The Visual Basis of Reality and the CGI Revolution in Scientific
Each epoch must refashion its reality around the generations that
inhabit it and the technologies that inform it. For a seeing culture,
reality--the collective set of physical-conceptual valuations given
priority in a culture--is to a great measure generated by the visual
paradigms premiere to the day. This isn't a new development. Visual
artists have always provided the models enabling societies and
civilizations to conceptualize and apply realities. As such, artists
know that paradigms for the real and the imaginary shift--even
exchange--values with the evolving visual models and their valuations.
Whereas the dominant ancient and medieval idea of the physical world
seems to have been based on visual-tactile and muscular intuitions
that accompany a spatial-sculptural predilection, from the European
Renaissance to the present day, reality became literally a view, one
to a great extent based on visual habits and intuitions. This was a
period in which art became imagined as a "mirror" of nature. But as
the study and use of projective 3-point perspective evolved through
the modern centuries from its Renaissance construction by Alberti,
Viator, and Durer to influence Einstein's Theory of Relativity and on
to digital vector graphics of today's Computer Generated Imaging
software (CGI), the metaphor for visual representations of reality
shifted from the "mirror" to the "projection." In keeping with the
projection model, 6-point perspective and the more advanced
perspective systems to succeed it have become the basis for CGI at the
same time that 3D animation has come to shape scientific paradigms. We
can see this by looking at the 3D imaging that physicists use to
"demonstrate" current Super String Theory and geneticists to "model"
the Genetic Algorithms of DNA. But more than demonstrating theory, I
propose that CGI substantially shapes our emerging view of the
physical world as much if not more in science as in art and
entertainment. This can be seen in the way that physicists, chemists,
biologists and other scientists resort to CGI to demonstrate the
dimensionality and interactions of their physical models. It's time
for theoretical scientists to come clean and give credit to the
priority of visual modeling. At present this means admitting that the
exemplary utility that CGI affords scientists is more than a visual
application answering a conceptual need. CGI has quietly become the
visual substratum for scientific paradigm construction and remixing
even if in many cases its priority is a largely unconscious or
downplayed stimulus. At present the paradigms are still grounded in
pre-CGI era principles and laws, but this is increasingly less certain
with each new advance in visually generated or enhanced theory however
rigorously the model is constrained by prior physical paradigms. The
result is a convergence of the physical and the cognitive paradigms
the very nearness of which puts in question conventional distinctions
of the real and the imaginary. A variety of educational videos made by
physicists, chemists, and biologists, with web links provided for
video viewing, will be cited as exemplary of how CGI informs
experimental theory in these fields. The society that inherits these
physical-cognitive paradigms finds that the interface of the real and
the imaginary is repositioned to evolve a new collective reality
advanced by scientific institutions. The resulting remix redefines the
real and the imaginary to the extent that they exchange values in
theoretical and artistic cultures alike. As distinctions between what
is real and what is imaginary become destabilized to the point of
proving a liability to paradigm construction, the hypothesis
professions could build up a preference for deferring definitions of
the real so as to widen the potentiality of the imaginary. Within such
an evolution of relativity, realities shown to be applicable to
specific models of reality can no longer be thought to rule out other
potential realities. For with the number of competitive paradigms
increasing comes the realization that what isn't real in one paradigm
may be real in another yet to be conceptualized.
Matthew Fielder, Independent Scholar
On The Accuracy of Fictions:
What fiction can forget about reality and what reality should remember about fiction
The exhibition The Real Fake, Virtual Bodies and Impossible
Objects, brings together a group of artists that all use 3D
computer software in the creation of their work. If we understand
these artworks as intentionally constructed realities we may also view
them as the result of an intense process of fictionalization. This
paper explores some of the intertextual connections between fiction
and its relationship to the creation of digital artworks. I will
present some very general but key examples of the role fiction plays
in relation to 3D computer graphics, art, and the distinction between
the real and the fake.
