Art and artifacts experienced through technology
February 5, 2008 3:00 PM   Subscribe

How is the meaning of art and artefacts being altered by the methods we use to: Experience, Define and Preserve them... In other words, in what ways have technologies been used to experience, re-define and/or preserve art and artifacts?

I came across news on a technique using terahertz radiation to 'see' under the surface of paintings and murals. I know that similar methods have been used before, most especially to see the sketches under (Leonardo da Vinci) paintings or to map the outline of archaeological sites by satellite etc. I am interested in amassing a collection of such techniques, not limited to paintings and certainly from a wide spectrum of scientific and technological applications (for instance: art includes literature or music, artefacts can refer to objects or cultures, a new technology may simply be a new theory of linguistics).

Any links and or examples, books, journals, people you know of would help me immensely. My past questions express quite neatly the kind of reading background I have, please give them a glance if you have time.

Thanks muchly...
posted by 0bvious to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Judging from your mentions of flanerie, I assume you have read Benjamin's Work of Art essay.

Music is a pretty good place to start when talking about the notion of art that is separate from its system of delivery. Have you read Lydia Goehr's The Imaginary Museum of Musical Works? The idea that there is something that exists beyond the limits of the medium through which it is transmitted is something that Marshall McLuhan likes to discuss, and Goehr writes about how the notion of a work of sonic art separate from its iterations in performance developed in parallel with Enlightenment philosophy in Europe.

As an ethnomusicologist, I tend to subscribe to the notion that all experience is mediated somehow. I just started reading Donna Haraway's new book about companion species. Maybe you can check it out.

As far as hard science goes, there's a bunch of work about the relationship between musical performance and music recording and playback technology. And I am sure others would be willing to offer some examples besides Mark Katz and Tom Porcello.
posted by billtron at 3:56 PM on February 5, 2008

Also Kittler.
posted by billtron at 4:01 PM on February 5, 2008

Since nobody else seems interested in offering answers, feel free to email me off site and we can turn this askme thread into a correspondence.
posted by billtron at 4:40 PM on February 5, 2008

A good piece of art doesn't reside in the intellectual part of your brain, it is in your heart or your crotch, it is a visceral response not an intellectual one. I make art. What it means to me making it might not be the same thing it invokes in a viewer, and that is okay. We all bring the sum of our experiences to the art viewing experience. To slice and parse and use electrical gizmos to try and decipher a deeper meaning to something an artist covered up might be an interesting exercise, but it should not change the way you see the piece, it only enlightens you on the process.

Or maybe I am totally missing your question.
posted by 45moore45 at 5:07 PM on February 5, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer:
Some quick art-history related things that someone else will probably be able to elaborate on further (these aren't very retrospective views, which I think was your point, but still):

The technological creation of portable and convenient oil-paints-in-metal-tubes and watercolor paints (which were only created during the early-mid 19th-century) meant that plein-air paintings and sketches was possible. Arguably, this meant that landscape painting became a larger and larger part of painting, ultimately playing a role in upsetting the conventions of academic painting at the time.

Photography influenced art a great, great deal, initially pushed art away from mimetic representation, as well as facilitated documentation of art and everything else in general. Like what Billtron said, Benjamin's "technological reproducibility" essay is a good starting point, perhaps following up with Sigmund Kracauer or Benjamin's essays on photography. The Classic Essays on Photography book is a great starting point.

A Columbia professor went on a journey to digitize and categorize Romanesque churches in France: the project is here. It's a much better way to understand architecture than by simply looking at a photo of the exterior.

Since you talk about "a new technology may simply be a new theory of linguistics", Foucault might be nice; 'The Order of Discourse' comes to mind. The essay is all about discourse/structures of thought, and why/how they are re-defined and reiterated through systems of desire and convention, etc. I'm assuming you've read him and/or the essay already, though, judging by your previous questions.

Oh, and also: Hayden White's book The Content of the Form: Narrative Discourse and Historical Representation talks about the narrativity of history, and how (this is a super-generalization) the moral structure of the individual/society organizing/recording the history constructs a narrative out of history. It's history from a very literary-theory bent. I haven't read the entire book, but I imagine it would be interesting and generally related to what you're talking about. Again, you might have read this, too.
posted by suedehead at 8:51 PM on February 5, 2008

Response by poster: I have to rush, but some great stuff so far.

