Abridged text from 'Impossible Immediacies: Contemporary Painting After Remediation' - PhD thesis - Colin Rosewell (The University of Newcastle, NSW, Australia, 2010)
copyright Colin Rosewell 2010
In their influential book 'Remediation: Understanding New Media' (1999), media theorists Jay DavidBolter and Richard Grusin presented a cohesive theory designed to describe the manner with which older media technologies are refashioned and represented within the context of digital media. For Bolter and Grusin, 'remediation' refers to the formal logic by which new media refashions prior media forms. At the core of their theory are the dual concepts of 'hypermediacy' and 'transparent immediacy'. In the case of 'transparent immediacy', the goal is to make the medium(s) disappear in order to bring the experience as close as possible to a suspension of disbelief. Hyper-realistic computer graphics, cinema, IMAX 3D cinema, high definition home theatre and virtual reality all provide good examples of transparent immediacy. By contrast, in the case of 'hypermediacy', the medium remains explicitly apparent, and might consist of multiple, heterogeneous, and fragmented forms of representation, as experienced in the windowed, or point and click environment of computer interfacing, video games, the Internet and the World Wide Web. Using this model, Bolter and Grusin claim that contemporary culture wants to both multiply its media and to erase all traces of mediation: ideally, it wants to erase its media in the very act of its multiplication (Bolter and Grusin).
It is important to acknowledge that Bolter and Grusin's ideas are not unprecedented, and can perhapsmost significantly be seen as extending directly upon ideas put forward during the 1950s and 1960s by influential Canadian media theorist Marshall McLuhan. For McLuhan, the content of any new media formation was a pre-existing media formation. Although McLuhan's once radical ideas were developed at a time in which computer technology was in its infancy, they have subsequently gained enormous currency in new media theory. Furthermore, McLuhan's claim that all technologies are extensions of the human body/central nervous system remains hugely influential for contemporary artists and theorists alike. Other media theorists such as Paul Levinson ('Digital McLuhan', 1999) and Henry Jenkins ('Convergence Culture', 2006) have also provided evidence that supports or extends Bolter and Grusin's model. These concurrent developments are of particular significance when discussing artists working at the intersection between humans and machines and how artists are adopting newer means by with to critique and explore new and old media intersections.
Since its publication in 1999, Bolter and Grusin's theory of remediation has gained an international currency with artists and theorists alike. It is particularly influential with artists working at the intersection of digital and traditional media. Although the weight of much new media theory relates to the broader social, cultural, historical or technical impact of media formations, many artists have nonetheless been quick to replay such theories against the production specificities of their own practice. Such a two-way stream of influence between media theory and practice has been played out for generations - at least since the first generation of artists to respond to German Jewish critic Walter Benjamin widely cited 1936 essay, 'The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction'. For Bolter and Grusin, such relationships are now embedded in contemporary culture and subsequently also provide artists with new tools with which to explore the potential of traditional mediums such as painting. For Russian-born U.S. based media theorist Lev Manovich ('The Language of New Media', 2001), software packages such as Photoshop represent the digital re-emergence of former avant-garde methodologies such as montage and collage. Cut-and-paste capabilities are now offered as simple automated commands within the digital user interface and subsequently allow for an extremely fluid and streamlined means by which to produce new hybrid images. This 'retooling' of historical avant-garde methodologies as algorithmic codes within the digital command interface is now standardised. The digital artist need not even understand that the tools are algorithmic in order navigate the interface. Moreover, for Manovich, 'postmodernism naturalizes the avant-garde; it gets rid of the avant-garde's original politics and, through repeated use, makes avant-garde techniques appear totally natural' (Manovich).
