von Liat Grayver
Making art for me is the attempt to manifest one’s own intimate biography in a public and social discourse. This is not only about the form or the finished object, but also about the process, the perspective and perception of a structure — all of which are defined by our dynamic surroundings and contemplated through the use of materials and tools, mediums and technology of the present time and localized context.
Our present era can be distinguished from other historical periods by the sheer amount of data to which we have access — the availability of and rapidity with which information can travel and be translated across disciplines and between places. Furthermore, digital media in general and the Internet in particular are the most immediate and common ways we consume visual information today. This has an enormous impact on the way we as individuals are able to perceive and appreciate, for example, imagery or artefacts. Within more traditional settings this can very often result in a decontextualized experience for the individual in the post-digital and post-Internet epoch.
This fragmentary, decontextualized experience is the space I investigate in my artistic process, through the use of data, whether it be a symbol, a reduced geometrical form or a code, derived from diverse and familiar or foreign sources. My work explores methods to redefine one of the primitive forms of art — painting — within our current technology-based era. In collaboration with the computer engineers, neuroscientists and machine engineers, I’m exploring new methods for the application of materials on surfaces, alongside computer-assisted generation of physical images, in the service of exploring new æsthetic avenues in painting.
Working in a new artistic field, namely robotics-assisted painting, gave me the privilege to operate in a space that was refreshingly devoid of preconceived rule systems of “right” or “wrong” in terms of æsthetic values, working methodologies or reflections on form and structure. Redefining boundaries and norms to create novels forms and perspectives on artistic practices is, in my opinion, one of the main tasks with which artists are obliged to engage in the creation of contemporary and post-digital art. Through the integration of computers and robotics in the artistic process, it becomes possible not only to store information such as trajectories and patterns in order to manipulate and reuse them, but also to translate such data for repurposing in other mediums. For example, physical movement can be captured using motion detection, analyzed and transformed as data that can subsequently be recomposed in the material world in the form of a painting. When this process is made visible, it translates into an artistic experience for viewers that can assist them in the discovery of underlying or even inconspicuous patterns and structures, the perception of which can help augment their understanding and appreciation of the artwork.
Obviously, an interdisciplinary working platform in which artist, computer scientist, artistic practice and pedagogical reflections converge inspires a large range of questions regarding the use of technologies in the creative process of painting. How does one incorporate the use of computers, robots and machines in the very intuitive and gestural acts and practice of making a painting? How could we decompose the act of making a mark (human) into a corporal movement (machine) in such a manner that logic-based decisions (computer) and emotional intentions (artist) can coexist in a fruitful, symbiotic relationship? Stimulated by the experience and by exchanges with collaborators from the worlds of informatics and robotics, I found myself compelled to challenge and reconceptualise the foundations of the painterly practice, starting with the bodily movement of the single brushstroke all the way to questions concerning control and loss of control in the creative process.
As part of an ongoing collaboration with the e-David painting robot (Drawing Apparatus for Vivid Interactive Display), developed by Oliver Deussen at the University of Konstanz, I have designed and integrated into its system an extensive (and growing) library of brushstrokes, gestures, trajectories and patterns. These can be programmed individually or collectively in various combinations, so that they can be used and executed by the painting robot, enabling a customized and interactive human-machine creative environment.
Two closely related features naturally arise from the working methods inherent to this constellation. The integration of computer and robotic technologies in the painterly process makes it possible to capture, save, translate and manipulate simple gestures and more complex tasks as digital information. Quite naturally, this creates a certain distance between the painting and the painter, who is now simultaneously the viewer and the executor. Strokes can be generated that appear organic but are realized in a manner that only a machine is capable of: with exact repetition, for example. The robot becomes a powerful tool to explore an entire realm of creative practice that extends beyond the physical and perceptual limitations of solely human-level practices. As a painter and a consumer of art I wondered, however, if it would be possible to recognize brushstrokes done by a robot in a more complex, generated work. Such questions opened up the terrain for the creation of several groups of works done in series.
Six Variations on Gestural Computer-Generated Brushstrokes (October-November 2016) is a series of computer-generated sets of brushstrokes that reflect the quality of spontaneous hand movement inspired by the practice of Japanese calligraphy. Using the e-David, the same generated path was painted again and again, each time on a new canvas, with the knowledge that this kind of exact repetition of movement could never be achieved by a human hand.
Although each of the Variations was executed with the same path and an identical velocity, they are nevertheless distinct. Both physical and computational variables were integral to the creative process. For each new work, the robot was fitted with different brushes and the viscosity of the paint altered, while the computer instructions sent to the robot for the realization of each work contained a unique set of rules for such things as colour values and the number of times to load the brush with more paint at specific points in the overall process.
Traversing the Threshold (2018) is a room installation of robotics-assisted calligraphic works and videos; done in collaboration with Marvin Gülzow PhD candidate at the e-David project. The works stretch into and expose the temporal and physical space of creative process through the mediums of painting and video. What could have been executed as one painting constructed of thousands of brushstrokes has instead been decomposed and distributed over numerous sheets of rice paper. Different sections of the master particle generator image were cropped and the individual particles were translated into single brushstrokes (assigning parameters such as, for example, the size, length, pressure and speed variation of the strokes), before the data was sent to the robot for the final execution. The individual paper works are extracted from a complex of computer-generated particles (Simulation of a World Overview, 2018) according to Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation. Scaled to different sizes, each can be viewed not only as an individual work but also as part of the modular wall installation.
The fragility of the ink-infused rice paper work in particular stands in sharp contrast to the industrial robot used to create them. As with Japanese calligraphy (the reference is obvious and undeniable), the brush trajectories and the ink’s behaviour as it penetrates the surface are here of several magnitudes more importance than the perception of the object itself.
The exhibition (learning) the Grammar of the Act examines and reflects on the structure and use of the medium of painting in relation to contemporary technological innovations. Methods of human expressiveness and manners of visualization of information in the post-digital age are the key focus of the works comprising the exhibition. Space brings together several collaborative works that varyingly employ robotic technologies, motion tracking, video, printmaking, and painting. As a whole, this body of works investigates the relation between organic practices and machine-based systems, both of which are used to create structures from physical actions (operation) and from the mind (perception). A mini e-David robot, programed by Gülzow was positioned in the center of the exhibition and continuously generates calligraphic-oriented paintings. The data for the robot’s brushstrokes are generated from analysis of the visitors’ movements in the space, captured using a camera and a custom motion-tracking software (developed by Antonin Sulc, member of Prof. Bastian Goldlücke’s group). As they enter the exhibition space, individual visitors’ movements are captured by the video camera, and their location and movement are translated into a digital trajectory that is projected on a large, transparent black screen. The individual trajectories are translated into brushstrokes painted by the robot on a long rice paper roll, which is advanced by a paper feed. At the end of each day, the roll is fully painted with different calligraphic lines describing the movement of visitors throughout the space. These are hung in the gallery space on custom-made frames functioning as evidence and testimony of each of the days the exhibit runs.