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Drawing the digital

Douglas Coupland
What is the Digital Draw? This is the question that has been buzzing round my head since I attended a day long Seminar at the Drawing Room in London. I wanted to report back to you with my findings from the day and try to bring up some ideas that you might like to debate below.
The Seminar was chaired by Rachel Falconer an independent curator and writer whose work samples the space between art and technology. The overarching theme for the day was considering drawing in the expanded field; which means considering the digital draw as a set of factors that defines itself clearly against what it is not; some of the key themes that emerged were:

  • Process led over product led
  • The expanded field not as a set of definable characteristics
  • Coded
  • Territory – Real Estate – Space Beyond
  • Data gathering
  • Feedback loops
  • Transmission – Translation – Transformation
  • Breaks in the signal
  • Cloud, crowds and bugs

This is a short list that covers some of the theoretical approaches adopted by the speakers. What interests me is the way that drawing can be seen as an approach towards the digital systems that envelop our daily lives. The speakers and artist examples that stood out for me presented a sense of effecting or transforming the data to allow the drawing to become a journey through an idea; Paul Klee’s ‘taking a line for a walk’ fitted smoothly with a sense of the line as a process of thought through our digital world. An excellent example of this could be seen in the work of one of the speakers James Bridle. Bridle is someone who I have discussed in previous blogs and his ongoing research into the #NewAesthetic has been of particular interest to me. His discourse on the digital world can be seen as a kind of storytelling that manifests itself conceptually within his drawings. ‘Drone Shadows’ 2013 keenly communicates both his ideas and a need to confront us with the invisible political forces that surround us but which we may take for granted.
James Bridle Drone Shadow
Margarita Gluzberg presented both her work and a powerful thesis around the idea that the analogue and digital create a space that artists operate between. This transmission of data and artists being a “…discontinued representation of the signal…” created a very rich sense of all drawing being digital by virtue of the fact that it presents a version of the idea that it is discontinuous in nature, a kind of feedback loop between artwork and viewer. Looking a Gluzberg’s pencil drawings help to make sense of her theoretical stance and how she perceives the gaps in translation within our reading of the world. For me this expanded the act of drawing back into a familiar form using theory to translate the coded world.
As the programme leader for the new drawing degree I’m keen to understand how these very new and prescient ideas and theories fit into a students development. We need to consider the way that the artists toolbox has been expanded in recent years to include touch screen tablets and applications such as photoshop and illustrator as accessible digital drawing devices. There might be a kind of aesthetic that emerges from this, but I would like to see that if we choose to use a digital tool to make a drawing then we consider why we are doing this beyond the obvious! There was a presentation of work in the Drawing Room titled ‘Cognitive Bias: Visual thinking for a digital age’ that I felt addressed how artists were complicating (in a good way) the notion of traditional drawing practices and their diverse approach towards contemporary digital subjects.
Cognitive Bias
Overall the seminar presented a rich tapestry of theories, potentials, approaches and ideas that left me feeling like there was plenty of open territory for artists to capture!
For a full list of contributors to the seminar go to the Drawing Room’s web page
https://drawingroom.org.uk/events/what-is-the-digital-draw
James Bridle http://booktwo.org/notebook/diy-drone-shadows/
Cognitive Bias: Visual thinking for a digital age, curated by Rachel Falconer
https://drawingroom.org.uk/projects/cognitive-bias
Margarita Gluzberg http://www.margaritagluzberg.com/
For a broad survey of artists who use the digital The Whitechapel Gallery has a show on until May that accompanies this debate well. http://www.whitechapelgallery.org/exhibitions/electronicsuperhighway/
Nam June Paik
Image list
Rachel Falconer, Conative Bias: Visual thinking for a digital age, 2016, Drawing Room, London
Douglas Coupland, Deep Faces, 2015
James Bridle, Drone Shadows, 2012
Nam June Paik, Internet Dream, 1994


Posted by author: Doug Burton
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11 thoughts on “Drawing the digital

  • This is a great blog post. James Bridle also features in my blog on the British Art show. His own blog is really great and I would encourage students to follow it. Actually I am not sure Joanne has uploaded that blog yet so I might be speaking to you from the future! – Emma

    • Thanks Emma, the trip up to London for this event and the Whitechapel show ‘Electornic Superhighway’ was well worth it. I have been studying James Bridle’s writing on the #New Aesthetic for a few years and have briefly mentioned him previously, he probably requires a blog post all of his own. Of all the speakers on the day he was the most adept at making the complexity of his critical theory accessible, almost through a kind of storytelling.
      I will have a re-read of your British Art Show blog, I do remember gathering your thoughts on his work.

  • The profound impact of technological products such as computers and I phones on how we interact with and view the world is considerable. To the extent that it is influencing and changing social behaviours not always in a positive way. It seems logical therefore that artists are exploring the dynamic between the digital and physical world through art. This article in particular brought to my attention the work of Douglas Coupland. I like the subtlety of his work but also some disturbing undercurrents. Harmless lego pieces that resolve into a scene of restrictive highly organised living. Pixels in seemingly harmless beautiful patterns that when viewed through a mobile phone resolve into images of harmful individuals. This play on contrasts is intriguing. See video on Douglas Coupland at http://www.vanartgallery.bc.ca/the_exhibitions/exhibit_coupland.html

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