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Aagaard 1 Isabel Aagaard Susana Tosca Digital Aesthetics E2012 11 December 2012 How to Capture an Audience with Digital Artwork Pipilotti Rist's artwork Sip My Ocean (1996) is a sensory experience in the genre of digital art, and very interesting in the history of art. The Swiss artist Rist has used digital techniques and aesthetic values to capture the audience. I wish to analyze this artwork by applying philosophies on aesthetic tools together with theories upon digital art. My goal is to understand how she captures the audience through the use of digital media and aesthetics.

Photo: autumnsun08 Š source: flickr Introduction Digital art is becoming a big part of the art world, but why? I want to look at how a specific and well known digital artwork uses aesthetics and sense to lure their audience. Pipilotti Rist is a Swiss artist known for her video installations that are often presented in the form of large multifaceted projections. Within this medium, Rist is able to incorporate technology, painting, movement, language, music, flowing pictures, and commotion to conjure positive emotional energy, encourage the mind, and to convey themes such as social change with the destruction of prejudices.


Aagaard 2 Pipilotti Rist’s video installation, Sip My Ocean (1996), is as mentioned above a sensory experience. In a dim lit room, a calming rendition of Chris Isaak’s song “Wicked Game” sung by the artist herself set a calming tone. A video is projected onto two adjacent walls as a mirror image of one another. The artist’s melancholic voice fills the room while the video projects objects being thrown into water. Shot from underwater, the images on the screen had a slow movement followed by the sound of waves. In the several Museums, that this artwork has been shown, there have been placed beanbags or sofas in the room. The video is 34 minutes long and continues in the same rhythm and visual play throughout. See a few minutes from the artwork here: tinyurl.com/d8jmnsc I wish to shed light on Rist's work of art Sip My Ocean (1996), through the aesthetic eyes of Kant, Hume, Dutton and Löwgreen and in the light of the genre digital art. Digital technologies in the last decades have had an enormous impact on the art world, and I would like to dig into this phenomenon with the help of theorist as Freeland, Drucker and Wands.

Aesthetics The term 'aesthetics' derives from the Greek word for sensation or perception, aithesis. It was achknowloged as a new field of expression, which was not controlled by rational thoughts but by sensibility (Freeland, 8). The Scottish philosopher David Hume did not use the word aesthetics, but spoke of 'taste'. Hume believed that some works of art were better than other, along with some people having better taste than others. (Freeland, 8-9) The German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) analyzed and categorized our aesthetical world by drawing lines from nature and what we naturally felt at ease with. His thoughts are the foundation of our modern understanding of aesthetics. Kant believed that, if humans could agree that roses where beautiful, other things could be categorized as well. "Judgements of beauty where universal and grounded in the real world" (Freeland, 10). Although you think a rose is beautiful, you don't necessarily want to eat it, or pick it up. Kant thought that something beautiful has 'purposiveness without purpose'. (Freeland, 10). Philosopher Denis Dutton believes along side with Kant, that beauty is universal. He goes as far as believing that aesthetic values are cross-culture and can be traced back to the first Homo Sapiens. Beauty is a survival instinct along side with hunger and sexual attraction. You don't get anything out of eating a beautiful landscape or your loved ones. Evolutions trick was to make these things beautiful, to give you pleasure simply by looking at them.


Aagaard 3 Cavemen made symmetrical, elegant and well-made hand axes that where not used, but the first known works of art. Dutton concludes that we find beauty in something that is done well. (Dutton, 29-47) Kant believed that in order to appreciate the beauty of a strawberry, one must not want to eat it, because otherwise the judgment of beauty has been contaminated. The same goes for sensual attraction, if you desire a woman or man, you do not appreciate her/his beauty. Aesthetics became an analytical tool to understand the works of art (Freeland, 8-11). Löwgren believes that when talking about aesthetics we need to talk about the look and feel, not merely about look (2). Although Kant and Hume along with many other philosophers believed that aesthetics is beauty, Löwgreen does not agree. "Any statement expressing an appraisal or a taste judgment of sensory impression is an aesthetic statement." (Löwgreen, 4). Löwgreen is convinced that an aesthetic statement can be ugly as well as beautiful. It is more an expression of ones subjective opinion, but not a factual impression like “looks blue”, but when you state that something “looks awful”, it is an aesthetic impression. Although Löwgreen is primarily referring to interaction design, it is still an interesting view on aesthetics (3). Due to the restrictions on this paper, I try to focus on aesthetics and senses rather than elaborating too much on the theories behind immersion, embodiment and body. Aesthetics has a power that can go hand in hand with digital art, but digital art is also moving the boundaries of how to use aesthetics, which I would like to go into depth with in this paper.

