Walter Benjamin discusses what comes of a work once the mechanical revolution takes place, ultimately altering what it means to be art.
Sol Lewitt used language as a form of abstraction for others to decode and replicate the artwork. My group was given a simple set of instructions:
Wall Drawing 88
A 6-inch (15 cm) grid covering the wall. Within each square, not straight lines in either of four directions. Only one direction in each square but as many as desired, and at least one line in each square.
From here, we worked collaboratively to decode the set of instructions and replicate it in the gallery space. Using a ruler, we divided the wall into a grid where each person was to draw as many or as little lines in it. The nature in this was completely random where we decided to join grids together with the lines to create a continuous line or pattern with also an end code to stop the pattern.
This was our result:
Upon reflection of another interpretation of the same instructions, I realized that we used rather geometrical lines and patterns even if the lines weren’t straight and drawn freehand. Ours is slightly different yet still fulfills the instruction set with a slightly different aesthetic.
We discovered that the art isn’t in the mechanical reproduction of the same lines within the same grid, it is in fact the human interpretation of language into form that makes it interesting. The power of the artwork is in its extraction, the process, the concept and the experience. Thus, a computer would not know how to perform this action of continuous lines patterns or randomised lines within a grid as the aesthetic would be removed.
I didn’t find our wall drawing relatively easy as it was a pretty flexible instruction set which gave us room to experiment and enjoy the experience rather than the experience of confusion and frustration expressed with other groups aiming to replicate their wall drawing which was much more specific. I believe these instructions were quite good and easy to follow, although everyone’s drawing would be different as perception varies.
Art is ever-changing and evolving in response to the current state of the world. It is in this state tracking nature that art too reveals the code; encoded by the artist and decoded by the audience—thus the codification of history and values represented through art.
‘Marilyn Monroe’, created by Andy Warhol in 1967—discussed in the first lecture—was an artwork that changed the face of art as the ‘mechanical reproduction of art changed the reaction of the masses toward art’ (Benjamin. W 1998). It was here that Pop Art was born, challenging the conventions of artmaking practice by using a tool of mass media—the silkscreen—in order to ‘bring art back to America’ (Warhol. A). In this, Warhol aimed to democratize the work of art where the entirety of the public can view, respond and decode art that was created for them and by them.
After World War II, Pop Art emerged in response to the consumeristic and materialistic values of the 1960’s where a disposable income; fuelled the economy, mass media and pop culture became the language of the masses. Marilyn Monroe was a pop culture icon, actress, model, singer and icon during the early 1950’s. After her overdose which shocked the world on August 5th 1962, Warhol harnessed the conversation centred around the icon to create an everlasting code to join his celebrity/death series within Pop Art.
With the audiences language rooted deep into American values and ways of life, Warhol appropriated a public shot of Monroe taken by Gene Korman for her film Niagra and coded it into a silkscreen oil painting consisting of the repetition of the single image. The repetition of the same subject matter was only made possible by the new technique of the silk screen which challenged the traditional practices of artmaking—thus the instrumentalisation of the human process of painting to create an algorithm of repetition. Warhol created “a precursor of a perfect and universal hybridization of art, of a new aesthetics after all aesthetics have disappeared.”(Baudrillard, J 1983). For the first time in art history, Pop Art invited all to decode the artwork as it resonated deeply within their individual lives thus removing the class segregation. This opened up a world of possibilities for the future of art and artmaking practice as cultural and citizen language—one obsessed with pop culture—became the code universally decoded by all. However this meant that the code was drastically altered.
Technological change meant that the mode of extracting the code too also changed. Andy Warhol, as a trained commercial artist in adverting wanted to merge the gap between high culture—theatre and artwork—with low culture—advertisements and pop culture. Much like Duchamp whom used the gallery space to showcase a ready-made urinal in a different perspective, Warhol too used the gallery space—which was accustomed to the showcase of original and high culture works of art—to display a time capsule of the values of an everyday American citizen through commercial art practices. Therefore, every person was able to decode the artwork as their values were the language.
The use of silkscreening allowed for repetition but also variation enticing perspective. The use of the same template allowed for colours to be changed creating an aesthetically pleasing work. However, with this process there are also limitations that hinder artistic creativity and breadth to explore. The art period Abstract Expressionism that preceded Pop Art was one characterised by line, colour and shape painted without form or strict planning. Pop art juxtaposes this with a strict template restricting the creative flow typically given to artists such as Jackson Pollock. The use of a silk screen—which was the means for mass production to create advertisements—limited the artworks potential to be accepted within the high-art world. Art critic, Lawrence Alloway whom gave Pop Art its name stated that the movement was ‘the lower end of a pop-art to fine art continuum’, meaning that it wasn’t as freely accepted within the art world.
