I have a history of being kicked out. It began with Girl Scouts when, at age 8, I pressured my troop to stop earning badges, as their purchase decreased our field trip fund. I was cut from my first and second-track teams. Later, at Boston College, I was fired from my position as Wiki Master when I refused to perform edits that I believed were against the spirit of collaborative software. As someone who craves inclusion, I’m poor at maintaining it. This is probably why I embraced the post-internet label; It felt like a club too nebulous to ever be kicked out of. I was looking for something like this when my Citrus Glow, 3:32 was disqualified from the Lumen Prize for Digital Art.
Recorded with an eye-level wearable camera, the YouTube-hosted moving-image work shows an oil painting created from a first-person perspective: the mixing of colors, the frame tilting with the tilting of my head, the applying of pigment, the sounds, and the process in all its material physicality. It is a digital work emphasizing the physicality of painting.
Oliver Laric’s Versions asserts that the internet is not a space of representation but of primary experiences. This same notion led me to classify the piece’s medium as Oil on Canvas on Google Glass on YouTube on Your Screen. Even while exhibited at The Victoria & Albert Museum’s Digital Futures, Citrus Glow, 3:32 played through my YouTube channel. It, and the series to which it belongs, assert digitization as uniquely independent from its physical relics. The moving-image work Citrus Glow, 3:32 is not a reference or representation of the painting Citrus Glow. The moving-image work is the finished work; the painting, a step along the way.
It goes without saying that almost everyone who sees my paintings does not do so in person. Mostly they see them in Instagram, image search, and increasingly on YouTube and within virtual reality. As my paintings move from fethishized objects into the digital, each becomes an “After Walker Evans” of itself where meaning has been added and loss by the digitization process. Insisting on digitization as part of the artist process, Citrus Glow, 3:32 considers how to be master of this translation. The digitization process seamlessly extends the painting as painting extends the drawing that precedes it.
But, in watching Citrus Grow, the Lumen Prize jury saw only an oil painting and promptly disqualified the work as “Not digitally produced.” In doing so, they created a satisfying and poetic confirmation of my initial premise. By considering the screen and the camera as inevitabilities instead of artist’s tools, the jury emphasized the totalitarian nature of the very elements (screens, bits, the internet) that are currently used to distinquish digital art from...the other art stuff. The entire premise of a separate prize for digital art rests upon such elements not being inevitable.
The internet-enabled image culture Laric describes in Versions has a marked disregard for grandiose notions of The Original. Roman sculptors may have come from Greek sculptors, but meaning is not dependant on this lineage. The Lumen jury considered my painting to be the original, with the moving-image work acting only as a reference.
While a digital photo of Starry Night may not be the Starry Night just as van Gogh intended, the meaning it produces on MoMA’s website is not solely as a pointer to the physical object on MoMA’s third floor. Language may work through pointers with “pipe” representing a physical pipe but p-i-p-e itself having nothing inherently pipe-like about it. Images, capable of provoking primary experience, work differently.
Aesthetics, from the greek aisthetikos, means relating to perception by the senses. Unlike language, aesthetics create meaning as a result of bodily interpretations of experience. These physical experiences are often coded with relative political, social, cultural and power positions. You act differently when behind than in front of a desk or podium. How you act in front of a painting on a white wall is an aesthetic response. It is result of bodies in contact with each other, of your sensory perceptions running through a conscious and subconscious knowledge of how you are to behave. You may react to the visual space between the stretcher bars, but you cannot avoid an aesthetic response to the environment.
Digital art is also aesthetic as the senses are actively perceiving, although via a device. The difference is in the mutability of the device and context. The experience of the digital art is unavoidably mixed up in the aesthetics of the device.
In Citrus, 3:32 the viewer experiences an aesthetic relationship to a device while adopting my aesthetic relationship to painting. The hands-free and first-person recording puts the viewers in my shoes, experiencing, as if they were me, an sensor-rich aesthetic lacking only the smell of turpentine. Painting and process are viewed relative to my body as my hands and arms dominate the frame. As a result, size becomes information experienced aesthetically the same way, small objects are often photographed next to a penny.