In a world that proposes cyberspace and virtual reality, we cannot simply rely on the Cartesian dualism and scientific negativism of mind and body, or in this case the real and the fake. Here we must begin to redefine reality instead as a combination of both, as a construction of 'make believe'. This age old concept permeates eastern philosophy and is supported by the science of quantum mechanics. It seems the nature of reality, like art and science, are products of a generative fiction. It is not a matter of the critical divide between what is authentic or simulated, but rather a type of active and ever accelerating fictionalization that enables us to know the contrary. If we are to extract any meaning in relation to contemporary experience, we need to deal with the phenomena of a reality that is at least as strange as, if not stranger than fiction. For theorist Peter Lunenfeld, critical theory 'has proven itself only partially competent' in accounting for this emergent condition. This paper will investigate the ways in which fictionalization as a process within art may help critique and reevaluate our invented world, and shared realities.
Using Coleridge's concept of a 'willing suspension of disbelief' and Iser's notion of fiction as a transition program mediating the real and the fake, we can use the classical aesthetics of fiction to critically engage with the hyper-aesthetics of reality. No doubt the masters of literary fiction have anticipated and shaped our adopted futures. Fiction allows for a process of understanding and relating to reality that can provide an accurate model of a world where our perceptions often exceed our burdens of proof and empirical truths. Authors like Borges, Burroughs, Ballard, etc, echo the non-linear dynamics of poststructuralist and postmodern thinkers, such as Baudrillard, Lyotard, and Deleuze. Perhaps if we consider fiction as forms of transition and transformation, we can further inform and even add to the ideas of modernity, as well as enlighten the augmentation of the next century.
Erkki Huhtamo, PhD
What's In the Box? - An Archaeological Approach to "Peep Media"
Media culture is often associated with a quest for widest possible
visibility. The bigger the screen and the larger the audience, the
better - so goes the logic. Yet media history also knows strands that
have purported to hide images and to reveal them only within carefully
calculated confines. From peep show boxes to optical toys, Mutoscopes
and Kinetoscopes, subjects have over and over again been invited to
marvel at hidden visual treasures beyond peepholes. Indeed, we could
speak about "peep media," and related "peep practices." These have
left behind countless traces, but they have rarely been excavated with
the aim of profiling a general exposť of hidden media culture, the
goal of this keynote.
Erkki Huhtamo holds a Ph. D. in Cultural History, and works as Professor of Media History and Theory at the University of California Los Angeles, Department of Design | Media Arts. He has published extensively on media archaeology and the media arts. Media archaeology is an emerging approach he has pioneered. It excavates forgotten, neglected and suppressed media-cultural phenomena, helping us to penetrate beyond canonized accounts about media culture. Professor Huhtamo has applied this approach to phenomena like peep media, stereoscopy, the notion of the screen, electronic games, and mobile media. He has also written about the ways in which media artists have integrated media-archaeological elements into their works. Professor Huhtamo's most recent books are Media Archaeology: Approaches, Applications, and Implications (edited with Jussi Parikka, The University California Press, 2011) and a forthcoming monograph titled Illusions in Motion. A Media Archaeology of the Moving Panorama and Related Spectacles.
David J Getsy, PhD
Representation's history is punctuated by the recurring desire for
its dissolution. At these moments, the urge to achieve total realism
and verisimilitude becomes singular and over-riding, directing much of
the work of depiction towards its own transparency. A representation,
by definition, can never be the thing it represents, and the gap
between the actual and the depicted has driven histories of
image-making by virtue of its own impossibility.
Looking back through history, this story is replayed when we look to Classical Greece, to the emergence of linear perspective, to nineteenth-century painting's coping with the competition of photography, with the Realist novel, with fantasies of the holodeck, and with - most persistently - computer-driven animation and CGI in film and video games.