The process of creating very similar artworks or copies of ‘Marilyn Monroe’ which spread across the decade created a fear of the loss of aura. Walter Benjamin stated that ‘the technique of reproduction detaches the reproduced object from the domain of tradition’(1998). Thus, the use of the silkscreen deters art from its natural form of oil on canvas and pushes it toward the workings of commercial production familiar with that of mass production, challenging what it means to be art. Although, in contrast to Benjamin, ‘Marilyn Monroe’ becomes the tradition as the values of society are compressed into the code of block colours, the use of appropriated images and grid format. These characteristics of Pop Art exemplified within ‘Marilyn Monroe’ transcend time and become a code ultimately used to tell the tale of the past to those in the present time.
Although, is it really providing an insight into the past if it is not an original?
Andy Warhol blurs the line between original and representation. On the surface, ‘Marilyn Monore’ is merely an image of Marilyn herself, the repetition of the same public shot of Marilyn Monore, and a reproduction of the first ‘Marilyn Monroe’ silk screen artwork. However, the artwork has become a reference point, one with its own values overextended into reality to stand on its own where it now exists as ‘its own pure simulacrum’(Baudrillard, J, 1983).
“It is no longer anything but a gigantic simulacrum: not unreal, but a simulacrum, never again exchanging for what is real, but exchanging in itself, in an uninterrupted circuit without reference or circumference.” (Baudrillard. J,1983)
Consequently, ‘Marilyn Monroe’ becomes a code in itself, a visible display of the values of the early 1960’s. Pop Art, as an avante-garde artform at the time was laced with limitations such as the lack of artistic freedom, the fear of the loss of originality and the aura and the rejection from galleries. However, amidst this, it was interwoven with affordances allowing the language of the audience to become the code, allowing all to understand thus paving the way for artistic licence for new artmaking practices.
The first fax machine was created by Alexander Bain in 1864, revolutionizing communication. Although, it is previously thought that the fax operates on phone lines, but interestingly enough was created before the phone!
The first fax machine worked by transmitting black and white areas of the document placed in the charged coupled device—the scanner—where an electric pulse is sent out on the phone line where it s received and printed almost instantaneously!
Within the meda102 workshop we tried to imitate this encoding and decoding process of an image of a high heel shoe. However, before receiving the picture, our team had to devise a system of encoding and decoding any image that we were given. In order to eliminate error from the outset we decided to compress our image in accordance to our vector mode of extraction. The use of coordinates allowed us to place a grid on our picture and map out the points of interception which roughly marks out the outline of the picture—thus restricting ourselves with using line instead of focusing on curves, colour and finer details. Recording these coordinates made it easier for the transmission of the code to the decoders.
Given a bell with two plastic balls that hit either side of the bell, we had to create different sounds from the one instrument to indicate different instructions. With this instrument we decided, after much deliberation, that we were going to hold one ball silent while the other ball struck the bell to indicate a number on the x axis. To differentiate between the axis, we held our hand over the bell while the ball struck it so it made a dull noise to indicate the y axis. The number of times the bell sounded was the number of the coordinate.
Making room for inevitable error, we created a ‘handshake’ that would indicate for the encoding side to continue as the decoding side received the co-ordinate. The decoders would slap the bench once to indicate that they understood or slap the bench twice to re-do the coordinate—a parity bit. With this I found it difficult to magnify the dull sound on the y axis as the opening of the bell was covered restricting the noise coming from our instrument. This muffled sound blurred two sounds together into one so we too slapped the bench to re-do the coordinate.
Plotting the end and start of each line became very time consuming, so as we progressed we altered the code where we would quickly ring the bell a few times to indicate the repetition of the last y coordinate as all of the lines connected to create the outer outline—where previously we were repeating the last y coordinate and the first x coordinate to indicate that the line was continuous.
Overall, our team did very well extracting the code from sound. Of course minor details were left out in the final product, however, that was only due to our decision of a lossy compression where we lost information like shade and curve from the outset.
Overall, out team did very well extracting the code from sound. Of course minor details were left out in the final product, however, that was only due to our decision of a lossy compression where we lost information like shade and curve from the outset.
Coding seems simple right? You have a code, I have the same code, you communicate something and I decode it using the same code. Wow was I wrong! During the first meda102 workshop, we were given a code that we had to transmit without sound from the top of one building to the bottom of the other. Continue reading “Sure, I can code a message using my phone torch”→