Saturday, January 31, 2009

Cyborg "art"

Somewhere in between expounding about my devotion to digital and networked technologies, I had quite a breathtaking experience inside the photo lab at Emerson College that fired off some new neurons in my brain.

After shooting three exposures on one roll of 16mm film with a Bolex hand-cranked camera, I blindly shoved the film into a canister, filled it with chemicals, and sunk it in water. From the crystals on the film emerged beautiful, thick, dreamy, black & white images of city lights, marker ink, and urban streets. What amazed me most was that this process did not involve one joule of electrical energy other than that which heated the water in the photo lab.

This experience, which gave me great delight to watch and do, made me think about where these types of organic processes, particularly in the “art” world, fit in with the whirlwind of digital technologies available today. Surely, photochemical emulsion takes much more time, patience, and expertise than does a program like iMovie, which puts the post production process in the hands of the average consumer. Feature films today are still mostly shot on 35mm film, but the industry is increasingly moving towards all-digital production workflows, as is the commercial photography industry. Yet still, there is something intimately satisfying about feeling the film in your hands, pouring the chemicals, watching the images appear, and stringing the film into a projector; there’s something about watching your creation for the first time that makes you feel as if you have conceived, birthed, and reared the project into maturity.

Yet synthetic and organic processes both have their advantages and disadvantages, and I don’t think one can really claim victory over the other. The proliferation of digital works merely give organic projects a new kind of meaning, one that can be exploited and juggled as any other conceptual polarity can be.

Now where the two converge…"cyborg 'art?'"

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