Note: As part of the exhibition Toward a Virtual Minimalism, Invert/Extant is running a series of essays and reflections on the idea of Toward a virtual minimalism - Finding and defining honesty in the virtual gallery space. Over three Transmissions there are three instalments: Toward a virtual minimalism - Finding and defining honesty in the virtual gallery space: 1, Jared Pappas-Kelley's - Art Lies, and Toward a virtual minimalism - Finding and defining honesty in the virtual gallery space: 2.
Connor Clements - Director of Dovetail Joints Virtual Gallery
Of physical honesty - Geometry
Since the virtual gallery space is not created as collections of matter, but more as a series of points, creating a series of lines, creating a series of faces, which are positioned three dimensionally, the idea of the authenticity of geometric perfection is brought into question. When creating works for a physical, real life space, one works with the understanding that geometric perfection is an abstract ideal to aim towards, working to create the illusion of it whilst also acknowledging it is physically unobtainable due to the limitations of physical matter. A perfectly straight line does not exist, a perfect circle does not exist, a perfectly smooth face does not exist. Everything contains imperfections on some scale, we merely work within the scale we can observe the best we can to communicate the idea of geometric perfection.
Within the virtual space, this is inverted. Points, lines, faces, existing as code but masquerading as matter are fundamentally perfect geometric by nature, and it is the imperfections which need to be created as an additive feature to create the illusion of some form of craft or environmental condition.
The real and virtual space do share one quality however, and that is the inability to create a perfect curve. This is an unobtainable concept in either medium. When attempting this feat with physical matter, there will always be small imperfections in the surface of the materials, as well as minute distortions in the curve itself. When working in the virtual gallery space, the points which arrange to create the lines which create the faces result in all objects in the space being polygonal/polyhedral, accumulations of straight lines no matter how densely packed they may be.
Of physical honesty - Gravity - Real World
One of the main variables that impact how an object exists honestly within a space is how truthful it is to the impact of a physical quality such as gravity acting upon it. Within the real life gallery space, where gravity is a present, unavoidable factor, another spectrum of honesty is created with how the objects placed in space deal with it. The following installations illustrate this:
1. Equivalent VIII - Carl Andre
A piece entirely defined by the physical limitations of the object; the bricks placed in a state that is true to their physical nature.
2. Jose Davila - The weaker has conquered the stronger; objects are positioned in a way which bends their usual physical limitations, creating the illusion of gravity affecting objects more or less intensely than is natural.
3. Joel Sharpio - Untitled - Objects are placed and suspended in space with cables simulating floating, creating the illusion that the laws of gravity do not apply whatsoever within the context of the piece.
Within the context of the real world gallery space, the more a piece acknowledges and allows itself to be impacted by the forces of gravity, the more honest it is to the limitations of its immediate context. The more these properties are bent, the more illusion is created, creating an inherent dishonest disconnect between what the artist is showing, and what is physically present.
Of physical honesty - Gravity - Virtual Space
As work moves into the virtual realm for its creation and display, the variables change, and therefore does the honest use of them. Gravity is not a force present in these spaces, causing a flip in the spectrum:
1. Laid on the floor as it would in a real world space where gravity was a factor. Creates the illusion that gravity is also acting on this virtual space.
2. A middle ground as with Jose Davila’s installation, the physical properties of gravity are evident but are bent to create an illusion, making the effects of gravity more or less than they would be naturally
3. Gravity is not a variable in the object’s placement, it floats freely
The spectrum has flipped entirely, in the virtual realm gravity is not a present factor so to create objects that respond as if it is would be to create illusion, the same dishonest disconnect between what we see and what there is that is present when artists working in real space create the illusion of weightlessness.
Of physical honesty - Surfaces - Real World
When dealing with honesty in material finishes, looking towards architectural facades provides a good vantage point onto the distinction between an honest/dishonest communication with the viewer. The surfaces of an architectural facade/interior when used honestly carry the responsibility of informing the viewer of the structural makeup of the building, its material essence.
1. A classic example of this lies with Louis Kahn, who always championed his honest use of materials, a brick construction, using forms which are born out of the structural limitations of the brick (archways, under compression) and the choice to leave imperfections created during the casting of individual bricks, reminders of the process behind the material.
2. As one moves into less honest territory, the brick acts more as a decoration than an actual building material, like a sheet of wallpaper over a cast concrete structural slab. There is a disconnect between the material the viewer sees, and the material forming the structural language of the building. While real life building materials are still making up the language of the building, they are there under false, dishonest pretences.
