Technology of the Cyber-beauty
Anna Frants and Lena Sokol
The works of art can make a profound impression on us and we often are unable to explain why. We can appreciate art without thinking about it or fully understanding the reasons. Sigmund Freud in Moses of Michelangelo noticed that "the apparently paradoxical fact that precisely some of the grandest and most overwhelming creations of art are still unresolved riddles to our understanding. We admire them, we feel overawed by them, but we are unable to say what they represent to us." Further, Freud suggested that our response to art has to be driven by a combination of an intellectual comprehension and an emotional attitude. We perceive art by engaging our senses, and strive to interpret its meaning given our past experiences and knowledge. What we feel and think is deeply personal, but at the same time it is influenced by the culture, socio-economic conditions, our education and the media. The balance between intellectual and emotional also depends on the form of the art. For example, when we encounter conceptual art, we need to understand the idea and the intent of the artist first and then respond to that idea emotionally and/or intellectually.
Computer-based art is often similar to conceptual art in its emphasis on the intellectual comprehension: a spectator needs to understand the artist’s intent. This understanding is even more crucial in the interactive projects, because how we respond depends on our ability to understand an artist’s idea and expectations. Cyberart is more challenging, because it relies on technology and media, which are less intuitive to us and novel in form. Another difficulty lies in the time dimension. Most traditional art objects are static: the colors and shapes are frozen in time. The audience undergoes the change; the painting and sculpture are timeless (if we discount effects of deterioration). Even art films, once edited and printed can be played again and again, repeating predetermined sequence of images.
The use of computers allows the artist and the audience to break away from this deterministic nature of traditional arts. While opening new possibilities for the artists, techno-centric nature of the cyberspace potentially deters the audience from emotional engagement. Cyberart may appear distant, cold and unfamiliar; without emotional clues anchoring viewer to his/her past experiences and memories; looking into cold substance behind the computer screen that (s)he cannot physically feel, smell or touch. The interactive nature of cyberart is not equivalent to a soma-somatic experience of real human touch, which is a one of the basic ways we learn about the world, starting from the childhood with "touch me" books with different textures. We "touch" the cyberart mostly through our cognitive engagement. The depth of our emotional response is related to the degree of abstractness in the idea behind the art project and to the artistic metaphor chosen for the communication of that idea. To illustrate this point let’s consider two projects dealing with a concept of "a passage of time."
The first project is Fragile by Japanese artist Tatsuo Miyajima. Fragile is an abstract, digital, 3-dimentional "constellation," every node of it is a tiny (a quarter- inch) LED linked by almost weightless silver rays. Displays show a sequence of numbers from 1 to 9 (apparently Miyajima never employs zero) and create a digital landscape of time. The landscape of these infinitely progressing numbers is Miyajima’s metaphor: "Everything changes. Everything keeps going on forever. Everything is interacted with each other." This metaphor is not intuitive, because of the high level of the abstraction and the deep philosophical meaning of the concept itself–"infinite time"–and because there is no a unique experience, emotion or instinct associated for most of us with the progression of numbers. However, once the intent of the artist is revealed, we undoubtedly become overwhelmed by the experience of seeing Fragile time.
In the Sketch of a Field of Grass, American device artist and interaction designer Ryan Wolfe attempts to capture a moment in time, familiar, almost certainly, to all of us–a grass field suddenly coming alive with a turbulent breath of a wind gust. Wolfe ‘s interests are in "…isolating the definitive qualities of remembered experiences and reinterpreting them within the confines of a constructed object, essentially condensing the whole of a lived moment in time in refined, physical interpretation." The "field" is a collection of small, sand filled boxes, each containing a few blades of artificial grass. Boxes are connected through a system of wires, resembling a web of roots. "Wind" is an electrical signal propagated through the network of computationally autonomous boxes. The diversity of grass responses creates an illusion of an invisible wind blowing over the landscape. While an eye only can see a symbolic, robotic grass plant, the mind perceives the ethereal wind. We can feel this wind independently of our knowledge about the technical details or concepts involved because we can recognize and respond to an emotional queue distilled though a simple, random grass movement.
The two projects illustrate how technology enables artists to find novel ways in conveying complex concepts and ideas. Every innovative work gives us a new glimpse into the infinitely-expanding art universe and teaches us to understand its creative vocabulary. When photography was invented in 1839, many did not recognize its artistic potential and saw just a mere reproduction of reality by mechanical devices, cold and soulless. It took decades before photography became widely accepted as an art form. Hopefully, we, as a society, are now further on the learning curve and can advance faster in understanding and appreciating the new art forms. The beauty will find its way into the mind and the heart of the beholder…