THE ROOTS OF DIG­I­TAL ART

Pasatiempo - - CURRENTS - JONATHAN MORSE

I’m very aware, when I make a piece as an artist, that I’m hold­ing hands with gen­er­a­tions and gen­er­a­tions of pic­ture mak­ers. — artist Jonathan Morse

The term “new me­dia” isn’t the most ac­cu­rate de­scrip­tor for works that in­cor­po­rate dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy. On the one hand, dig­i­tal has been a tool in the art-mak­ing process for half a cen­tury now, and on the other, the term could de­scribe any me­dia that the world has never seen be­fore. Lithog­ra­phy, acrylic paint­ing, and dark­room pho­tog­ra­phy were all once new tech­niques. Per­haps there’s an ex­pec­ta­tion that so-called new me­dia rep­re­sents the most ad­vanced and state-of-the-art tech­nolo­gies out there. Some­times that’s true. But for Jonathan Morse, who de­scribes his work in Cur­rents New Me­dia as low-tech, this pre­sump­tion kept him from ap­ply­ing to the an­nual event for years.

“I come from a tra­di­tional pho­tog­ra­phy and photo print-mak­ing back­ground,” said Morse, a Santa Fe res­i­dent. The artist’s work is fea­tured in the ex­hibit by in­vi­ta­tion, af­ter Cur­rents or­ga­niz­ers Frank Ragano and Mar­i­an­nah Am­ster con­vinced him that it was the kind of thing they wanted in the show. In a way, Morse still works with ink on pa­per. He is show­ing dig­i­tal pig­ment prints from a se­ries called Art­worlds.

The prints de­pict Earth-like spheres that ap­pear to be un­rav­el­ing or re­com­bin­ing, worlds com­posed of var­i­ous de­signs and col­ors and over­lay­ing a moiré back­ground pat­tern. Morse is show­ing six of a se­ries of eight prints. “They’re about how we cre­ate our own art worlds within and with­out,” he said. In a state­ment about the work, he talks about how the dig­i­tal age has made us all edi­tors and direc­tors of our own lives, cu­rat­ing the ver­sion of our­selves we present to oth­ers through our on­line pro­files. “To un­der­stand to­day’s world re­quires knowl­edge of edit­ing tech­niques that do not re­main static and with­out which we may not know what is go­ing on around us out­side our ana­log selves,” he writes. “Our re-mas­tered dig­i­tal con­struc­tions now serve as ob­jec­tive cor­rel­a­tives of our in­ner ex­pe­ri­ence. To re­pur­pose the oft-spo­ken moviemak­ing term, we now can fix our lives in post.”

De­spite us­ing com­puter ap­pli­ca­tions in the cre­ation of Art­worlds — Morse em­ploys a com­bi­na­tion of pho­to­graphic im­agery, dig­i­tal draw­ing ap­pli­ca­tions, and Pho­to­shop — the artist sees him­self as part of a con­tin­uum of mark-mak­ers stretch­ing back over mil­len­nia. An inky hand­print ap­pears in the first im­age in his se­ries Art­worlds 1, an al­lu­sion to some of the ear­li­est forms of fig­u­ra­tive im­agery seen on the walls of an­cient caves. The spher­i­cal world in this im­age, su­per­im­posed over the hand­print, is the most glo­belike and co­he­sive in the se­ries, with lit­tle frag­men­ta­tion. It is as though Morse is re­mind­ing the dig­i­tal age of its hum­ble be­gin­nings in the Pa­le­olithic era. “I do think that mark-mak­ing is im­por­tant. I’m very aware, when I make a piece as an artist, that I’m hold­ing hands with gen­er­a­tions and gen­er­a­tions of pic­ture mak­ers. I think we’re not mak­ing any­thing new so much as we’re build­ing on var­i­ous tra­di­tions we see through­out our lives, and we in­cor­po­rate them, some­times un­con­sciously, and re-rep­re­sent them in our own in­di­vid­ual ways.”

The Art­worlds prints show what could be a sin­gle ob­ject, os­ten­si­bly our Earth, as though it has been pulled apart and re­com­bined, some­times hap­haz­ardly and some­times with a sense of or­der and pre­ci­sion. Morse notes that mod­ern tech­nolo­gies have be­come so in­te­gral to our lives that they prac­ti­cally make us cy­borgs. “Maybe I read too much, but I think that the world of tech­nol­ogy is hurtling much faster than hu­man­ity can re­ally han­dle,” he said. “We’re all sort of em­bed­ded in tech­nol­ogy, and it’s em­bed­ded in us. I still like to be grounded with the mark in some sense, even with pho­tog­ra­phy, be­cause some­times new me­dia be­comes a lit­tle too con­cep­tual. I want to stay with both feet planted on the ground.”

For Morse, how­ever, be­ing grounded in the mark means us­ing dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy to ex­pand mark­mak­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties. “I use Pho­to­shop as an it­er­a­tive as­sis­tant, in a sense. I can cre­ate marks through Pho­to­shop that I would never be able to make on my own. As a self-taught user of Pho­to­shop who knows only a small frac­tion of what it can do, I can take its very ac­com­plished tools and turn them at crosspur­poses to what they were meant to be. Pho­to­shop was, I think, in­her­ently cre­ated to be a dig­i­tal dark­room, to bring out the de­tail in the shad­ows, to make the sky bluer, re­move the blem­ishes, and all those types of things. You can take all those tools and lit­er­ally use the pro­gram to help you gen­er­ate im­agery one might not have ex­pected. If you work for many hours and al­low it to en­thuse you as you use it, you can sur­prise your­self.” — Michael Abatemarco

Jonathan Mor­ris: Art­worlds 2, 2016, pig­ment print

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