Art "Art has not always been about beauty" (Freehand, 7). The practices and roles of artists are amazingly multiple, its not 'just' about aesthetics, its about a belief, a message (Freeland 28-29). Christians in the Medieval Europa did not make art because it was suppose to be beautiful, but to emulate and celebrate God (Freeland xviii). You could be so bold to say art has always been about belief or ones message. Not everybody agrees with this, Dutton believes that art is a status symbol; Darwinians calls it a fitness signal, which gained a reproductive advantage for the first humans. This said one does not exclude the other. Whatever the reasons are for creating art, aesthetics have always played a role.

Digital Art / New Media "Art is a notoriously difficult concept to define" (Drucker, 1). New media opened a whole new way of


Aagaard 4 creating art. "the Identity of fine art can no longer be assured simply by an account of its making." (Drucker, 1). The 'new' in new media can be seen as a reference 'the most recent' in media, it also carries the ideological sense that new equals better. In the art world, I don't believe digital art is looked upon as better, but it has become a whole new genre in the art world. The 'new' is also seen as 'the cutting age', the place for forward-thinking people (Lister, 11). Lister talks about a schema that breaks down the global term 'New media' where the point: 'a new way of representing the world' is a very spot on part of digital art (12-13). It is a media that makes it possible to show a message, a belief or a feeling in a whole new way, by involving more senses. You open up to the 'feel' in LĂśwgreen's look and feel experience. "The power that (..) digital media have on us is partly explained by the way in which they appeal to our sense." (Wands, 10). An example is our involuntary visual attraction to motion. Wands explains, that if we enter a room with two screens, one showing a still image and another a moving image, our attention will automatically turn to the screen with the moving image. Moving images can be a very powerful and immersive experience, which we do not get in the same way in an oil painting (10.)

Sip My Ocean Sip My Ocean's (1996) genre is digital art in the installation arts department. It differs from other digital artworks by not only using digital technologies, but also employing these technologies as its very own medium (Paul, 15). In Sip My Ocean's (1996) case by projecting the video up on the walls and applying sound all around, the artwork is using new media as a medium. The relationship between the artist and the audience has changed through new media; it is now possible for the artist to welcome the audience into the art focusing on their senses. Digital art falls into the category contemporary art. "Contemporary artists are (‌) adopting digital tools and techniques as part of their creative process" (Wands, 9). The artists do not only use digital technologies, but they use it as a part of their creative process. Rist shows this in most of her art, for example in her process of understanding the world through close-ups. In Sip my Ocean (1996) she zooms in on objects to show the audience how big an impact the actions of the element has, this being the waves of the ocean or a plastic cup dropping to the bottom of the ocean. She can then blow it up on the wall to be a 100 times the original size and investigate it as a part of her process. Sip My ocean (1996) was made at a time where consumerism was widely discussed. This is an issue that Rist deals with in her art. She blurs the line between beauty and trash by introducing aesthetic values in the art while communicating gloomy situations (Søndergaard, 3).


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As a digital artist Rist is clearly fascinated by new tools and techniques, and is not concerned that it will not be considered as art. This is something many digital artist share. A digital artist is a risk-taker by nature. The technological curiosity is an important facet to understanding a digital artist (Wands, 10). And to understand a piece of art it is important to understand why the artist has chosen his/her medium, this is why I would like to look at the room as an entity. The room Rist explains in an interview: "I always wanted to do rooms, for people, where they are the most important things in the room. That was my wish" (Glaviano). Our experience of art is influenced by the venue and Rist's choice to use the whole room to present her art is the first step to immersion. She creates a hypnotically beautiful series of moving images, with visual qualities that seem psychedelic, solarized almost impressionistic by turn, that allows to take over the room. This immersive effect of colorful moving images is emphasized by the video being projected onto two adjacent walls as a mirror image of one another. This creating a kaleidoscopic effect that constantly changes known objects, as a girl swimming, into abstract forms as she shifts to the middle. Geometry has dominated design through decades, and is a well known aesthetic tool. If we look at churches throughout the history on all continents, they share the same symmetrical values (Freeland, 45). This is clearly a powerful tool in aesthetics and Rist uses this to create harmony in the images and in the whole experience by combining a room's geometrical appeal of a corner and the kaleidoscopic visual effect. The beanbags or sofas placed in the room, invite people to come and relax. In game design 'vulnerability’ is a key tool for an aesthetic experience (Löwgreen, 3). When you are comfortably lying in a beanbag facing a corner, where the video is playing on both sides of you, Rist creates this vulnerability that Löwgreen talks about (3). The rest of the room is dark and you are swallowed by the images movement towards the middle that feels like they are pulling you in (Søndergaard, 1). A big part of the immersion is created in the room and by the sounds.

