Page 1

Luca Leggero Filippo Lorenzin

Google art on canvas

Luca Leggero - Filippo Lorenzin

Google art on canvas

Cover: “Google Art on canvas (Bucentaur’s return to the pier by the Palazzo Ducale by Canaletto)” (detail), 2015

Luca Leggero - Filippo Lorenzin Google art on canvas 2016 This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 Unported License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/ or send a letter to Creative Commons, 171 Second Street, Suite 300, San Francisco, California, 94105, USA. Printed and distributed by: Lulu.com www.lulu.com ISBN 978-1-326-57939-5


Introduction...................................................................................... 5 The hi-res corpse art by Filippo Lorenzin ......................................... 5 A conversation with Luca Leggero.................................................. 9 Google art on canvas @ Ultra........................................................ 13 Contributions ................................................................................. 21 Shift + Command + 3 Thoughts about online culture and contemporary art by Helena Acosta ............................................................................ 21 A fragmented (virtual) world by Klaus Fruchtnis .......................... 24 Google Art on Canvas: the ‘triumph’ of the digital over the real in the battle of resolution by Gretta Louw ..................................... 26 Printed paintings by Nadine Roestenburg ........................................ 28 FP4 or HP5 ? by Mike Stubbs........................................................ 29 The Works ..................................................................................... 31 #GoogleArtOnCanvas Twitter screenshots ................................... 43 Google art on canvas Facebook group screenshots ....................... 49


The hi-res corpse art by Filippo Lorenzin How do we perceive art after the internet? To what extent do software and hardware affect our fruition of paintings, sculptures and any other kind of artwork? What is the role of fetishism for high-resolution materials over low-resolution materials in this dynamics? Just a few of the many questions risen by Google Art on Canvas, the project by artist Luca Leggero I have had the opportunity to follow since spring 2015. This series is composed by a collection of prints on canvas in which he cropped and enlarged small fragments of high resolution images chosen from the archive of Google Art, managing to show the inaccessible secrets and flaws in the grain of some best-known paintings in the history of western art such as, among others, A Sunday on La Grande Jatte (1884) by Georges Seurat, De slaapkamer (1888) by Vincent van Gogh and Nascita di Venere (1484-1486) by Sandro Botticelli. The paintings can be looked at in a way they were never before, the materiality of the canvas exposed as an object: the need to see better and closer brings the observer to examine it as a corpse, as something that is dead or at least can’t defend itself from our eager eye. Western


science is based on the idea of keeping an object steady in order to observe it: you can’t study something that is alive and moving, you have to immobilize it or stick sensors on it. The intent to examine old artworks with such a surgical approach highlights the subtle logic at the base of Google and other dot-coms, that is, only what is scanned can be indexed, so that whoever has the means to do this operation detains the power to determine what’s worth and what’s not. But what are the consequences of giving a private company the power to decide? July 2015 was the first time we had the chance to present Goole Art on Canvas to an audience, in a dedicated exhibition I curated at Ultra Gallery in Udine. The event was part of 6PM Your Local Time Europe, a distributed contemporary art exhibition launched by Link Art Center, taking place in the same time all over Europe in art institutions, galleries and artist studios, and documented online under the same hashtag: #6pmeu. The list of confirmed participants included more than 100 events and 350 artists. That was an amazing opportunity to start an online discussion around the work by Luca, involving international critics, curators and artists. The making of the exhibition was documented on our social media profiles, engaging a wide range of audiences who did get involved in collecting news and materials related to the topics concerning Luca's project. This short book is the documentation of a stage of the project: one year after the physical making of the works, Luca and I wanted to summarize the many reflections we had in the past months and get some of the most interesting figures of art criticism involved in this process. We want to thank Helena Acosta (curator), Klaus Fruchtnis (Chair of Photography at the Paris College of Art), Gretta 6

