human body is connected to personal, social and political conflict. He writes: "The relationships of power operate an immediate grasp upon it, they attack it, they mark it, they train it, they torture it, they force it to perform certain tasks, they oblige it to participate in ceremonies, and they demand signs from it". ("Extreme Bodies", p. 30)

For Franko B, the representation of "wounds" upon his body arouses negative reactions and rejection for the viewer to want to flee the spectacle. He states: "A wound obliges us to an almost primitive confrontation and relationship in an era in which we often claim that the image has lost all power". (Extreme Bodies, p. 35) In an image-saturated world, where society is numbed to violence that confronts us in the media and on other levels, everyday, Franko B has found a forceful way to penetrate the human psyche and extracts strong responses to the reality of his work and his message.

I will discuss one of his performance works he called: "I Miss You" held at the Art Live Festival in Turin, 2000. This is an excerpt from Jennifer Doyle in her "Critical Tears: Melodrama and Museums", Nicolas Baume, editor.

"In this piece, naked, covered in white body paint, Franko B walks a length of canvas. He is lit up on either side from the floor by fluorescent tubes, and bleeds from catheters in his arms that hold his veins open as he slowly and ceremoniously walks the length of the canvas toward a bank of photographers at its base. Blood pools at his feet at each end of the "catwalk", where he stands before turning around and beginning his march again. The performance is structured to resemble a fashion show, and the blood-splattered canvas Franko leaves in his wake is used to make unwearable or at least unmarketable haute couture, to mummify household objects, and to make pocket-sized souvenir paintings".

Franko B expresses a great deal of his own personal meaning in his performance as a way to communicate his concepts and meanings. In this particular work, he seems lonely, and the theme of powerlessness comes through.


STELARC

Stelarc is an Australian performance and multi-media artist who elicits a powerful depiction of hybrid and machine. To quote Donna Haraway (in class notes Senft, Theresa M. "Reading Notes on Donna Haraway's "Cyborg Manifesto"), a cyborg is defined in four ways: "The first is a "cybernetic organism"(communication, internet). The second is a "hybrid of machine and organism". The third is a "creature of lived social reality", and the fourth is a "creature of fiction" (virtual reality).

Stelarc has explored the idea of body that interfaces with machine/technology to become a hybrid of both - a cyborg. He considers the body as an ideal host for "insertive technology" - using his body to insert a range of mediums that include systems such as the internet, robotics, medical prosthetics, etc. He filmed the interior of his body (the Seen/Unseen theme). He performned with a robotic arm that operated through nerve impulses from his own body. He suspended himself above a street in New York, suspended by skin hooks. Like Franko B, Stelarc uses his body as a host, in this case, to insert technological devices in his performances to express the idea of "cyborg". His work is an exploration of the technological possibilities of the body plus machine. Stelarc's explorations probe themes about how humans may be able to alter, repair or redesign their bodies in the future. He also suggests that we need to think of the future of technology and design, and which directions and controls we should take - at the very least, to begin the discourse that explores those ideas.

Stelarc has this to say: (taken from his website)

"Bodies are both Zombies and Cyborgs. We have never had a mind of our own and we often perform involuntarily - conditioned and externally prompted. Ever since we evolved as hominids and developed bipedal locomotion, two limbs became manipulators and we constructed artifacts, instruments, and machines. In other words we have always been coupled with technology. We have always been prosthetic bodies. We fear the involuntary and we are becoming increasingly automated and extended. But we fear what we have always been and what we have already become - Zombies and Cyborgs".


ISTVAN KANTOR

Istvan Kantor is a Canadian performance artist (live art), and multi-media artist. He also uses blood as a medium for paint, like Franko B, although Kantor improvises and also uses "pig blood". His performances, called "The Blood Campaign", were a series of performance and art works displayed and accompanied by electronic music (sometimes ear-piercing and unbearable). The whole of this "subcultural network" was youth-oriented and began in the 1980's. He referred to it as "Neoism". Like the word itself (neoism), his art is "packed with contradiction and abstraction, but Kantor presents it in a way that bypasses the intellect and appeals directly to the body." (Self repreenting Artists Magazine, April 2005)

Kantor's work expresses a dystopian reality of technology. Like Stelarc, Kantor also explores ideas around "cyborg", but in a more dark way suggesting that technology is a double edged sword - it can free us, and it can imprison us. Like both Franko B and Stelarc, Kantor's work has elicited negative reactions (he was arrested several times for his blood art). As an art of a subculture, Kantor's themes have radically challenged the mainstream culture and symbols of authority - institutions of law, education and politics.


