Creating art with computer based code sounds geeky, but the closer you look, and think, the more the beauty can ripple outwards.
In the current exhibition at the Museum of Art and Design (MAD), Out of Hand: Materializing the Postdigital, you will find an artificial leg, an imaginary iceberg, intricate jewel-like necklaces, pixelated marble busts, streaming videos and more—all items that came into life using computer-aided production. This isn’t new—getting a little design help from machines—but according to MAD, this is the first museum show to consider the impact of computer-assisted manufacture in the arts by highlighting the actual production in order to focus on our era of rapid technological evolution.
By Larissa Zimberoff
Guns printed out of thin air are often what the press talks about. But there are other things that have been produced: pizza, doughnuts, bones, clothing, guitars, and the list goes on. But it would be a shame to boil down all art into one 3-D printed universe. What the show at MAD illustrates is that there is a whole ream of data behind what is happening.
When I walked into the room on the second floor of the museum, I noticed shelves showcasing small objects––play-sized statues, rings, doohickeys––things fun to pick up and turn over in your hand. Every object there had been created digitally. Large Apple monitors glowed with 3-D renderings and as I walked up to them a little kid, who was equally impressed by the computers, joined me. “Oooh, what is this?” He said.
For the duration of the show, open through June 1st, the second floor features guest and resident artists who will walk visitors through the complicated process of taking something in the real world, turning it into binary code on the computer, and then outputting it with a printer. Of course, it’s not really that easy, yet.
Take Ashley Zelinskie, a New York artist whose current focus is on the possibilities of a shared creative language between humans and computers. A graduate of RISD, who has a studio in Bushwick, Zelinskie is working to translate the artistic world into figurative data that can outlast the artists who created it. In her words, she is focused on “the process of translating our vast artistic and social history, in familiar language and appropriate media, to machines.”
Zelinskie’s show Reverse Abstraction includes a life-size chair, titled One and One Chair, along with several smaller pieces. The objects were created with a computer language called hexadecimal, also known as base 16 or just hex. Using a computer program her brother wrote called CatBye, the artist translated complicated lines of code into plastic and metal objects the human eye can see. Originally Zelinskie was using binary code, but the sequences of zeros and ones proved too long to fit back onto the artwork. The beauty in her idea is that a machine could look at the code that produced the object and understand what we are looking at. In essence even if we were gone, the computer could still recognize that the chair exists.
Reverse Abstraction refers to a future that is here, as well as the future that is up ahead. With plans to scale up—think outdoor garden sculptures—as well as re-inventing two-dimensional masterpieces into hexadecimal canvases, Zelinskie is continuing to push her concept forward. Perhaps I can suggest the first painting she tackles: The Treachery of Images by René Magritte. It’s a pipe, it’s not a pipe, it’s a painting, it’s code…hold on a sec, I’m about to go into a recursive loop.