Category Archives: History & Theory of Digital Arts

Digital Arts Project

For my digital artwork for this module I chose to produce a short video piece based on the theme of surveillance, a very apt suggestion by one of my classmates. The starting point was a selection of small sculptural models I’d made previously while testing out potential ideas for larger works.

some wee models

These were vaguely architectural in style, and I began to make models of them in Sketchup, a free 3d modelling program used to make the models of buildings found in Google Earth.


Sketchup allows you to import imagery to texture the models you build, so I photographed the surfaces of the actual pieces and after a little Photoshopping for consistency, applied these to the models.

When the models were built I did some copying and pasting and created a sort of quasi-futuristic (or something) cityscape out of them.

Finland art test11

Sketchup has some useful tools for exporting video footage of the assets built within it, so I experimented with those to simulate the panning of security cameras back and forth from several different viewpoints. The finished video is below.

Sketchup & Google Earth

This was an experiment with using 3d modelling tools to recreate artworks and to locate them in a virtual space. I used the freeware 3d modelling software Sketchup (formerly Google Sketchup) to model versions of physical artworks I’d previously made and exhibited. This was a good exercise in getting to grips with Sketchup, which is a pretty powerful and user-friendly tool. I also indulged in a little blue-sky thinking, and fabricated a very large public sculpture too, eventually making an entire outdoor sculpture pavilion for myself!

As Sketchup’s original use was to enable people to upload 3d models of buildings to Google Earth, I was able to preview my work within that environment, all I had to do was provide a location. I decided therefore, to locate my pavilion in the grounds of the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai (why the hell not?)

Unfortunately, I was only able to view the work on my local machine, those picky Google Earth people not being inclined to include objects online that don’t actually exist. It was fun though.


Experiments with Programming

In 2013 I was particularly interested in exploring the nature of the decision-making process of making art, and the idea of authorship generally. I began to experiment with allowing aspects  of physical artworks to be generated by chance. I started by throwing dice and using other games of chance to decide the length and directions of various lines I would draw on a wall. Soon I realised that computer programming could be an ideal replacement for this, since it can be programmed to generate randomness, and also seemed to me to provide a more active agent in the decision-making process. I had a few early attempts with applications running an old programming language called BASIC, which I’d played about with as a teenager on an old Sinclair computer.

I was able to generate a few interesting things by setting up loops which would run repeatedly and draw sequences of lines, some of the coordinates being randomized by the computer. I wanted something which would allow me to interact more with and influence what was happening on the screen. I soon discovered Processing, an open-source programming language, and did my best to get to grips with it. I wrote some code which made a grid, and plotted lines from one point to another with each key-press. I had made a similar physical grid on a wall with screws, and used coloured wool to trace the design exactly as the computer directed me.

I was able to change the variables in the code to make the program favour particular regions of the grid, or make diagonals etc.

I later tried to write programs that allowed the user to generate their own imagery, giving them a degree of control over where elements were placed by clicking regions of the screen, but having the computer randomise aspects of the design. This one, for example, would place a rectangle of random dimensions and density where the user left-clicks, while right clicking darkens and partially erases what is already on the screen. The colour is randomly generated from a set number of options, to give a sense of aesthetic consistency.

This was interesting, as the user has a lot of control over aspects of the design, but encounters an element of risk in adding to a composition the they might like. An unexpected shape or colour may throw off the balance of the  work. In this way the interaction with the program becomes a sort of game, with elements of reward and penalty depending on the outcome.


Dimensions, Location Variable

DLV is a modular, interactive, open-ended artwork I made in 2013, consisting of several hundred wooden components which can be assembled together in many different ways. I first exhibited it as part of the final show for for the Crawford School of Art & Design fine art masters program. It was designed over the course of several months, and each piece was individually cut with a band-saw  and assembled by hand.

The idea of the piece was to challenge the static, finite status of most artworks, and to explore the nature of creative authorship and decision-making. Essentially, rather than make an individual artwork, I wanted to create a system for art creation, with a number of possibilities for construction, that I, or someone else could use to create their own artworks. During the exhibition, which ran over the course of two weeks, I changed the configuration of the work nightly.

