Perhaps this line of thought continues on from my scribblings on digital and analogue photography in my last post. I’ll start by saying I am an ‘ubergeek’ and I do love technology, hence why I am quite excited about gizmos like the new Lytro Illum camera; it just looks cool and really opens up endless possibilities to photography, ‘Who needs a focusing ring any more’. Overall I just welcome such inventions and digital applications into the creative fold; I do wonder though if they start to conflict with the act of making and the overall significance of art.
Anyhow, there are two particular inventions from the last few decades that I have found to be really fascinating, both in their engineering qualities and the final resolutions they can produce. Both were made for the manufacturing and fabrication industry; which, over time they soon became assimilated into the creative world, which has led to some stunning creative investigations.
This first machine that peaked my interest is the laser cutter; effectively an X,Y plotter that has a high powered, focused laser emitter at the end. Primarily developed for metal cutting and routering within an industrial setting; these machines can now be typically found in art colleges and universities. With such devices an artist can enter their CAD based design into the computer and basically hit print, or in this case ‘Burn, baby burn’. The laser cutter then cuts through or burns away layers of the chosen medium through precise control of the depth and power output of the laser.
Over the years I have seen a growing number of items produced in this manner, from greetings cards to shadow play installations. The designs can be very intricate and do indeed look quite amazing; yet I will admit that I have started to become a little blasé and jaded in my appreciation of work produced via this technique. From my own experience I know how easy a free licensed vector design can be downloaded from the Internet tweaked and modified slightly to then go through this process to create, what is essentially a new yet appropriated piece of artwork.
It seems that my appreciation of artwork, is guided by the making process, this has become my principal criterion in ascertaining its interest and worth to me. It is although the finished article has become secondary unless I know that a certain level of skill has been used in its formation. This has happened recently when I saw the work of Lorenzo Duran, ‘pictured above’; my first reaction was, they are good, probably done with a laser cutter, nothing special, NEXT! Then I found out that these highly detailed stencil works have all been meticulously hand cut, so now I find the work interesting, why?
Now, I am really drawn to the work of Eric Standley and his amazing 3D layered stained-glass window inspired pieces. I viewed the work, armed with the knowledge that it was laser cut; yet I still found them quite pleasing, perhaps it is the intricacy of the designs and the use of negative space that I found to be noteworthy. Anyway in this short video he states about initially making straight copies from other designs, further tweaking them for his work. So where is the skill and does this work lose any artistic substance?
Through this automated process, has now the artist become an artisan, and through this mechanised system, is the work looked upon as craft. I noticed in the video that Standley’s work is beautifully framed and placed onto easels, in some ways elevating them as unique pieces of art. Yet through this laser cutting technique, hundreds of identical pieces could be produced in a day; does this matter, if these designs were painstakingly hand-cut, would they then give more of an impact?
Does the digital process and the automation of creating take anything away, perhaps through this mechanised making machine, the lines of art, craft, artist and artisan are getting thinner?
For some more great work see: