Compumorphic Art - The Computer as Muse

In this panel the term compumorphic art will be used to describe an emergent collection of artworks, artists and projects that reposition the digital computer as a form of creative inspiration, cultural commentary or aesthetic reference.
Wednesday, 14 September, 2011 - 09:00 - 10:30
Chair Person: 
Ian Gwilt
Darko Fritz
Sue Gollifer
Melinda Rackham
Ian Gwilt, Folder culture (2010). Acrylic, mini data-projection.
Stella Brennan, Tuesday, 3 July 2001, 10:38am, (2001-2002). Detail cotton on canvas, 860x1150 mm.
Darko Fritz, The Future of Nostalgia (2002).

Chair: Ian Gwilt

In this panel the term compumorphic art will be used to describe an emergent collection of artworks, artists and projects that reposition the digital computer as a form of creative inspiration, cultural commentary or aesthetic reference.

Through the presentation of their own research/practice the panel will reveal how compumorphic artworks not only reference the visual aesthetic of computing technologies but often utilize or question the cultural values and ontological qualities we commonly ascribe to the computer-digital.

However, this term is by no means fully resolved and it is hoped that a lively debate around the notion of compumorphic art - what this might mean and what it might encompass - will take place in the forum.

Paper Abstracts

Embodied Digital Interfaces

by Darko Fritz

Presentations shows two art projects by Darko Fritz that make use of digital computer as form of creative inspiration, cultural commentary or aesthetic reference point: Migrant navigator and Internet Error Messages.

How many people live in their place of birth? Darko Fritz posed that question in his project Migrant Navigator, dealing precisely with migrations, repositioning, identity, nostalgia and a conception and significance of home as a relict of familial and national community in a period of all-pervasive atomisation of society. Migrant Navigator is a work-in-progress, the multi(hybrid) -media -and public art (implicating Web as a public space) project that started with a "mis.informing" Web page, decorated with a frieze of Home icons (of a renowned internet provider) introducing you to its content. The second phase of the project was off-line:  in the public area next to the railway station in Linz , was planted a horticultural installation entitled The Future of Nostalgia. From the grassy area a piece, 9x9 meters in size, "was taken ", and a pictogram of a house was made by carefully arranged flowers, or more precisely the same Home icon of the Web browser was translated in to the floral arrangement. The railway station was thoughtfully chosen location for planting -as a place of transits and a check-in post for emigrants, the point of a warping and a distortion of space, where passengers can eat, sleep, make transactions, shop, pray... Such spaces Augé denominates as non-places (non-lieux), with no identities and relations. Even the installation itself goes through transitions climatic, organic, changes of local municipal authorities what might result in a stopping of weeding and watering of beds of flowers (or the seasonal replacement of flowers), and it is even exposed to a possible anonymous act of vandalism …The third phase of Migrant Navigator was realised as a poster measuring 2x2 meter in size, made in silk-screen technique with a replica of Home icon. Bright-silver background was placed on central part of existing advertising screens (of a standard, aggressive, billboard format) on both sides of Croato-Slovenian border (and later at Slovene-Italian border). The poster does not contain any further informations except the pictorial one, inducing a series of associations in those ones crossing the border and at very best it could inspire them on rethinking the identity -a national one (as a socio-cultural construct) and a personal one (as its biological substratum). In the age of civilisation of communicating, the Web reduced the globe on to an attainable size, while, at the same time, in the real world border formalities drastically decelerate our movement, even calling it into question.. The posters with Home icons have spread out "virulently" to Zagreb, posted on the advertisement pillars of the Ban Jelacic Square and next to the Main railway station, on the billboard in Savska street, intended for the view of pedestrians and commuters. In a relation between the visible object and the visual medium (billboard - strategic place of advertising campaigns), Darko Fritz in a conciliatory way handle with a functioning mechanisms of consumerist society, inspiring beholders to a "wishful thinking "; the appropriation of marketing strategies is evident also through the concept of an exhibition as a product -namely, it has its own sign and "logo".

The digital networks, of which the internet is now the most comprehensive example, are similarly migratory spaces of dislocation. Information travels in a non-space encoded in a digital code that has no analogy to its origin – it refers back only to itself. All that is visible within this non-space are temporary and fleeting appearances, hyperreal symbols, floating signifiers. Apparently stable appearances are mere simulacra of the purest sort. Meaning is constructed here in action, in dynamic exchange, through short feedback loops. The referent does not adhere as much as that it floats by. Thus, sense and meaning is produced in and through movement. Meaning in that sense is nomadic, it floats with the migrant / user, producing a highly useful space for tactical operation, but a very complicated space for strategic investment, yet also a space of control ‘in flight’.

Hot Plate - Cold Type

by Sue Gollifer

This paper seeks to address the issues involved in curating Digital Art: From SIGGRAPH to ‘Second Life’, which is an ongoing conflict between materiality and immateriality of both the medium and the artwork. This is a curatorial conundrum in contemporary new media, that challenges the role and connections between digital art and traditionally based art practice such as painting, printmaking and installation art when it is extracted from a digital artwork.

In this new landscape of digital culture, old traditions and new practices are both in conflict and symbiosis: contemporary artistic practices reflects the socio-cultural landscape created by new technological applications, defying notions of discipline, borders, boundaries and journeys.

Digital innovation can be seen on the one hand as a growth in efficiency and power, an emergent source of energy and a test bed for the introduction of new knowledge and empowerment. Which accepts a leap forward in speed and cost-efficiency, using social networks and virtual culture to investigate and challenge the existing notions of the relationships between ‘the artist’ and ‘the audience’. Another is to facilitate in a new computerised network and collaborative world that opens up opportunities to create, receive and interact with conduits of information and data. Allowing for the exploitation of technical and commercial possibilities through the use of digital technology, to engage in new forms of practices, using innovative spaces for viewing and receiving work both virtually and physically, in what can be perceived as new and emergent art forms.

