Sign of no time
An interview with Anouk De Clercq and Jerry Galle
(for Artes Digitales Catalogue, Kortrijk, 2007)
(lees verder in het Nederlands)
Sign of the times #1
Pieter Van Bogaert: Talking about art in the digital age and talking about digital art are not one and the same. You both decided to work with the computer via a detour in analogue ‘arts’ (music and film for Anouk and painting and photography for Jerry). How important is that digital element for each of you? Can you tell a little more about that (analogue) background and whether/how it affects your work?
Jerry Galle : the photographic image has had an impact on my paintings. When I started to paint from photographs, I noticed the flexibility in the painting medium. It actually still is a faster medium to create art with than the computer. While painting from photographs, it was as if I skipped certain crucial steps during the painting process. The photograph already had an existence and the structure of images, needed to form a painting, created friction with the image that was predetermined by the photograph. It seemed an impossible task to separate that afterwards. This process started to intrigue me and ultimately drove me to the computer.
I can literally use this process with the computer and show the structural steps through time. These steps often manifest themselves in the abstraction of the original image, the images starting to behave in terms of the art of painting is inevitable. The digital medium too affects the processes of this distortion. The problem in that the computer, as it were, interferes in the process of creation, started to raise questions in me at an early stage. Questions such as: “who is actually creating these images, me or the computer?” Or, more fundamentally: “is it at all possible to create art using a logical machine?”
Anouk De Clercq : to me, the computer is where the arts come together, where text, image, music, architecture, space,…can be complementary to each other. It truly is a ‘medium’, an object between people. Jerry and I create this work with the computer, as well as through the computer, virtually, by sending each other e-mail files. All in all we met maybe three times for Pixelspleen. Thus the computer certainly operates as some sort of interface.
Reality too is something completely different in the computer. There is in fact no reality to start from, but an immense space. That is a major difference when working in film or in a public space, e.g., it is already fully filled up. I particularly use the possibilities of the computer to form an abstract essence, averse to anything anecdotal.
Ultimately that analogue background of both Jerry and me are interlinked within our generation; a generation that started working with the computer after having finished school, the actual development years.
P.V.B. :On paper, your cooperation leads to quite a few similarities, as well as contradictions. Whereas to Anouk, the computer represents a space to create new universes, Jerry uses the computer to work out pictorial elements of the reproducible image. If Anouk (as a film director) steers towards cooperation with other artists, Jerry (like a software artist) works in first instance together with the computer. Whereas Anouk seems to refer more to avant-cinema pioneers, such as Marey and Muybridge, Jerry refers to pioneers from photography, such as Niepce and Talbot. If one is instinctively drawn to the happy end (an old legacy of cinema), the other inevitably reaches the no end (of the software). Do you recognise yourselves in these comparisons (comparisons which of course can also be referred to as supplements) and does this also affect this work?
J.G. : Those contradictions are there, which is a positive thing, but their effects are not really felt in Pixelspleen.
P.V.B. :But you do adjust to each other, right? Can’t you sense that in this work?
A.D.C. : First of all, I also see affinities. The paintings of Jerry, his nocturnal palette, the space and depth he creates in black, represent an infinity that I find highly fascinating. However, the main compromise between us can be found in the perception of time. The basic principle of Pixelspleen is like creating a work that has ‘no end’ or ‘no beginning’ (a concept that I first started to work with in Pang (2005), but which Jerry has been engaged in for much longer). The major difference in that perception of time is that there will be no end, no solution – and that is extremely difficult as it is an entirely new concept to me. It basically comes down to passing the initiative to the public, making this work more theirs than mine.
Sign of the times #2
P.V.B. :Talking about art in the digital age brings us to concepts such as the digital highway and its connotations of speed, networking and interactivity too quickly. But it can also be done slowly, in a single computer and without a network. Instead of using interactivity, you use the generative concept as a basis. Can you tell a little more about that and in relation to that, about how you position yourselves within the digital field?
A.D.C. : Jerry and I started from the notion not to want to create a linear work, which is at odds with my normal approach. My first non-linear experience (in Pang ) was positive. The work integrates so much better in terms of space and the distance to the public is reduced. I do not impose an existing route onto the public. It is more generous and that perception of time suits me better and better. This probably releases me from my film background.
I am not interested in joystick interactivity. What does fascinate me, and here I certainly share common ground with Jerry, is the interactivity between the different layers of the work: vision and sound, vision and space, sound and space. And, last but not least, the interactivity between the work and the public. The more so since the digital age is much associated with speed and abundance, I like to counteract that with a frozen frame and personal sensation.
J.G. : To me, the generative concept is the purest form to show work, typical of the computer. The software runs continuously and the flow of images is never identical. If you were to isolate a section from the flow, e.g. on a DVD, the work is given a different character. It becomes cinematic, with a beginning and an end. When a spectator enters the room, he will want to see the ‘film’ from the beginning to the end and thus has to wait for the loop to restart.
The compulsive character again interferes with another important theme for me, the relation between the perception of time inside and outside the computer. According to me, they do not run parallel. The processor is so much faster than us, yet impossibly slow in terms of intelligence. I experience this each time I use a computer and time and again it causes resentment. Perhaps this medium-critical stance is a legacy from the art of painting. The digital medium is subject to little critical thought. Terms such as speed and networking often have little in common with art. Interactivity is more than action/reaction, e.g. I believe the interaction between image and sound, whether or not physical, is much more fascinating.
P.V.B. :About Pixelspleen : within the sample that you mailed me, I noticed a single pixel. It actually emerged there were two, attracting and repulsing. As if they were alive, feeling, longing… Can you tell a little more about the ins and outs of this work?
