Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Internet And Network Art Contextual Analysis

Contextual Analysis

When it comes to defining a digital arts project or any art project, it is very easy to provide justification for it's existence. Art in it's own right is an expression by the artist, a way of allowing others to have an insight into the artist's mind. The digital art world is no different, and the same thought processes apply. Although relatively young in comparison to it's long time cousin (the traditional act of using a physical medium such as paper and canvas with paints or pastels etc.), the worldwide web has opened up a whole new galaxy of possibilities. From endless ways of marketing your work, to general changes in the way that Art pieces can be created or even 'generated', perhaps within specialised image manipulating programs such as Photoshop, or using Telematics (scanning artwork through a fax machine), or even Robotics (allowing a digital being to draw for you using a programming language). Digital art is endless in it's potential, it's creative possibilities only limited by the artist's own technical abilities. However even this is not an insurmountable problem.
The art is in the 'concept' and not necessarily just the 'end product'. For example; if an artist conceives an idea that requires skills he does not personally possess, he/she could perhaps employ the services of a programmer, webdesigner, or some other skilled individual (or company), and then set them on their respective paths to go 'create' the piece of work (in accordance with whatever instructions are provided by the artist). The work is still credited to the artist who conceived it, even though they may never have even set their hands on it. The electronic computer age has expanded the net (so to speak), allowing creative people who may not be able to even wield a pen, the ability to create amazing works of visual delight. It is also good to note that not all digital art is about computers and the web.

During my research for this project I have found many artists using the concept of 'Chinese Whispers' in their art work i.e. using other contributors to provide collaboration on a given theme. Contemporary artist Rachel Cohen who has been an artist in the formal sense of the word since around 1996 when she started exhibiting her works publicly, received an Arts Council award in 2005 for her project actually called 'Chinese Whispers'. Below are the first ten pictures produced by the participants along with their description of what they thought the drawing was. The first drawing was by Rachel Cohen herself.

Crane Fly




Nice Dragonfly

Lizard-Serpent Man

Dancing Crab Man

Lobster With Lance



Whilst 'Chinese Whispers' is widely recognised as a game, it is also very much the process by which everyday conversation and in particular 'gossip' behaves. It aptly describes the human need to create excitement within everyday life by taking a titbit of news that is perhaps reasonably accurate, and then telling all their friends about it. Each person will remember certain parts of the story differently to the person they heard it from and, more importantly it will be differently to the person they then tell it to. Thus we have the formation of a similar but subtly different tale. In most cases a story can start off reasonably accurate and then get blown further and further out of proportion with subsequent repeats to new people along the chain.
I imagine the results of my art piece would become more and more interesting if higher numbers of participants get involved in a single game. This will of course be due to the predicted 'blurring' of the original information. However, the higher the number of participants in a single game, the more time will elapse before the final piece could be viewed in the gallery. This could potentially restrict casual interest of the web site until several games have been completed and displayed.

Really the fundamental concept behind 'Chinese Whispers' isn't a new one. How many of us truly have an original idea? It could be argued that to have an original idea is virtually impossible, perhaps due to our surrounding cultural influences, lifestyle choices and even genetics. The very act of researching this project called upon the need to present existing data to show how our ideas have developed. This is based on the provision of illustrations and art works by other artists in a bid to justify our own art piece's existence.
'Chinese Whispers' is a verbal representation of sentence evolution/development and with regards to art evolving in the same way, well this has also been done throughout history. Of particular interest is the Renaissance period of the 14th to 17th centuries. The word itself means 'rebirth' and involves using classical ideas which have been changed and theoretically improved using technological advancements. Whilst this isn't as clear cut as looking at a piece of art and copying it as closely as possible, it has some use when directed towards the idea that I am pursuing. Using the web as my 'technological advancement' is an understandable and almost obligatory choice in this day and age.

