Phantom Interfaces: A look into database aesthetics and technologically infused imaginaries

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By Julian Brangold

I see art as a discipline for research where the rules and protocols of traditional realms of exploration of thought and emotions don’t apply, a space where boundaries can (and sometimes have to) be constantly tested and crossed. The work I’ve been doing for the past three years has been based upon the premise that technology redefines what it means to be human, and thus it becomes a place for a theoretical and emotional exploration that is relevant to contemporary narratives. 

I work with a vast array of mediums ranging from painting to 3D modeling and animation, collage, sound composition and elements such as AI generated imagery and text. I have discovered that one way to explore our relationship to technology and how it affects us is by observing what happens when technological processes are intertwined, combined, convoluted and mixed with human body / hand mediations. This, combined with the incorporation of error, a very critical space for understanding and untangling technological systems and their hardcoded procedural flows, can be of great value when it comes to decoding phenomena in the digital world through the experiences made possible by art.

One perfect example of this operative logic exists in my series of works “Phantom Interfaces,” which will be exclusively available on SuperRare. These works are an exploration into the logic of database storage systems and their effect and affect on human memory and cultural imaginaries.

Artwork “Fragmented Iridescence” 4000 x 3500 px found on SuperRare.

In 2017 I came across a database of historical archives related to classical art and culture (mostly Roman and Greek) created in 1998 by a group of Russian science and history enthusiasts. This database is composed of literally tens of thousands of images, texts and articles. I was instantly fascinated by the vast introduction to such insurmountable amounts of information and the chaotic nature of the interface (a website) that allowed us to access all this data that was so meticulously categorized, classified and located in digital containers.

I became obsessed with the idea of a poetic operation that creates a new kind of interface absolutely created by human intuition and imaginativeness. What would that interface look like? Could a meaningful transaction be performed between this sea of data and my hands? What would the resulting sinuous narrative line of my intuitive selection of images entail? 

Process behind the creation of the work “Fragile Interface _ 01”: Handcrafted digital tracing of an archeological site found in an online database of historical archives. 

As I set out to explore this sea of cultural identity storage, I discovered several different ways of intervening and working with the images, coming up with potential spaces for compositional configurations. This series of works begins with manually tracing over the images using digital tools such as a tablet and a stylus and then later combining elements inherent to physical, manual aesthetics (digital ink brushes) and traditional machinic imagery such as perfectly aligned dot grids and macroblocked rogue pixels. I manually “break” the image, pull apart its pieces and recombine them to allow new visual territories to emerge. The original reference is removed, leaving only its trace, a ghost of the waves, lines and shadows that once belonged to the image, and that are now reimagined by a human hand. Experimentation, intuition and play are crucial in the making of these works, extracting the subtle from the abyss.

Digital study of greek bust found in the database and its potential color scheme.

We tend to reconstruct history and stories in a linear way; cinema is a great example of that. Database logic gives us a chance to think of new, exciting ways of constructing a non-narrative approach to cultural heritage and identity. It’s not new that information and history are constantly being filtered, manipulated and transformed, this happens constantly on the internet, which can be argued is the largest collection of databases in the world. Whether we make these processes conscious or we let the large goliaths of the internet create that line for us is for our very human hands to decide.

Fragile Interface _ 01” – 3500 x 4000px artwork live on SuperRare.

Article by Julian Brangold – Artist and researcher on SuperRare : https://superrare.co/julianbrangold

Author profile
Julian Brangold

Julian Brangold is a multidisciplinary artist whose artistic research looks into the ways in which technology rewrites the definition of what it means to be human. With a background in film and video art, his work explores a wide spectrum of media including video game engines, online databases, digital imagery and artificial intelligence to create critical spaces in which technology and aesthetic production can merge to open up new pathways in thought and experience.

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