2008 Mosaic Mural
Client: City of Ottawa, Metrolinx
Location: Bingham Park, Lowertown, Ottawa
Role: Artist Collaborator: Michael M. Simon (Co-creator) Shortlisted, not realized
A record of the digital perspective that defines our time, overlaid on the default world.
The sculpture Dot_jpg is a 106’ long, fragmented mosaic sculpture which explores the intersection and incongruity of real and digital experiences. The sculpture adds a thoughtful work of contemporary art to Bingham Park, provides an interactive visual experience for park users and passers-by, and also serves as a functional, code-compliant fence.
The mosaic we proposed would measure 1280 tiles or “pixels” wide, the same resolution as a standard HD screen. This image is broken into 6” wide free-standing sections, or “pickets,” each spaced 4” apart. Taken together they create a pixelated image of the landscape directly beyond the artwork. One face of the sculpture depicts the Dalhousie streetscape, the other a slice of Bingham park itself. By removing sections of the image at regular intervals and creating gaps, a view through to the “real” park is woven in to the “virtual” digital record of the park. On a functional level, the gaps in the image also make it a more transparent, welcoming border for the park—a fence rather than a wall.
From the correct viewpoint, the pixelated image on the artwork lines up perfectly with the natural view beyond, blending our real experience of the everyday with the digital techniques we use to document that experience. This trompe l’oeil effect is present whether viewing from the street into the park, or from the park out onto the street. As the viewer moves away from the privileged point, or as the park changes over time, their view slides out of phase with the perspective of the image. The viewer’s real experience of the space and the digital record of it become incongruent. A glitch is created, forcing viewers--hopefully young viewers in particular--to contemplate how digital representation mediates their experience in the world.
READING PUBLIC ART
A permanent public artwork documents a moment in at least two different ways. To illustrate these dual readings, we examined the nearby sculpture of William Lyon Mackenzie King, on Parliament Hill, as an example.
In a formal reading, the artwork exists as a record of the man himself in a particular moment. His likeness, his intensity, and his imperious stature as head of state are all recollected through a cursory viewing of the artwork. In what we could call an anthropological reading, the artwork exists as a record of the culture which produced the sculpture in a particular moment. The sleek, stylized aesthetic of the sculpture recollects the popular aesthetic when the artwork was commissioned in 1967. That the sculpture exists at all tells us that the culture of 1967 clearly determined our elected leaders and political history important enough to preserve through public art. The choice of materials—solid cast bronze in this case—is also telling of the material conditions and values of that moment.
All that is to say, what we choose to document, and how we document it are important reflections of culture in a particular moment.
ART AND IMAGE AS DOCUMENTATION
In the past, the documentation of moments in history was a luxury which could be commissioned by few. To ensure that the documentation would endure, it was executed through physical materials such as paint, marble, stone, or bronze.
Today the tools of documentation have been democratized. As a result, we document most everything: family vacations, brunch, today’s outfit. Counterintuitively, to ensure that the documentation will endure, we make it immaterial: digital, online, in the cloud. Perpetual documentation is a condition of our everyday experience. We experience the world through the viewfinders on our phones.
In 2011, theorist and artist Rosa Menkman published a nine-page essay entitled Glitch Studies Manifesto. The document describes and examines an emerging art style which uses errors occurring in digital and analog technology to create a visual aesthetic. In explaining the function of aestheticizing digital shortcomings, Menkman claims:
“[The glitch] forces the audience to move away from the traditional discourse around a particular technology and to ask questions about its meaning. Through this void, artists can critique digital media and spectators can be forced to recognize the inherent politics behind the codes of digital media.”
APPLICATION OF CONCEPT
As time passes, visual elements of the park and Dalhousie Street will change. Seasons will change and snow will cover the ground. Park structures may be added or removed. Buildings across the street may be re-painted. Travelling through this scale of time, the image once again falls out of phase with real experience. Dot_JPG remains a record of the park at only one particular moment in time in 2014. However, as time passes, the way we record these everyday moments will change as well. Screen resolutions will improve. Future park-goers may document their lives through 3-dimensional holograms rather than 2-dimensional images. As this component of the project falls out of step with time, Dot_JPG becomes an anthropological record of the very specific way we experienced, interacted with, and documented the world.