The proliferation of digital and New Media Art is not entirely surprising. Arguably, art makers have had a collective fascination with developing technology for the larger part of the twentieth century. Insofar as computer-based work, Andy Warhol hopped on an Amiga as early as 1985. At the risk of calling it prematurely (along with the whole of the New Aestheticians) there is something different with recent developments. Portions of Santiago Echeverry’s new solo exhibit Modern Saints effectively illustrate them.
His Self E-Portraits in particular nearly work as a metaphor for this idea. There is a subtle but important difference in the way Warhol and artists such as Echeverry (and by extension us) use a computer. Echeverry’s Self E-Portraits are a series of self-portraits. Upon initial inspection they seem to be taken in a dark room or at night, and are built up of many small three-dimensional shapes.
Echeverry didn’t create the Self E-Portraits as much as create the conditions for their rendering. Perhaps initially artists sought digitized versions of IRL counterparts in creating art using a computer. Remember the spray paint, paint brush, paint bucket, and pencil of MS Paint? This is rarely the case with current relevant digital art, and certainly not in the case of Echeverry’s work.
Instead, the art is in the underlying lingual structure of the series. Echeverry wrote code using the programming language known as Processing. The images of himself pouring in through the webcam were manipulated by the Processing code – some images were saved, and a few were printed.
It is tempting to think of the images on the walls of HCC’s gallery as art objects. However, they may perhaps be more accurately thought of as documentation, visual evidence of the unseen code. Echeverry nearly alludes to this in his statement saying that he had intentionally left “room for randomness in a mathematically constructed scenario.”
Of course, this “mathematically constructed scenario” was constructed by Echeverry. Still, it’s in this way that he created the work – not with a computer, but through one. In a very literal way, Echeverry is looking though computer code and back at himself. It doesn’t take much to see how this may extrapolate from art making to a general way of living. As Michael Betancourt mentions, in this new mode “the machine does not augment but supplant”.
Admittedly, I hate the sci-fi sound of this. However, there is hardly a way around it. Echeverry is careful to mention “no Photoshop or digital retouching was done to any of these prints”. That is to say, the prints are not the result of a steady and expressive hand – the process is much closer to supplanting the hand and eye than augmenting it. Maybe on some level that’s the point.
This may be tangential, but the name of a series seems to be a pun – Self E-Portraits or Selfie Portraits. Even the way we depict ourselves (and perhaps view ourselves) is fundamentally different than it once was. High five to anyone who brings up Santiago Echeverry’s Self E-Portraits during the 10/17 #TwitterCrit.
Santiago Echeverry: Modern Saints is on view through 10/29 at HCC’s Performing Arts Building Gallery. There will be a reception and gallery talk on 10/17 beginning at 5pm.