Why, in other words, does realism recur as a goal despite its ultimate impossibility? The history of art and of representation shows us that it is not just a delight in illusionism and the trickery of making a flat wall, a flat canvas, or a flat screen appear as a livable world. More importantly, the desire for realism is always an ideological one - to demonstrate omniscience and master over representation as a means of asserting the truthfulness and inviolability of the realist gaze. Used for both oppositional and collusive aims, the rhetorical framing of realism as the true and transparent showing of the world is, in the end, about conveying power.
When we imagine current manifestations of the obsessional (in the full sense of the term) pursuit of realism in video games and in cinematic verisimilitude, we can see how much of the content of realist depiction relies upon narratives of power and domination to which the mode of seemingly seamless representation serves as an analogue for messages of truth and power. This is one reason the video game, of all media, has become the proving ground for technologies of verisimilitude. Once we put the current technological drive for realism into its context as an eternal return of the desire to fill the gap between the presented and the re-presented, however, one can begin to visualize the not-yet-real alternatives.
David J. Getsy is the Goldabelle McComb Finn Distinguished Professor of Art History, Theory, and Criticism at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. His research focuses on the history and theory of three-dimensional representation, from the origins of modern sculpture to current developments in contemporary art, performance, and new media. His books include Rodin: Sex and the Making of Modern Sculpture (Yale University Press, 2010); Body Doubles: Sculpture in Britain, 1877-1905 (Yale University Press, 2004); (ed.) Sculpture and the Pursuit of a Modern Ideal in Britain (Ashgate Publishing, 2004); and (ed.) From Diversion to Subversion: Games, Play, and Twentieth-Century Art.
Donna Gustafson, PhD
Claes Oldenburg's Bedroom Ensemble: Disruption and Transformation
The most striking elements of Claes Oldenburg's Bedroom
Ensemble (1964) are his ironic celebration of the domestic,
emphasis on the artificial, and deliberate distortions of single point
perspective. A neglected but pivotal work in his oeuvre, the Bedroom
(planned as a multiple in an edition of six) is a recreation of New
York's Sidney Janis Gallery, a distillation of Southern Californian
domesticity, an homage to Jackson Pollock, an interrogation of private
and public space, and a purposeful disruption of the real in favor of
the fake. While critics declared it a "disaster" (G.R. Swenson), a
"nightmare" (Sidney Tillim), and "monstrous" (Lucy Lippard), Donald
Judd praised the installation as "a thorough corruption of all its
sources, even a corruption of the readymade aesthetic that seems to
drive it." The materials are indeed ersatz-formica and plastic
surfaces, vinyl sheets, fake furs-- described by Briony Fer as a
"dream map of commodity culture and its projected desires." Oldenburg
also hung what he described as fake Pollock patterned fabric on the
walls and skewed the perspective of the room in order to falsify the
clarity and geometry of the Renaissance system that made painting a
window onto the world. I argue that Oldenburg's intentions in this
provocative essay on the real and the fake (encompassing
representations of the real in actual space and time, film,
psychology, and advertising) create a liminal piece that is neither
simply real nor fake, but a work whose multiple falsities and
exaggerations disrupt the illusions of artistic and social conventions
that are understood as realism and reality. Creating a
three-dimensional space that only appears correct in photographs of
the installation, the Bedroom questions both physical and visual
experience. As Oldenburg admitted, "this is the kind of reality that
if you intrude it vanishes."