If you watch Citrus Glow, 3:32 on YouTube, as intended, the aesthetics of the device dominate the experience of the moving-image work. Enter fullscreen, and the aesthetics shifts. View it within virtual reality and you do not perceive a screen, and thus exclude the aesthetic experience of the device.
Petra Cortright’s digitally made painting, main image at top
Gretchen Andrew’s oil painted version recorded through a wearable camera as viewed on YouTube, above
Such variable modes of display imbue distinct aesthetics. This is what Petra Cortright refers to when describing digital art as flexible; the artist’s and viewer’s ability to change how the senses perceive the artwork: “It can be morphed in so many different ways. It could be a printed piece or it could be made into a video.” By making physical art digital through cameras, moving image, animation, CGI, SEO, and virtual reality, this freedom is also mine. It is the freedom to vary aesthetic relationships. The fetish that once belonged solely to the physical painting is ever unfixed.
Petra’s digitally produced works manifest themselves in various physical processes: printing, projection, installation. “It’s about bringing digital things into a physical space,” she says. “It’s so different on the screen when it’s small. But, really blowing it up in a technical way to fill the space, it completely changes. I’m interested in that kind of transformation...It takes a very special relationship to link the two worlds to produce something physical translated from the digital, but it can be done.” My work addresses this transformation in reverse.
The idea to make a traditionally-painted version of Petra’s digital works occured to me on a visit to her studio. I was thrilled to find a rowing machine, yoga mat and medicine ball. Petra and I are both physical people, giving attention to our bodies and how we choose to move through the world. Such personal concerns have a way of creeping into the artist's work.
Petra Cortright’s digitally-made painting
Gretchen Andrew’s oil painted version
Generally, Petra creates digital works through software such as Photoshop or Flash. Just as I paint from existing paintings, news images, or film stills, I began painting from Petra’s digital works. Aware that I was acting as a sort of error-ridden printer, I wore my camera. The recording allowed me to creatively re digitize the physical paintings, making films from the footage. Films showing physical process create magic when paired alongside Petra’s digital one published recently on Rhizome. In crossing media, from Petra’s digital image to my oil painting to my moving-image work, the versions affirm what the Lumen Prize jury missed with Citrus Glow, 3:32; the digital is its own space of primary experiences which is not dependant on something physical.
What is the relationship between Petra’s digital work, Petra’s printed works, my paintings of her work, and my films showing these paintings being made? Is it the same as between your Facebook profile and your body? Between your bank account and your inability to buy a NYC hotdog when you don’t have cash on hand? Or, as Laric might suggest, is their relationship utterly beside the point. While connected in source, each provokes a unique sense-based experience. Acting not just as references or pointers, each has its own aesthetics.
Yet, their relationship extends beyond the echos of visual quotes. I have this coffee mug with Starry Night on it. Whether a on coffee mug, a tote bag, or MoMA’s website, Van Gogh didn’t imagine his work living in these contexts. But it doesn't matter. It's because he made fucking incredible paintings, artwork so strong that the primary aesthetic response is to the image, regardless of the surrounding aesthetics of kitchenware or electronic device.
This is why Petra’s work is so important in digital and post-internet art: it doesn't use new media as an excuse. I have been primarily versioning works by my mentor Billy Childish. If doing so was solely about the theory or concept, I’d have picked easier paintings to make, maybe some Malevich black squares. Petra’s work isn’t just flexible because it begins digitally; it’s flexible because it is just plain beautiful, aesthetic in the word’s more common understanding... “I think about making art in terms of colour and space and imagery.” This is the challenge that I like in the post-internet label; theory and new media/tools can live within artwork that is also well made.
Much may change when artwork is projected or printed or versioned into an oil painting, but the soul of great art is hard to destroy. The classic fetishization of art flows between screen and printing and projection and film and painting. Hemingway considered Paris a moveable feast, an abstraction unattached to the physical city. This art works the same way; the fetish is moveable between media.