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CATMEETING III. DIGITAL ART: MYTH OR REALITY JOAN FONTCUBERTA. IS THERE SOMETHING LIKE PHOTOGRAPHY IN GOOGLEGRAMES?

Introducci Thankful because of the offering and the oportunity But confess I do not know if i had to accept Because I cannot show here the result of a long or medium research project Never made research on art numerique Still worse: never made research on the author I am going to talk Take advantage of being in round table + presence of experts: --- take profit end up my reflections with questions, and not conclusions

The paradoxical nature of the work I am going to deal with, Corresponds rather to questions than solutions (Not giving solutions explicitly: Not at least, explicitly because as you know, hermeneutically in the questions are half answers, better said, they delimit the horizon of possible answers Hopefully the horizons of possible problems will awake some of your background in order to bring these topics further than I will actually do

I will divide my questions to Fontcubertas Googlegrames in three very conventional sections: 1st referred to work (will be a sort of ontological questions) 2nd referred to the artist and its subjectivity 3rd referred to receptor (I will not deal with the fourth typical one, namely, the one devoted to means, because it is implied in all the others one and would be too easy and too difficult: too easy, since I could only fall into the most repeated topics, too difficult since it is one of the topics of the workshop and would be a quimera to solve it in a couple of minutes.

Lets have a first a quick look at the work

Joan Fontcuberta is a very renowned Catalan photographer, well known by his early and ironical works against photography as a truthful means to the world. Since 2004 he is been working, among other projects, on Googlegrames. The technique is surely well known for you. Just remember a couple of points. Fontcuberta is the one who chooses the image to be built, lets call it the icon. He then uses the freeware Googlegrames, introduces some keywords to make the software finding thousands of images and reconstructing the icon. I will call those small images, key-images. Here you have some examples: Niagara, Trio, Abu Ghraib The exhibition I am referring included pictures only of the Irak war.

1. Picture I would like first to reflect a while on the nature of the picture This technique reminds ---- tradition of mosaic. However there is a big difference: while the teselles are small pieces without any meaning, the icon is constructed from other images: and ist texture makes you go from the first picture (the icon) to the key-pictures, the teselles, and back. (difficult to appreciate it?) So the first experience brings you into a paradoxical situation: the picture is not a deictic photograph of a fact, but a reconstruction of a picture with other facts. However, the experience goes further and becomes more complex by including a level inbetween: the key-images have been picked up after a linguistic search. This means that those key-images are not facts in the last stage, but signs of words. Like Magrittes Ceci nest pas une pipe, in a first stage a Googlegram reminds you that this is not a picture and, following Foucault, that language is intermediating. This nature of the search bring some critics think on a first, too simple conclusion: The project of Googlegrams show that pictures are not deictic pictures of the world, but a sort of vicious circle between pictures + words + facts that never ends.

If we want to reflect something about digital photography, we could ask: Is Fontcubertas project wanting to show that digital photography cannot be anymore understood as a deictic image? That words are involved in their construction? That would be too naf. : Susan Sontag argued this some decades ago in On Photography. Not only naf: this hypothesis could be at least slightly wrong. we not need to follow it Look at the relation among the key-images -- the icon -- the key-words. Lets see an example: (:) Maligne: (evil, malignant)

10.000 images found in Internet with a search criteria that includes words of demoniac forms and evil divinities like Abadon, Abraxas, Alastor, Alveo, Angat, Ariel, Astaroth, Belceb, Caronte, Hades, Mefistfeles, Moloch, Murmur, and many others. Relation between these three agents: The search introduces a mechanical relation of causality between key-words and key-pictures, but this causality is indeterminate and arbitrary: as you know, google will not discriminate among pictures, and there are infinite reasons to joint texts with any kind of pictures. We are confronted: on the one hand, to the necessary ambiguity of language and on the other hand, to an unpredictable search and to the heterogeneity between key-pictures and icon. Getting 1st Question: Is the gap between discourse and pictures (in the age of digital) insurmountable? = The gap, impossible to bridge? = Is our digital world, the result of a very arbitrary, occasional, indeterminate relation between words and pictures? = Is a relation to truth impossible to find or even to build? Many Fontcubertas projects work on the idea of showing those lies that pictures contain but often hide. Could these Googlegrames work on this sense? I am not sure: from this point of view, it does not seem possible to draw a line between true or false and visual world. In the digital, what is visual seems to belong to a different order. Could Googlegrames show a sort of nihilistic approach to epistemology? I think all this could go this way. But not necessarily. We have seen that Fontcuberta personally decides the key words which will determine the key-pictures. So we should ask whether the intervention of a subjectivity is relevant.
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2.- The artist

In this section I will deal with a couple of topics regarding the artist. I am not here interested in discussing some of the suggesting reflections of Joan Fontcuberta about his work. He has already talked with authority about the relation between Googlegrams and mosaics, he has already described the technical development that makes them possible, and he even has already talked a few about its relation with the notion of archive. Im rather interestd in the relevant presence of an artists subjectivity in this kind of wor