Dr. Donna Gustafson is the Andrew W. Mellon Liaison for the Mellon Program and Curator at the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. Her areas of expertise are American and contemporary art. Previously, she was Visiting Lecturer in the Department of Art History, Rutgers; Director of Exhibitions at the Hunterdon Museum of Art in Clinton, New Jersey; and Chief Curator at the American Federation of Arts. Her publications and exhibitions projects include Ilene Sunshine: out of line, Kentler International Drawing Space, Brooklyn, NY, 2010; A Parallel Presence: National Association of Women Artists, 1889-2009, Zimmerli Art Museum, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, 2008; "Structuring Thought," in Elizabeth Chapman, Ed Kerns: Word, City, Mind: A Universal Resonance, Muhlenberg College, PA, 2007; Almost Human: Dolls and Robots in Contemporary Art, Hunterdon Museum of Art, Clinton, NJ, 2005; Images from the World Between: the Circus in Twentieth- Century American Art, MIT Press, 2001; Thomas Moran: the Poetry of Place, American Federation of Arts and the Gilcrease Museum, 2001. Her recent exhibition, Water, an interdisciplinary project, was on view at the Zimmerli from September 1, 2010 to January 2, 2011. She has published reviews and articles on a variety of topics and presented papers at CAA, the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum; Lafayette College; Visual Arts Center of New Jersey; Wadsworth Athenaeum; Zimmerli Art Museum and other institutions. In 2012 she will co-chair a panel on Fluxus at CAA.
David Schwarz, PhD
A Double-Take on the Body: A Psychoanalytic Approach to the Body
in Electronic Art
In my talk, I'd like to discuss the body in recent electronic art, in the works themselves, and in discourses addressed to them. In writings on electronic art, artists and scholars mostly avoid defining what the body is and what the body isn't; and descriptive, critical, speculative language that refers to the body is often underwritten by either humanist essentialism (Hansen) or pessimistic nihilism (Kittler). I will put forward a suggestion for how we can avoid simplistic binaries such as body / mind-an approach to the body based on extensions of the teachings of Jacques Lacan.
I think most of us would agree that western culture has moved well beyond postmodernism both as cultural moment and discursive practice. If postmodern culture and discourses can be reduced to the statement "all is representation," then our post human, post Cartesian, post historical "present" would seem to have some abiding referent. What is it? To say that it is "reality" or "actuality" or "intuitive presence" is to fall into a simplistic binary that keeps us from grasping some of the new subjective structures that artists are already evoking in their work. I think that the art of this cultural moment requires that we move beyond simplistic binaries across the board.
As far as "reality" and the body to which my remarks will lead are concerned, the Lacanian Real can help. The Lacanian Real is that pulpy stuff that supports all socially-constructed meaning; or, if you could subtract all social conventions, all language, all ways of understanding ourselves, our social and private spaces, our history from experience, the Real would be what is left. We have no direct access to it, and no one interested in self preservation would wish to experience it. But from its thingness, its never fully-chartered territories, new structures are constantly emerging. The Real appears when the fabric of symbolic social space is under strain, and in our current culture, it is appearing quite a bit.
The Real is surrounded by fluid thresholds to language, to visual,
tactile, sonorous, and olfactory envelopes of identification out of
which we develop as children. No simple binaries bind its discourses
together; it offers us a unique read on current works of electronic
art. In my talk, I will ground the body in the Lacanian Real, with
reference to current works of electronic art, especially that of
I'm an Associate Professor of Music at the College of Music, the University of North Texas, Denton, TX. I have two books (Listening Subjects: Music, Psychoanalysis, Culture Duke UP 97 and Listening Awry: Music and Alterity in German Culture Minnesota 06); I'm working on a book that will take a post-Lacanian take on Electronic Art. Here's a link to my website with a full vita.
Robert Stalker, PhD
Screening the Real: The Films of Bruce Conner
My films are the "real world." It's not a found object. This is the
stuff that I see as the phenomena around me. At least that's what I
call the "real world." -Bruce Conner
California assemblage artist and experimental filmmaker Bruce Conner (1933-2008) was fascinated by the boundary between the real and the fake. He once sent out an invitation to his own exhibit announcing works by "the late Bruce Conner." On more than one occasion, he arranged for an impostor to stand in for him to present his own films. He even went so far as to title an exhibit comprised solely of his own work "the Dennis Hopper One Man Show" (1970-1973). In his assemblage work from the late 'fifties and early 'sixties for which he has become justly renown, Conner deployed sordid and violent "real life" material drawn from newspapers and tabloids (such as the infamous "Black Dahlia" murder case or the controversy surrounding the Caryl Chessman execution) in a highly fictional-or as he described it, "theatrical"-way to create works that, as Boswell writes, "curiously hover [. . . ] in a Neverland where fantasy and reality . . . dance hand in hand."