Data Trash

by Adjunct Prof. Dr. Melinda Rackham

Data Trash looks critically at the evolution of the online interface and its appropriation back into object based artifacts, clarifying the pivotal place of the network in our cultural realm.

Archiving and the documentary have come to the fore in many arenas of arts practice, and the web has changed print design forever. Networked art however has often relied on non-standard software and hardware, glitches, and happy accidents, but archives usually only retain works which are easy to conserve, because they use common and stable formats. With the certainty of corruption, mutation and decay, online art assumes the mantle of data trash.

In response a mutant field of migratory practice emerged from culture. Artists started producing static artefacts from the ephemeral online world in medias such as embroidery, paintings, drawings, engraving, sculptures, machinima, etchings and vinyl records.  Oddly these migrations to other media have a ready-made future while the ephemeral coded works they are derived from do not. 

Compumorphic art - the computer as muse

by Dr. Ian Gwilt

This paper will introduce the panel theme of compumorphic art and place the phrase in terms of the developing relationship between material art forms and inanimate/digital content. Furthermore, the notion that compumorphic artworks refer to not only the visual aesthetic of the digital computer but may also reflect or question the emotion values and ontological qualities we commonly assign to computing technologies will be discussed.

I will also describe recent examples of my own art practice as an example of compumorphic art.

Bios of the Participants

Darko Fritz

Darko Fritz is artist and independent curator and researcher. He was born in 1966, in Croatia, and currently he lives and works in Amsterdam, Zagreb and Korčula. He studied architecture at the University of Zagreb [1986 - 1989] and fine art at Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten in Amsterdam [1990 - 1992]. His work fills the gap between contemporary art practices and media art culture. He has worked with video since 1988 and created his first computer-generated environment in 1988. He is using the Internet as artistic medium since 1994. Recently he has been developing horticultural units in public spaces, transgressing the contents from the digital domain. His research on histories of international computer-generated art resulted in several publications and exhibitions that went public since 2000, when he curated the world's first historic retrospective exhibition of the field: I am Still Alive (early computer-generated art and recent low-tech and internet art), Zagreb, 2000. As well he curated CLUB.NL - contemporary art and art networks from the Netherlands, Dubrovnik, 2000; Bit International - Computers and Visual Research, [New] Tendencies, Zagreb 1961 - 1973, Neue Galerie, Graz, 2007 and ZKM, Karlsruhe, 2008; Reconstruction: private=public=private=public=, Belgrade, 2009 and Angles and Intersections (co-curated with Christiane Paul, Nina Czegledy, Ellena Rosi and Peter Dobrila), Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Rijeka, 2009. As editor for media art at net portal Culturenet he edited related database and published A Brief Overview of Media Art in Croatia in 2002. In 2010 he start the research on the beginning of computer-generated art in the Netherlands. Fritz is founder and programmer of the grey) (area - space of contemporary and media art since 2006.

Melinda Rackham

Melinda Rackham has engaged with sculptural, distributed, emergent and responsive media artforms as an artist, curator and cultural producer for twenty‐five years, exhibiting, publishing and speaking internationally.  In 2002 Melinda established ‐empyre‐, one of the worlds leading online critical media art theory forums, and was the first Curator of Networked Media at the Australian Centre for Moving Image. As Director of Australian Network for Art and Technology from 2005 till 2009 she elevated public engagement and critique of practices in art, science and new technologies. Currently a Curatorial Partner at the Royal Institution of Australia (RiAus) and Adjunct Professor at RMIT University, Dr Rackham’s focus is on curating and writing on the emerging art and cultures manifest across networked, responsive and material practices and their impact on our everyday lives.

Sue Gollifer

Sue Gollifer is the Director of the ISEA International Headquarters, and a Principal Lecturer at the University of Brighton, UK. She is the Course Leader for the MA in Digital Media Arts. Gollifer's primary research is on 'the impact of new technology within the practice of Fine Art'. A pioneer of early computer art, she has continuously explored the relationship between technology and the arts and has written extensively on this subject.

She has been a professional artist/printmaker for over 40 years, exhibiting work regularly throughout the world and her work is held in major national and international public collections. She has been a curator of a number of International Digital Art Exhibitions including, ArCade, the UK Open International Biennale Exhibition, of Digital Fine Art Prints 1995 – 2007 and the ACM SIGGRAPH Art Gallery Chair ’04: Synaesthesia and 2010 HOT PLATE.

Gollifer is on a number of national and international committees, including a member of the Creators Council of the Design and Artists Copyright Society (DACS), the Computer Arts Society, (CAS), the New Media Caucus and Lighthouse Brighton. She is the assistant editor of ‘Digital Creativity’ a referred journal published by Routledge.

In 2006, she was the precipitant for an International Digital Media Arts Award (iDMAa) for her ‘Exceptional Services to the International New Media Community’.

Ian Gwilt

Ian Gwilt is a Professor of Design at Sheffield Hallam University. He holds an MA in Interactive Multimedia, conferred by the University of Balears (UIB) in Spain, and the Royal College of Art (RCA) London. He has a Phd from the College of Fine Arts at the University of New South Wales examining the theory and practice of mixed-reality art. In the last 15 years he has shown and  curated interactive installations, rapid prototype sculptures and digital artworks at a number of international new media events, galleries and exhibitions. His current practice/research is concerned with augmented reality and locative media, the graphical user interface as creative/cultural artefact, and exploring new forms and contexts for information design and post consumption visual communication.