Analog or Digital ?

October 12, 2017

Yesterday evening I went to a master lecture of well-known artist Fiona Tan. She is working with lens-based media and uses both film (super8, 16mm and 35mm) and video (from DV and HD to 4K). Her talk was called ‘Anatal Digilog’ in which she questioned the differences between the Analog(ue) and Digital. As doing a master in Fine Art Digital it was a good moment to rethink what Digital means for my practice.

“We all feel the difference between Analog and Digital, but we don’t have the words yet for these differences”, according to Mrs. Tan. She compared the analog film works of Tacita Dean on the one hand of the spectrum with the extreme Digital Video works of David Claerbout on the other end. She showed an installation view of her work ‘Inventory’ [1], which was also a film and video comparison concerning their respective characters.

She thought beforehand that this might give her future use of analog or digital equipment a definite direction. But she found that all formats had some positive qualities. Whether it was the simple to handle equipment, great for making ‘close to the subject’ shots, or the perception of visual quality and so forth. So, she declared herself somewhere in the middle of the analog and digital fields by using the camera and projector “whichever suited the purpose for the piece best”.

However, Mrs. Tan was not able to show us her first work which is on analog video tape. It produced too many drop-outs and therefor the actual available digital computer software refused it to load. Here the conservation issue presented itself clearly. The fast progressing technology makes it hard to reproduce a work from even 20 years ago. And works on big digital hard disks are not safe for this monster of progress either. Important 4K video pieces on expensive hard-disks are nowadays back-transferred to 35 mm celluloid film for conservation reasons. Changes are high that within some decades our computer systems have “forgotten” the then old-fashioned disk techniques.

But aside the technical differences and reproduction challenges, there is the even more interesting artistic difference between analog and digital. In our last Skype symposium with my fellow master students, I got a remark about my own films: “I like that your videos are relatively low tech – I connect with that” (thanks Janet). My response was as follows: “Yes low-tech is what I love. Maybe because I have seen so much high-tech in life. It is a way to stay on a social level with my audience too, I believe.”

I may add that, as analogue beings, we feel in some way more in touch with analog esthetics. However, the digital jungle is growing rapidly around us now. Examples like the internet of things make me itch, but I know that I will use them in a short time too. It is not a choice I have, it is the reality around us made by others. Like robots who help elderly people with their problems of loneliness. So even important social work is already in the technology zone. The ‘human, nature, technology’ triangle brings a lot of urgent and ethical questions.

Mrs. Tan turned off the digital Powerpoint and showed some slides of her installations. We had already seen these in a digital format. She argued that although the images were less sharp, one could sense the sculptural setting from the slides far better. It is an interesting notion that how a video installation actually was, the physicality of it in particular, is digitally less easy to represent. Maybe this is because analog (still) feels closer to our daily view.

Getting back to an understanding of Fine Art Digital. As coined by MA Fine Art Digital at Camberwell College of Arts it focuses on art that engages with, uses and is impacted by digital. The technology is seen as a tool for creative and artistic use. The digital can be considered as a language that creates new spaces [2]. A language that is not only based on bits, numbers, computers and technical components, but a language which fills spaces and rooms and connects humans in new ways.

The language that I want to speak with my video installations is clearly about connecting the two, analog and digital in one immersive space. Using the benefits of the digital and keeping the tangible world as well. In the middle of the field of human beings surrounded by technologies.

An arguable list, made by Fiona Tan, which “discussing would be taking 4 hours”

[1] http://www.fionatan.nl/works/75 and http://www.maxxi.art/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/Fiona_Tan_PK.pdf

[2] http://www.arts.ac.uk/camberwell/courses/postgraduate/ma-fine-art-digital/