Notes on recent research and reading

Notes on recent research and reading

Suggested by my tutor during Discussion on Planning

Alan Warburton

Since 2010 Warburton has worked both as an independent artist and as an animation freelancer and his CGI films have been exhibited widely. I have already written about his video Goodbye Uncanny Valley which includes work from several artists.

His blog, which he began in 2008 as a repository for thoughts, can be found here. He makes an interesting comment, ‘so further back you go, the more naive it gets’, and I appreciated that comment because it gives me some hope that I might improve too in time. If you go way back to an entry on 15 July 2015 Warburton writes on, How I got into CGI (and why the arts needs it).  He writes on the effect on him of feeling slightly different within his group; the discomfort of participating, “in a culture that privileges and normalises problematic images of gender” and being expected to decide between the two options of whether he wanted to work in commercials or film when he thought he was there to discover that. That particular blog post is well-worth a read because he has a lot more to say on the different effects of a new technology, plus

There’s a strange hypocrisy that new technology alienates us from the truth yet technology has been part of who we are for tens of thousands of years. We all feel this hypocrisy in our seemingly objective preference for marginally more primitive technologies.

That’s something I’ve been continually reminding myself on.

For relaxation I very much enjoyed his video interpretation of some of the music of composer Johann Sebastian Bach which can be found here

John Gerrard

He creates large scale works in the form of computer simulations which, “ … frequently refer to structures of power and networks of energy that have made possible the expansion of human endeavour in the past century”. He uses sophisticated computer software and algorithms to create virtual landscapes that simulate authentic sites as time passes. This video explains some of his techniques.

this is far beyond my capabilities and what I’ve seen on Second Life so far.

Artists represented by Carroll Fletcher Gallery

The two partners, Jonathon Carroll and Steve Fletcher have now restructured into two independent entities – Carroll to set up a new commercial business and Fletcher to run a non-profit named the Artists’ development Agency.  The original website  is extant though and this led me to the work of Richard Walker  who creates videos, photographs, text works, his own music, and performances to portray an obsessive relationship with landscape, “I think, or I hope, that the viewer becomes simultaneously pushed away and pulled towards the landscape”.   He used two channel video for sometimes I like you more than othertimes, 2008  and this is something I have wanted to experiment with for quite a while – different places, the same person at different times. I want to remember his work for when I begin the Landscape module.

Some other Artists

David Claerbout

I think it was my fellow student Sarah-Jane who pointed me towards this artist a while ago. Claerbout works in photography, video, sound, drawing and digital arts. In one work he creates a new film the Pure Necessity which transforms Disney’s 1967 animated movie of Jungle Book into a completely different film which dispenses with “all ‘humanization’ of the animals, even the human Mowgli, so that the animals ‘behave instead in a manner befitting their species’. Basically he ‘takes the life (animation) out of the Jungle Book animals.

He  wrote an article here  which is very relevant for me and also takes me back to Marshall McLuhan and Jean Baudrillard.  Claerbout compares the transformation of photography to that of the music industry over the last fifteen years – moving from what appears purely technical to “seeing the world the way it wants to be seen by us”.  He refers to “the radical conservatism of 3-D” – were “so many sciences would come together to form a mighty bastion of pictorial, “realistic” conservatism” – for example the way in which new techniques led to his studio resembling an animation studio which, itself, began to resemble a painting studio and so there was an ‘intense overlap between Western historical painting and cinematic techniques”. (I’m thinking perhaps of Jeff Wall here and other contemporary photograpehrs who work in a similar fashion). Claerbout points out the decisions which have to be made when working in pictorial 3-D – often created from memory, after the fact, based on documents – what season, what geographical area – pretty much like tableau painting (I also recalled Second Life when reading this).

“This total fabrication implies that we are ‘observing from memory’ and brings with it a sense of nostalgia and a feeling of loss, of having given up on a naïve perception that supposedly happened spontaneously, without thinking”. A scan, for example, ‘literally moves like a mole in the dark” without needing the daylight that is an essential condition in photography. Now I don’t entirely agree with that because a scan uses light, albeit artificial,  and, of course, some photography uses artificial light. There’s more though and I know I’ll return to this article.

Olaf Otto Becker

Becker’s project Reading the Landscape (2008-2014)  documents the changes over time in the primary forests of Indonesia and Malaysia – showing “intact nature, ravaged nature, and artificial nature”. The ravaging of methods such as deforestation and slash and burn looks so brutal.  In view of my current assignment I was particularly interested in ‘artificial nature’ –a landscape such as Supertree Grove, Gardens by the Bay, Singapore (10/12) which looks so unreal like something out of science fiction – towering columns with vegetation growing up the column, inside a painted metallic scaffold that, itself, branches out at the top; nature trails skyscrapers containing gardens. In fact here’s a short video I found on YouTube

This is what we do – we destroy parts of nature and then re-build it in our own image.

Trevor Paglen

Paglen is an artist and geographer. He describes himself as a landscape artist – he is, but with a difference! He aims to photograph ‘the unseen political geography of our times’. – not by utilising Google images but using special lenses aimed in the sky or far off military bases.  An article in the Guardian (Tim Adams, 2017) informs me that he intends to launch his own satellite in April this year and with it, the world’s first “space sculpture” – a man-made star that should be visible for a few months. He was named one of the 2017 recipients of the MacArthur ‘genius grant’ with a stipend of £470,00 over five years, so he won’t be short of money to realise his dream and pay for his assistants.

I’m always interested in the way in which an artist’s background shapes how they see and portray the world bearing in mind that the photograph is often viewed as a self-portrait of the photographer –and Tim Adams refers to Paglen’s background in his article.  Born on an air force base where his father was an ophthalmologist; the family moving around air bases in the US when Paglen was young until they settled at an airfield in Wiesbaden, Germany. As a student Paglen studied the philosophy of religion; fine art; then a PhD in geography; also playing bass in a punk band at one point and being into the Californian surf culture. That’s a rich mix of diverse influences.

Paglen has photographed secret prisons; worked to document classified satellites and also explored the ocean floor to photograph underwater fiber optic cables. He talks his work on “The Atlas of Invisible Images” below – it’s fascinating.



I certainly couldn’t approach his depth of talent but some of his work reminded me that you don’t necessarily have to have sophisticated equipment to explore the unseen and represent what  ‘must not be represented’. His work Symbology for instance, looks at the uniform and insignia in military culture and how these depict, “one’s affiliation with what defense-industry insiders call the “black world”” of deeply-held secrets.

Ruud van Empel

My fellow student Jonathon suggested I have a look at this artist who combines collages of self-made photographs using Photoshop to create idealized representations of people and landscape. To me these are approaching on the Uncanny and Uncanny Valley both – with wide-eyed children placed in hyper realistic landscapes that give rise to a slightly uneasy feeling, at least for me. Some such as here  and here  have a look of naif art whilst others are reminiscent of Dutch still-life. The novel and film the Miniaturist came into my head as well – those tiny dolls house figures/replicas that act as alter egos.

Sophia, the Robot

Staying with the Uncanny/Uncanny Valley theme. Sarah-Jane also sent me a link to a video on the Hanson Robotics website and their latest and most advanced robot which is, apparently, a media darling and sought-after speaker in business. The company believes that their genius machines can evolve to solve world problems too complex for humans to solve themselves. Sophia reminded me of some of the Avatars in Second Life which is why I’m noting her here.