J.G. : Pixelspleen is a visualisation of doubt. Since a number of years, I have been searching for models that can break through the logical framework of the computer. Existing systems, such as randomness, produced results that proved too predictable to me, no matter how ambiguous that may sound. The two pixels attracting and repulsing each other move in accordance with a software programme that generates doubt. In fact, I do not allow the machine the time to perform its eternal yes/no game, but let it continuously move between the two limits that it is aware of. Yes and no, male and female, left and right etc. Anything in between, the machine does not know or recognise. Within that interim zone a world of opportunities opens up that refers to emotional and poetic notions, rather than mechanical precision. As a spectator, you will inevitably project to one or both pixels and/or try identify with it. Because the image is so minimal, two leading figures in continuous motion, the road to all possible interpretation of those movements is wide open and at the same time also very universal. It is a language understood by all.
A.D.C. : Pixelspleen is the meeting point between Jerry’s work and mine. The visual information is minimal, but very specific. This clears the way to link messages to those two elements that relate to each other in a space: they become small ‘entities’.
I myself do not think so much in terms of doubt, but of less rational feelings such as longing, attracting and repulsing. During my first meeting with Jerry, at a symposium on digital art, a few years ago, we actually did not agree on an expression I used, ‘intuitive logic’. Jerry believed it was rather contradictory: how can you act intuitively and be logical at the same time? Later on I discovered that the name of his website was Fuzzy Logic. And it is here where the first seeds of Pixelspleen were sown, a mutual longing to making the digital organic.
Sign of the times #3
P.V.B. :Talking about art in the digital age is talking about abundance, about the abundance of existing images and unlimited possibilities to create and add even more images. I feel you go for an opposite movement: for an ecology of images and a rather radical reduction of the technology.
A.D.C. : I always start with a whole lot, but at the end of the process I am left with very little. A spiral-shaped type of process until you reach a concentrated minimal mass. I want to state a pure message averse to anything anecdotal. It is a process of ‘stripping’ and ‘pealing’ until you reach the essence of the message, or the sensation or the thought. I am not interested in technological power play . It is more about building a relation with the visitor by allowing him or her space in the work.
J.G. : I always start with the question: “do I really need this or that in order to create a certain work?” The same applies to my paintings, I will paint over anything that should not be there, rather than add to it. It is a personal sensation, not so much an aversion to the bombast of technology. I always try to minimise the digital element in the end result. The technology and logic behind it must be hidden from view. I wish to keep the creation or programming of a work as intuitive as possible.
P.V.B. :In that sense, I believe this work has a rather linear feel – as if the pixels appear to be moving solely horizontally, a linearity which you, in your pursuit for generative – nearly organic – art, seem to have an aversion to.
J.G. : The work is very logical in structure. Left is yes, right is no. The two pixels try to find a linear balance between those two opposites. I felt it would be better to preserve this format visually. Also, a point (or a pixel) cannot be divided in two. And points that converge form a line. If you use multiple lines or curves, you create a surface and thus also depth. The essence of Pixelspleen is to capture that very lightness and flexibility in a single image. This at the same time moves the whole process to the front, like the still lives of Cézanne, who was also searching for the same type of image.
A.D.C. : That horizontal line suggests the essence of a landscape, a space. I love suggestiveness, everything in excess takes up space of the public. It can perhaps be compared to what I did before, in Petit Palais (2002). At that time, the challenge was to create a landscape where everything started from the centre, generating depth and space in the work. That same effect is reflected here in that the pixels have a continuous urge to return to the middle. They move to the left and to the right, upwards, downwards and backwards. Not forwards – this has been a deliberate choice to keep it abstract. The movement reaches up to where the public still has space for projection, for personal contribution.
Sign of the times #4
PVB: Spreken over kunst in het digitale tijdperk is spreken over grensoverschrijdende kunst. Deze productie wordt getoond in een tentoonstelling over digitale kunst in België. Voelen jullie zich goed in die nationale context? Of had het ook iets anders mogen zijn?
A.D.C.: Iedere Belgische kunstenaar mocht ook een internationale kunstenaar uitnodigen. Ik heb Ryoji Ikeda gevraagd omwille van zijn hoogst inspirerende minimale klanken, zijn puurheid. Ik moet zeggen dat ik me meer verwant voel met dat soort Japans minimalisme dan met Belgische kunst, maar misschien is dat net erg Belgisch om te zeggen. Ik denk vooral dat het nog te vroeg is om conclusies te trekken uit zo’n jong medium als de digitale kunst, laat staan over digitale kunst van een bepaalde bodem.
P.V.B. :In conclusion then, I would like to ask about digital consciousness. The sample that I have seen was titled ‘doubt’. Not ‘coincidence’ (what you would expect from a computer, thus from a machine), but ‘doubt’ (a feature found only in creatures with a conscious). As if you, in your enthusiasm to go back to the roots, to the essence of the digital art, reach the existence, as if you, by returning to the beginning, want to breathe (new) life into digital art.
J.G. : What is important to me is to expose the essence of the machine and its influence on us. What you can see in Pixelspleen is the most direct visualisation of the principle in the programme, without a detour and unadorned. Doubt is the consideration of all options, pros and cons and the possibility to come to a decision. In that sense, it is not possible for the software to ‘doubt’. Doubt is a physical standstill; there is no action, only the thought process is left. The pixels translate this mental hesitation and the spectator projects his emotion onto the pixels, not the other way around. They are actually new images, which in their abstraction do not have a model in the real world. Just before the spectator could start forming a picture of the essence, there is an interruption. Actually, the same applies to the pixels together.
A.D.C. : I think that, within that context, we should not forget our personal relation with the computer, which to me is a process of self-study with the interface as a type of mirror. The ultimate shapes and sounds on the screens are the conclusions of that study, of that quest, with the computer as a type of Sancho Panza.