The work method: an introduction

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“Without tubes of paint, there would have been no Impressionism.”
Pierre-Auguste Renoir

There is a beautiful story about how in painting the style of impressionism was fuelled by the invention of the tube. When John G.Rant in 1841 invented the paint tube, artist where freed from their studios: they could bring easel, canvas and paint with them in the field and became mobile painters. This resulted in a totally new style: the image needed to be produced in just a couple of hour’s and could relate to direct change of light conditions on location. It revolutionized visual style but also deeply influenced the thematic focus in landscape depiction. For us this is a very outstanding example of how technology can bring about the emergence of new a style and focus of content in art.

When we first encountered GPS technology in 2001, we realized it could be used as such a new visualization tool for landscape. Like in “Plein Air” painting, the technology results in work that was secured to a specific location and time frame. Besides it brings about a set of new characteristics: its focus on movement, speed and direction. The fact that there is a small machine, device involved that automatically records aspects of reality, connects in our artistic view the medium to photography and film. Through the years we realized that all those facets bring about new relationships between artist, landscape, mobility and representation.

Our motivation to do our own projects and to do workshops comes from a fascination and curiosity. In our workshops we find it time after time exiting to confront other artists with locative media technology and see what their (first) experiments bring. We explore the GPS-technology in working together with a wide range of participants. The goal is to find new ways of thinking about art, landscape depiction and experience of space. We also explore the new ways of expression that the mix of skills leads to.

Our workshop at de Go Down Arts Center and the CCAEA in Nairobi was very special to us, as every participant was a painter. The step to using GPS as a tool for making art was a challenge for them to meet. The first tests we did in the proximity of the Go Down and the encounter with their own recorded mobility made them enthusiastic on realizing the themes we had set for the workshop: Portrait, Encounter, Love and/or Sadness and Layered Geometry.

In their GPS-works most of the participant made a choice for recording their daily routes, their journeys between their homes, villages and studio. In doing so they found themselves in a new relation to the people and space they passed: all became part of a work of art and gave a new layer to their daily commuting. In that way they interpreted the themes as: to be aware of your movements, to be a part of the landscape and social structure you live in. In a way they all made a portrait of themselves projected on their spatial behavior.

Just as interesting for us was the new way the transformation of the GPS-routes into an exhibition took place. We decided explored the full potential of the artist’s painterly skills, and developed a work method whereby a series of murals was made direct on the walls of the space. In order to do so the routes were projected on the wall, and the artists used these projections as a starting point for their murals.

This resulted in a series of ten very different, visually rich and colorful works. Some were mere paintings, others used nails and rope or even newspapers to visualize the GPS-tracks and relive the route, brush stroke after brush stroke or nail after nail. This led to colorful and thought through murals that transcended the digital images in a unique and very personal way.

Esther Polak and Ivar van Bekkum, May 2011

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