thepostdigitalprintmaker is an artist community made up of printmakers, multimedia artists and animators that combine traditional techniques with emerging technologies
For What It's Worth
Phyllis and Victor Merriam
For What It's Worth
We make physical art in a physical space. Our work is three dimensional, textural and touchable. We enjoy when our viewers spend some time exploring the piece to discover the hidden surprises, but the objects we create quickly pass into the digital realm because to share our work, we must post it on social media. Sharing on these platforms requires an image that can easily be grasped at low resolution in seconds on a flat screen. It only lives if it is shared; if not, it simply disappears into the endless feed. What is our position as artists if an algorithm decides who will see our work? What happens when sharing leads to appropriation or as with generative AI the artwork that we once produced with our hands in our studio is disaggregated and blended back into new images with no attribution. Who or what is the real observer? How does this effect the work that we produce?
We have been exploring these questions for several years and have published papers, participated in seminars and curated shows that explore the position of the studio artist in the liminal space between the physical and digital. 1,2,3 But what is the position of the artwork itself?
In the digital world, our physical art-object is transmuted into a probabilistic simulacrum. Information relating to the composition of work is stripped and meta-information is added in the form of likes, comments, shares labels and tags. The original work exists but at the same time does not exist. How much of our art is the work itself and how much of it is this appended material? How does all this collapse into an “aesthetic experience” when an observer “sees” our work?
We were struck with the similarities between the way in which physicists discuss the probabilistic world of quantum mechanics and our questions about the digital disaggregation of our work. Our once physical work exists as a superposition of compositional and metadata across the internet. Each observation collapses the work into a fixed form that in some way represents the original. But in what way and with what information? With a low-res image and metadata feeding the algorithms that determine what is shown, is it possible that at some point actual composition become irrelevant?
We set out to produce a “work of art” that is not in itself a work of art but an experiment to determine if there needs to be compositional information at all to elicit an aesthetic experience. It requires a work of art - but not ours.
In creating this piece, we catalogued possible categories of metadata that could be both measurable and strong enough to outweigh the composition in significance. We chose price. Art auction prices are widely reported with great flourish - often without an image of the works sold. NFTs were created to store value in the form of a link to an image. There are any number of artworks that are created without the expectation that the observer will evaluate them on their compositional merits.
We wondered if there was a way of removing the compositional information from a physical work of art while leaving the metadata. Can the art exist at once both as a composition and not a composition? We were reminded of Irwin Schrodinger’s famous thought experiment about a cat that is sealed in a box with a bottle of poison that may or may not be released depending on the random decay of a radioactive isotope. The cat in this experiment exists both as alive and dead until an observer opens the box to reveal the actual outcome at which time the cat is either alive or dead.
We built our own box that, using Schrodinger’s premise, creates an artwork that simultaneously exists and does not exist. To accomplish this, we built a shredder into which an artwork is placed. The shredder has a baffle that either guides the piece into the shredder or into a safe holding area based on a random event. Arrangements have been made so that observers outside the box have no information about the events inside. The box is made of steel and the insertion slot will be welded shut after the object has entered. The mechanism is designed so that it can only run one time. Unless the box is opened, there can be no knowledge of the state of the artwork.
The experiment then, is to have a physical work of art of documented value sealed in the box and have it either destroyed or not destroyed. At that point the box itself would be auctioned with the buyer unable to know the state of the work inside. If the value of the box is the same or greater than the artwork itself, then the compositional information of the work played no role in the assessment. It may be suggested that the box itself becomes a new artwork, but we would argue that were the state of the piece revealed, the value would be destroyed.
We are looking for a partner to supply the artwork and arrange for the auction. Any takers?
Grappling with Technology: thepostdigitalprintmaker Impact Journal, Spring 2020
Beyond 72 dpi: thepostdigitalprintmaker – Texas Christian University – The Southern Graphics Council Conference 2019
The Ghost in the Machine - The Southern Graphics Council Conference 2019
Image/Object in the Age of 3D Printing
Each Figure 30x20x64 inches, 2019
In the era of 3D imaging and digital fabrication, the distincttion between an object and an image is blurry.
The mimetic river of ‘image imitates object’ is reversed and becomes a whorl of eddies where images create objects, objects lose physicality, images become hardened, objects become flexible, and images become objects. In this flux, new permutations of image/object hybrids are forged. As a technology that utilizes physical objects to create images, printmaking is well-positioned to explore this unique time in history.
This exhibition presents works from contemporary artists whose printmaking practices navigate this new aesthetic and conceptual territory: interrogating the tangled relationship between representation
and embodiment, using 3D digital processing as a tool for creating printed images, transforming “flat” images into 3D objects, and hybridizing emergent and existing methods to propose future(s) of printmaking through technological collaboration.
Artists selected for this exhibition span a diverse range of content and practices, but are united by their exploration of new possibilities in image/object interplay. Each artist presents a small group of related works.
Curation and organization by:
This project was made possible by the support possible by the support of the Stamps School of Art & Design at the University of Michigan.