45moore45: I must emphasise, art is not just about 'your heart' its also about how people perceive it, and science and technology do give us new and wide reaching ways to re-read and re-understand the art and artefacts which have come before. By seeing the sketch underneath a Da Vinci painting am I not somehow re-examining the painting which he went on to produce? Seeing it from a new angle? By applying a new theory of linguistics or evolutionary psychology to a classic text, am I not assessing it with new eyes? Using my new knowledge to re-affirm the past somehow?

I meant nothing negative by my question. Quite the opposite.
posted by 0bvious at 11:55 PM on February 5, 2008

Best answer: The origin of the term "palimpsest" was in manuscript studies, was subsequently picked up by archaeologists, and since has become somewhat trendy in thinking about social theory (e.g.), 2. Geoff Bailey gives a good overview of th concept in archaeology:
Time perspectives, palimpsests and the archaeology of time
Geoff Bailey *Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 26 (2007) 198–223

I can email it to you if you don't have access via web of science, say.

For actual methods, I will refer you to some archaeological aproaches with which I am familiar, though these need not be limited to "art" or "artefact". Perhaps these will trigger ideas for you, this is just a quick brain-dump.

- thermal imagining, for example of medieval fields under modern ones (e.g.) but also of such things as NW Coast Aboriginal art (book)

Ground Penetrating Radar (pic)

soil resistivity (pic)

magnetometry (pic)

LIDAR - aerial, especially the creation of "bare earth" models in which trees can be digitally removed and the earth's surface exposed (e.g. PDF)

LIDAR - small scale of artifacts. monuments, etc., and related processing

See LIDAR laser scans of World Trade Centre

Hyperspectral remote sensing

Cross-polarized imaging of rock art

posted by Rumple at 12:17 PM on February 6, 2008

Response by poster: I had just been reading the wikipedia entry on Palimpsests before I came upon your reply... News of a palimpsest of Archimedes' 'lost' work got me started, plus a recent article in Believer Magazine.

After following some of the links given thus far, I am reminded of a recent post I read on Data Visualisation and how it can be used to re-define seemingly 'neutral' data in a visual form. Any thoughts on that in relation to art/artefects?
posted by 0bvious at 1:07 PM on February 6, 2008

Best answer: I feel like I can only answer this question in terms of my own studies. During college I looked at the Cypro-Minoan script that has been found predominately on the island of Cyprus and exclusively from the Late Bronze Age. For years these tablets have been mostly ignored by archaeologists because they have so few examples of the script that translation was declared hopeless. (Not that people didn't try).

However, a new look at the tablets is possible by using the archaeologists notes and running them through the computer via a GIS program. By virtually recreating the find spots of these tablets we can begin to create meaning by comparing the tablets with translated works. In my own research it seemed likely that Cypro-Minoan was used primarily for economic purposes at the site Ras Shamra because the findspots compared favorably with other economic tablets.

The use of GIS systems in archaeology is still pretty new, but I think the field is about to explode with ways to make new meanings out of old digs.

I wish I had more to offer in the way of readings, but I would suggest something along the lines of archaeological theory. I see that you are living in London and I want to emphasize that the archaeological approach is not the same across the pond. I think that in answer to your previous AskMe question you might want to check out the differences. Unfortunately, Wikipedia is my link.

Keep us up to date!
posted by aetg at 3:02 PM on February 6, 2008

Best answer: This

link has a good overview of different technologies that are used in archaeology today and which encompass chemistry, solar images, ground penetrating radar, etc. I should say that most of these techniques seem to be used with new studies and not old artifacts, but of course many could be used retroactively.

A book for my previous post: Spatial Technology and Archaeology by David Wheatley and Mark Gillings.
posted by aetg at 3:09 PM on February 6, 2008

Response by poster: By virtually recreating the find spots of these tablets we can begin to create meaning by comparing the tablets with translated works.

That is fascinating, and a great metaphor for meaning and translation in general. I hope to find an equivalent interrelation between texts, cross-referencing translations down through the (metaphorical) strata of history and cultural genres.
posted by 0bvious at 12:54 AM on February 7, 2008

I would guess that the content of the art couldn't help but be interpreted by contemporary standards. Once you start applying the standards of past viewers or the author, you are talking about history more than art. Maybe?

I guess THE example is the Bible. From verbal tradition to a variety of languages, it must have been colored by the viewers and translators.

I would also posit that a lot of art that wasn't relevant to the viewer at some time after its creation was destroyed. Art that remains was either good or lucky.

to 45moore, not necessarily. The point of art is not for the artist to feel or for the viewer to feel, but that the artist communicates his feelings accurately to the viewer. That involves talent and good technique.
posted by gjc at 7:58 AM on February 8, 2008

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