Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Ernst, De-historicizing Art History:
Bringing Back Foucault’s /Archéologie/ to France
...An artistic answer to academic media archaeology distancing algorithmic approach to art history would be artistic media archaeology itself. So how does art react to media archaeologists? Media archaeological art derives from close analysis of technology by means complementary to academic argumentation and theory. These are two branches emanating from one techno-epistemological model. Truly media archaeological art has been. e. g. Douglas Gordon's “Twenty-Four-hour Psycho” where he slowed down Alfred Hitschcock's film frame by frame with every frame lasting relatively long time. Or there's a British artist Angela Bullock – she solves single film frames into monumental 3 D pixel blocks and installs them in the room. What's epistemologically attractive in dissolving an art-historical painting into raw pixel fields? This form of view is not hermeneutic analysisit's cybernatic fascination with discovering rules that escape the traditional author's intentionality. In a rigorous materialist interpretation of Kant's notion of apriori and of Michael Foukault's notion of “Archaeologie de Savoir” Media archaeology looks at the image on the level of its techno-magnetic existence. Vividly constructed according to the rules of the Renaissance perspective or the neighbourhood of pixels in the digitally sampled and subsequently algorithmically manipulated painting.
Such as Gustav Klimt's “Freundinnen”. The famous Vienna Secessionist painter. Now let's look at how the contemporary Georgian artist Tea Nili looks at Gustav Klimt's famous painting “Freundinnen”
There are two ways how Tea Nili looks at this painting. The first number one interpretation we see the radical pixelisation, dissolving, the radical pixelisation of the art historical image. Let's say it is the message of the medium in MacLuhan's sense - the ground of the picture – that's what Foukault tried to describe in his book on Monet “The Flatness of the Painting” now it would be radical to show not the figure but the ground, psychological figure of the unknown. But normally humans are trapped and look at the figure. If you have a better higher resolution of the image, you would still discover figures, attracted by figurative interpretation. Only Tea Nili's radical pixelisation gives us the more chance to trace the iconological reference – human figures in the image – it shows us the ground of the image, which is colour – the very materiality of any painting. This is media-archaeological analytics indeed. As it was described by the curator, Lily Fürstenow-Khositashvili: “This reductionist technique reveals the pixel grids that underlie the structure of each digitally photographed image.” Which is true for all the images which we use and show at conferences like this. This is a media active reduction of visual iconology to its inherent technologies, to its technological archae.
Such archaeologically driven experimentation research comes close to digital humanities – laboratories which count with the non-human gaze of the digital image-processing, not as substitution but as augmentation of traditional, humanist, art historical image analysis, not meant to replace the good old way of art-historical interpretation but it adds something or it shows its other. Very significant difference between the way our brain perceives colour spectrums as compared to the way digital photography and computer software processes colour. A painting by Gustav Klimt – who says that only human brains are addressed by the image? Why shouldn't a computer software not have the same right to say: “I see this image.” And it sees different things – this human-machine undecidability. We see either figure and ground, the closer we recognise slight chromatic colour modulations by close pixel analysis, the more the contours dissolve in the abstractionist. “Freundinnen” by reducing Klimt's painting to its dominant colour pixels which are green-blue and reddish-orange, Tea Nili reveals the painter's very colour palette. So it's close to its original moment of painting.
It's the abstraction but the most radical approach to the original moment of this painting. According to Martin Heidegger – the spectographie – colour analysis as scientific analysis – colour itself disappears. But I don't think it's true. The closer we look at the image in media archaeological ways the more its cultural semantics is lost, while on the other hand iconological analytics of art-historical work misses it's material mediality. So we need both. Tea Nili's pixel manipulation is a personal interpretation as a subjective appropriation of an original work of art in the best tradition of lithographic engravings or painting as the individual critique of the original. But I concentrate here on digital representations.