TV: Hi Michael, so this new show New Surface, how did it come about and what direction are you currently heading in?
MS: The works follow on from my last exhibition at Steve Turner LA, called Solid State, where I made work about information preservation; ancient coded language and how coded language is used now as the backbone of digital info; the personal codes we use/make when navigating digital devices, especially touch screen. My thoughts are similar in this show, but go a little further to track the origins of information, utilizing a more screen-based aesthetic.
TV: Full ghosting.
It seems you have such a balanced take on the use of technology and its origins and indeed your physical interpretation of it and how it informs the work, usually as a starting point. But the flip is that this series of work has a deliberately handmade, crafted quality to it that requires experiencing in real time in real space to download it physically. How did this process affect the new works?
MS: When making this show, I thought about cave painting, the human urge to imprint information from our environment, and passing it down through generations; how this information outlasts our current “secure” digital media. Then I saw evidence of ISIS destroying cultural artifacts and thought about how we will preserve everything physical in our lifetime into the virtual realm. Google Earth, good example. Then let’s say something needs to be brought back from the digital to the physical, a replacement as such, how good will it be? How satisfying? Does the machine/printer/router know what it means to make art or to replicate nature?
TV: What is the alchemy you have with the tools you use regarding the content of this exhibition? Do you usually use what is physically around you or is everything a heavy decision?
MS: My 3D routed boards and sculptures are made from a digital file of a “jungle rock wall” 3D scan, from the physical world. The machine was told what to do and did it, but it has limitations, material and technical, and the resulting rock surface looks alien. The machine did its best to interpret nature, but gave me something quite wild. Is this a new nature? Evolution? I watched Avengers this morning and no matter how good the animation, the computer cannot imitate a human face to completely mimic human emotion: it is not convincing; simulated. Good example of the computer guesstimating nature. Although, the hand did have to interfere with the machining process of my work, to have it all work as a whole, hence the orange lines running through the sculptures. They are the handmade joins of polyurethane that assist the machine in its replication of nature as information. They also look like the gold veins you find in granite/quartz rock. The hand is precious.
TV: The hand is precious; we all have our unique lines.
For the last while there has been this obsession in the mainstream movie sphere to attempt to render reality in an exacting way. Looking for an aesthetic truth, with the assumption that this is what we want. I remember when the first high definition flat screens came out and I would watch something like Barry Lyndon and I would think this is just too much. I felt transported within the screen within the scene; the image became uncanny; strange… It lost its poetry somewhere in the process of this endeavor to simulate reality. Anyone can polish a jellybean but it’s just never enough.
With these new works Michael, there seems to be an ease in which you let the machines work to their capability and allow perceived mistakes become part of the life of the work which I think is where the magic sits and makes for a bigger conversation.
Is this overall approach the same with the current paintings?
MS: So the information presented in my paintings has my marks on it and some machine marks. Proof that the artist was present. The finger painting is elemental, it comes from the caves, from the infant urges to play and contribute to the creative realm. It is a signature as such, a personal scripture of abstracted gestures. The fingers are primal. We now use our fingers on the most advanced devices. The primal movements never leave. These gestures are fleeting but in the casting compound of my paintings they become fossilized forever. And now they are like rock, or stone, like a cave painting; solid and permanent. But they will eventually enter the virtual realm, as will everything else, and the question is, which will last longer or be more valid – the actual or the simulated?
The paintings also resemble the NORMAL MAPPING of a digital 3D object in a CAD program, used to create texture and form using less data. It links the paintings to the sculptures. In the sculptures, marks are made using my finger on a track pad and then they are machine carved into the fake “rock” as remnants of an old language, survived by digital capture.
TV: There’s a lot going on with the sculptures. These objects can read as relics, artifacts, abstract documents. They feel raw and more exposed than the paintings but at the same time you’ve still got some Trompe-l’oeil going on. There is a real sense of heaviness & permanence. How do you position these guys at this point in time?
MS: They are documents – more so a page torn out of a book rather than an entire encyclopedia. And they represent an encyclopedia that can grow, to which can be added and new histories written – Wikipedia. The caves were the first encyclopedias made by people for people. They were and are permanent and unchangeable. These 3D routed works originate from a public domain – a stock site from the Web, available to everyone, to be used by anyone – similar to the first caves that everyone marked to leave their knowledge or signatures.
Now information has evolved and can be easily edited in bits and bytes – upon contributing to it and disseminating it. That’s how we get our information these days: in fragments. It is rare to research all the facts. As with a relic or artifact, only small packets survive history. The future of information is about packets as well – data packets mostly; information packets; small bundles of easily digestible information. We are left to fill in the gaps.
These sculptures are kind of fragile but will also never really degrade. There is a precarious balance between fragility and permanence in these physical objects. The 3D routed rock forms are light and breakable under certain pressure, but also durable under many natural stresses. Cave paintings have lasted millennia in the protection of their cold dark caverns. These are simulations of the cave, born of the digital, sitting out in the open; easily moveable; bulky but lightweight. The new rocks can go wherever; history and fragments that can travel and gain information, much like our current personal computing and social media devices.
TV: The work isn’t just an exercise in technological manipulation. There are wrinkles & footnotes at every turn and requires a slow IRL experience. Where do you see the work getting most of its DNA from: yesterday, today or tomorrow?
MS: The works exist now but are from no time in particular. They borrow from the ancient and antiquated. They come out pristine from their digital environments to the physical world. They seem futuristic; technological. But they are also analog and parts are hand-made. They will get dirty and dusty. They will collect bumps and marks. They will accumulate their own information and build a continued history. The works are now very current, real things that have an interaction with the world until they will look old and dated in the future. And they will have a future – online and offline – and will mutate and grow into other things; disseminated as new information or different information; kind of like an information cycle. The works themselves may become further fragmented, just as they appear to be fragments of something larger now.
TV: It is indeed an information cycle; the mark of time seems to be an important nuance within this show. There’s an antiquated rhythm of technology and form, which clearly opens the platform for the work to be filtered through. These primitive computer objects sit at a curious intersection of two worlds – old and new. How would your experience of making art without digital technology affect your practice?
MS: I was thinking about how all of this digital information has kind of an atomic structure via electrical signals: bits, bytes, kilobytes, megabytes etc. There is a kind of natural elemental state at which all of these signals exist and they are not unlike physical things. So I see the relationship between virtual and physical quite symbiotic. They can exist in one state or another. Actually, they do, all the time. I don’t think it is possible to make “traditional” art without it being affected by technology, especially digital, pre- or post-production. There are probably some things made out there, completely oblivious of technology, but it would seem disconnected or folky – not contemporary. It is difficult to grasp digital technology not existing. Maybe that’s my attraction to archaic imagery or handmade traditions. And cave painting was the cutting-edge of technology 100,000 years ago. It comes down to perception in time. Is a cell phone cutting edge anymore? Or even iPhone? Depends on which one you’re using. I am impressed when something is made using antiquated methods. This emphasizes the strength of painting for me – it has lasted centuries and is still most highly valued in art and culture. It has stood the test of time. Information and the image lasting through time interests me: permanence versus volatility; solid versus mutable.