As part of the exhibition, I invited a group of Interior Architecture students from St John’s Central College Cork to interact with the piece for one day, allowing them to create whatever they wanted out of the pieces, which would remain in place for the next day. They ended up making a Christmas tree (it was that time of year!) and a model of a penny-farthing bike. It was a fascinating exercise in which I got to see what other people, from a very specific background, would do collaboratively with the work.

The piece reappeared in 2014 in the Cork Film Centre Gallery, Ballincollig, as a collaboration with Cork-based artist Cassandra Eustace. I made a dome-like structure from the components, and Cassandra projected a moving image piece onto and through the structure, and added additional reflective elements. In the fully light-proofed gallery this made for a very fluid and dynamic installation.


“Unfold” Exhibition & Discussion

On 30th January, 2016, the West Cork Arts Centre, Skibbereen hosted a questions and answers session with with the six participating artists in their current exhibition “Unfold”. The artists were myself, Johnny Bugler and Rosie McAuliffe – members of Cork Printmakers fine art print workshop, and Cork County-based artists Simon English, Sarah O’Brien and Rob Monaghan. Also present were Ann Davoren, director of the centre and Valerie Pentek, director of CorkPrintmakers. The project was funded by the Cork County Council Arts Office, and the participating artists had been awarded their places by a selection panel on the basis of written applications submitted earlier the previous year.

The preparation of work for the exhibition had begun in the Summer of 2015, when all six artists had come together for an intensive two-week residency in the Cork Printmakers workshop. During this time, the aim was for myself and the other two Cork-based artists to provide tuition in printmaking techniques to the other three artists, who in general had little experience in the area, in order to allow them to explore print within their own practice, and possibly make a body of print-based work. There was no expectation of this however, and although all six artists ultimately had printed work in the show, there had been no expectation of this on the organisers’ part. The only obligation was to deliver a show in the venue with work from all six artists, coming out of the collaborative process, with no other themes set or specific curatorial input.

The residency in Cork had been extremely busy and productive, and we’d ended up giving the three visiting artists a thorough grounding in pretty much all the major print techniques, including screenprinting, relief, lithography and etching (both traditional and photographic.) We’d had concerns along the way that this amount of information may be a bit overwhelming, but the visiting artists’ appetite for knowledge was insatiable, so we kept up the pace! By the end of the fortnight a great deal of work had been completed to a great standard, with all the artists really getting to grips with the methods and techniques. A lot of decisions were quickly made about what aspects of print worked for them individually, and what parts of the processes and methodologies were maybe not so relevant to their work. The option was also there for the artists to come back after the fortnight and spend more time finishing and refining their projects, which they did.

The show in the West Cork Arts Centre opened on 15th January 2016, and was a very diverse collection of work, comprising projected and screen-based video, painting, mixed-media installation, and a large amount of printmaking of many different types. It took place over both floors of the gallery, with the six artists’ bodies of work being split up and allowed to flow into each other, and distributed over the entire space, giving a good sense of continuity between the two main exhibition areas.

Installing  “Unfold” at West Cork Arts Centre

The artists discussion was a nice addition to the program, and was very well attended, with a lot of good input and thoughtful questions from Valerie Pentek, Ann Davoren and the audience. It ran for the best part of an hour and covered a lot of ground, but a few issues in particular came out of it that stuck with me.

An early question was asked about the motivations the artists had for taking part in the project, and the answers ranged from an interest in showing work within the architecture of the building, to a desire to learn about the particular processes of printmaking, and also a more general interest in the artists expanding their general experience of collaboration.