PAUL McCARTHY

Paul McCarthy, a multi-media artist, was born in Salt Lake City, Utah in 1945.

Review of Video: "Destruction of the Body", (Films for the Humanitieis and Sciences, 2004)
Paul McCarthy's video was provocative to say the least. He is interested in film because it can depict action, and he likes representation. McCarthy speaks about the mediums he uses in his performances, and in this film they are liquids such as motor oil, and packaged foods like flour, milk, chocolate, mayonaise (represents sperm/mucous), ketchup (represents blood). He says he chooses these products because they are commodities of the consumer culture he grew up in. He uses his body in conjunction with these products, both as a canvas and as a paintbrush. In her featured performance, "Painting Face Down White Line", he crawls along a surface using his face and body as a paintbrush to paint a long, white line.
One theme McCarthy explores are the icons and myths of "utopian idealism", for example portrayed in Disneyland, and its subsequent "negative conditioning" to children who grow up idolizing the characters. This video features his performance as "Pinocchio" - the liar. Much of his work is shocking and he pushes the limit to express the dark side of American culture.
McCarthy uses the idea of blood in a represented form - "ketchup". He differs from the other "blood artists" by representing blood, and he differs from my project, that examines my blood at a cellular level.

Research Mandate

I have explored the subject of the relationship between human and media technology, ("Untitled Performance"), and technology and organics ("Organic Digital Frames"). This project is an extension of that exploration - of technology and a journey to the interior of my human
body. It is an exploration of art and science and their interaction.

In this research, I am looking into such subjects as Michel Foucault and his theories on power, knowledge and the body. I am also researching artists who use blood as a medium in the expression of their work. I came across a book by Martin Kemp, a disguished art historian, who wrote "Seen/Unseen", and is in step with the ideas I am exploring. This book examines themes of imagery in art and science, "which reflect shared structural intuitions about the seen and the unseen world of nature". (Seen/Unseen, M. Kemp) Kemp was trained in both the fields of science and art, much like Leonardo da Vinci, of the Renaissance art movement, and one of Kemp's favorite subjects. Da Vinci applied many scientific principles to his works, such as the principle of linear perspective in "The Last Supper".


Both science and art are based on the idea of "wonder", investigation, and amazement. There is form and beauty inherent when we look at images using scientific investigation, as portrayed in the "Life Illuminated" Science Show. This project invited the works of scientists and multi-media artists throughout the world to particpate in the artistic expression of organic forms. Their work reveals how both disciplines overlap, as da Vinci's scientific investigations inform his paintings. Technology has given us the tools to investigate the interiors of the human body. Similarly, for da Vinci in his time -art and science are both means of inquiry, and search for truths and facts. By scientifically observing the anatomy of the human body with whatever means were available to him (actual models of body parts when he could obtain them), he was able to represent realistic images of the human form and human expression.



There is form, beauty and function at both the macro level and micro level. Spatial images, such as those you see when looking through a telescope at celestial bodies, and when you look through a microscope, for example at my blood, are the same. The universe is revealed on both scales. This idea exists no matter what the magnification: whether it is the universe in its infinite scale, or looking through a microscope at the structures of the body at a subatomic level.

John Noestheden, artist and professor at the University of Regina, explores the themes of science (astronomy) and art and their interrelationship. His recent exhibit at the Dunlop Gallery, "Time and Space, shows works of "astronomical imagery". The works explore the universe beyond the borders of planet earth. His gaze is to look at the greater picture of the universe on the macro level, contrasted to but in the same vein as my project which views life on a micro level. In Noestheden's words, we are gazing at a reflection of ourselves when we look outward into space.

