This text was produced to accompany a drop exhibition by Eduardo Pla at Aura Art, a selection of works (between the 80’s and 2000) made between Espacio Pla and Aura Art to generate the first release of NFT’s by the multimedia artist.
From optical ilusion to simulation
Eduardo Pla was an artist with a very broad trajectory, which makes him an interesting case to understand media and digital art in Argentina. With 40 years of career, he went through different scenarios that -from the general to the particular- were key to this specialty in art. From his early years he experimented in film, he devoted to cinema, he portrayed the underground scene of Buenos Aires at the end of the 60´s, he worked as theatre director; he lived and grew as an artist at a time when acceleration and change were manifested in a convulsive political period and in the exponential advances of technology.
During the 1980´s he worked as a designer and art director in Milan. When digital tools began to take root in design, he was part of the first group of artists with access to the equipment and the technical knowledge necessary to experiment with those new technologies. Since then, he became interested in virtuality, in the creation of a non-space, the possibility of simulating, in working with the idea of space and volume, of inhabiting that new way of representing virtuality -as a field of what is possible- with forms, depth and symbols to build an imaginary stemming from the potentiality and the limitations of technology.
Virtuality also became a plastic space to explore artistic concerns that were present since his initial works: the possibility of displacing symbols and relationships in representation, of recontextualizing, of creating a world within another. A world governed by subjectivity, by fantasy and, above all, by the ideal.
The selection of works in this exhibition represents that search through time. Although the basis of the work has shifted from illusion to simulation or its medium from exposure to calculation, there persists an intention to give space to fantasy from visuality, as a level of existence, as a reality close to the tangible.
Eduardo Pla was an artist dedicated to building a symbolic field on virtually, to creating from representation something that today we can incorporate as experience, and at least discuss as apprehensive reality. At the same time, his constant exploration of new tools built an eclectic body of work with playful and experimental nature.
This short tour through his work allows us to discover some factors that influenced the construction of a digital aesthetic, and that today offer us clues to understand its origin and interpret the new phenomena that are emerging in its evolution.
This essay text was produced for Julian Brangold‘s series of pieces called Cache Tragedy, as part of a featuring on SuperRare. It was published on August 25 (2021), as a presentation of the NFT’s of the series.
THE TRAGEDY OF ORDER
Chaos at the Center of the Scale
Time is, amongst other things, a matter of perspective. The possibility of understanding it as a duration or in a projected line, of where it is coming from and where it is going, that which is happening in the present moment and henceforth, is hard to interpret.
Now, in this series of works by Julian Brangold, the line traced between a remote tradition like art and the present becomes quite clear, something that manifests through the discourse of the image, in the worked materialities or in the material exercise. Greek sculpture appears as a symbol of tradition but also as a symbol of humanism, or even as a symbol of the human as the center of the universe. Nevertheless, it is not possible to relate the image of these sculptures to a particular narrative: the material exercise empties the figure of its historical content to question its structural and formal aspects.
To the incompleteness of the sculpture in a situation of ruin, the lack of information produced by the digitalization of the image and its volume is added: the ruin is duplicated in the process of defective scanning. Despite this, for all its lack of detail and gradations, something is transmitted, and that which is missing is also part of the image’s discourse. It can be seen as incomplete because it has been digested, first by time, and after, by its digitalization.
Maybe we can suspect that in one image we see the figure of Artemisa, or in another the representation of Apollo, but is what we perceive when we see a Greek sculpture? Does the myth behind the image persist in these so widely spread images? Or are they more of an aesthetic and ideological modelization of the concept of the human? What persists in these models, besides their temporal erosion, of having been replicated imperfectly, digested technologically, scanned?
The image of the human crumbles without the possibility nor desire of an established model of universal humanity, leaving almost all human specimens outside of it. There exists a questioning at the root of the concept of the human, a desacralization of the human’s standardized values that does not necessarily imply their opposites but instead a need to overcome them, in the sense that they cannot be fulfilled, but also in a lack of representation that supposes an ideal that is as beautiful as it is virtual.
In Julian’s work, we see disassembled images that are in movement, that cannot be anchored to a particular instant or place, that symbolize ubiquity, fragmentation, decomposition while maintaining their accord with the classical in the tragedy of the broken.
We could risk inferring that what persists is just that, the tragedy or the catastrophe as an inflection point that gives space for creation and for the phenomenon. When we trace a perspective and prospective line over art (perhaps as a graphic gesture of humanity), there exists a past on which we build, on which we project, and it is no longer possible to think of chaos as an origin, because chaos is so far away that it is hard to imagine it stripped of its negative connotations. Maybe what was once chaos, tinted by a long tradition of tragedy, is turned into catastrophe. We are preceded by a large number of failures and successes from which we ask questions, and maybe one of the strongest ones is about our own nature and the paradox of building such an excluding category to define ourselves. The concept of the human falls apart; today it is possible to see its supremacist matrix hidden behind its altruistic premises.
