Part 1, Project 4, exercise 1:3 Things perform for you

Things perform for you.

This builds on the pendulum/piping bag/bat and ball methodology of the previous exercise. The ones I supplanted by squeezed tea bags, grains of soft pastel, and a plant spray.

Again, I’m going to move this along rather than stay with that idea and I have two projects running that will essentially perform on their own. Both involve paper with degrees of absorbancy – sugar paper for one, cartridge and flip chart paper for the other – and animals. The sugar paper, five sheets taped together, is positioned at the indoor entrance to the cat flap and, because it’s rained and will do so again shortly, muddy footprints will accumulate on it. Cats move in relatively predictable ways in this setting, but as they’re unknowing with regard to their marks and undirected by me I believe this set up qualifies. I’ve taken photos of the piece at intervals and also positioned two wildlife cameras nearby to catch entrances and exits and tracks across the paper. I intend to stitch these together into a short film showing the dynamics of the making.

The second is similar but outdoors and involves one sheet of A1 cartridge and another of cheap flip chart paper. I used a bottle of Gentian Violet as pigment in anticipation of rain later. Gentian Violet is a non-toxic antiseptic used for years to treat infected wounds so if the cats trod in it, this would not be a problem. At least for them – gloves are advisable when using this stuff as it dyes the heck out of everything it touches; I didn’t really want it tracked through the house.

After flicking the pigment onto the cartridge, I used some dock leaves to feather it around on the paper. This became a collaborative effort. When I was able to apply the second sheet of paper without it being shredded in mid air, I use this to absorb any pools of pigment and then placed it alongside the original.

Again, I’ve taken photos at various stages, and there is a wildlife camera set up to capture any activity. Over night, there may be foxes and hedgehogs visiting for the food I put out there. The weather is predicted to be windy later today and so it’s held down with bricks although its disappearance on a wild gust might make a fitting finale.

Two unexpected bonuses have been flickering light shadows over the indoor setting, and strong shadows across the outside one. I made a short video of the first and tried to draw along the lines of the shadows on the outdoor one with Inktense blocks. The shadows shift, obviously, and my plan is to try for lines at different times of day. The Inktense is water soluble so if it rains, there will be fluid pigment to bleed into the wet paper. This plan was aborted when the heavens opened. Oddly, the Inktense marks stayed unbled.

I can’t claim this as a new idea. Faced with a similar task last year, I left a piece of cartridge out where I feed the hedgehogs and filmed the nocturnal comings and going for over a month. The paper deteriorated, it was covered in footprints, mud, old hay, twigs, wee and poo. Before it fell apart completely, I brought it in, sealed all the extraneous elements in place with glue, and let liquid paint dribble from the top to the bottom amongst the troughs and peaks of the imported texture. Then I made a film of the result, treating it as a landing zone in an unknown area – maybe we were the landing crew, maybe they were.

This time it’s less about collecting additional substances and more about picking out shapes and tracks and so I’m hoping for plenty of mud. If I were a musician, I might try to find playable chords or phrases in there. A Warholian dance diagram [see The Art of Dance – The Andy Warhol Museum] might be pushing it a bit.

There were many visitors – my cats, other people’s cats, at least one fox, and a couple of warring hedgehogs because this is the season for it. It rained heavily and the paper was soaked, but neither the gentian violet nor the Inktense marks changed much. At one point I needed bricks to keep the paper in place. After about three days and a period of warm sun to dry them out, I brought it indoors for a final photo shoot then binned it along with the deposits left by the hogs.

Had quite a lot of assistance with this – wildlife, not-so-wild life, visiting cats, and Weather which threatened to blow it all away. Turns out even flip chart paper is relatively robust if it just has to lie there.

I brought these papers in to see if they inspired any onward artistic intervention but they were really rather dull and one had been pooed and peed on. They’re in the bin but preserved in video form.