The idea of 'poetic remediation', or a 'poetic remediator' might be considered as an artist(s) that utilises reproductive technologies as a tool within a broader artistic practice, and in doing so, aspires to some level of transcendent or poetic separation from explicit viewer recognition of the specificities of the reproductive technologies used. In other words, these are artists that seek to navigate the spaces in-between heterogeneous hypermediate experience and the immediacy potentially offered by technical virtuosity in a specific medium. Although the idea of a 'poetic remediator' might be potentially applied to any artists that use reproductive technologies together with traditional media, it is considered here primarily with artist(s) that use remediated reproductive technologies in the service of painting. Typically, such artists are not only conscious of the creative potential of reproductive technologies used in the service of painting but have also developed an informed understanding of the specificities of the selected reproductive technology many photorealist painters, for example, are also practicing photographers. Interdisciplinarity certainly can be seen to function more effectively when the practitioner possesses an advanced understanding of two (or more) of the intersecting disciplines. These are artists comfortable with working subjectively at the intersection of the more tactile experience offered by traditional media and the extended capabilities of reproductive technologies. In operating effectively at this intersection, the 'poetic remediator' enacts Marshall McLuhan's famous metaphor of bodily extension in which the corporeal body is augmented by technology. The body remains the central agent through which cultural information is processed. With the body acting as a central conduit, a working dialogue is therefore identified between the mind, body and media. Through this dialogue, reproductive technologies enable a greater capacity for hypermediate experience but also an augmented means with which to strive for the impossible goal of immediacy.
Incestuous trajectories: studio practice.
The studio practice developed and formed in conjunction with the thesis 'Impossible Imediacies: Contemporary Painting 'After' Remediation' is developed at the intersection of digital and traditional media. For the author, the idea of 'poetic remediation' represents an oscillating terrain in which painting and digital imaging might co-exist as complementary parts of a single creative methodology. Within this creative methodology, the logic of hypermediacy provides a heterogeneous experience in which imagery can be collected and utilised for the production of potential prototypes, whereas the desire for transparent immediacy is acknowledged via the final transcription and remediation into an exhibition of 'unified' paintings. It is through such a process that the corporeal body is centralised and considered as the agent through which images are processed and made. It is within this methodology that the experience of both digital and traditional media are conflated and rendered to form a single exhibited surface. For the author, an 'incestuous space' is created in which digital retooling is put to the service of augmenting and revitalising new possibilities for traditional media. It is of course impossible to negate the impact of reproductive technologies upon attitudes to painting, yet conversely, it is clear that reproductive technologies alone do not provide an adequate substitute for the autonomous immediacy offered by painting.
Production processes and methodologies
Utilising Photoshop primarily as a drawing and painting tool, the author has utilised algorithmic and fundamental mark making methodologies in order to produce abstract images such as 'Tautological Excess' (Fig 1). Here, production begins with a line etched in charcoal on paper that is then scanned into Photoshop. An additional line is then added using algorithmic drawing and positioned in parallel. This simple binary formation then provides a foundational image from which numerous copies can be made. A series of images are then produced in which each image progressively represents a refashioning and mutation of the previous image. In this sense, one image speaks to the next as well as the last image and so on. Once a series of Photoshop layers are produced, the combine is then flattened and the entire process repeated. The resulting image therefore constitutes an example of a hybrid of traditional and algorithmic methods of drawing. Working within the digital domain, this process recalls French artist Francis Picabia's experiments with transparencies, in which each image/transparency constitutes a mutation and remediation of the preceding image. The 'all over' compositional quality also represents a remediated transposition of the formal qualities of Abstract Expressionism (the gestural mark) as automated process.
After experimenting with algorithmic drawing, the next stage of the author's studio methodology involves the creation of a series of montage images constructed out of photographs of cross-sections of human anatomy (i.e. autopsy photographs). Comprising of images of various internal bodily organs, such as neck, heart, lungs, intestines and liver, which are all scanned into Photoshop and then manipulated using various digital tools, an abstracted yet decidedly organic mutant formation begins to appear. The next stage involves combing these images (which the author regards as 'the raw material') with the aforementioned 'drawing', 'Tautological Excess', and then making further adjustments to enhance perspective, contrast and colour (Fig 2). Here the author demonstrates a 'fast logic' methodology (digital manipulation), with several variations (prototypes) of the same image being produced and documented. From this archive, the author then selects images to be further developed for potential paintings. Once these images have been chosen, found images of both male and female sexual and reproductive organs are added, with a view to imbuing the image with a low frequency psychosexual and trans-genetic dimension. This dimension historicaly acknowledges Dada and Surrealist tendencies, the dichotomy formed between hypermediacy and transparent immediacy, and the way with which gender identity continues to be informed and refashioned via human machine relations.
