In this week’s reading from New Philosophy and New Media (2006), Mark B.N. Hansen lays out the foundations for his theory of new media art, rooted in a phenomenological, Bergsonian understanding of the way artists and audiences engage with such data. The work of photographer, digital video, new media and installation artist Jim Campbell engages and illustrates many of Hansen’s ideas regarding embodied vision, and its role in framing the flow of digital flow of data for every viewer, in his current exhibition Exploded View (through May 22, 2010) at Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery. Arguing for the radical newness of new media art in the face of dismissive evaluations like those of Rosalind Krauss and Liev Manovich, Hansen writes, “with the flexibility brought about by digitization, there occurs a displacement of the framing function of medial interfaces back onto the body from which they themselves originally sprang” (22, emphasis original). For Hansen, the content of a new media artwork, transformed into raw binary data, is increasingly liberated from the material requirements of one particular medium or support like a canvas or photographic print. Consequently, the body takes on the role of delimiting the scope and scale of the work’s data or, as Hansen writes, “as media lose their material specificity, the body takes on a more prominent function as the selective processor of information” (22).
In Campbell’s work, particularly the titular centerpiece of his new exhibition, the information on display makes viewers irrevocably aware of their role in framing and processing of the piece. Furthermore, “Exploded View”undermines the incompatibility that Hansen posits between his interpretation of Bergson and Deleuze’s willingness to grant a certain autonomy to the support through which artworks are presented to viewers (8). Campbell’s practice involves the juxtaposition of moving and static images, the presentation of digital video footage in forms and framing devices that challenge our ability to perceive any figurative data at all, and a foregrounding of the comparatively simple pixel and LED units that make up these visually complex works. In many pieces, such as “Montgomery Street Pause” (2010), the work seen from a distance shows a horizontal, cinematic street scene in black and white made up of over a thousand LED lights under plexiglass playing in a loop that pauses at its midway point. Upon closer inspection or from an askew angle, however, the figurative image disappears and becomes a fluctuating, abstract pattern of miniscule individual lights of varying intensity. The piece suggests one way we might view its data, while allowing for the body “to deploy its sensorimotor power to create the unpredictable, the new”(7).
“Exploded View”(2010) maximizes the role of viewers’ bodies. From one very specific position, the strings of LED bulbs hanging in the darkened gallery like holiday garlands coalesce to reveal endlessly looping footage of a silhouette walking in a circle, falling, getting up, walking further, falling, getting back up and so on. There is no suggestion that this is the one, “correct”way to view the piece: viewers move around the work freely, apprehending it as an abstract flow of lights not unlike rainfall from certain angles, a kind of digital interpretation of a drip painting in four dimensions. The piece, as Hansen writes, “introduces the power of creativity into the sensorimotor body”(8) just as it asserts the autonomy of this very specific material presentation of this particular video loop; namely the custom LED structure that Campbell, an MIT-trained electrical engineer and mathematician, designed for the piece. Like the figure in the video it displays from that one specific angle, we circle “Exploded View”encourages us to move around it, apprehending it from different angles and distances. If occasionally we fall into the one spot from which we see the figure running and falling, Campbell’s light and video installation encourages us to keep moving. In doing so, “Exploded View”problematizes Hansen’s opposition between the frame and embodied perception (8). The piece, like so many of Campbell’s works, foregrounds the process by which “the image becomes a merely contingent configuration of numerical values” (9), and in this particular configuration as pixels displayed with LED lights it frames one specific form this data can take, while empowering viewers to frame it differently. It frames a digital image that then “explodes the frame” (35). Rather than suggesting a limitation of Hansen’s work, this additional wrinkle in his new media theory demonstrates the rich complexity of emerging contemporary art practices such as Campbell’s.
This is a video of an earlier piece by Jim Campbell, "White Circle" (2000), which shows how his works go from figurative to abstract based on the angle and proximity of the viewer.