To demonstrate a very similar but different take on the visual “Chinese Whispers” theme I found a web site There were three ways of providing the imagery for the game but each using technological advancement over and above the trusty pencil and paper.

The standard game involves taking a photograph of a sentence provided on the web space. This then gets emailed to the next person and they replicate it as closely as possible and take and photo, this then gets emailed on to the next name on the list.
Not only are you you including a digital camera image or camera and scanner you are also transferring information via email.

A 'Themed' game involves someone taking a photograph with a specific theme in mind and then emailing the photo to the next person. This person must try and guess the theme and provide an appropriate photograph. They must then email it on etc.

The third method uses photoshop to digitally replicate the picture you have been sent sourcing images from your own stock or using an online search resource like Google.

Photos shown are taken from:-
Kevan. "Photographic Chinese Whispers." Kevan Dot Org. 17 Oct 2007

The speed of modern technology allows us to comfortably pursue a past-time like this.
Imagine life before computers, digital cameras and scanners. In the mid 19th century, a person would have had to have a picture taken by a photographer, get it developed (which with many of the earliest forms of cameras could have taken around 8 hours). Then they would have had to employ someone to deliver the picture on horseback to the next person and, depending on where they were located, this could all have taken months. Assuming all this could have been done at all, the final pictures would have to then be brought together in a physical gallery space in order for anyone to see them together. Whilst I may have exaggerated some of the details in the above description of the game, i think you can clearly see how this approach would never have been possible, and certainly not as a mere 'past-time' or leisure activity.

I feel that it is important to find a specific art piece that has been closely copied, but interpreted differently to demonstrate a change in materials, the availability of new technology and the effect of cultural influences. Religious and Mythological art is a good place to start the search due to it's extensive longevity, and continued existence in our cultural lives today. It is probably one of the few things that you could say is still with us and has been with us since the dawn of time. Taking this into account, artists throughout the years have used this as a basis for hundreds, thousands, maybe millions of pieces of art. i have selected 'The Birth of Venus' as a good piece to look at.

“Birth Of Venus” by Alessandro Botticelli, 1482-86
Tempera On Canvas

Whilst this is generally considered to be one of Botticelli's most well known paintings, it is interesting to note that there is historical documentation to suggest that the painting itself was based on writings in the book 'Pliny's Natural History xxxv' which chronicles the painting of “Venus Anadyomene” by Apelles of Kos from the 4th Century BC. Whilst this painting has long since disappeared, probably destroyed, the writing of Pliny the Elder stood as inspiration enough for Botticelli to produce “Birth of Venus”. Over subsequent years people have copied this piece in many ways, and in many different mediums such as sculpture, film, television, and print.

“The Birth Of Venus” by William-Adolphe Bouguereau, 1879
Oil On Canvas
The first impression I get about this painting in comparison to the Botticelli is that is has a far more romantic feel to it. Which is very typical of the time period. The children are angelic cherubs floating in the air whilst the people look on in awe at the amazement of Venus. The Venus of this piece looks like she is enjoying the attention and appears to have no shame about being naked probably because all the others are naked too. Bouguereau's version of the 'Birth Of Venus' is very different to the Botticellis in this way and yet strikingly simiilar.

Genichiro Inokuma, 1940
Oil on Canvas
This picture harks back to the Botticelli by again preserving the decency of th Venus by covering the genitalia, however rather that cover the breast the artist has drawn the arm over the head. The Venus looks slightly uncomfortable and rather than surround her with people she is surrounded by nature, fish from the sea in which she has come from. The painting is abstract unlike the Botticelli and the Venus is less curvacious taking away some of the femininity.

Andy Warhol, Details of Renaissance Paintings (Sandro Botticelli, “Birth Of Venus” 1482), 1984 – Acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas
The picture above shows four different print versions produced by Warhol
Andy Warhol specialises in taking icons from everyday life and historical significance and giving them a screen print treatment. This one is different from the others as it doesn't include the whole Botticelli piece concentrating solely of the face of Venus. It is a very modern interpretation and would be a home in any contemporary home today. It's a good way of allowing everyday people access to a masterpiece and an icon.

