This second part of my four part Hub blog series continues to discuss my singular interface experience of the Western Front’s virtual space of Terminal. Terminal 2.0 is a web presence that considers the impact of graphical user interfaces (GUI’s) on the progression of artists' creative processes. In the early 1980’s, GUI’s offered a user-friendly visual means of making the operation of personal computers more accessible. These types of visuals are usually in the form of graphic icons or menus. The transition of computer operations from command-line interfaces to point and click devices transformed the manipulation and processing of imagery.
The web presence of Terminal 2.0 consists of computer animations by artists Barry Doupé and Amy Lockhart, along with Clint Enns’ text, Nostalgia for the Digital Revolution: Interfacing with Obsolescence. The Amiga personal computer that was sold by Commodore as a ‘multi-media’ machine is the focus of Terminal 2.0. The personal computer era from the 1980’s and 90’s was a technological phase that influenced digital drawing and animation. Clint Enns’ text illustrates the historical and technological influences on digital tools that are utilized today with personal computers. With these insights, Enns also includes the relevance of nostalgia toward this style of digital imagery and the devices that enabled it.
Doupé and Lockhart’s animations have a sense of nostalgia. Doupé’s Vhery visually presents an abstract manner of drawing, but progresses traditional drawing techniques by pairing them with digital animated movement and “techno” sound. Lockhart’s Amiga Shorts presents the sense of nostalgia by indicating to the viewer that her digital animation was created with an Amiga Emulator. An emulator offers the ability to obtain a specific style by simulating obsolete equipment and software. Both animations embody an early experimental approach to digital imagery. The bright color palette and pixelated edges of the 2D forms indicate some of the limits present in early stages of painting and drawing software.
I grew up during this time-period (1980’s – 1990’s) and have my own sense of nostalgia toward this style of digital imagery. With the progression of digital imagery and my own fine art study from the early 1990’s, I can relate to the nostalgic accessibility of obsolete software. Because of my work with current software, I can also relate to the progression of Photoshop that has enhanced my ability to digitally refine imagery. I remember an undergraduate design course that included a painting program in the curriculum. These software options were offered as part of the course to stimulate critical thinking around the use of digital imagery and to make these tools accessible for students to utilize in future projects.
Looking back on that course, I realize that the inclusion of the painting software offered an inkling of how to work in the “now”. I define “working in the now” as an artist working with a current technological means to create art. Considering the exploration of Clint Enns’ essay and accompanying videos, below are two examples of artists that created work with the media available at the time. Each example is accompanied by a video that documents the artist’s perspective.
John K. Ball’s The Artist and the Computer, a 1976 documentary about experimental filmmaker Lillian Schwartz, explores Schwartz's experience working with a Bell Telephone Laboratory engineer to produce some of the earliest computer animations. Approximately a decade later, Andy Warhol used the Amiga 1000 to push the boundaries of the portrait further. Watching Warhol’s ease-of-use with the early 1980’s GUI’s offers a move away from complicated technological notions of the creative process. The decade’s difference in videos visually depicts the "user-friendly" options of a personal computer to an artist collaboration with technicians with specialized computers.
Because of my own background with fine art printmaking, I can’t help but consider Warhol’s foundations in graphic arts and print in relation to this digital work. Walter Benjamin's The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility investigates the cultural influence of media and art. Benjamin's essay refers to the condition of media production by considering chronological print history (woodcut, moveable type, lithography) and how print was surpassed by photography in pictorial reproduction. Benjamin includes artists' tasks within his discussion of media production. His argument is that photography relies primarily upon the eye to create an image. The succession of media has freed the artist’s hand from manual tasks, especially drawing. Benjamin’s 1930’s perspective of the human relationship to the acceleration of technological processes comes full circle with the specific working tasks and digital tools of Schwartz and Warhol. Benjamin’s argument is that “the eye perceives more swiftly than the hand can draw.” The computer brings a quicker speed of production to Benjamin's condition of media production, while the computer's capabilities of restoring and remembering an artist process bring the eye and the hand back together for the artists tasks.
This is particularly demonstrated with Schwartz using a light pen in the production of her animations. The Amiga 1000 and the early 1980’s GUI’s bring the concept of “point and click” to the ways in which hand and eye relate in the process of creating imagery. While these late 20th Century technologies do bring back some sense of physicality to artists' tasks, Lillian Schwartz describes her experience of using a light pen in detail in the documentary. She considers the physicality of working with a digital tool, but relates the task back to the movement of painting or creating visual gestures. Schwartz states in the video that the only thing missing in this process is the smell of the paint.
I view Schwartz’s remark as a moment of nostalgia in relation to a traditional art medium with her loss of the sense of smell in the digital process. Enns’ final section of his essay, Dead Media: Emulating Nostalgia offers these technological and nostalgic ideals toward obsolete equipment and imagery. While I have only hinted at a sense of nostalgia with my time spent with Terminal 2.0., Enns’ essay and accompanying media increased my sense of wistfulness toward the progression of media as it is used within the creative process.
Benjamin, W. “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility: Second Version” in The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility and Other Writings on Media, Eds. Jennings, M., Doherty, B. and Levin, T., Translators Jephcott, E., Livingstone, R., Eiland, H., and others. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 2008.
Enns, C. (2016) Nostalgic for the Digital Revolution: Interfacing with Obsolescence [Internet], Vancouver, Canada. Available from: http://terminal.front.bc.ca/ [Accessed November 10, 2016].
Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2011) Walter Benjamin [Internet] The Metaphysics Research Lab, Center for the Study of Language and Information, Stanford University. Available from: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/benjamin/ [Accessed November 30, 2016].
Terminal 1.0 Part One NMC Hub blog series
By: Carrie Ida Edinger
Carrie’s interest with new media is in interdisciplinary methods and the use of the Internet as a presentation site for evolving contemporary projects.