3. Finally, on the opposite end of the spectrum, you have many modern economy cladding systems, which attach to the building's structural frame. These panels exist solely as material-less coloured slabs, with no real link to a buildings structural language of any kind, coloured, geometric, but completely disconnected from any tangible architectural/structural language.
Of physical honesty - Surfaces - Virtual
As with the work’s interaction with gravity, the spectrum is again flipped when dealing with the virtual space. Any attempts to recreate a texture present in reality (ie. wooden panels, image 1), would be inherently disingenuous due to the fact that the aesthetic of these panels is born out of the natural material and its structural application. In the virtual space, these materials are not given.
Comprising a similar middle ground to other factors, modifications to the aesthetic of the material such as the warping in image 2 serve to distance the material from its real matter based counterpart, providing a slightly more honest outcome due to the fact that it is no longer presenting itself under the false impression that it is in fact the real thing, a suitable degree of separation is created to allow viewers to acknowledge the fact that it is an object created for the virtual realm.
In order to create finishes honest to the medium, the creator must work instinctively with the tools laid out to them. In the case of the material editors used in the creation of this gallery in particular, the likes of diffusion, reflection, refraction, emissive, and displacement maps (among others) are to be edited on individual terms, not with the goal of replicating pre-existing entities, but experimenting freely within the parameters given, creating work purely tectonically.
As successful as the minimalist way of working was in terms of reducing art down to its bare tectonic components aesthetically, a major flaw in it which eroded the work’s success over time was its notion of value. When creating works, these artists strived to do away with any preconceived notion of auteur, or craft, or interpretation, which was mostly successful. However, over time a superficial value was slowly imposed on the works as they became more successful, and in turn the works became more valuable as historical artefacts. The fact that a Judd piece can sell for easily $6 million or more seems to directly contradict the goals which it was created to achieve. The whole point of its creation was to not be placed on some form of pedestal, to simply exists in the space as the sum of its parts and nothing more.
However, when dealing with objects which are simply data representing form, this data can be freely distributed. When an object can be copied and freely distributed infinitely with no defined original, the object itself has no inherent monetary value, making it resistant to having any such value imposed on it as the works of the minimalists did. This shows that the virtual realm actually has the potential to achieve the goals of the minimalists more successfully than they ultimately did, by carrying on their ethos in an environment which allows it to be replicated and reproduced. The only possible issue that could arise is through copyright, though these would likely exist in the same way the distribution of 2D works via social media already exist.
Distribution of Exhibition
OUR PLACE IN THE NORTH
Paintings by David Watson
With the parameters laid out for how to honestly represent the different qualities of the constraints of the virtual space, the question arises of how to use them effectively when creating artwork. Really, there is no one objectively correct way to go about this. However, there is an optimal way to advance the legitimacy and evolution of the virtual space medium, through clear communication of these values to the viewing public, passing over an understanding to help them engage with it fully.
By employing a healthy balance of representing real world qualities, and honestly using the constraints of the virtual space, creators can guide the viewer’s attention to these anomalies contrasted against otherwise realistic looking environments. The parts, more representative to real life, can form as a backdrop which frame either a single, or a selection of virtual qualities, to show their visual effects and physical consequences. This could also work inversely, creating environments completely adhering to the virtual realm to highlight within them a single or selection of real work objects, forming a similar juxtaposition to guide the viewer’s attention.
Bottom line, in the early days of the evolution of the virtual gallery space, a key emphasis should be placed on educating and broadening the perspective of the viewing public, and the balanced use of the parameters laid out in this text in order to highlight certain qualities
of this space should serve to allow the spread and legitimation within the art history canon and inspire artists to use the free tools readily available to utilise it fully.
Connor Clements is a Teesside based curator, artist, and architectural graduate. Currently Connor's practice has revolved around the virtual realm and using it in the context of exhibition making in response to the challenges faced by institutions in the wake of COVID-19. This practice manifests in the form of the Dovetail Joints Virtual Gallery, a 3D modelled, ever expanding virtual space showcasing local and international creatives.
In Our Own Words is an ongoing feature where artists and writers are asked to speak about their new work, ideas or projects, or works that they have been thinking about in their own words. It is also part of invert/extant Transmissions for the Artist Writings series. If you would like to be kept up to date on this or other projects, please sign up for our newsletter.