The Rise of Technology in Art – by Thomas Evans

The Rise of Technology in Art – by Thomas Evans

Since the earliest cave paintings, the history of art has evolved in tandem with developments in technology. In the 15th century, Jan Van Eyck experimented with oil-based pigments, ushering in a new era of painting. The introduction of photography at the end of the 19th century changed how artists see the world forever. More recently, Andy Warhol's most famous works used screen-printing, an innovative new technology borrowed from the graphic arts.

Since you’re reading this on Bare Conductive, you then know that technology is moving at a much faster pace than ever before and artists have a huge range of contemporary media and techniques to choose from. From 3D printing to interactive installations to conductive paint, artists have found myriad new ways to connect with the technologically developed world we live in. We wanted to share some of the most common technologies that artist are utilizing today to give a good perspective on the rise of technology in art. 

3D Printed Art

3D printing or “additive manufacturing” technology has been in development for several decades now, but it was in the early 2000s that 3D printing exploded into the public view, with the media reporting on the technique's potential in the fields of science, medicine, and manufacturing. In 2005, a growing trend for incorporating 3D printing into art and design was first noted, and this technology has become increasingly prevalent in art. 3D printing allows artists to create highly detailed and infinitely manipulable models, which can be presented as artworks in their own right or which can be used as scale models for a larger piece.

3D printing is used by a range of artists with a variety of unique practices, many of whom use the available technology in different ways. For example, Romanian artist Ioan Florea uses 3D printed plastic molds to produce large-scale metal models of vehicles, exploring the role of technology in our current age of customization.

Another example is Eyal Gever, an artist who creates imaginative digital environments on his computer, before translating these environments into physical space through 3D printing. Rather than using contemporary technology for its own sake, Gever claims, “I’ve simply used the latest technology to develop a new language for my art.” Today, companies like Makerbot have fully realized the impact that their tech has on the output from the creative community.

Interactive Art

Interactive art and installation art have been around since the 1950s, but recently digital developments have allowed artists to create completely immersive experiences, which the viewer can interact with on a number of levels.

One pioneer of digital installation art was Rafael Lozano-Hemmer. His 2005 piece Subtitled Public consisted of a darkened room installed with infra-red surveillance cameras. The cameras tracked visitors as they moved, and a single verb was projected onto each viewer's torso, following them around the room. If one visitor touched another, their verbs would be exchanged, encouraging viewers to engage with each other as well as with the artwork.

Collaborative digital art group Random International is also known for its large-scale installations. For their project Rain Room, they used real-time analytics of visitors' movements to control their immersive digital experience. Depending on how the viewer moved, they would experience a unique rain shower, complete with humidity, the sound of falling water, and the visual effect of rain; all without getting wet. Random International described it as “the latest in a series of projects that specifically explore the behavior of the viewer and viewers: pushing people outside their comfort zones, extracting their base auto-responses and playing with intuition.”

Another key example of interactive art using technology is a new trend for “digital paintings”. Artist Scott Garner creates still life images displayed in traditional-looking frames. The twist comes, however, when the viewer begins to interact with the “painting”, which is actually a screen. If the work is tilted, the objects in the still life composition will begin to tip and tumble to the edge of the frame.

Online Art

With the prevalence of the Internet and our constant visual consumption online, it makes sense that we're starting to see artwork, which only exists on the web. Much of this work challenges the conventions of the art world since websites can usually be accessed by all and are difficult to sell on the traditional art market. Internet-based artworks have been around since the 1990s when the “” movement took off. Examples from this period include Olia Lialina's My Boyfriend Came Back from the War (1996), a browser-based art experience in which a narrative unfolds as the user clicks various links.

More recent Internet artworks have, of course, become more sophisticated, exploring the possibilities of computer technology and social networks. Jonas Lund's Fair Warning (2016) encourages users to engage in his online platform by clicking on options that appeal to them. At once apparently fruitless and highly addictive, Lund asks questions about the nature of our online activities and the role of big-data statistics in determining our online experiences.

Augmented Reality

Augmented reality programs use existing cameras and smart technology to add layers of information and imagery to a user's view of the world. Augmented reality offers a unique crossover between the physical world in which we live and the digital world in which we spend much of our time. It's being adopted by museums worldwide in order engage viewers (particularly younger ones) with the art and artifacts on display.

Artists have also been exploring the possibilities inherent in augmented reality. Amir Bardaran's Frenchising the Mona Lisa takes the Louvre Museum's most famous artwork as a starting point, a visual anchor that the artist can exploit through AR. Using Bardaran's app, the viewer can position their smartphone camera over any image of the Mona Lisa (the real one or a reproduction), and they will see the woman come to life and wrap a French flag around her head. She then resembles a woman wearing a hijab headscarf, a symbol of Islam, which has been banned in France. This is a great example of an artist using augmented reality to present a subversive political message.

Street artist MOMO has always worked in the public domain, but he recently collaborated on creating a digital app, which will offer viewers a new level of interaction with his work. His mural in St Louis, Missouri, is already eye-catching, but with MOMO's new app, it has the power to stop passers-by and encourage them to engage with their neighborhood artwork. Through augmented reality, aspects of the mural appear to become three-dimensional and can shift and change depending on the viewer's position.

New Frontiers: Virtual Reality in Art

Right now, it's artists working with virtual reality who are really pushing the boundaries of contemporary art. Authoritative art editorial website Artsy has even argued that virtual reality is “the most powerful artistic medium of our time”. Mostly achieved through multi-sensory headsets, virtual reality places the viewer in a completely new simulated environment, where they can look, listen and interact with a virtual version of reality.

Artist Jon Rafman, who is known for his digital artworks, believes that in our digitally saturated world, the all-consuming nature of virtual reality is necessary for us to engage completely with a work of art today. His 2015 piece Sculpture Garden (Hedge Maze) collapsed boundaries between the physical and the digital, using Oculus Rift virtual reality technology to draw viewers into his art-viewing virtual environment. Rafman argues that recent developments in VR technology allow people to fulfill a long-held wish of disappearing into another dimension.

Looking to the Future: What's Next?

Technology is developing at such a pace that it can feel hard to keep up sometimes. For artists, these changes can be problematic: they need to remain up-to-date with new skills such as coding and find ways to access the latest technologies, which can be expensive.

However, developments in technology have always affected how artists produce art, and they will continue to do so in the future. With artists increasingly keen to question the effect of the digital age on our society, they will find ways to go on looking for new ways to engage in up and coming technological innovations. We look forward to seeing what's coming next! If you are interested in taking the dive into the digital space and learning how to manipulate the technology around you, sites such as the TeamTreeHouseCode Academy and will help you along the way. 

Written by: Thomas Evans & Anna Souter

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