Louw (multi-disciplinary artist and writer), Nadine Roestenburg (researcher at The Institute of Network Cultures in Amsterdam) and Mike Stubbs (director of FACT Liverpool and Professor of Art, Media and Curating at Liverpool John Moores University) for their effort in addressing some of the main questions concerning Google Art on Canvas. We want to thank those who gave us the spaces to present the project: Ultra and eflux in Udine and City Art in Milan, where we presented this book on March 11-12, 2016. We hope you will have a critical approach to this book, questioning the validity of the reflections you will read throughout the next pages. The addressed topics could be perceived as not relevant for your daily life, but we’re convinced of the necessity of fostering a pro-active way of thinking in a context where information is often absorbed in a passive way.


A conversation with Luca Leggero

Filippo Lorenzin: I think we should start by stating how and when you did start working on this series. Luca Leggero: I started thinking about it right after I saw Google Art Project for the first time. My project was to develop abstract images but, as it often happens with my works, I had to add a conceptual value to the first intuition. As time went by, my reflections matured: I noticed a growing interest in high definition and I've come up with the idea of printing on canvas, managing to access the original images held by Google. So, when all the elements converged, I decided it was time to conclude this work. F.L.: How does this series fit in your artistic research? Carrying out works in form of paintings definitely does not belong to your practice. L.L.: Ever since I started with net.art I was interested in comparing Art History with New Media - for instance reinterpreting the cut by Lucio Fontana or the aesthetics of Kazimir MaleviÄ?’s works in digital format. Along with this practice I have always been fascinated by the maps on Google Earth; for example, in Contemporary Cities (2012) I created maps filled with symbols, by enabling the visualization of all the layers provided by 9

Google. I was interested in the information overload produced by Google and its role as “mediator of reality�. These two projects have lead to Google Art on Canvas. F.L.: As you suggest, Google, as much as other services of that kind, give users the chance to experience the world filtered by an amount of data otherwise impossible to perceive in a genuine way I’m referring of course to Contemporary Cities, but also to Google Art on Canvas, which is in some way one of its possible developments. L.L.: Yes, I was very interested in producing a sort of remediation, that is to say the action of bringing back on canvas what was already originally on canvas. The final outcome is different from the starting painting, and that is what fascinates me: images translated from one medium to another lose and gain at the same time features and details. The canvas I create seems to regain the aura of the original work; some people told me that they were looking forward to seeing my works, which are physical, material objects. But this material is quite a lot different from the original. F.L.: What I personally see in your works is not the painterly gesture originally practiced by the artist, but the texture of the supports on which he worked. It's a kind of approach that effaces the artistic qualities of the work of art showing it rather as an object. L.L.: Of course, the focus on detail results in a loss of the overall view. After browsing for a few minutes on Google Art Project I find myself asking what I'm really looking at: am I counting the cracks or watching the work?


F.L.: Yes, I think that time issues are another important point of your action, which relates directly to the dramatization of the work of art. In recent years, we have seen many products such as 3D documentaries about Vatican Museums or special days in which cinema audiences can see documentaries on Impressionism or other famous movements and artists. In that case, small paintings are projected on very large screens. Google Art Project follows the same pattern. L.L.: The people behind this kind of projects stand as intermediaries, giving the viewer the feeling of being privileged as the receiver of a gift. Their message is “we'll show you art as nobody ever did�. I also think about time and space being altered: users get the chance to see works in a special way, so special that if they tried to do the same in museums or exhibitions, alarms would sound. F.L.: Or staff would ask to move away from the canvas. L.L.: Exactly. Time is another important issue: the viewer has all the time he wants to observe the work. In the Sistine Chapel, they ask you to move away after a few minutes for conservation matters, while at the cinema there is plenty of time to build a narrative. Google Art Project's interactivity is important. Google Art Project, unlike film products, uses interactive technology. F.L.: This leads me to ask you a political question. I mean, the fact that Google can have access to these works, by stipulating contracts with museums such as the Uffizi Gallery or the Louvre, resumes dynamics that can be observed in other contexts - when big corporations mediate reality implicitly affecting its perception.