"When we leave the planet, our energy is dissipated and goes back into the universe. We are the universe, and we are reflected in it. When you look at the universe, you are looking at yourself." (Artist's Talk, Dunlop Gallery)

To investigate the question: Is science art? Images of science are art because humans naturally respond to the order that science provides. "Signataures of the Invisible" was an art exhibition in London, that "was motivated by the belief that artistic practice, if it is to have meaning in the modern world, cannot derive from the artist's subjectivity alone, but demands engagement between the artist's intra-psychic (subjective or intuitive) processes and the external world in which we live". Those processes depend on the discourse between the two disciplines: science and art practices. Although scientists and artists do not train in the same way, both disciplines are sound methods of exploring the nature of our universe. Some examples of this approach are: For the artist, color is a visual fact, but for physicists, it can relate to temperature. For the artist, a surface is where you place things such as paint, where for a physicist, it is the "outermost part of the body, and may be associated with levels of energy". For the film-maker, units of time is 24 frames per second; for the physicist it may be a matter of femtoseconds". ("Signataures of the Invisible", London Institute).

Martin Kemp's book, "Seen/Unseen" expresses the interrelationship between art and science well when he says imagery is not about art, is not about science, but it is the interaction of one upon the other, and as stated earlier, it underlies the "universal intuitions" that are shared
between the two.






image 1: "Light, Scale and Colour at nano scale", Daniel Sauter.
Large prints and installation, 500 square feet


image 2: "Atomic Chain of Gold Atoms", Heinrich Jaeger.
Prints, 9 feet wall space.

The Genesis of the Project

In the beginning, there was blood...

When I was a small child, my mother took me to see an herbalist and naturopathic specialist, and the idea was to investigate for possible parasites. I have exceptional sensory recall of this event, and the feelings toward the activities which took place in the specialist's office. I remember the scent of herbs, vitamins, and there were medical charts of the human skeleton and human anatomy, along with diplomas that covered the walls. My eyes found the R2D2 action figure in the kiddie toy box, as I sat in his examination room on the hot summer afternoons I would miss school to be there.

The most memorable recollection of this childhood experience was a "blood-based" examination that was administered for an analysis and diagnosis of my cellular activity. The specialist poked my thumb with a pin, and allowed a drop of blood to fall onto a small plexiglass slide. The blood was then placed under a microscope which was connected to an analog video translataor device. All of a sudden, there were ambiguous black and white images that appeared on the monitor which consisted of various circular forms in a state of life as they appeared to breathe and exist as entities in motion, while they navigated around the screen as he tilted or shifted the microscope lens. Before long, I become conscious to the fact that I was viewing my own blood extracated from the interior of my body through this technology.

The specialist spoke with my mother for a length of time, and I returned to his office to repeat this procedure off and on for a couple of years. One day I no longer had parasites, and my trips to the specialist's office ended.

Fourteen years later, last summer, my partner and I decided to visit this herbalist for some insight into our health. Though we weren't seriously ill, we wanted to gain some insight into our physical beings to help us feel healthier. Upon arriving at this office, at the same location, the same sensory experiences I had as a child resurfaced. I felt at ease and calm as we both consulted with him about the state of our health and our search for information. Through an exchange of language, diagrams, and images, we were able to arrive at an understanding by his interpretations of the interior workings of our bodies. It was now time to do the blood testing and I offered to go first. Blood, as before, was extracted and placed under the microscope for diagnosis. When the screen of the monitor came into focus, there were my blood cells, white and black, circular outlines, co-existing with each other while moving gently and soundlessly . The specialist began his interpretation and subsequent diagnosis from the information of the images, and explained to me some information about my present health. This was an extremely personal and empowering experience for me, as many things came to my mind.

I thought about the language, knowledge, and the images, and how they are interrelated. I could now coomprehend and respect the specialist's knowledge, and connect to the visual ambiguous images that were shown to me. As a child, I couldn't grasp the essence of the diagnostic language, and now as an adult, it made sense. I remember thinking that this was such a beautiful moment - one of knowledge and empowerment. I paused to think of the naturopath with his knowledge, technology and tools, who provides his specific service to his clientele. To follow the thread, I buy my meat from a butcher, my vinyl from a record store, my cat food from a pet store, and I view my blood cells on a monitor at the naturopath's office. This idea of specification and the exchange of language and knowledge intrigued me. I was able to gain a sense of awareness of my body with my time spent receiving this service of knowledge exchange. The images of my blood cells became a type of meditation which opened a window into my being on a micro level. These images and my perception of life on a micro scale became the impetus for my graduation show.

Introduction

This blog will operate as the research and development component of my graduation show for my BFA degree at the University of Regina. My major is in Intermedia and I am planning a video installation to be held at the MacKenzie Art Gallery in the spring of 2008. My intent is to include a body of research which informs my practice and my current installation in progress, as well as express my thoughts and ideas about my grad show project.