Research Point 3

Jessica Warboys – sea paintings. I found a video in which Warboys describes her process in generating the pieces that go to make up an exhibition, talking about how she soaks the canvases in the sea before working on them, although that too is work, and saying that she fits the pieces to the gallery. They are large. Wider than rolls of wallpaper and longer too. What she doesn’t talk about, and may not have heard, is the sound made when she pulls the plastic wrapping from the canvases and bundles it in her hands for disposal. It sounds exactly like a crashing wave and this, rather than the paintings, is what stays with me. How much could have been made of that as an underpinning soundscape; soft and subtle and pushing a viewer’s frame of reference in exactly the right direction.

1957 – Remote-Controlled Painting Machine – Akira Kanayama (Japanese) –

Kanayama was evidently not a fan of Pollock and set up his painting machine as a mimic. This from the Cybernetic Zoo site, accessed May 3rd 2021:

At the same time the machine follows Pollock’s ideas of automation and physical detachment between artist and painting, bringing it to a new level, but at the same time it makes fun of role of the artist – no longer an inspired and gesturing artist, but a homemade machine spilling paint”.

I’m hard-pressed not to have some alignment with this notion. While I get the intensity of application from the likes of Pollock, I don’t get the reason this output is regarded as ‘good’. E for Effort but not A* for quality; that kind of appraisal. Why? Because, without buying into the whole provenance and the personality of the artist, there is no foothold for me, nothing that reaches out to me and says look – this is interesting because … All it does is present itself as a fait accompli and dares me to declare it stark naked. And given the way the art industry operates with its self-sustaining loop of money-driven subjectivity among buyers and agents, curators, and patrons, how is it truly possible to value art with any kind of objectivity? Brian Eno has spoken about this at length and this is part of my commentary from another blog:

Eno’s thesis here is that because there is no classificatory taxonomy whereby appreciation of a piece of work is enhanced by understanding how it got there; the historical context it came from, what it was reacting to, the political and social environment that prompted it; art remains a top-is-superior triangular structure where a few people (men again, generally) decide what’s good and everyone else follows along. He argues that this is problematic for assessing or even agreeing relative value even within a discipline such as painting never mind across the whole spectrum of the arts (those things we don’t have to do but that we somehow can’t help doing). We remember, don’t we, that there used to be Film Snobbery whereby any actor appearing on TV was regarded as lesser than those in top dollar films, despite often being seen by more people. This has almost turned on its head now and with the expansion of the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime streaming, the acting community is looking at TV as having equal status to film. This opens up the need to consider all forms of art using language appropriate to its genre and to abandon the ‘high art’ framework that privileges particular forms above all others – the White Men at the Top of the Triangle.” Conboy-Hill, 2020 “Art is everything you don’t have to do” – Brian Eno – Strayfish Arts

His Peel Lecture from 2015 is a much better articulation of these ideas.

Rebecca Horn born 1944 | Tate.

My goodness but there’s a weird mix of theatre, engineering, and fantasy here. Slight touch of S&M too, I think. Horn is clearly someone with an extraordinary, almost Pythonesque/Black Mirror, imagination. The kind of head that you’d like to be in some days but definitely not others – the Pencil mask is terrifying but the Cockatoo mask? That’s carnival, although I’d hope the feathers were humanely obtained. I don’t know where to start with the piano pendu. It’s eviscerating itself and groaning, then hauling its entrails back into the interior. A mechanised piece in dark resonance with those of the Victorian era that, luckily, never quite crossed the uncanny valley, although dolls, like clowns, can be horrific in themselves.

Robot Art.

I can’t help thinking that there are two sets of motivators here; one trying to demonstrate that art is such a nonsense even robots can do it (cf chimp/elephant/dolphin/donkey art), the other more interested in artificial intelligence (AI) and whether or not it can be designed to demonstrate originality. Both skirt the edges of consciousness, purpose, intent, and self-awareness because if their art is in any way comparable to that of human artists, either art is the nonsense many people think it is, or a whole range of animals is much better equipped cognitively and emotionally than we’d like to believe.