From the tension of order over chaos and the harmony that emerges from that tension, something persists but changes its balance. And in these mutating times of short spans, chaos is arranged at the center of the scale, and catastrophe appears as a counterposition to order in a dialectic that relates them intimately until they are melded in some of their features.
Maybe it becomes necessary today to speak of a tragedy of order.
Scan the World. The Fundamentally Broken Episteme
Like how it is believed that a photo can steal a soul, there is a certain fascination and mistrust in the idea of scanning the whole world that has emerged in the last few years with the advancement of scanning devices and photogrammetry. The feeling that the image is captured in a little box, even though it is not well-founded, appears.
At the same time, there is a general intention––of anthropological tendency––to generate an archive that documents the existence of everything. Or simply, the idea that nothing is lost. But the fact is that something is always lost, and it seems like the voracity of this intention is a participant in the root of this incompleteness.
As Chronos ate his children to prevent his fateful destiny, humanity digests its products, transforms them into files, and tries to store everything. In the specific case of scanning the world (be it in the Scan The World initiative or in the Epic Games project), the formal axis is placed in the encoding volume, while the intention is to preserve and democratize access and to generate a digital double of everything that has ever been built to be able to order it into categories that respond to a particular episteme, to a way of organizing the known to encompass it. But what happens with these files, what can we do with all that has been digitally digested, how can we process it, use it, incorporate it? The volume of information that implies “the world” becomes astronomical and overwhelming.
In his artworks, Julian works with scans of Greco-Roman sculptures, with a simulation of their volumes that corresponds to their formal aspects, while relating this artistic tradition (the bond with the material, the socio-political context of a moment belonging to the ideal human figure) to the modelization itself of 3D language, which basically problematizes how to represent the third dimension in a second one.
These files of public ownership are digitally manipulated, broken in the gesture of their own subjectivity, of their perspective as an individual of their time, with the intention of expanding the category and encompassing the complexity of the human today, because the problem with categories is that nothing and no one fits completely into them as they are formulated into strict conventions, molded within the ideology of a particular system.
Today we find ourselves at an apparently critical point to overcome a modern idiosyncrasy, in the revision of all of the concepts that for a very long time were influencing and indisputable but that today look deformed and insufficient.
So, in his implementation, Julian takes the scans of these sculptures and disarms them to obtain his components, to encounter the nutrients of what has been digitally captured, to survey that which keeps being replicated. And in this emotional bond that emerges from this aesthetics, nostalgia appears as a discursive resource for what is nothing more than romance.
The fantasy of controlling and ordering through category and modelization is diluted and gives us back chaos, an ocean of data where it is essential to learn how to swim.
There is an axis of extreme importance throughout these works that puts itself in relation to gradients of degradation. For one thing, a series of purely digital resources are presented, tools through which it is possible to create the perfect gradient or a serialized form of multiplication that would be very hard to achieve otherwise. These resources that characterize digital language are used to decompose what is established: the codified canon of the sculpture’s figures.
Like a factor of incidence in posterity, the presence of grids and other states of the digital model also add to the intention of a decomposition that is established between model and modelization. Through this working of the formal and structural aspect of the sculptures, several links to what these forms project are proposed: links with the greek imaginary and the values it denotes, but also with the different ways in which they were incorporated and utilized throughout history for the construction of the human ideals of aesthetics, harmony, and beauty.
With such a graphical notion of the projection generated from these sculptures, it becomes inevitable to wonder about what art is projecting today, how we are modeling an image of an incipient future. If the characters of the original sculptures were shown through a strength over the materials, in the softness of the form constructed through a hard component, in the materialization of an ideal, of deities and heroes, in the technical advancement that presupposes a playing with gravity to sustain in static gesture a moving body; today, the axis is in an ingenuity, in the revealing of the matrix, in the decomposition of a holistic program and the renovated reconnection of its parts, which, as they are dualities, are recomposed through complexity. But overall, the sculpture’s character is found in the virtuality of the act of projecting.
The texture work and cartoon illustration aesthetics are material resources that qualify their digital character, they soften it to build a bridge with artistic tradition, as if the modification of the facial expressions in certain cases builds a step through a contemplative and parsimonious gaze in order to imprint a power and control that depersonifies the entities.
In this relationship between gradients and degradation, a dynamic of equilibrium is played out between the grotesque and the monstrous, the beautiful and the human, that is represented as much in the elements previously mentioned as in the color palettes that oscillate between the delicate and the aggressive. From each of these aspects, the image seems to transmit a tension with something that is constantly calibrating itself to reach the center of the scale and thus perhaps go back to touch ground zero––or to find a primal chaos. But this still holds a retrospective character.
And in this act of referencing and relating, a base is established on which the ruins of modernity follow a line in which there is always something that comes before the previous one, a Creatio ex ruina logic.
Merlina Rañi, 2021.
 Paul Klee, Theory of Modern Art, Cactus, Bs. As., 2007, page 55.
 A modification of the latin expressions Creatio ex nihilo (“out of nothing”) or Creatio ex materia (from matter) to establish a system in the origin of creation and existence It alludes to the question of where things come from or where the tale begins.