Sound "Sound (…) fills the space we are in and works on us in different ways" (Wands, 17) Rist has washed all the suntan oil out of Chris Issaks pop hit “Wiched Game”, and made a cover-version that plays along side with the sound of waves. Rist sings the song soft and affectionately: "I never dreamed that I'd meet somebody like you", but


Aagaard 6 as the video and song continues, her voice becomes sharp and desperate: "And I never dreamed that I'd lose somebody like you". The song and message is filled with love and unrequited love, which puts a whole new dimension to the issues that Rist deals with in this artwork. The combination of calm images and the sad love song shows the anger and disharmony that is lurking in this peaceful world. (Søndergaard, 1)

Flow Water is frequently associated with femininity because it is theorized that life first came from water, as new life comes from women and because of it’s nourishing qualities. It is also associated with the soul, feelings, sensations and the subconscious and represents beginnings, spiritual rebirth and inner freedom. In Sip My Ocean (1996) Rist uses water to symbolize depth – alluding to what occurs below the surface (Søndergaard, 3). Rist’s use of digital media emphasizes the feeling of the ocean by connecting to the audience through many senses. The sound of waves follows the movement in the water on the video. By the sound, images and cold colors the audience is invited down under the ocean. Fish and corals appear on the bottom rocking back and forth, while everyday elements, a baby doll in plastic or a vinyl record, are slowly dropping to the bottom calmly in slow-motion. In spite of the fact that she is showing the audience how the beautiful nature is being contaminated by trash, it seems so natural and beautiful. I believe this is the way she makes people stay, and see all 34 minutes. She is showing the audience something ugly in a beautiful way. (Søndergaard, 3)

Visual Rist calls colors an “endless tool” and she uses this tool fully in the video (Glaviano). The saturated colors make the pictures almost unreal and emphasizes the forms rather than the actual objects. It also underlines the sense of utopia. One of the most persistent of all theories of art is the imitation theory: art is an imitation of nature or of human actions (Freeland, 31). Although Rist uses a lot of psychedelic colors and makes all the elements shifting to the middle forming abstract shapes, she still imitates nature. The feeling of reality is created through navigation of the camera and the pixelated images. Rist keeps true to the medium she uses and does not try to hid the process. The camera comes up for air a few times, where the sky is fast-forwarded. Simulating the difference in speed and is giving the audience the feeling that time underneath the surface is slow. The world is racing past us up above. (Søndergaard, 3)


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Body Digital element in our culture only empathizes the body as a dynamic concept. (Wegenstein, 19-21). Contemporary techniques as digital installation art have a unique position to exploit the experience of embodiment. There is no interaction in Rist's work of art, which could bring the body into a whole new dimension, but she does create an experience for the body. The choreography of her camera in her psychedelically anatomic video installations is dynamic and natural. The camera bumps into things while moving through the water, which creates sudden abrupt pauses in the flow, that makes the audience feel like one of the obstacles and not just an observer. A mans hand moves into the picture covering the cameras lens, the audiences' view, and holds it there for a few seconds, enough time to simulate the feeling of captivity. With no sight the music becomes stronger and you hear the words: “No I don't want to fall in love with you”. This is an example of how Rist changes the atmosphere through out these 34 minutes. To come back to the possibilities of this art form, Rist does not make one frame that captures one message, feeling or interpretation. It is possible for her to move the audience through a whole world of impressions. "Art serves no single purpose, cannot be circumscribed by agendas or beliefs. But it provides a continuing space for renewing human imagination and giving expression, in any form, ephemeral or material, to that imaginative capability" (Drucker 15-16). "Digital art projects often require audience engagement and do not reveal their content at a glance" (Paul, 23). Paul believes that digital art requests more attention from the audience. We all know that when you use more time on an art piece trying to understand it, you often become fonder of it. Maybe the whole secret behind digital art is that it requires your attention in a longer period of time. Wands believes that great works of art communicate simultaneously on four levels: sensory, emotional, mental and spiritual. It is a synchronicity of body, heart and mind that helps to define the world around us (Wands, 10). Cultural theorists have introduced a distinction between the body and embodiment, also seen as a culture where first-person perspective is central and another culture where the third-person is central. This distinction between “being a body” and “having a body” is fundamental to understanding the body as a medium (Wegenstein, 21). When you enter a museum or an art gallery, ones mind is usually open for new interpretations, but your body is walking on a hard floor, carrying your jacket and purse in a chilled room. Installation art often tries to involve your whole body or rather engage embodiment. This can be difficult, but involving the senses, placing people in comfortable sofas and showing them aesthetically beautiful