L.L.: Definitely. Whoever owns information can do what they want with it, they can manipulate it. F.L.: Let’s talk about another issue we discussed these past few months: the fetishism around increasingly sophisticated technologies. For example, a 16 megapixel camera is considered better than an 8 megapixel one. “The quality of the picture is relative to the amount of data it contains”, we could say. L.L.: Yes, the logic of the machine is based on numbers, so that a machine taking 16 megapixel pictures is obviously better than an 8 megapixel one. As I've already said, the search for high definition makes me wonder if I'm excessively looking at details or rather trying to get a better whole. We have already talked about it in other occasions: I connect this question to pornographic movies filmed in high definition. On the one hand there is an attempt to “see more”, but when you see too much you spot out flaws and imperfections, and that's what makes the audience take a step back. F.L.: Yes. Brilliant. Thank you Luca for being with us. L.L.: Thanks to you.


Google art on canvas @ Ultra



Shift + Command + 3 Thoughts about online culture and contemporary art by Helena Acosta The Internet’s ubiquity has become the metaverse of the interconnected crowd. We are attending to what Jean-François Lyotard preconfigured in 1970 when he coined the term “Post”. We are immersed in the cultural universe of Post-media, Post-digital, Post-Internet, essentially, a Post Computer Culture. After more than 40 years since Lyotard’s assumption, and within the expansive universe of art, what does this mean? In these brief lines I will comment about the influence of online culture in the narrative and formalism of some contemporary art practices. In 1989 with the birth of the World Wide Web, artists discovered a new universe for artistic creation, giving life to net art. Twenty years ago, Russian artist Olia Lialina was one of the first to explore the creative language of possibilities that dotcom represented for art. In 1996 Lialina created “My Boyfriend Came Back From The War” the hypertext film that became one of the first net art pieces in art history; a love story enacted via an interactive black and white browser screen. Her piece quickly became an iconic work 21

that inspired many artists to create their own interpretations of it. The same year, according to Lev Manovich (2012), the director of MIT Media Lab, Nicholas Negroponte gives an official use to the word “digital” within culture terminology in his book “Being Digital”. Since those earliest years of digital culture, new communicative possibilities and experimental forms of art emerged around computers and the Internet. From the days of the vernacular web to the social web, a new conversation between offline practices and online culture has been shaped. In 2012, Canadian artist Jon Rafman presented his series “The Nine Eyes of Google Street View”, at Saatchi Gallery in London. This series consisted in Google Street View screenshots printed as photographs, in which the navigation mark tool had been left on the top-left corner of each print, connecting the interface navigation source with the history of street photography. Rafman created a breach between net art and traditional photography, presenting a statement that questions matters of privacy, authorship and alienation from reality. His photographs show scenes of what may normally be loose in some random viewer memory or simply unseen, and are instead captured by the Google camera and are being added to an immense company's data archive. In this scenario, online culture is being analyzed from the artistic eye, offering a perspective about how online practices are influencing culture and our appreciation of reality. For instance, in 2014 American artist Addie Wagenknecht created a very provoking painting series titled “Outsourced Outsourcing” as an exercise in alternative economies, questioning authorship and outsourcing. The artist also looked online for images associated with Google Street View, finding that the most popular were those that Rafman took 22

