I was recently talking with my friend about that deformed conjoined twin: art and market. Specifically, we were discussing the dual impulses that artists working in new digital formats feel, the one pulling towards the ephemeral and the transient; the other towards the imperative to create an aesthetic object. Quickly, a question took form: how to reconcile the experimentation and exploration of digital ephemera with the drive to create a physical manifestation? Or, seen from the other side: how can a tangible (and, speaking in base pragmatic terms, a salable) aesthetic object represent the Internet?
This question is at the heart of some very interesting artistic practices. For instance, No Place renders the blue bath of a digital projector’s keying screen and the stock forms of 3D animation programs into material space: a concrete manifestation of three-dimensional computer animation and projection. Youtube as a Sculpture (which, oddly enough, is actually a youtube video and decisively NOT a sculpture) gives form to a familiar temporal element of technological lag-time, and Waiting Lotus to another.
These artworks reach for materiality from within that space we call—what else can we call it?—the Internet. Yet it is Martin Kohout's Moonwalk that most fully captures the spiritual and transcendental longing for the material.
As the artist notes, youtube has changed its scroll bar since the piece was made; although the piece loses its absolutely seamless infinity, the lack of correspondence between youtube's framing status bar and the video’s first iteration highlights one of the video’s other themes: lossyness. This is a particular kind of lossyness: in the half-step of youtube's format shift, the artwork losses some of its meaning not through the degradating effect of transcoding but rather in the infrastructural move from a 4:3 to a 16:9 aspect ratio.
Of course, Moonwalk also plays precisely with the more common forms of lossyness and degradation. The piece strives not to “burst through the screen” but rather to retreat into a digital infinity. The path those iterations take leave the viewer with a recognizable visual form: a step pyramid. As it builds toward its apex—the vanishing point—the content of each additional layer becomes indistinct, blurred green as a result of visual artifacts (an effect only amplified in the gallery presentation of the piece). An ascent to the transcendent on the stairway of lossyness...
And yet, for as much as the piece seems to reach into youtube’s ephemeral void, it also reaches back towards an earlier historical moment. The step pyramid gestures towards Robert Smithson's late 1960s sculptures of layered mirror and glass: Ziggurat Mirror, Mirror Stratum, Glass Strata. And Smithson's Heap of Language anticipates the use of content itself as the building blocks for the layers of the pyramid. If I may refer to Smithson's vocabulary: is an artwork like Moonwalk a site or a non-site piece? Is youtube a site of digital culture? If so, one wonders where and when a digital Spiral Jetty will appear...