Aagaard 8 moving images is a good beginning.

Conclusion Digital art is moving the boundaries of how to use aesthetics. Digital media has become an artistic medium for artists around the world. It has become a new way of representing the world through our senses. Speed, sound and visual elements carve the way for Rist artistic process. She is able to create a whole world and invite the audience inside. Rist uses digital media as an artistic medium to move and capture the audience through a sensory experience. The scientific world we live in has made us people forget how to move, listen and orient us in a world full of color, sounds and forms. The forgotten is coming up to the surface now. Digital technology often takes sense away from us and the future is often colored by a fear that we will forget and become to technical ourselves. To join these two very different worlds, technology and art, is very daring, but can potentially open up to a whole new world of possibilities. Plato discussed art forms not as 'art' but at 'technĂŠ' or skilled craft (Freeland, 31). This work speaks about our deep lifelong wish to understand each other completely and our nearly impossible desire to be synchronic. Art is controlled by sensibility and not rational thoughts. Art is about desires and plays well with a medium that is about rational thought, as contrast colors do. Together they can show a world of sensibility systematically controlled by the artist. The artist has more control over the artwork and senses that are involved, which changes the relationship between the artist and the audience. Dutton believes that the reason for our fascination of aesthetics is in the way it captivates us. It is an instinct that dates back to our forefathers. Aesthetics has an immersive effect on us, and goes hand in hand with the effect of technology, as moving images are naturally captivating. Kant talks about 'purposiveness without purpose', that aesthetics has a purpose, but not in the sense that we can use it physically. It has the purpose of capturing ones eye. Aesthetics has always been a huge part of our world not only in the art world. I have found that Rist captures aesthetics amazingly in her art Sip My Ocean (1996). Rist has captured her audience through the use of aesthetics and the immersive and sensory experience that new media can create.


Aagaard 9 Bibliograhy Drucker, Johanna. Critical Terms for Media Studies, ed. by W. Mitchell and Mark Hansen, University of Chicago Press, 2010. Cap 1. Dutton, Denis. The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure and Human Evolution. Oxford University Press 2009. Freeland, Cynthia. But is it art? Oxford: Oxford University Press 2001 (pp. 1-59) Glaviano, Alessia. Pipilotti Rist Interview. Vogue Italian. 2011. Web. 2. Dec 2012 <vogue.it)http://www.vogue.it/en/vogue-starscelebsmodels/vogue-masters/2011/12/pipilotti-rist> Grau, Oliver. Virtual Art. From Illusion to Immersion. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press 2003. Jones, Caroline. Senses in Mitchell and Hansen: Critical Terms for Media Studies, The University of Chicago Press 2012, pp 88-100. Lister, Martin. New Media: A Critical Introduction. Taylor & Francis Group, 2009. Löwgren, Jonas. ‘Five Things I Believe about the Aesthetics of Interaction Design’, Dagstuhl Seminar Proceedings The Study of Visual Aesthetics in Human-Computer Interaction 2008. Paul, Christiane. Digital art. London: Thames & Hudson, 2003. pp 7-26Wands, Bruce. Art and the Digital Age, Thames & Hudson 2006, pp 8-31 Søndergaard, Helle. Et hav af sanser. Louisiana 2006. Wegenstein, Bernadette. Body in Mitchell and Hansen: Critical Terms for Media Studies. The University of Chicago Press 2012. pp 19-34.

How to Capture an Audience with Digital Artwork  

Pipilotti Rist's artwork Sip My Ocean (1996) is a sensory experience in the genre of digital art, and veryinteresting in the history of art....

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