32_Continuous vs. Discrete

500 keyword text

Real Numbers vs. Integers
Analog vs. Digital
Intuitive vs. Analytical
Continuous vs. Discrete

To what extent is it possible to say anything ‘real’ about the world by atomising its elements? At what resolution does the difference perceived between the analog and the digital disappear?

I’m looking at these questions in relation to motion, and the way in which motion is represented in art. So I’m looking at the Futurists who were one of the first avant garde art movements of the twentieth century and probably the movement which has the most to say about digital art, although they didn’t know it at the time. Despite championing speed in everything they held ambivalent attitudes to novel art media, in a particularily Italian mix of reactionary and progressive positions. Inspired by Cubism’s break with traditional representative conventions, they broadened their subject material to encompass the dynamism they saw all around them in a rapidly technologising world. In a series of manifestos (the first of which is 100 years old this month) they famously proclaimed:

“…a running horse has not four legs, but twenty, and their movements are triangular.”

Inspired by the philosophy of Henri Bergson, Umberto Boccioni, one of the primary Futurists, bizarrely turned on the Chronophotographic motion studies of Etienne-Jules Marey, which showed the horse’s twenty legs and more:

“We have always rejected with disgust and scorn even a distant relationship with photography because it is outside art.”

Elsewhere Boccioni explained:

“It seems clear to me that … succession is not to be found in the repetition of legs, arms and faces, as many people have idiotically believed, but is achieved through the intuitive search for the one single form which produces continuity in space.”

My project Long Exposure Photography, Video & Sculpture is an attempt to find these single forms.

Below are two photographic studies exploring the gap between the continuous and the discrete
Also shown was the slugman prototype.

I asked the students to compare and contrast these works. I requested ideas for subject matter rather than theory – so typically i got a whole load of theory (which is fine). Here’s a response:

fetishization of the machine

fetishization – the transfer of human love to an object.

i’ve been thinking a lot about the crit (where the artist shall not speak) and the ideas raised by the students.

one interesting point was that the investigation of movement through digital manipulation wasn’t of primary interest relative to my ongoing fetishization of the machine.

the oposite; the remachination of the human, i think is more where i stand. i’m always moving to ideas of a discrete universe ticking away like some vast cellular automata – that the world isn’t analog but is digital. including humans. we are machines (who invent machines, and see ourselves reflected inevitably in these machines). but what about all the good stuff – the all too human mess?

For some reason i thought of the Woody Allen film Manhatten where at the end of the film (and i haven’t seen it for years) Woody is thinkng about about giving it all up as the young woman he loves has walked out on him, but he pulls away from this despair by thinking about the amazing achievements of man:
in particular the unfinished Cezanne paintings of apples and pears, the Manhatten skyline and Jazz. Reflecting the end of Satre’s Nausea where the protagonist in a similar position is woken up (to use Gjurdieffs phrase) by some Blues music on the radio in a cafe.

Cezanne in a letter famously struggled with an attempt to reimagine forms as a collection of spheres, cylinders and cones. While this has perhaps been cited too far in a reductionist approach to art, it is interesting that the father of Modernism should attempt to break things apart.

The Manhatten skyline and Jazz are linked in my head through the work of Joseph Schilllinger, a music theorist, who helped a handful of jazz musicians, including Duke Ellington and Glen Miller, out of their compositional blocks. But he aslo invented a stochastic musical composition system which could take any type of data and convert it to music – he’d applied this to the Manhatten skyline and also the New York stock exchange prices. So the height of the buildings would translate to notes on a stave. He’s the forgotten grandfather of MIDI!

I’m trying to find a process (in code) along similar lines – taking existing data and presenting it in new ways – that can say something new about what it is to be human. So it is important to me that i’m saying something new – whereas this project has been littered all along by me finding other artists who are also saying exactly the same thing as me – in exactly (code for code in some cases) the same way. rather than being an original approach to art making – the process seems inherent in a particular technological approach. A criticism of my work was that it wasn’t saying anything new.

I have concentrated most on mastering a rendering process – and have left thinking about what the subject material of this process is, until later.

Indeed I’m about to embark on a proposed Phd (title: Sculpting in Time: An assessment of voxelisation for 4d data manipulation) which centres on me designing a software application for artists to use to explore this ‘new’ way of capturing motion. Again the focus is on process, not content – although I have some ideas in mind about ‘an explosion in a shingle factory’.

To me, some of the objects i create are beautiful and do convey meaning regarding motion in space as well as meanings relating to reductionism in art – admittedly they are the type of images that have been produced before (throughout art history in some ways) but the digital stance allows me take them further.

At the end of the crit someone questioned my request for ideas by (quite reasonably) suggesting that it was difficult to provide ideas if they didn’t know exactly what i was making art about. Am i in a similar position?

For me in art, the idea comes first (not the theory as some students suggested) and then the theory is almost instantly retro-fitted to the idea. Some theory has been sitting there all along – but you shouldn’t directly access it for ideas, they just pop up despite yourself. For this project, when i first thought of the idea – it only consisted of the desire to see these objects as life size 3d sculptures – that is all – i assumed the theory would take care of itself but i need to consider this more carefully – i still need to honour the original idea and physically make one.

Here’s a list of other ideas which came up:

Combine human with machines, cyborgs
Dancing with a digger
ballet Mechanique
Something ritualistic/everyday
Going to the toilet
making a cup of tea
Checking your emails
Putting Shoes on
Getting a bus
Diary of a day
Very high resolution of a tiny moment
Couple holding hands
man controlling crane
A mess of heads and legs
Gap between readable and abstract

An interesting analogy was made to the contrast between discrete and continuous in music. If you have a beat (pulse wave) and slowly speed it up at some point it changes from a series of discrete beats to a continuous tone. What happens in the gap? how do we exactly hear this?

The crit was a useful experience.


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