Thursday, January 31, 2013

Images from sound files: new prints from Arnold Brooks

Brooks, untitled, 2012, 30 x 30"
That the senses are interconnected is not a fresh insight.  Kandinsky was dreaming of it back in 1913, at the birth of abstraction, and Rimbaud, with his derangement of the senses, had thought of it before him: once pure sound was divorced from scales, instruments, hymnals, it could become a tool of the modern artist, like the colors of the palette.  You could hear a piece by Stravinsky and then go to your studio and paint it, if your senses allowed for that.  Yet the problem in pictures was this, that for a thousand years we had thought not about time, the matrix that sound lives in, but about space.  Yes there were correspondences: we could depict sound as color if we were so inclined, we could even convince the public of that, but to find a depiction of sound as time was another matter altogether.  Space, capacious and accommodating, was for putting things into, like kings and queens, sun-washed cities, dwarfs, groupings of fruit on a table, naked bathers.  It had a physical reality you could touch.  You could put things there and they stayed there; you could return to look at them later.  Not so with time: you put something there and it was as good as lost, because time flowed, it was never the same again.  That B-flat chord on the piano - gone.  That Verdi aria - gone.

Kandinsky, A Few Circles, 1926
Toward the end of the last century, because of technology, this began to change.  Devices had been invented which preserved time as physical marks or tracks, as successions of instants, that could be played back - first the phonograph, then cinema, then tape recorders.  Later, the development of the computer and concomitant inventions in mathematics and signal processing ushered in definitive changes for the storing of sound, namely its digitization as strings of 0s and 1s.  You could write code on a piece of paper, feed it to a machine, and a string quartet would play.  What's more, with just a few different assumptions, you could make that same string of code produce a picture.

This is where Arnold Brooks, printmaker, sound artist, filmmaker, enters the scene.  When Arnold, quite by accident, first opened up a sound file in photoshop, the computer imaging editor, he was dumbstruck: here was an image that resembled a seascape or a desert, or the lovely meandering grain that you see in wood - but it was a representation of sound.  What relation was there?  Were certain shapes selected by the computer code?  What forces were at work to render these forms?  He pursued his investigations, terming the images of sound files 'transpositions'.  He found he could reverse the process; he could edit the sound to make other transpositions, or edit the transposition to make other sounds.  His original feelings of deep wonder never ceased.  As he says, "The static image and the time-based piece are literally the same file; in their native environment the files are one.  The transposed file can be manifested simultaneously in two different states while in the computer and is still the exact same file."  And what should we call this manifestation?  Well, if we listen to it it's sound and if we look at it it's a picture - nothing's changed there.  But incredibly, the two are made distinct by a process external to the event: a few mere symbols, more or less, in the computer code, or by running the same code through different codecs or software or ASCII editors.

Arnold is not happy with his transpositions.  He finds them "moribund" because their soul - sound - has been torn out of them.  They are lifeless, he says, they don't ring.  It was with great reluctance then that he showed several at Manhattan Graphics recently as sort of a research in progress, including the image above.  He wasn't ready for the overwhelming enthusiastic reaction he got from fellow artists, which must have surprised and caught him off guard: his transpositions were being compared to some of the outstanding works in the minimalist canon.  Still, if you ask him what really matters he'll say that's pretty hard, because that's asking how shapes are made. 

Arnold Brooks' email is

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The great tangent of Nino Migliori

(Franco Marinai, the New York-based photographer and printmaker, has written a guest post.  We are happy to make the space available to him.)

Migliori, oxidization, 1948

It's 1948 - a momentous year - and the world is reeling from the disasters of WWII.  The future is uncertain but in the relative obscurity of a darkroom in central Italy, a young photographer boldly sets off in two seemingly different directions: realism and experimentation.

As a neorealist photographer he would document Italy's transition from an agricultural to an industrial society with B&W essays that gained him considerable notoriety.

As an experimenter he would turn out to be a dedicated and steadfast destroyer of photographic conventions.  Over the years he oxidized, cut, wrecked, scratched, burnt, and otherwise abused film, photographic paper, polaroids, and cliché-verres alike.  This landed him squarely in the Italian pantheon of the photographic avant-garde (informal wing).

Migliori, oxidization, 1954

That the two practices could live together shouldn't be a surprise.  It's certainly not a case of split personality.  They are rather two aspects of the desire to get to the bottom of things, to get concrete, in other words to visualize reality, whether it has to do with some kids in the streets of Naples or with some unorthodox chemical reaction on photographic paper.

Nino Migliori started off his informal journey producing "oxidizations" - abstract images obtained off-camera by plying photographic paper with fixer and developer.  They have an uncanny kinship with what later - in 1956 - would be called a "chemigram" by Pierre Cordier, its legitimate father.

The interplanetary alignment ends there.

Migliori, oxidization, 1954

Nino Migliori kept on a tangent - so to speak - to produce "pyrograms", "watergrams", "celluloid-grams", "photograms", "cliché-verres" and much more.  It's a large and varied body of work that speaks loud for Migliori's unrelenting enthusiasm and voracious curiosity.  In fact, the gist of his experimental work seems more about unrestricted dabbling than anything else.  And this may be its strength.  But given the volume and the nature of the images housed in innumerable museums and private collections in Europe and the US, one wonders whether he had any rejects.  Did he discard any?  And this may be another of Nino Migliori's strengths.

                                                                                                 -  Franco Marinai