Art Encoded

The Digital Realm
Our online experiences are mediated by streams of code that most of us never see. The ability to instantly access a wide variety of information and platforms for an enriched, interactive experience is one not easily achieved by an exhibition in a conventional, physical art gallery space. DataLog : Art Encoded uses the resources of the digital realm to exhibit selected artworks from the AFA Collection while discussing the existence of art inside the technological landscape.
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Binary code is the base language understood and used by our digital devices to communicate. Computers rapidly read through strings of text made of only “0”s and “1”s; series of “on/off” combinations that carry coded data to be translated by digital circuitry into symbols, letters, and operating instructions. Though the modern binary number system was initially thought of as a concept of philosophical mathematics, it has ancient roots in the Chinese I Ching, bi-tonal slit drums of Africa and Southeast Asia, and Indian poetry.
 In 1937, Claude Shannon applied the binary of Boolean algebra to electronic relays and switches, laying the foundation for modern digital circuitry design. Artists regularly use patterning, contrasts between positive and negative space, and mark-making to embed coded data into their artworks. As an interpretation and extension of lived experience, art can communicate specific messages or be designed to encourage multiple, subjective meanings. This information might be easily read by the viewer, or require context and initiation into the code-cracking process. 

Marion Nicoll is most known for her hard-edge abstractions, but the repetition of curving lines and circles in The Audience (1973) communicate the essential, stylized features of faces.

The binary opposition created by John Will in his lithograph Sads and Happy (1994) stacks his American-bred happiness against the frowns of 21 international faces.
Will’s art practice is tongue-in-cheek and often uses autobiography as source material.

Will frequently draws on philosophical thought, art history, and politics, punctuating headier concepts with absurd excerpts from daily conversation.
As a sort of self-portrait, Sads and Happy positions the artist as the literal “one” amongst emotional zeroes.

Jane Molnar’s Hoola Hoopers (1979) depicts repeating clusters of figures holding hula hoops. The shapes are reduced to the bare contrasts of greyscale in this optical-illusory print.

[re]generation of the image
The images that reach us through the screens of our digital devices are made up of thousands of points of light. Pixels (short for Picture Element) are arranged in a tight grid, each programmed to display variations of red, green, and blue. Using the human eye’s capacity for colour mixing, the spaces between pixels seem to disappear and the three-colour output optically combines to be read as countless hues along the spectrum. The more pixels used on a display, the higher the resolution and better clarity of the on-screen image. 
Digital display technology is a continuation of the analog printing techniques first used in 19th century newspapers, photographic reproduction, and advertising: Halftone and Ben-Day dots. In the same era, Impressionist and Pointillist painters were also building up images on their canvasses with thousands of small brushstrokes of colour, meant to optically merge into depictions of modern life and human interactions with nature in the new Industrial age. The artworks selected for ‘[re]generation of the image’ bridge the divide between these painting techniques and digital image degradation, heightening the abstraction of imagery by emphasizing dot, pixel, and brushstroke patterns.

David Garneau builds the familial image of Lac St. Anne (2008) by overlaying a swirling pattern of dots in neutral tones over simplified shapes painted in a warm palette

Created as part of his recent Chorus series, Chris Cran’s Gold Woman 2 (2002) is a hybrid of techniques and concepts the artist has been working with throughout his career.

Cran has moved between photorealism, formalism, Op and Pop Art for over 30 years; his canvasses hover between representation and abstraction.

Cran often uses blown-up imagery from the cartoons and advertising of the 1950s and 60s that were originally made with the Ben-Day dot analog printing process.

To immortalize Calgary-based art star and musician Rita McKeough, Megan Morman used the gridded framework of “plastic canvas” needlepoint crafts (a common craft material for children of the 1980s). Morman translates the pixelation of digital photographs into stitches of brightly-coloured yarn and fusible plastic beads.

