Means of Production: Fabbing and Digital Art

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Several years ago, while making the lecture circuit rounds, American architect William Massie described a key goal within his practice as moving towards a more direct translation between bits and atoms. Architecture has always thrived on the tension between representation and material assemblages and what he was addressing with this comment was the dawning of an era characterized by a new proximity between digital models and physical output. In selected contexts, artists, architects, and designers have been exploring these accelerated development cycles for a decade but the involved technologies are descending in price so quickly that, for example, 3D printers are now cheaper than laser printers were in 1985. A key question: how does the looming ubiquity of these tools and workflows apply to the production and display of new media art? This article will explore digital fabrication (aka fabbing) at a variety of scales which include the curatorial questions raised by these new hybrid industrial design/sculpture objects as well as the implications on the practice of individual artists. Before delving into either of these milieus it would be useful to acknowledge some common language and terminology associated with fabrication and recognize some important precedents.

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Clouds of Clouds (2008) - Miguel Leal and Luis Sarmento

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From the artist's statement:

Clouds of clouds is a random generator of cloud images. Each new cloud is unique and indexed to a particular time (GMT) on a particular day. Its clouds were made on similar dates and at similar times, not necessarily the same year, and are linked to the original web pages.

The basis of the archives are all images indexed with the tags "cloud" or "clouds" on Flickr.

These are not clouds in the atmospheric meaning of the word, but instead entities with which they share a complexity that can be confused with instability, unpredictability and irreducibility. That this is based on a relatively simple visualisation arrangement is another way of indicating that this complexity depends less on what we see on the surface than on the networks of relationships established from it.

Via Ethan Ham's blog

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TIME SLIP (2008) - Antoine Schmitt

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From the artist's statement:

TIME SLIP is based on a custom software that feeds from the official news agencies and changes the tense of selected news from past or present to future tense. TIME SLIP is always up to date. It is a programmed generative artwork...

TIME SLIP is a visual artwork referring to philosophical questionings on destiny, its potential pre-written nature or its causal determinism, and in the end, a work on free will. It confronts the spectator to the control of his own destiny in a universe where time and its causality can slip. It is also a work on the motive energy of unpredictability and risk, more and more central in the contemporary world.

Via Network Research

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Forever (2008) - Universal Everything

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Forever, commissioned by London's Victoria & Albert Museum and on view until February 1st, is a generative artwork which produces an unrepeatable sequence of animations and audio. Universal Everything also created video podcasts of the work's output, which are available on iTunes. The display, a video wall, intentionally stands in stark contrast to the museum's more traditional architecture. The team claim that the installation will tour and that the work will be modified according to the parameters of each location.


Forever at the Victoria & Albert Museum from Universal Everything on Vimeo.

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Epiphanies (2001) - Christophe Bruno

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More work by Christophe Bruno

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Blue (one second brainwave transmitted to the star Rigel) (1993) - Spencer Finch

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Brainwave generated while looking at Hawaii Five-O, transmitted at the speed of light to the bluest star in the night sky, where it will arrive in about 960 years.

microwave signal at 44mHz, 1 inch x 186,000 miles

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Questions, Comments, Reactions?

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When the cinematic masterpiece Wayne's World was released in 1992, their tag line was, "You'll Laugh, You'll Cry...You'll Hurl!" Who among us couldn't say the same about the media blunders we've seen recently, in connection with the U.S. presidential elections? Brooklyn-based artistic duo MTAA dramatize this sort of overwhelming desire to emote in their newest project, Our Political Work, which they describe as Beckett-like. The "Waiting For Godot" playwright might well approve of their creation, which features 141 clips of the artists screaming, laughing, and yelling as they wait in vain for something to change. The clips are randomly strung together using generative software, not unlike the clips in their One Year Performance Video, thus locking them in a state of perpetual indignity. The longer one watches, though, the more they are called upon to consider the roles of the artists and the very nature of their "political work." Are they political agents or spectators? Are their blurts and indiscretions responses to the behavior of political actors, or are they themselves enacting politics? Take a look for yourself, online. The piece is hosted by Lisboa 20 Arte Contemporânea, whose LX 2.0 Project commissioned the work. - Marisa Olson

Image: MTAA, Our Political Work, 2008 (Screenshot)

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Dot Star Generator (2006) - Les Liens Invisibles

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"Beyond the infosphere, the stars again...
Browse the net as a new, mysterious and complex constellation of meaning.
Dot Star Generator is a web-based artwork by d3dalus and the imaginary art-group Les Liens Invisibles"

More work by Les Liens Invisibles

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Tools of the Trade: Umwelt III (HOME) at 119 Chambers

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Here tech writer Melody Chamlee describes Rob Seward's work Umwelt III (HOME) for Rhizome's ongoing series "Tools of the Trade." - Ceci Moss

Currently on display at 119 Chambers Street is kinetic sculpture Umwelt III (HOME) by artist Rob Seward. Using common fluorescent vacuum tubes to light the sign, Seward says he referenced the Jakob von Uexküll and Thomas A. Sebeok definition of an umwelt, a subjective universe which includes meaning producing aspects for all life forms - in this case the narrative of the building inhabitant to the sidewalk passer-by.


On a quiet night, the gliding mechanical display of short white tubes rotates in a seemingly chaotic pattern out the window, slowly aligning and deconstructing the word "home" in bright white fluorescent fashion. The tubes meet and slowly scatter in clockwork formation, generating a slow animation of random pattern display that floats back together in a clear display of the word "home." What seems at first chaotic movement becomes a perfectly formed idea in alignment with viewer recognition. The concept of "home" is presented much the same way a disoriented traveler recognizes a familiar place.


Says Seward, "Before Umwelt III (HOME), I made pieces that spelled KILL and RUN. These where based on flight or fight instincts. The Umwelt III (HOME) piece is part of an earlier series to play on simple, old emotions. Umwelt III (HOME) is inspired by the need for shelter and feelings associated with it."


Rather than compromise between empiricism and rationalism, the sculpture continues to scatter and realign without adding additional context, leaving the viewer to complete the semiosphere with personal significance.


Seward says he was inspired by the idea of an umwelt to display these ideas, and is already working on a new sculpture, entitled WORK WORK WORK. In the new concept ...

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Well-Written Pictures

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Chris Ashley's HTML drawings are tightly-executed formal expressions that demonstrate the beautiful things that can be made with code. Drawing on simple elements such as 90-degree angles, shadows, and gradients, Ashley writes strings of code that appear to viewers as solid images. In fact, the often maze-like circuits that snake around in these images might read as optical illusions or even futile labyrinths if one tries to see each piece's components as anything other than part of a cohesive whole. While they initially read as very formal and perhaps even rigid, seeing the HTML drawings in relation to Ashley's paintings and watercolor drawings allows viewers to realize the sense of play that can emerge from rule-based work. In fact, Ashley very precisely pushes the envelope in what might be considered coloring between the lines. The artist posts these images to his blog and has managed to overcome the frequent challenge of translating digital works into the physical realm and shows his drawings on paper and glass in galleries. At the moment, his work can be seen at San Francisco's David Cunningham Projects. - Marisa Olson


Image: Chris Ashley, La Passeggiata, 20080809, HTML, 350 x 390 pixels

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