Visual Molasses

April 18, 2012 · Print This Article

A quick note — more of an observation, really, or a re-directing of attention, but I was looking at my blog reader today and found a wonderful thematic coincidence on the Art Asia Pacific blog and Granta. Today, Art Asia Pacific reflected on Global Art Forum 6, remarking in particular:

There’s something about the immediacy and urgency of writing against the present that can be panic-inducing; paralyzing even. 

It feels as if we should be quicker than we are.  We should be able to respond more efficiently.  It should be easier by now.  Our brain’s functionality should be in sync with the latest social media apps on our Blackberrys, tablets and Mac books—so that we can not only multitask, “double-screen” and consume information (both virtual and real) at the rate of several giga-Hertz per second—but also analyze it, digest it and produce a meaningful reaction to it immediately.  Except that’s not exactly how our cerebral cortex works; there is a lot more complexity involved—and maybe there is a saving grace in that somewhere. 

The pressure to keep up with, and contextualize the arts within, the most up-to-date socio-political happenings was cited and critiqued at the recent discussion series, Global Art Forum_6. Part of the titan that has become Art Dubai and its collateral programming, this year’s forum was titled “The Medium of Media,” and for this second installment writers Rayya Badran, Rijin Sahakian, Shahira Issa and myself were invited as “forum fellows” to reflect on issues in the fair. Art critic and forum fellows mentor Kaelen Wilson-Goldie talked about an almost expected reflex to situate art within contemporary politics (or politics within contemporary art), with particular reference to Lebanon and Syria. Such a reflex has been intensified by two things in recent times: the conflicts and uprisings of the Arab Spring, and the penetrating and shifting role of instant online media in news reportage.

The post goes on to question the capacity of art to respond, quickly and critically on its own contemporary times, particularly when our times are mediated at such a rapid pace. Author Jyoti Dhar suggests that perhaps art’s function is to slow us down, to demand a pause.

Seemingly to that point, Granta posted an article by Mishka Henner about the censorship of google earth — particularly in regards to the Dutch government:

When Google introduced its free satellite imagery service to the world in 2005, views of our planet previously accessible only to astronauts and professional surveyors were suddenly available to anyone with an internet connection. Yet the vistas revealed by this technology were not universally embraced.

Governments concerned about the sudden visibility of political, economic and military locations exerted considerable influence on suppliers of this imagery to censor sites deemed vital to national security. This form of censorship continues today, and techniques vary from country to country with preferred methods generally including use of digital cloning, blurring, pixelization and whitening out sites of interest.

Surprisingly, one of the most vociferous of all governments to enforce this form of censorship were the Dutch, hiding hundreds of significant sites including royal palaces, fuel depots and army barracks throughout their relatively small country. The Dutch method of censorship is notable for its stylistic inventiveness compared to other countries: imposing bold, multi-coloured polygons over sites rather than the subtler and more standard techniques employed elsewhere. The result is a landscape occasionally punctuated by sharp aesthetic contrasts between secret sites and the rural and urban environments surrounding them.

Staphorst Ammunition Depot.

There is something so stunning about these images (there are more on Granta’s site) — seemingly crude and colorful, as in a decorative obliteration: A kind of purposeful withholding. But it creates a pause, demanding time from the viewer as it presents something unexpected. It looks like a painting in gouache!