06 November 2007
It's About Time
Back in the 1980s when I was first learning to use the computer to draw (Adobe Illustrator Version 1.0), I would lie down at night after a long day on the machine with strange visions of manipulating time and space as I fell asleep. I would see the world before me begin to get larger and larger, as when zooming in on the computer screen, or I would watch as an imaginary scene would dissolve into overlapping colored shapes. It was as if my mind was continuing to explore the mesmerizing new world that had been opened to it even as I slept.
Twenty years later we've all seemingly become accustomed to the mesmerizing world inside the screen-window, but I don't believe it's any less mesmerizing than it was back then. I can still "lose" hours at a time while pursuing a topic on the internet, or futzing around with a thorny software problem, and I still have trouble talking on the telephone if I'm sitting in front of a computer screen. And I see myself more and more expecting immediacy -- expecting to find anything I'm looking for, expecting that anything I purchase online will be delivered next day, expecting immediate responses to my emails, expecting immediate feedback to almost every action I take.
Which is why woodblock is so challenging for me. I can hardly think of a more labor-intensive, grueling technique for making a picture. Unlike digital picture-making, where the feedback is immediate and any action can be un-done, a polychrome woodblock print can take many weeks to accomplish, and the unforgiving marks made by a knife on wood are indelible. The contrast is stark.
German artist Christiane Baumgartner makes large scale woodblock prints that explicitly examine this contrast. She takes video stills as her source material, tiny micro-second slices of time, and painstakingly reproduces them in wood, carving horizontal lines of varying widths into birch plywood -- "an irreversible deceleration process," as critic Roy Oxley notes. I love this stuff!