Welcome to the Review Repository - an archive of reviews that were originally published in the Saturday edition of the Taranaki Daily News from September 2007 – April 2008.

The reviews were written for a general audience and therefore tend to be descriptive and educational in focus.

Saturday, 2 February 2008

Digital Poetics

A still from Qubo Gas' website Watercouleur Park ( Image courtesy of the Artists)

Art will always be dull in comparison to life. By this I mean that the beauty of life is a complicated thing that no artist can fully fathom or replicate. Art however, is not about mimicking life but is rather about the artist’s ability to grasp hold of its confusing fragments and lead us to new understandings. To do this however artists cannot stay frozen in traditional forms of communication. As new developments in culture occur the artist must adapt and respond. One of the most interesting developments in contemporary art in recent decades is the emergence of internet art or net art. Artists can now create artworks that do not depend on being accepted by museums or galleries and can reach a significantly broader and global audience than any institution can. Since the viewer can experience net art at any time of the day and in any location. One significant advantage of the internet for artists is the freedom to be subversive. Some artists such as Andy Deck or Shilpa Gupta have created websites that actively disrupt or undermine political or commercial powers. Other advantages include the ability to publish alternative information. Artists such as New Plymouth’s David Clegg have utilised the internet's capabilities of amassing vast archives of information that would otherwise be omitted, lost or not collected at all. The other side of net art is its interactive and playful potential. Such net art that appears merely playful could initially seem frivolous in comparison to using the technology for more noble and serious causes. However, it is precisely the ability to have fun that unlocks great meaning and insight into the human spirit.

The net artwork entitled Watercouleur Park recently commissioned by the Tate Modern museum in London is a prime example of such playfulness. Watercouleur Park is created by the French collective Qubo Gas and is an interactive website that randomly configures floating images to create dreamlike landscapes through which you journey through and visit (also see Qubo Gas' other website Smaticolor Editions). The images are naive marker drawings and watercolour paintings that resemble flowers, clouds, fungi, mountains, waves, foliage and many unusual and ambiguous shapes. The images appear to be cut out as one would to create a collage. As you enter the website a strange ochre shape accompanies your curser arrow on an odd journey into different landscapes from which confusingly cute music emerges. Starting off as merely the sound of wind the audio develops into raucously inane but innocent compositions - music that you would expect an electronic orchestra of smurfs would create. You quickly realise that this is no computer game since the website controls what level of interaction you have - mischievously allowing you to manipulate the sound and images but sometimes ignoring your participation altogether. The odd ochre shape that accompanies you also has a impish streak as it sometimes abandons your curser to go about its own meandering. Watercouleur Park is a dream that at first pretends to include you but ends up dragging you on a bizarre journey into an ether of vivid blooms and insubordinate tunes.

Just as playful but slightly more bound in reality is the Cloud Shape Classifier by Wellington artist Douglas Bagnall. To provide a type of release to our increasingly hectic daily working lives Bagnall has designed a website that allows people to enjoy the simple but luxurious pleasure of watching the clouds when they get home in the evenings. The Cloud Shape Clasifyer is linked to a camera that snaps photographs of the sky during the day. After uploading them the Cloud Shape Classifier then translates each photograph into 57 numbers that reflect the images visual appearance. When you enter the website you are given the option of training the Cloud Shape Classifier to identify your personal taste in clouds. Like the primal law of natural selection the more you train the Cloud Shape Clasifyer to choose some clouds over others the more refined and successful your collection will become. neural network The process is very strange at first and until you learn the nack of refining your selections it can be a bit frustrating. It is amazing however how the simple act of gazing at clouds on a luminescent computer screen makes you appreciate the real sensation of them.

Helping us to become cloud aficionados is not unlike the aim of the website Sound Transit by Netherland based artists Derek Holzer, Sara Kolster and Marc Boon. Cloning the appearance of an airline website Sound Transit allows you to schedule a virtual flight across the world. However, the locations on the journey are actually recorded ambient sounds that can be donated by anyone in the world and uploaded onto the website. In choosing your departure and destination locations you are also given a certain number of optional stopovers allowing you to make illogical flight patterns that zigzag across the world defying a realistic journey. One journey that I embarked upon departed from New Plymouth to Chapada Diamantina National Park, Bahia, Brazil via Helsinki, Linkoping and Kyoto. The flight took me from serene Tui bird calls juxtaposed with a busker in an underground tube station, to the croak and squawk of a rivers ecosystem morphing into the cacophony of automated Japanese voices of a train station - finally resting to the sound of rainwater in a Brazilian forest.

By either inviting our imagination on confusing journeys or making us aware of the complexity and beauty of everyday life - these perceivably “frivolous” websites enable us to grasp some poetic sensibility of our being.