At an Art Education panel years ago, the art / technology “conflict” was fiercely debated. “New media” was accused of lacking content, favouring obtuse academic language to “justify” bad “art”, obsessed with “process”. So, where did Susan Shantz, head of the U of S Art Dept., whose exhibition Creatures in Translation, all 3D scanning and printing, on display now at the Kenderdine, stand in this debate?
She arrived late, with a screaming, disruptive child in tow, then thankfully departed quickly so conversation could resume… Her dismissal of a groundbreaking community debate is mirrored in the lack of consideration and self-criticality in Creatures. I’ve seen lots of bad “art” but this may be the worst. Displaying emails (3D Printing Instructions) as “Art” sets the failed tone here.
The blurb is as follows: “Accessing images from the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria’s online archives as source material, Susan Shantz used three-dimensional modeling software and a haptic tool to simulate the process of sculpting clay, recreating artifacts as they appear online. These digitally sculpted forms are then rendered two- and three-dimensionally into forms of varying sizes and states of completion. The objects Shantz chooses to work with are four early 20th century Japanese Banko ware teapots, shaped like a badger, sparrow, frog, and sea creature, choices that reflect a longstanding interest in the artist’s “ubiquitous manufactured versions of nature in culture.”
That can be refined down to techno fetishistic plagiarism, a touch of privileged academic colonialism, degrading the craft / finesse of the EDO period. Or, as I used to say when teaching (when the U of S had more media classes than, say, Evan Hardy high school): just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
Postmodernism often privileges subjective reinterpretation within “history” and “art” (Elwood Jimmy and Steve Loft excel at this, encapsulating humour and rage).
That’s absent here. It’s “look what I can pay technicians to do!”. I was fully expecting to be seduced by the technology, and instead was underwhelmed. Several works look like cheap cardboard cut outs, some seem less finished than work from School Art (no offense, kids).Let me offer two examples (in media, and with collections, respectively) that are smart and well executed, to contrast and compare.
Judy Bowyer’s Worry Well employed audio to weave voices in a “floral” sculpture of small speakers, expressing worries both banal and heavy. Some were loud, some whispered, some insistent, some resigned. The technology was a tool of the content, despairing and hopeful.
A perverse (in a good way) response to the “preciousness” of collections was Turner Prize*’s Golden Jubilee, as a “celebration” of the Dunlop’s anniversary. Sampling and reconfiguring seminal works (in their opinion) from the Dunlop’s collection, Turner Prize* continued their irreverent approach to Art, and how we frame / consume it. They reveled in being “unreliable narrators”, using “an esoteric, witty, and highly subjective lens”.
But if you’re expecting that kind of conceptualization and critique here, you will be unsatisfied. Creatures is disappointing in execution, disappointing in lack of content and perhaps damning of all, is disappointing in that it continues the dismissal of any analysis or debate of the (contested) role of new media in artmaking, as argued at the aforementioned panel. Consider what Buffy Sainte-Marie did – is doing – with her retrospective at Wanuskewin. She also worked in media at an experimental stage, but her art isn’t just technical masturbation, bereft of meaning.
I could mention Walter Benjamin’s ideas of art in the age of mechanical reproduction, but a premise of that early 20th century thesis was quality, and how that affects the assumptions of “precious” art objects, specifically as commodity. But these derivative simulacra degrade the works from EDO, like bad caricature, like a plague of 3D frogs – and teapots. Fragment Rendering (Frog Crown), or 3d Rendering (Badger Teapot) are more of a “trade show display”, reminiscent of technical demos, where you often use images and objects that are banal and meaningless, as you want solely the process to dominate. Large images on the wall display the scans of the objects, and there are “prints” in display cases, but they’re less impressive objects than you’ll see in nearly any show at the Affinity gallery (a recent roundtable there asserting the primacy of the object was a welcome tonic to academic posturing…)
There is art in this show: in the Website Watercolours by Joseph Anderson, but his ability is plagiarized, like the technological expertise.
The current debate about how 3D printing will change everything from gun laws to capitalism (and crime) is exciting and a bit dangerous. 3D Scanning and Printing are groundbreaking technologies. I anticipate seeing what an artist will do with them, but Creatures isn’t that. This is pricey techno fetishistic plagiarism, an analogy, perhaps, for the eventual closure of the department itself…