Beginning in 1958, Conner carried this dialectic of the real and the fake into film, producing some of the most important-although, still underappreciated-avant-garde or experimental films of the post-war era. In this paper, I examine early Conner films such as A Movie (1958), Marilyn Times Five (1968), and, especially, his masterpiece Report (1963-1967) to explore how Conner's films provocatively negotiate the borderland between the factual and the fantastic, the real and the fake. As I demonstrate, Conner's preoccupation with the real and the fake emerges in his films as a complex interrogation of the impact of the mass media on historical representation.
In A Movie (1958), Conner combines and juxtaposes found footage from both documentary and fictional sources to achieve a complex interplay of the real and the fake, the horrific and the humorous. Conner's Marilyn Times Five (1968-73) explicitly engages the boundary between the real and the fake by creating a film from a one-minute loop of a purportedly Marilyn Monroe dressed only in panties. While Conner's stated intent was to take the found footage and rearrange it "to see if the quintessential 'Marilyn' could emerge," some sources claim the footage is taken from a '40s stag film featuring Monroe look-alike Arlene Hunter, the film thus engaging quite provocatively the issues of the genuine and the counterfeit.
With Report, Conner carries his interest in the real and the fake into broader territory, tackling the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the media spectacle surrounding it. Immediately following the assassination, Conner began filming news reports directly from television. Later, when obtaining the Zapruder film and other filmic documents proved impossible, Conner bought the rights to the television footage, splicing it together along with television advertisements, footage of a bull fight, academy leader, and a "flicker film" to form one of the most complex and insightful aesthetic responses to the assassination and its aftermath. Together with its "sister film," Television Assassination (1963-65/1995), concerning the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald, Conner's Report represents, as this paper argues, a provocative interrogation of the impact of mass media on historical representation. As this paper demonstrates, Conner's films provocatively confound the real and the fake in their efforts to highlight a crisis in historical representation.
Robert Stalker received his Ph.D. from Emory University in 2004 and works as an independent scholar specializing in post-war West Coast American art. He has presented scholarly papers such as "Shooting Blanks: Time as property in the Photo-books of Ed Ruscha," "Panorama of the Everyday: Ed Ruscha and the Cinematic," and "Auto,Body: L.A.'s Finish Fetish and the Vernacular Surreal" at academic conferences in the U.S. and abroad. A frequent contributor to The Art Section: An On-Line Journal of Art and Cultural Commentary, Stalker has published articles on Joseph Cornell, Mel Bochner, the films of William S. Burroughs, and Yves Klein among others. He is currently working on a project about L.A.'s Ferus Gallery.
Carrie Robbins, PhD
The Real and the Fake in Thomas Demand's Trompe L'oeil
In what D.N. Rodowick calls a "paradox of 'perceptual realism,'"
digital image-making technology pursues the goals of "perfect
photographic credibility" according to Lev Manovich or of "digital
mimicry" as Philip Rosen has it. According to these new media
theorists, digital image production, a field imagined to be free of
the constraints of reality, is thus (paradoxically) geared toward the
"realist" conventions of photography's linear perspective. Insofar as
digital mimicry adopts the representational conventions of another
medium, it pursues an illusionism not unlike that of trompe l'oeil.
Trompe l'oeil is typically understood according to its trick, as an
exact imitation that is also wholly dependent upon its failure. But I
want to suggest that this staging and testing of representational
verisimilitude allow a return of the real by reminding viewers of what
is at stake in representation - our corporeal bodies and lived
Like digital image makers, Thomas Demand pursues the 'perceptual
realism' of 'perfect photographic credibility' but through entirely
analogue means. Demand reproduces in three-dimensional paper models
the scene of a found photograph, only to re-photograph it. What
initially seems to be a straight-forward photograph is suddenly undone
by a stray pencil mark - or other sign of handmade "digit"-alization.