for his project. Wagenknecht screen shot them and sent them to a Chinese online painting company to produce replicas of the images. Her series commented about how the democracy and accessibility of the Internet has profoundly altered the ways in which art is now produced and consumed. Making visible how the Internet has affected traditional art creations, and how its ubiquitousness places us in a space that is continuously mediated through the screen. In the same sense, Ryder Ripps’s series HO (2015) uses a similar creative process; the artist appropriated a series of photos that derived from the Instagram account of model Adrianne Ho (300,000 followers). Ripps chose Ho as a perfect example of the Internet phenomenon that bridges the line between exposition and documentation. The model gets paid by brands like Nike and Supreme to post photos, not as a traditional model, but as herself. Her Instagram account embodies the idea that in today's social media landscape we can curate our personas and what the artist calls a "constant reflexive feedback loop of ego". Another example we can see is the Italian artist Luca Leggero, who in 2015 creates the “Google Art on Canvas” project, a collection of prints in which he cropped and enlarged small fragments of highresolution images from world famous paintings chosen from the archive of Google Art. Leggero manages to show the inaccessible secrets and flaws in the grain of some best-known paintings in the history of art. A contemporary readymade in which the micro formal aspect of those paintings is magnified and is scrupulously exposed, challenging the viewer’s perception. The artist plays with the medium and the technique, where new and old has merged, revealing that the stylistic “footprint” can uncover a complete artistic manifesto. Even if the viewer is in front of an abstract 23

detail, he/she is able to recall the emotion of the whole painting, complete it in their mind and identify the author. The shift that has occurred in the digital realm since 1989, reshaped art practices into what Zielinsky, in After the Media (2013), points out by interfaces and digital objects that can be manipulated on the screen. However, although the Internet’s ubiquity rules culture, we must stop and focus our attention on what the above-mentioned artists are highlighting. This ubiquity, in recent years, has been driven from cooperative perspective. This perspective is in the hands of a very small number of providers, where Google and Facebook are the dominating ones. This leaves us with an open a question: What strategies can we as researchers rely on to study online practices and their relationship with contemporary art if the digital realm is built from the perspective of solely three companies?

A fragmented (virtual) world by Klaus Fruchtnis In the world of today, we are able to travel without changing our position as if a new time-space was organised within another space; we move around without actually leaving our physical position. Transmission of knowledge and experience are not limited to a point or a place, and as we explore images, we discover something else.


If we consider an image as a map, as Luca Leggero does, then fragments of that image weave, knot, draw, extend and intertwine its whole surface. They mix, drown and design a space with a specific shape. In principle, nothing changes on a map, but at the same time everything changes after reading it. An image works the same way, combining a body and references that cannot be thought otherwise than within a defined space and time. The image proposes a direction and a physical orientation in the space that traces a trajectory, thereby suggesting a specific reading. There is no doubt that the Internet has become an essential tool to experience things differently: it allows a personal and unique perception of things. Although the act of using the Internet is not commensurate with a physical intervention, using a machine (i.e. a computer) is a form of participation, and the act of taking things from the Internet is a form of passive observation. Therefore, collecting images highlights an interest in the subject photographed, and captures both presence and absence visible in one fragment. With the Internet arises the possibility of a homogenous type of perception manipulated by artists. Likewise, reality can be built and shown through images highlighting the process of dematerialization of the object by fragments. The Internet has perhaps the quintessential image collection; thus, an image understood as a form of visual knowledge and as part of an infinite archive gains meaning in the way it is presented. We do not read an image as we read a novel or a history book. A fragment has no beginning and no end, it all depends on one’s perception and the information one builds around it.


This notion of fragment on Leggero’s work becomes an excuse to defuse the whole and to analyse the image - perspective, relationship between elements, intervals, limits, gaps - because, ultimately, all these are elements that create space and time in which the image appears. The fragment allows us to think of the world as both multifarious and single: where the appearance becomes a mental construction.

