Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Artist Post: Jim Johnson (found from Rhizome)

Brick Drawings, 1999

This series of "drawings were developed in a collaboration between Jim Johnson, who at the time was a faculty member in the department of Fine Arts at the University of Colorado, several scientists from the school's Computer Science department and a "robot computer" developed at MIT (Brick Drawings). The computer, which was built from Lego bricks and two motorized wheels, was able to respond to certain stimuli and when a pencil or pen would be attached to it, the "Brick" would be able to trace marks made by the artist or "respond" to these marks (Brick Drawings). For example, "... When short strokes were drawn across the path of the 'Brick' it would respond by backing up and moving in another direction (Brick Drawings). Some of the artist-Brick collaborations included drawing lines or boxes to contain the drawing Brick, but eventually the Brick would trace the outline of these shapes and move outwards. While the project produced interesting results, the artist, Jim Johnson, found difficulty in incorporating these experiences with the "Brick" into his own artwork, however it did rekindle his interest in "analog art", such as drawing by hand (Brick Drawings).
From what I can see by looking at the results of this artist-computer based collaboration, I think these drawings are bringing up the idea of just how much influence the artist himself or herself may have in the actual art-making process. Since in these pieces, the artist was simply providing an "environment" for the "Brick" to operate in, with only some additional input. However, these pieces sort of twist your mind in thinking about what exactly did the artist plan, what did they have control over, and when did they lose control? WHere does the artist become a tool for a machine? But it is also important to notice the conclusion of this series of pieces brought up, in that the artist was inspired to return to more traditional methods of art-making. I feel that this is important to know because it shows the artist is coming to a realization of the human-computer/robot connection, in this case the artist does not need the computer, and this bond is broken.
I personally think that these pieces would only be successful in a show if the "Brick"/computer was present to show viewers the exact process. Without knowledge of how the "Brick" worked, the pieces seem "soulless"; they have no context without the science behind them. I also think it would have been interesting to see these pieces in addition to Johnson's next series of work after collaborating with the "Brick", doing this would give the viewer both sides of this situation; the human-computer bond and how the human is shaped/scarred from these moments. (Side Note: The more I look at these drawings, they begin to seem more scientific to me, like they are diagrams for a complex math equation instead of a series of drawings).

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