But his "digital" interventions return us to the body (his body) and
to another capacity for the real. Like new media's digital mimicry,
his paper models are made to conform to the conventions of
photographic realism; but our active recognition of this deceit
returns us to our own bodies, as well as to the historical and ethical
stakes of representing the real that motivated the initial photograph.
Demand's trompe l'oeil strategy reinvests us in the stakes of
recovering a real from representation's inevitable fakery.
Carrie Robbins is a PhD Candidate in the Department of History of Art at Bryn Mawr College, specializing in Modern and Contemporary art with a focus on photography. She received her BA in Art History from Grinnell College in 2002 and her MA from Bryn Mawr College in 2008. She was a teaching assistant to Prof. Homay King in Bryn Mawr's film department, a graduate assistant in Bryn Mawr's photography collection, and a research assistant to architectural historian, Prof. Barbara Miller Lane. Her Master's thesis engaged Michael Fried's recent work on contemporary photography, part of which grew into a paper, "Without Medium: A Consideration of Loss via Thomas Demand," that she presented at the Frick Collection in 2009. Carrie also co-chaired the 7th Biennial Graduate Student Symposium, "Thievery: The Anxiety of Influence and Appropriation," at Bryn Mawr in December 2009. She is beginning dissertation work advised by Prof. Steven Levine that reconsiders contemporary photographic strategies relative to trompe l'oeil.
Mark Levy, PhD
Magritte and the Triumph of the Simulacrum
In The Treason of Images 1927-1928) Rene Magritte draws
attention to the gap between image and reality. Here a painted image
of a pipe is not a real pipe as the caption "Ceci n'est pas une pipe"
affirms. In the words of the French linguistic philosopher Ferdinand
de Saussure ( 1857-1913) there is a difference between the "signifier"
or sign or the "signified" or object . The signifier or sign is a
simulacrum of the real thing. Of course, as Magritte demonstrates, the
viewer often suspends disbelief in the reality of the signified and
this is especially telling in The Treason of Images as the
image of a pipe is simply a colored cartoon with modeling.
In the Key of Dreams (1930) Magritte also shows that words, the equivalent of images, are similarly arbitrary designations of things. An image of a glass, for example could just as easily be called, "L' Orage" which is usually designated to mean storm in French. As Saussure had already affirmed, signification is always determined by culture; there is no natural relation between the signifier and the signified. As I hope to demonstrate in this talk with examples from the work of Barbara Kruger and Vitaly Alex Komar and Melamid, Magritte's paintings anticipate the Deconstructionist trope of adding or changing signifiers to bring out the hidden ideology behind so called natural signification. The reality of the signified is thus brought into question. Moreover, Magritte was a precursor of the free play of signifiers without signifieds that that is found in the postmodernist works of such artists as David Salle and Sigma Polke which I will also discuss in this talk. In beginning to pry loose the natural link between the signifier and the signified Magritte anticipates the triumph of the simulacrum and the erosion of the real in late 20th and early 21st century art and culture.
Mark Levy (Ph.D) has taught courses in modern European art, contemporary art. Asian art, and shamanism in art at Kenyon, College, The University of Nevada, Reno, John F. Kennedy University, and the San Francisco Art Institute. For the last twenty-eight years he has also taught at California State University, East Bay where is currently the senior Professor of Art History. He has written many reviews and articles for national and international publications and two books, Technicians of Ecstasy: Shamanism and the Modern Artist and Void/in Art, about the significance of emptiness in Eastern and Western art. He is currently finishing a new book Tantra, Art and Anarchy, and is designing a game for the IPod/IPad with graduate students from the multimedia department at California State University, East Bay based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead.