Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Making the invisible visible & the visible more visible

The following is a missive by Salt Lake Art Center Curator of Exhibitions, Jay Heuman.

Humanity is physical, psychological and spiritual. Yet the post-modern is a dystopic marriage of convenience between evolving technologies and savvy marketing that meddles with the senses.

There is distraction by both the scale and volume of visual culture – colliding with the cacophony of sounds and smells – that serves only to disenchant. There is enhancement of the senses that demystifies sensation: microscopes and telescopes, amplifiers and mufflers, artificial flavors and artificial emotions. There is a betrayal of the senses: from the common to the personal and from “civil society” to “private logic” – instead of “I and Thou” or “All for One and One for All.”

The visual arts serve as object of the gaze imbued with content relevant to viewers. Perhaps this is more obvious in some artworks, less so in others inviting a meditative approach as these are subtle compared to billboards for consumer goods made with the dual motives of cost-effectiveness and quick turn-around.

For mass production inspires a quickening. The Mod style of the 1960s lasted a decade. Now, shoes are in and out of fashion in a season. In 25 years, computer data storage evolved from magnetic tapes to 5¼” floppy disks to 3½” floppy disks to ZIP disks to CD-Rs to jump drives. But now, a one-year-old cell phone is passé as it likely lacks video capability, internet access and/or mp3 storage.

But in the visual arts, there is no “mass” production, and its quickening is different. Take for example the Italian Renaissance and Pop Art. The former lasted 200 years and was entirely handmade; the latter lasted 20 years and was screen-printed and air brushed. But Pop artists understood popular culture was a subject … not an objective.

In pre-Modern times, manual craftsmanship was the only method to create an artwork, striving to represent the visible world as it existed and the spiritual world as it was thought to exist. In Modern times, with machines and assembly-lines spitting out Fords and Frigidaires, artists continued to value manual craftsmanship; but, disenchanted by the external, they turned inward to explore what machines could not define for us – the indomitable human spirit. And what we call “contemporary,” a society valuing:

  • the binary, without room for all the shades of gray between extremes of 0 and 1;
  • the digital, not the digits of manual craftsmanship;
  • the finite colors of computers, to simplify the infinite palette the human eye can see; and,
  • the indiscriminant compositions of digital cameras (lacking emphasis), not personal choice.

The realm of ideas and ideals, the worlds of spirit and ether, cannot be mass produced and mass marketed, and is neither a fad nor feeble.

From historians, we know the past. From the news, we know the present. From philosophers and science fiction authors, we suspect the future. But visual artists, embrace all these functions – and more. They reveal past, present and future. They represent the visible world, often selecting those aspects of everyday life that others do not notice or choose to ignore. They explore their invisible inner-space – the mind’s eye and the spiritual journey. They depict the real and the ideal, the technological and theological, and the ‘pro’ and ‘con’ of most every issue.

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