“The Birth Of Venus”, The Simpson – The Last Temptation of Homer, 1993
In this episode the 'Birth Of Venus' sketch is used as a way of indicating sexual desire and beauty, within the confines of a cartoon environment. It would be difficult to show sexual desire in the conventional way due to the age of some of he audience. The Simpsons appeals to children and adults and in order to do this there needs to be clever underlying meaning to the content.

“Birth Of Venus” by Judy Horacek, Unrequited Love Nos 1-100, Mcphee Gribble 1994
A cover art for a very 1950's way of thinking, the woman keeping home. The Venus, beautiful and alluring being ordered back complete housework. Venus is trying to show her sexual appeal which has gone un-noticed, she is no longer desirable presumably to her husband and is now just a work horse with her four walls.

'The Birth Of Venus (After Botticelli)” by Josh Agle, 2001
Acrylic and Vinyl Paint on Panel
A modern take on the 'Birth Of Venus' rather than being blown in from the sea she is represent as being beamed up using futuristic technology. The romance has gone and whilst the sexual appeal is still very present in this piece, it appears to be showing that technology such as the internet allows us to fulfill our sexual desires without any contact required, without any human interaction.

“Bir+h Of Venus” by Delaware, 2002
Japanese design group members are Masato Samata, Aya Honda, Morihiro Tajiri
An animated GIF of the 'Birth Of Venus' made up of the words Hippy Shake. I'm sure this piece has meaning but it is unclear to me as to why they have chosen these words, maybe it's to do with womanly Hips - Hippy and the fact that because it is a moving GIF that it appears to shake and shimmer.

“Birth Of Venus” by CastleDude, 2003
Photograph and Photoshop
This is described on his webspace as the pose of the model reminding him of the 'Birth Of Venus' therefore he felt that it would be appropriate to do this as the theme. Modern intereretation using photography and photoshop, image manipulation to adds the elements into the piece.

Eva Herzigova re-enacts the “Birth Of Venus” during the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics 2006
Used during the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics to indicate simply the birth of something, symbolism.

“The Birth Of Venus Botticelli” by Vladimir Zunuzin
Improvisations Paintings
Oil On Canvas
I'm not really sure how to describe this painting, it is awash with colours and imagery, I guess a bit like the flurry of modern life expressed using historical imagery. Maybe it suggests that whilst woman in modern society has all the appeal and sexual desire as she has always had, the way we live and modern day life is rubbing out aspects of a woman's primordial needs to have children and be a mother.

These examples are just a scratching of the surface of “Birth Of Venus” influenced art work I have found. The quantity is truly vast. The "Birth of Venus" is in a way a paradigm, a theme, in each case the art piece follows a certain construction, however, the meaning behind each piece is very different. We all accept that behind most pieces of art there is a meaning, maybe more easily interpretted by the layman in Botticelli's time, providing symbolism and understanding in pictoral form. Each interpretation is different from the last, however the fact that it is based on the Botticelli version isn't hidden in any way, and each is in some way paying homage to the Botticelli by adding a different exaggeration or slant on the original piece. This changes the way the message is translated. The fascinating thing about these pieces of art work is that they are each accepted in their own right as legitimate works of art. Each one (whilst based on the Botticelli), is using a new thought process and technological process in its creation.
Regarding all the 'Birth Of Venus' art pieces I have found (including those not shown here), the majority of them were produced within the last 30 years. Is this relevant? Is it due to the internet 'pop' culture that we now have? Or could it be because the need to copy/emulate is a very fashionable approach in the 21st century? Does technology make it easier to take a painting by a previous artist and make it our own without having to expend as much energy, time or even talent?
This seems to bring us right back to the difficulty in creating new concepts and ideas. Have we entered the age of Emulationism?!!

Web references