Google Art on Canvas: the ‘triumph’ of the digital over the real in the battle of resolution by Gretta Louw Hito Steyerl’s seminal essay “In Defence of the Poor Image”1 , published in 2009, was a call for the revolutionary re-thinking of the worth of low-res, digitally disseminated images; a mutiny against the inherently capitalist hegemony of what was then an increasingly draconian rule of sky-rocketing resolutions. Steyerl’s writing (along with Rosa Menkman’s “Glitch Studies Manifesto” 2) became the raison d’être for an entire generation of young, digital and net-based artists pitching themselves into the so-called ‘trashiness’ and imperfection of screenshots, glitch, compressed jpgs, and net art. But here we are, well under a decade later, and the 1

Hito Steyerl, “In Defense of the Poor Image”, e-flux journal #10, 11/2009. http://www.e-flux.com/journal/in-defense-of-the-poor-image/ 2 Rosa Menkman, “Glitch Studies Manifesto”, 2010. https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/1332959/%20Rosa%20Menkman%20%20Glitch%20Studies%20Manifesto.pdf


entire digital landscape has shifted. Digital technologies - from the computing power of handheld devices to the networks and bandwidths they connect to - have advanced so dramatically that this low-fi aesthetic is rapidly disappearing from the mainstream, web 2.0, daily internet experience. We are now in a new phase of digitalisation where the public can view famous and historical works of art in more detail, at their leisure, online through projects like Google Art than they can if they devote significant resources to travelling to the museums housing the actual works, where they will file past the roped-off masterpieces, part of a continuous parade of other art-tourists. In this sense at least, the situation has reversed in just a few short years. Google Art on Canvas - a project by artist Luca Leggero and curator Filippo Lorenzin - is a pivotal work at this crossroads in the valorisation of the lived, physical experience, over the digital, virtual one. The works in this series are digital prints of tiny details from historical masterpieces, blown up and printed on canvas in extreme high quality. The very materiality of the works is defined by the advances in digital processing power and the quality of online images possible today. The prints focus on the imperfections in the physical original artwork - cracks in the paint and deterioration in the canvas as it ages - a strategy that is almost a parody of the dismissal of (low-res) digital images in the recent past. We are now entering an age where the glossy, back-lit experience of the ultra high-res digital image is, using the standards of ‘quality’ that Steyerl talks about in her essay at least, superior to the original.


Printed paintings by Nadine Roestenburg The gigapixel experience of Google Art Project brings us very close to some of the greatest artworks in the world. You can zoom in to see individual brushstrokes, hairline cracks, the structure of the canvas, and microscopic details that Botticelli, Van Gogh and Renoir might not even have been aware of. Walter Benjamin agreed that reproductions have this one thing that originals do not, they bring out those aspects of the original that escape our natural view. Perhaps Benjamin has, but these master painters surely have never imagined that we would be browsing reproductions of their paintings in staggeringly high-resolution on mobile screens. The complete immersion in the digital info stream of gigapixels has created a backlash. We have started to fetishize the analogue and offline. Google Art Project has not eliminated the necessity of seeing and experiencing the artworks offline, just as the internet has not led to a generation of internet artists that work solely online. The digital has deepened our desire to go in search for the real thing, the material, the original painting in an offline gallery. Fascinated by Google’s cameras and state-of-the-art resolution, artists are reversing the mediation process by grabbing and printing digital images and taking them back offline. They let the pixels jump out of the screen by showing reproductions of reproductions in an offline gallery. But most of the times, the only images that reach us are the documentary photos on the website of the artist photos of reproductions of reproductions on the screen. Google Art on Canvas shows the grain of the world’s most famous paintings in the history of art, and in particular the grain of 28

computation. It illustrates how our acquaintance with the digital inevitably has changed, and will keep on changing, the way in which we perceive art from the past, of today, and in the future.

FP4 or HP5 ? by Mike Stubbs As a child I was lucky in having access to a darkroom and training in wet photography. One could choose between the speed of the film and the ability to ‘capture’ events with less blur at the expense of bigger grain and lower resolution. Likewise, different papers had different properties and finishes, the final print having a weight, shine or materiality. Similarly seeing the development of faster and finer grain cellulose film stocks for capture and print as an emerging filmmaker in the 1980’s and the then the subsequent meteoric and competitive rise of video tape and digital video also followed in a scientifically led quest for higher resolution within new technology. The transitions from different technologies starting with photography at the beginning of the industrial revolution mirrored a scientific journey to see in more detail and represent objects close and far. In parallel we also know that magic and illusion were strong pulls for the birth of cinema and other devices aspects of entertainment/art, it was never just scientific. Video technologies were developed primarily for scientific purposes from the 1950’s and much else was a by-product. 29

