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Kingston Library Display Case: January 2006
Prints from animations
All that we perceive is blinkered by the limitations of our being: the speed of our lives and perceptions.
Because we are smaller than the earth, we perceive night and day.
Because we are larger than atoms, we believe solids to be motionless.
Because we cannot see in all wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation, the day sky is blue, the night sky is dark.
We think of ourselves as integral individuals, but we are ecosystems of countless tiny symbiotic creatures, which themselves, at the cellular level, are also made of a community of smaller independently evolving forms.
The violent sea surface, averaged over a week, turns into motionless hills. As we lengthen the time considered, the hills of the sea move again, not because of the force of the wind, but because the plates of the surface of the earth are moving.
Mountains churn into each other like batter in a mixer.
Perceived experience itself is patched together from signals delayed by the speed of light and sound.
To tap into an art that extends the limits of the perception of space and time, I turned to animation, specifically, the animation of gestures to produce animated drawings and paintings. Each generated frame can be produced from a "limitless" sized canvas and blend together colored marks of moving "pens," filled shapes, and masking areas. Images also can be stretched to color the resulting marks, and so doing, be made to act as freely as the other, conventionally painted shapes.
The prints and animations presented here are all made with the aid of a program I wrote myself, and continue to write, named Vapor Paint. It dates from 1989.
The frames printed here could have been generated at any size or resolution, and with any amount of time in them. The program models the process of drawing, not objects in the "real world" that would be converted to a flat picture in a photographic way. Some of my animations have realistic motions of unreal shapes, others merely pan around a throbbing set of gestures, feeling their way around the details of the drawing.
For more information and animations, visit
Henry Lowengard, January 2006
Soon, my work will feature some "Still Life" pictures. In this series, something looking rather like a traditional still life will be shown at different time resolutions,changing the solid shapes and colors into flickering colors and ultimately, a series of vibrating gesture molecules. This is not very different from what is actually happening, but with the molecules drawn at a visible size. You could say it would be a kind of animated Pointillism, of which it could also be said that it underlies all pixel based digital art.
Gesture and Photo
As you look at an image, your eye moves from one point of attention to another. Although in the digital world a pixel is just a pixel, and all methods of creating that pixel are lost in its 24 bit color specification, your mind reacts to the image by organizing the shapes into paths that your eyes must take. Thus, even in a photograph, which usually records light simultaneously on a plane, there is an implicit gesture that is the gesture of your attention.
There are many straightforward analytical ways to fill a picture plane with color using analytical geometry and mathematical functions. This is analogous to the photograph in that no one pixel needs any other pixel to be rendered first. But a Vapor Paint image is built up with gestures, even though they may be specifying an area to be filled in. This quality makes it possible to make layers of gestures that can still be distinguished. Since the gestures occur in an order, there is more of a sense of time in a Vapor Paint image.
If the gestures are moving, as they must in an animation, Vapor Paint can move the "clock" very slowly and merge a slice of time into a single plane, much like a time exposure does for a photograph. Vapor Paint can work with external frames and frame series as a texture for its gestures. It can manipulate the order in which the external frames may be used and can dynamically mask off parts of those images, so that a single frame created by Vapor Paint can show discontinuous time all over the frame.
Shape, time, image
A river is not so much water as a shape that water makes. The geometry of the river changes the pressure of the water which flows through it, which in turn changes the shape of the banks of the river. The same applies to rivers of ice, air and earth. That which has one nature at rest may have another nature in motion.
This is the philisophical basis of my art: that gestures in time are not the same as gestures held, but there can be an expression of time in stasis by either providing multiple images of gestures in time or combining an amount of time into a single image or both.
We humans live and think in a specific context of space and time. It's easy to imagine that this context is all the space and time that there is. It is only recently that we have an idea of the vast distances to the galaxies, and to the core of the atom. Similarly, it's only recently that the depth and texture of events in geological time and atomic time scales were realized.
As Different as Day and Night
What is our place in this web of space and time? What is meant by a "place" and a "time" if they are so different at different resolutions?
To illustrate, consider the phenomenon of night and day. For those living on the surface of the earth outside the arctic and antarctic circles, there is a difference between night and day. But, as you travel toward the poles, nights and days stop being daily phenomena and more accurately describe seasons. Go deep enough under the sea, and rhythm of life is probably more governed by the moon. Leave the earth's surface and you will see that the distant brightness of the stars and the close brightness of the sun are the realities of light, light which is everywhere and unescapable, except where it is shadowed by planetary bodies or clouds of interstellar gas.
For every solar night, there are untold billions of nights related to the shadows of the other stars and luminous gases of the universe, each one of which could be called "day" in the proper context.
Similarly, at the atomic level, day is distinguished from night by the effects of electromagnetic energy.
Consider the unit of time that a day represents - what does that mean at the scale of a galaxy or at the scale of molecular interaction? Or for a less profound stretch of the imagination, consider the perception of sound. Sound is the perception and interpretation of a medium changing pressure in time.
At one scale, you can hear individual beats. Speed the beats up, and they are now perceived as a tone. Overlapping beats become simultaneous tones. Changes in the speed of the changes in pressure result in melodies and harmonies. Structure those melodies and harmonies and you have measures, movements, concerti, opera, opera cycles, opera repertoires. The instantaneous sound is meaningless; as the sound acquires context, it acquires the structure that allows it to mean something.
There is an equivocal nature in the simultaneous structuring of events at different resolutions. The water in a wave does not move far, but the energy of a wave does. The water in a stream is ever changing, but the shape of the stream is related to the speed and volume of the water in it, and not any specific set of molecules. The speed and power of the flow erodes the riverbank, which itself is not a property of any particular set of water molecules, but a property of their actions and the direction and speed of their energy, and this in turn affects the direction and speed of the river in the future. Action in one context affects the actions perceived in nearby ones.