Following the formation of the initial digital prototype, the next stage of the author's studio methodology involves transferring images to canvas. In this case the digital image is printed directly onto canvas and then stretched over a traditional wooden stretcher. It is here that an additional level of poetic separation is sought by hand painting over the prototype image using oil paint. Initially, thin washes of paint are added to clearly defined areas of the prototype image. These thin washes are then supplemented by a more poetically responsive process in which some prototype elements are accentuated and others are deemphasised, adjusted, extended or removed. This stage, by contrast with the previous digital stage, exemplifies a 'slow logic' - a more time consuming process in which the corporeal body directly informs the painting process. The studio environment, with its familial conditions (warmth, music etc), also plays an essential role in the remedial process through informing the body and its behaviour. The body of the author (artist) and the studio can therefore be seen to form an intimate relationship, in which a dynamic working dialogue and site-responsive affectations are also imbued within the painting. As the painting gradually forms, only a faint trace of the digital image remains. A transient space and point of poetic separation is therefore identified between the underlying digital image and the painted surface. Finally a thin layer of transparent black is applied to the entire painting in order to imbue the image with its archaic Renaissance quality.
The remediated self
As a parallel project, the idea of the remediated self was also explored. In this case purpose built photographic studies of the author's body were superimposed with a series of found medical images in order to form an x-ray inspired self-portrait. Here, the author aims to simultaneously imply an interior and exterior perspective in which the self might potentially be considered as both subject and object. For the author, this projection of a mutually interactive space is one in which the logics of hypermediacy and immediacy might potentially acknowledge each other via a window and mirror effect. Within this work, the inner body is regarded as a metaphorical extension of an internal network of interconnected images in which the dual principles of hypermediacy and transparent immediacy can operate as both interior and exterior imperatives, yet at the same time acknowledging the body as comprised of isolated parts. New visualisation technologies transform the material body into a visual medium. In the process the body is fractured and fragmented so that isolated parts can be examined visually. At the same time, the material body comes to embody the characteristics of technological images. In addition to the full body image presented as a digitally augmented self-portrait, additional portrait images of the author's head and hands are formed to produce foundational studies for additional works. These cropped details, which together constitute metonyms of the full body image, were then developed further through the addition of various superimposition and montage effects. In 'Self-portait (head)' an exact copy was superimposed and displaced over the original to form an illusionary or 'phasing' effect. Here we are reminded of the medium via a hypermediate effect whilst being simultaneously presented with a sense of immediacy. This simulated image of the self is then further imbued through the physical act of painting.
As in the works of British artist Glenn Brown, modernist flatness is conflated with Renaissance perspective in order to form a unified space. This is of course not a return to a unified Greenbergian medium specificity but rather an inter-media space, in which as Michael Stubbs puts it;
'the works are markers for the future of painting because they are both surface effect and material methodology, not despite the screen, but because of it. Brown's object /paintings are in flux of permanent conundrum, they anticipate and reach back into history whilst simultaneously repositioning history as future, as hyper-surface.'
Here, German artist Eberhard Havekost's idea of a 'user interface' is potentially applicable, in which paintings both transcend and remain 'about' the digital (Photoshop) experience. This fundamentally remedial methodology, in which the author aims to draw attention to the tension in-between authenticity and originality, arrives only as existing elements are gathered, reconfigured and organised in a bid for immediacy - a remedial space through which an interpretation of a heterogeneous experience is acknowledged in paint. In summary, and of particular importance within this approach, is the additional subjective and autonomous potential offered to the hypermediate surface via the unrepeatable actions of bodily production. This conflation of digital and traditional media focussed upon an autonomous outcome through a corporeal relationship of both reproductive and traditional media aims to extend and augment the problem field of painting. This technologically and physically augmented consolidation of digitally coded and historical knowledge and experience is finally framed within the impossible contextual immediacy of painting 'after' remediation.