Richard spent his talk explaining his transition from bits to bytes, from the material to the virtual. Though his CAD/CAM sculptures share little with my practice practically the questions raised by his work and the theory behind it resonates, perhaps more than any speaker so far, with my work.
Hooper regularly drew from Walter Benjamin’s seminal ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’ with reference to how his CAD sculptures are, in theory, infinitely reproducible. This caused some members of the group to question its status as art. However, Hooper countered by arguing that the machine is merely a tool, like a paint brush (or, perhaps, even an idea?). Programming a machine to execute the many complex cuts takes an underrated amount of skill and practice, in a similar way to how a traditional artist must practice his craft with a brush.
“but the work is not unique, it is one of many, it is just a copy of all the others that will be brought into existence”
The markings on the mould, the slight imperfections on the drill bit, the miniscule diversions of the tools do, in fact, make each piece unique. Each ‘copy’ the machine makes will wear the drill but down, slowly destroying itself and making each piece after it slightly different. Like a gramophone on a vinyl, or a tape that slowly decays after each viewing.
Maybe with CAD/CAM, there is no original. If the CAD file exists only virtually, as an abstract idea, subject to loss, deletion or, human error, then each physical iteration of it is an ‘original’, or, a copy of the abstract idea; a copy with no original. This, of course, is the definition of the hyper real.
Hooper’s work is an attempt to copy the ‘perfect’ virtual model into reality but the materials always prevent this from happening. Each original, then, is that specific machines interpretation of the score provided to it. The score itself is not the work and it is in this way that the machine performs.
Perhaps this is why Hooper showed us so much footage and pictures of the machines at work. We are admiring its artistry and the realisation of its interpretation.
I print a poem from my word-processor through my printer (the ink draining, the jets degrading, the paper imperfect) which prints my stated number of poems, each an interpretation of the score provided by the code ingrained in my word-processor.
Some would say that the first print out is the original but, what happens if the first print out comes out wrong? Jams the printer? Are those failed attempts the originals? Or is it only the original once it is presented and perceived as such? I could then present you with any one of my poems and call it the first, the first that you perceived. I, of course, have no idea which one of poems was found ‘first’, and I suspect the first person to tweet about the poem was not the first to find one. The ‘original’ has been lost. There is, however, no original. Only my cheap printers attempts at interpreting the score I give it. Each one, then, is both a unique original but the sheer volume of originals created completely removes the aura surrounding the work….. I think.
Watching machines perform in response to input is as a good a definition as any for video gaming. We react to the abstract rules (score) provided, perform in relation to it, and then the game performs back. There is, again, no ‘original’ game play, no ‘original’ game. The game exists only in relation to the player, the original is the first time we play it. The same could be said for any art form.
Peter Brook suggested that as long as there is a body walking across a stage, there is performance. Does this stretch to watching machines? Watching ourselves?