Some good points were raised about the nature of working within the very specific environment of a busy printmaking workshop, and what effect that had on the experience of making work, particularly for the county-based artists. It was generally agreed that it was a positive experience, with one of the artists stating that he wanted to immerse himself in this experience as much as possible, enjoying the often ordered, sequential approach needed in some of the techniques. Others remarked that they found this aspect of printmaking to be more of a difficulty, and could have done without some of the more time-consuming, labour intensive aspects. The Cork-based artists made the point that this was one of the more challenging aspects of the residency, trying to find techniques which would cater to the visiting artists’ particular interests and working habits, which was a matter of some trial and error.

The more general point was made that the experience was very good in terms of forcing all the artists to consider ways in which to push printmaking into areas not traditionally associated with it, and to tackle the still widely held misconception that it is a form which remains strongly tied to restrictive historical conventions. All three Cork-based artists’ practices incorporate aspects of printmaking but with a heavy emphasis on installation, video, sculpture and mixed media works, and all agreed that they benefited from the opportunity to expand further on this. It was emphasised that although it is important to learn the methodologies of printmaking well, it should never be treated in a precious way and should be adapted to whatever a particular artist’s needs are, and that aspects of it can be a very responsive and immediate if required.

Everyone agreed that the projects and exhibition had been  well planned and organised and had been a very rewarding and worthwhile experience to be involved with.

“Unfold” opening and my installation “Gunpowder Wall”

Nozze di Cana – Latour & Lowe

Good article about the painstaking fabrication of an exact replica of the painting “Le Nozze Di Cana” by Veronese, which is currently in the Louvre in Paris, having been removed in 1797 from the Fondazione Cini in Venice. The replica now hangs in Venice in it’s rightful location. An extremely advanced, painstakingly complex procedure was followed to scan the painting section by section, and print an exact copy of it onto a specially prepared gesso surface, with a custom-made printer.

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“Le Nozze Di Cana” by Veronese

The essay focuses on the relationship between the original in Paris and the replica in Venice, and examines the irony that the replica, despite being clearly labelled as such, appears to be the more authentic work, as the artist had painted the original to fit entirely within the context of the Fondazione Cini, in terms of the architecture, lighting and general context. The point is made that when considering the impact of an artwork, we need to consider its context in terms of all the reproductions or copies that have been made of it, and how good they are in terms of quality. The argument is that if an artwork has spawned lots of quality copies, and therefore has great fecundity, the original will be valued even more greatly than if it hadn’t, and this overall picture (what they call the “career” of the artwork) must be considered. The “aura” of the work is brought up, the usual argument being that only the original can truly possess this aura. But we’re asked to consider the example of a Shakespeare play, which may be have been interpreted many times. If there’s a particularly good version, critics may claim it gets closer to the original intent of the work than has been done before, giving us an ever clearer version of the “aura”, and we don’t even think to mention notions of originality or copying. So why one rule for the performing arts and another one for visual art?

They argue the point that on the basis of the amount of effort, expense and resources required to produce a replica of a painting, less is required to produce the replica than the original, justifying the perception of its superiority. Every time a new version of “King Lear” is performed, it takes a similar amount of effort and resources, leaving us with no real sense of a tangible gap between original and subsequent versions. A good point is made about caring for original works of art, that even if no physical reproductions are made, in order to maintain a single work of art it needs to be cleaned, repaired and restored periodically. So even with the original, there appears to be no single, constant state in which it can be said to exist.

These are all good points, but to me, it seems the intent of a reproduction is the important  thing. If the intention is to simply ape, or mimic an artwork, then this is inherently less worthy an endeavour than a reinterpretation or reworking would be. It doesn’t matter the amount of effort involved; you could argue that somebody who paints a reproduction by hand will put as much work in as the original artist, maybe more in order to successfully mimic their style. The important factor is that there is no creative agency there, or valid artistic reason to make the copy, unless it’s being explored through another medium or style. That would bring it closer in line with the performing arts examples.

A really good example of an artist whose work speaks to all these topics is Sol LeWitt. He produced a long series of wall drawings during his career which he would distribute to multiple galleries in the form of written sets of instructions, which technicians would then draught on the wall. From one gallery to another, the same piece would of course vary slightly, and the question raised was which one of those is the definitive version, or was the written set of instructions the real artwork?