FRED SCOTT: Digital art has shifted boundaries of creative value
Collectors often raise the question of creative value, particularly regarding the way it is linked with the different media that artists use to express themselves. In the art world nowadays the latest trends in artistic expression relate to electronically generated images and installations. This category of art can be viewed and experienced in contemporary art museums, galleries and fairs.
While the scale of installations and projections are unlimited, such works may offer special challenges to exhibit. Damien Hirst’s installation Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable filled the historical Punta Della Dogana and the Palazzo Grassi venues at 2017’s Venice Biennale exhibition.
Installation pieces can incorporate all kinds of materials, including video medium and performance art.
The artist’s main aim in designing and creating installations is centred on informing the public about social, environmental, political, identity and gender issues. Ai Weiwei’s formidable rubber sculpture at the Trade Fair Palace in Prague in 2017 questions migration legislation and the human condition of asylum seekers.
Due to the enormity of most installation pieces they are destined to end up in corporate collections or in national and private museums.
Although computers form the pillar of video art, they were initially considered to be a tool rather than a "new" medium in art. The community of art collectors also questioned whether an electronic creation is really art, as the artist’s hand and mind are not the only elements involved in digital works. The universality of symbol-processing capabilities enabled artists to develop and encode computers to perform artistic processes. It is therefore not surprising that this shift in technology led to vibrant experimentation in creating new experiences for audiences.
The omnipresence of digital images and video art in every gallery and at art fairs nowadays confirms that this media has developed into a solid section of the art market.
Exciting new applications of digital art technology, beyond two-dimensional photographs and digital prints, are emerging in laser-based projections, virtual-reality experiences and robotics. Lasers have sharply defined lines, which allow that laser images can be blown up to unprecedented scales without losing detail, as is the case with regular light projections.
The art community in Johannesburg has the opportunity until April 14 to participate in an interactive reality technology show. The Invisible Exhibition opened at Rosebank’s new digital gallery TMRW in March, showing virtual art pieces that have been created by 13 artists.
This exhibition, conceived by William Kentridge’s Centre for the Less Good Idea, also gives visitors an opportunity to drive Google’s sophisticated software program Tilt Brush. Participants can create drawings in a three-dimensional virtual space by using an HTC Vive virtual reality headset and controllers. This technology, which encodes and organises data, enables the user to discover new artistic experiences in ways that were impossible before.
If you plan to buy your first digital piece it is imperative to do some research regarding the technology, equipment and procedures. What if after some time a more sophisticated format is required for viewing it due to technological advances? Also obtain as many technical details as possible from the gallerist and find out whether software updates will be part of the purchase. Consider the viewing time of the work, as one would like to view it again and again in order to grasp the depth of the work. Digital art can be mass produced, but a collector would purchase from a low edition, with the edition number confirmed in writing on a certificate of authenticity and on the proof of payment.
Another field gaining popularity is the application of artificial intelligence and robots to produce works of art. This technology kicked off by mimicking the aesthetic of famous artists and by converting photographs into painterly images. More challenging is the development of machines that will on their own replicate the processes of a human artist. Recent developments in robotics are an eye-tracking system that can control the robot’s movements and an internet-directed command system with the robot applying brush strokes to a canvas by remote control. The operation still requires the artist to instil an aesthetic creativity so that a robotically generated work transforms to genuine art.
At the 2016 FNB Joburg Art Fair, the interaction between an artist and a robotic performance brought a novel interesting aesthetic to digital art.
Collecting performance art presents different challenges, with the main obstacle being the preservation of the emotional impact of a staged piece. The natural answer is to record the piece, but then the distinction between performance art and video art starts to fade.
The fluidity of the medium together with the intimate connection established between the performer and the viewer cannot be fully captured by a video recording. It is therefore important to view the performance before obtaining the video as this will assist the recollection of intimate moments and movements performed by the artist.
• Scott is a partner in Walker Scott, which offers end-to-end art management services.