Self awareness, that sense of ‘I’ as an individual distinct from the rest, may be a clue. Very few non-human species seem to have it (the list is growing though and recently a fish was added), and so purpose beyond immediate survival and in-group social cohesion is tricky to attribute. The test is the dot on the forehead (or an equivalent for species where that wouldn’t work), and the mirror. Without self awareness, the animal tries to pick the dot off its reflection; with self awareness, it recognises itself and successfully locates the dot on its own forehead. To date, I’m unaware of any cross-over studies that would give us a Red Dot/animal art Venn diagram so there’s a PhD in that for someone.

Where does that take us though in placing AI art on some sort of continuum of purposeful intent that might underpin awareness? Because without that, I would argue that the output is simply algorithmic. Odd maybe, and close to random, but actually not random if you know what code is driving it. The lines would be visible. But people? Artists making art that many can’t make sense of? This, I think, is very different although it’s clearly predicated on assumptions of complex cognitive capabilities even if the process and sometimes the output looks meaningless.

I think what I’m saying is that, without consciousness, robot art is mechanistic – an interesting result of engineering and software of varying degrees of sophistication. Without a sense of self, and in the absence of consciousness, it has no ‘guiding mind’, no intellectually or emotionally driven purpose or intent. AI doesn’t take a coffee break and come back with an entirely new approach to what it was doing. That’s surely coming though and we’d better be ready with our definition of human rights. Take a look at scary Ai-Da*

May 7th and I’ve just found the recommended extract by Lee Ufan, Robots and Painters which is largely of historical interest as robotics, AI, and the understanding of cognitive processes have moved on considerably since then. In fact they have already superseded the fears he expresses in his first four paragraphs and he has to be congratulated on his vision. But perhaps what he didn’t and couldn’t predict was how artists would run with this revolution instead of falling into the kind of despairing nihilism he seems to be expressing when he talks about philosophers ‘seeing everything as machine parts’, ‘the reassembling of data by mental games’ (philosophers again), and artists ‘slip[ping] more and more from the system of knowledge’. He’s right though about paintings being the embodiment of an idea, something robots (AI) weren’t and still aren’t capable of. But while Ufan takes the perspective of disorder, employing terms such as narcissism, schizophrenic egotism, and ‘solitary isolation[ism]’ likely drawn from Freudian analytic theory, I’d say the reality today is much more exciting, liberating, and expansively inclusive and I really hope he’s still around to see this.

Robotic art – Wikipedia. Robotic art is any artwork that employs some form of robotic or automated technology.”

*A New Robot Questions How Creative AI and Machines Can Be | Time. “Ai-Da’s creators bill her as the world’s first robot artist, and she’s the latest AI innovation to blur the boundary between machine and artist; a vision of the future suddenly becoming part of our present. She has a robotic arm system and human-like features, is equipped with facial recognition technology and is powered with artificial intelligence. She is able to analyze an image in front of her, which feeds into an algorithm to dictate the movement of her arm, enabling her to produce sketches. Her goal is creativity.”

Can robots make art? ( “[ORLAN] was standing close to her 2017 work ORLAN and the ORLANOID, in which her video presence interrogates a lookalike robot on matters of life and death. Having borrowed the robot’s lensless glasses for a photo shoot, she needed her own back. I was struck by the robot’s lack of reaction as she made the swap. It underscored my answer to the question posed by this exhibition: can a robot create a work of visual art? My feeling is no, for the simple reason that it can’t see. I recommend a visit to the show, nonetheless. It forced me to examine what I mean by seeing or — more broadly — sensing the world, and hence what I mean by art.”

Watch ROBOTS Painting PERFECT Portraits | Strictly Robots – YouTube. Again the question is about knowingness, conscious intent even where the end goal is not determined. An overseeing mind that perceives nuance and chooses whether to modify its motor output accordingly. My biggest problem is that I see so many of these photorealistic pieces produced the old way and I doubt I’d be able to tell the difference or even care much whether the arm with the brush was attached to a human or a piece of car assembly plant.

Red dot/Mirror test: see this wikipedia page for a reasonable account Mirror test – Wikipedia

Ufan, L. 1987. Robots and Painters. In Painting, documents of contemporary art. Ed Myers, T. 2011. Whitechapel Gallery and MIT Press. Pp 63 – 65.

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