Subsequently more sensitive chips, printing devices and digital displays; projectors, lcd or led combined with portability and private ownership has led to a situation, where resolution has been fetishized as a commodity in itself, perhaps topically and popularised by Apples marketing of the ‘retina’ display, beyond practiciality. But this is not purely about value or corporations, but also quality and the appreciation of quality, whether a higher cost audio file or limited edition digital print of a commercial website, added value beyond the quality of experience and the quality of simulation of real world scenarios. When integrated into game, VR or AR environments, increasingly the merge between actuality and imagination will turn histories of representation on their head. As artists all we can do is interfere, abstract, play with the glitch, low res (think of the craze for indy films made in pixel vision in the 1990’s) and experiment with non-representational forms.


The Works


Google Art on canvas (A Sunday on La Grande Jatte 1884 by Georges Seurat), 2015, 50Ă—50 cm, Inkjet on canvas.

Google Art on canvas (Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette by Auguste Renoir), 2015, 50Ă—50 cm, Inkjet on canvas.

Google Art on canvas (De slaapkamer by Vincent van Gogh), 2015, 50Ă—50 cm, Inkjet on canvas.

Google Art on canvas (Paul Guillaume by Amedeo Modigliani), 2015, 50Ă—50 cm, Inkjet on canvas.

Google Art on canvas (The birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli), 2014, 50Ă—50 cm, Inkjet on canvas.

Google Art on canvas (Bucentaur’s return to the pier by the Palazzo Ducale by Canaletto), 2015, 486×134 cm, Inkjet on canvas.

#GoogleArtOnCanvas Twitter screenshots








Google art on canvas Facebook group screenshots








Luca Leggero does new media art and music. With his works he has made a personal reading of art history by relating it to the web. He has made alternative use of mobile phones, creating audio and video performances, music compositions and installations. His recent interests revolve around the increasing influence dot.com corporations have on everyone's daily life. He is the founder of the multimedia collective MAIS and he is part of the editorial board of the artist books publishing house Atypo.org.

Filippo Lorenzin is an independent curator and critic of contemporary art. He works as writer for many international magazines and online platforms, i.e. Artribune, Digicult and Furtherfield. He studied at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Venezia and at the University Iuav, both in Venice. He’s strongly interested in researches dealing with the issues arising from interaction between individuals, cultural contexts and tools. He developed numerous studies about the relationship between contemporary art, internet and online audiences by addressing cases like crowdfunding and virtual art exhibitions. As curator and critic, he worked on many exhibitions, events and series of lectures focusing on the relation between sociotechnological changes and art, based on a McLuhanian point of view. He collaborated in various ways with – among others Saatchi Gallery, Paris College of Art, Goethe Institut, François Pinault Foundation, La Biennale di Venezia, Accademia di Brera and Accademia di Belle Arti di Venezia.

Photo Pierluigi Buttò Design Leggero Studio English editing Francesca Ippolito ULTRA c/o eFlux Via Francesco Mantica, 7, 33100 Udine www.spazioultra.org www.eflux.it City Art Via Dolomiti, 11, 20127 Milano www.cityart.it Thanks Angelo Caruso, Stefano Marotta & Roberto Russo, Stefano Monti, Guido Segni, Delio Gennai, Helena Acosta, Klaus Fruchtnis, Gretta Louw, Nadine Roestenburg, Mike Stubbs.


Profile for leggerostudio

Google art on canvas  

How do we perceive art after the internet? To what extent do software and hardware affect our fruition of paintings, sculptures and any othe...

Google art on canvas  

How do we perceive art after the internet? To what extent do software and hardware affect our fruition of paintings, sculptures and any othe...