The resulting fuzzy edges and terraced gradients recall the graphics and animations of the early Internet, the work’s kitschy combination of craft and outdated tech triggering warm feelings of nostalgia.

The Impressionists aimed to capture temporary moments in time and space; in his rendering of Walterdale Bridge (2008), Elliot Engley chooses to visually preserve an urban landmark that is bound for demolition after its replacement opened in September 2017.

The Work of Art in the Age of Digital Reproduction
“One of the foremost tasks of art has always been the creation of a demand which could be fully satisfied only later. The history of every art form shows critical epochs in which a certain art form aspires to effects which could be fully obtained only with a changed technical standard, that is to say, in a new art form." Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”, 1935 It would have been difficult for Walter Benjamin, in 1935, to fully grasp the way images have come to be reproduced, spread, and consumed in the digital age. 
His survey of reproduction techniques throughout art history, including apprentices’ copying of masterworks, casting and founding, woodcutting and etching, demonstrates that the creative production of images has always incorporated the concept of copies or multiples. Benjamin argues, however, that more than any of these other technologies, the invention of photography raises questions about the authenticity and cultural value of the reproduction as part of the artistic process. He states that a new art form must be created to meet the unfulfilled demands of the previous form, an idea that seems especially prophetic from our 21st century vantage point, where the advances of film-based photography have been applied to digital image production and manipulation. 
Contemporary artists, like the rest of us, are afforded choices to actively engage with technology, protest against it, or passively accept its influence. Some artists use the efficiency of computer programs in their planning stages, while others create work that only exists to be viewed and interacted with in the digital realm. There are also those that are drawn back to analog or traditional methods of art making, in an effort to pursue and cultivate a version of authenticity closely linked to Walter Benjamin’s.

The collaged photographs that make up David Hoffos' Nature Walk (1995) both capture a sense of place and document fleeting moments in time.

Hoffos’ combining of photographs shot in sequence predates current digital panoramic stitching software, while following the tradition of the painted panoramas and cycloramas of the 18th and 19th centuries.

Faye HeavyShield's rock paper river challenges Benjamin’s statement that reproduced images lack the capacity to embody authenticity and presence. The “original” is made of many reproductions of digital photographs.

HeavyShield often incorporates geographical elements into her work to reflect on her personal history and the cultural lineage of the Kainai Nation.

References to the connection between land and body are visible in her most recent installations, where monochromatic photographs of skin, earth, and water are printed onto paper that is then folded or cut into multiplying, minimalist forms.

Geoffrey Hunter’s Cloud Nine (2014) creates an optical distance with a layered screen of lines that partially covers the familiar image of a realistic cloudscape.

Johnston Falls (2012) is the follow-up to Shelley Ouellet’s Wish You Were Here… beaded curtain series that draws on historical paintings by artists Lucius O’Brien, Fredrick Edwin Church, and Frederic Marlett Bell-Smith.

Ouellet replicates these icons of Canadiana on a grand, glittering scale to examine our relationships with constructed national identity, tourism, and an idealized natural world.

She has employed computer mapping in the planning and assembly stages of her work since the mid-1990s, breaking source images into gridded components based on colour palette and then constructing the reproduction out of diverse, mass-produced materials including activist ribbons, plastic bugs, sequins, and Lite-Brite pegs.

In Mudbank V (2010) Jonathon Luckhurst uses the mechanical equipment of film-based photography to communicate subtleties in human interaction and the divide between built and natural environments.

Curated by Jane Edmundson
Credits: Story

Curated by Jane Edmundson
Jane Edmundson (BFA, MA, University of Lethbridge) has worked with collections and as a curator since 2006. Her work focuses on museological practices, public spectacle, and shifting institutional boundaries between education and amusement. Her curatorial practice includes projects with the University of Lethbridge Art Gallery, the Southern Alberta Art Gallery, DesignInquiry, the Alberta Foundation for the Arts, and the Galt Museum & Archives.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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