_Libra_ functions as a manifesto that rejects digital art made from mimetic processes – the emulation of traditional analogue mediums and techniques. Such techniques are ubiquitous in digital art and arguably hamper the development of genuinely new aesthetics and new discourse for such a budding medium.
Artists use digital mediums to mimic physical characteristics like brush strokes or textures of clay. It is not to say that these effects are not successful. Emulation of analogue artworks grants the digital work a natural, relatable and seemingly physical character. This use of the medium simultaneously distances the work from typical connotations of digital artworks being lifeless, flat, precise, and rigid. Perhaps this mimicry makes the work feel ‘finished.’ Digital techniques infiltrated painting in the 90s and early 2000s. At that time artists like Albert Oehlen and Jeff Elrod merged digital and analogue techniques to create a sort of ‘screen space’ on the canvas – something somewhere between a painterly space and a digital space. The Skarstedt Gallery, who originally presented Oehlen’s exhibition titled Computer Paintings, proclaimed that limitations in computers pushed Oehlen to ‘finish’ the paintings by hand – the paintings “required a human hand to enhance the final product.” That is to say that Oehlen augmented the digital works with an analogue technique. This is quite related to the current movement in digital art. Digital artists augment their works with emulations of analogue techniques. This observation raises the question: what does digital art look like when it does not emulate analogue art? Can such a work exist and feel ‘finished’?
To investigate such questions, _Libra_ generates imagery from first principles and default settings – two conflicting concepts that when brought together bring balance to the artwork. Each invocation of the algorithm directly uses the hash as the paintbrush: _Libra_ creates color-fields and blurs by placing the hash characters onto the canvas until it is sufficiently covered. Each character is initially recognizable as a letter or number – something we may all be familiar with. As the screen fills with more and more characters, some become unrecognizable and part of a larger system. Through these actions the hash is transformed into minute and carefully placed strokes that create illusions of light, space, and form that is unique to the screen space in which digital art lives. The remaining, recognizable characters ground our eye and act as a ‘staffage figure’ in a landscape painting.
_Libra_ rejects traditional standards of aesthetics and beauty; Instead, _Libra_ embraces self-reflexivity and a contemporary definition of kitsch – often a pejorative used to describe ‘low-brow’ or naïve artwork that is appreciated ironically or in a cult-like manner. In this series, a colored dot is dragged around the canvas both irrationally and without control. Drawing our attention in, this dot transfixes the viewer in an effort to shift the viewers’ attention from glancing at the work to a sustained look. These strokes are naïve and highly stylized – they embody the kitsch – and are mockingly-emulative of painterly marks and linework and grants the work a tone of self-reflexivity. Kitsch is obtained with drop shadows that create simple but satisfying _trompe l’oeil_ effects and fabricate a false sense of depth. Such an effect can be interpreted as humorous: this is an obvious and ironic representation of depth – it is totally fake and recognizable as fake on the flat digital display in which _Libra_ lives.
Libra is a careful balancing act that creates form and color only to erase it.