I have said that these pictures show a big gap between language and icon and even key-images. Now we could ask whether this gap comes from an intermediating action of the artist. You can easily detect this subjectivity taking into acc. th key-words for the search eng. Maligne (Evil): No objective relation between the fact to show and the mythical Relation: subjective and even capricious What could be said of the intervention of a subjectivity Our first reaction could be: A Romantic would say that: in these relations becomes into light the inner particular point of view of an artist. But these pictures do not look like very romantic, arent they? I am rather tempted to interpret these works from a different philosophical or sociological perspective, that is, the ideological criticism + even the discourse analysis. From these traditions of criticism, the relat. established icons + words: not the explicit ones.. but those ideas implicit in our ideological discourses. (As we know), --- show, or describe or denounce those prejudices or stereotypes that we have inherited from the dominant ideology and that are projected into social icons and reinforced by them. In this sense, intervention of the artist: picking up specific words for the internet search would show his will to reveal or unmask those implicit ideological discourses. The words could then unmask the ideological prejudices that are projected like specific meanings into these pictures in specific contexts. Case of Evil: could be an appropriate example.

When we see the pictures in TV: our consciousness of its negative moral value, is built by our precedent learning of what absolute evil means. This learning comes from our religious and secular tradition. If this were correct, Googlegrams would offer a radiography of the stereotypes sublimated in these new global icons. Fontcuberta states that the Googles statistics engine Zeitgeist is like a radiography of humanitys mind: the key-pictures could show what the humanity was thinking under these concrete words.

Often tempted to interpret Fontcus Guglegrams with this clue, but it doesnt work either In the last case (Evil): it is not so easy to accept that all these stereotypes are implicit on the production of the meaning. In other examples, this does not word: Lets take the work called Irak- Man with the head opened by a bullet (downloaded from rotten.com) 10.000 images found in Internet with search criteria with the names of those Presidents whose army (?) have participated in the Iraq war: Alfred Moisiu (Albania), John Howard (Australia), Artur Rasizade (Azerbaijan), and many others, among who are Jose M Aznar, George Bush and T. Blair Here the critical hypothesis is not possible any more. But perhaps a wider one: Is there a sort of revelation of a far distance relation of causality?, the causality that points at the last responsibles? It is not impossible to sympathise with this point of view, assured that this is not an objective thinking, but an imaginary, creative one.

Lets take another example (my favorite one).

Trio- (esperar uns segons)

The key words for this picture are famous trios or figures that have three elements, like: the three pigs, the three musketeers, the three graces, menage trois, holy trinity, the three wise men, tro matamoros, tro calaveras, in catalan, spanish, english and french. This is (fr. my p. of v.) in Linda Hutcheons, terms a typical postmodern work. Hutcheon analyses the function of parody in postmodern culture: it includes the modern phenomena and at the same time its parody. If we want to apply it to this work, Trio includes the critic of ideology and the parody of this critical position. I wonder: is this still ideological criticism? Or is rather a sort of criticism shows the impossibility of a strong criticism? I mean: is this Googlegrame reducing into absurd the ideological criticism? Are they just parodying it? Is this a sort of digital Dadaist work? Id like you to hold this idea of parody in order to retake it at the end of the next section.
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that

The spectator The third section As we have seen from Fontcubertas work, hes in almost all Googlegrames pointing at the so called big discourses, or the typical serious male discourses. These are politics, war and peace, religion, immigration, evil (in the form of torture and killing) [it just lacks sports, but I am sure that we will have soon some Googlegrames on Guardiola, Messi and why not Mourinho] We have already discussed whether we can decode a critical position regarding ideology. We have seen this is at least problematic. Why is then Fontcuberta interested in using big discourses? [[ The first answer would be: this kind of topics are relevant and serious, so they work better in works of art. In a very traditional point of view, works of art seem to be more relevant when they treat these topics. However,]]] in what we have seen, we can argue that Fontcuberta is not developing any sort of big discourses. There are no such ideas in these pictures. Why is he using serious discourses? 1.- Does he want to reflect a light of seriousness and formality to his work? Or is it exactly the opposite? = taking advantage of the spectacularisation of these ico? Or further: could these pictures work as a critique of the banalisation of these icons in the net? Lets follow what we have said before: - On the one hand, what I have said in the first section about the works nature: I wondered about the paradoxical nature of Googlegrames since they are made of a triple staff (icon, key-pictures and words) that does not harmonize. I would say: the paradoxical and reflective nature of the works avoids us building any kind of ideological discourses. (mal dedut) - On the other hand, thinking about what I have said in the second section about his irony and parody. This could make us conclude: He gets profit of these images as spectacular icons while making a critique of this banalisation of our society. We have already argued that it would be too simple to interpret that Fontcuberta presents a clear-cut position as an ideological critic. - Could it be that Fontcuberta is inviting us to revive our experience as a minded spectators of these images, minded but surely also as unconfessed curious and ghoulish (in spanish morbosos) spectators? - Could they perhaps show us in this double-faced position?

- What is exactly our relation between the big discourses and our banalisation and spcopiphilia?
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