the pixel as residue

Douglas Edric Stanley


My colleague Claire Renier invited me to speak on the subject of Painting and it’s « débordements » (overflows). Obviously for anyone who reads this blog, I cannot be considered an expert on the subject — so at first I declined. I have always been extremely weary of hasty approximations of artistic periods and mediums, especially when one is used in order to somehow validate the another. Digital Art has enough problems on its own, the last thing it needs is to start comparing itself to the institution of painting, which is exactly that: an institution, and no longer just a field within the visual arts. In fact the visual arts are often confused with painting, as if painting were its model.

But then I got to thinking and realized that there was something quite singular about painting, considered solely from the perspective of its temporality. Painting as a time machine. And the more I thought about it, the more the notion of the pixel started to open up onto this temporality, especially when you dislodge it from its role as mere discrete pictorial element. Pixels are directly mapped to memory space, which makes them all that much easier to manipulate discretely, but which also means that they inherit all of the temporal eccentricities of computer memory. Pixel fields can represent very complex juxtapositions of different temporal spaces, and even a single pixel can contain many temporal layers of superposition. It is quite revealing, for example, to observe how many contemporary code artists resort to mapping vectorial forms onto pixel spaces, precisely because they allow for richer visual forms thanks to the temporal dimensions that coexist in the pixels, as opposed to the near ascetic temporality of the vector graphics.

Anyway this fairly nebulous idea has been slowly baking in my mind recently, and I’ll attempt a first crack at it on Tuesday.