I want to break out of the color wheel.
Digital Realism (DR) is the name of a category for non-representational cyber-spatial art. Media art always needs electricity. Realism refers to power and signal. DR is based in geometry and physics. It only looks or sounds abstract. Like art, electricity cannot be touched; unlike art, it will hurt.
Music is ideal form for DR since it transcends narrative. Visual artists like Kandinsky found that musicality was essential for his painting. Media art is a vehicle for visualization of electricity in real time. The literal content are shifts of frequency, colorization, and other meta-physical processes based on software codes or wave- form generators.
No power, no medium. Pull the plug and the art disappears. The legendary Irish writer, Spike Milligan wrote: “And God said, ‘Let there be light’ and there was light, but the Electricity Board said He would have to wait until Thursday to be connected.”
Artists are sometimes drawn to the extreme potentials of tools. What is the blackest black? Why does the canvas have to be flat and inert? Can thoughts be projected? Is there a connection between electricity and power? Guru Maharishi Mahesh Yoga, the guy who introduced Transcendental Meditation to the U.S. said: “The kingdom of heaven is like electricity. You don’t see it, it is within you.” Many mystics have described the moment of death as an extinguishing spark.
Electricity is measured in waves. Jean Arp, the master of the sculptural wave, once called “contemplation and meditation” the essence of life. Mohammed Melehi, an international artist from Morocco, explained the wave as an Islamic response to Biblical law. He told me “there is always a meaning behind the abstraction, some aspect of nature.” To paraphrase Corinthians, “for the Moslems require a sine and the Geeks seek after logic.”
Digital Realists fear only one thing: a blackout. During power failures the force is disrupted: a stuck dam. Restored light and A/C; later, resumption of the internet.
Benjamin Franklin is the patron saint of Digital Realism. He recognized that electricity could have practical purpose. Or, as George Carlin taught, “Electricity is really just organized lightning.” Before Franklin, electricity was used for magic. He made the magic pragmatic. DR is an old-fashioned new fangled approach fusing pre-Franklin aesthetics with post-Franklin access.
Perhaps there is a tendency for artists to move toward abstraction in older age. There is wisdom in abstraction. Abstract art pulls away from nature to evoke reality rather than mimic it. “In earlier time artists like to show what was actually visible…nowadays we are concerned with reality, rather than the merely visible.” (Paul Klee)
Heraclitus, Greek contemporary of ancient Buddhist philosopher Lao Tzu, compared the soul to a spider which rushes to any part of its web when it is damaged. Electricity is the soul of the modern and power company engineers are its’ crawlers. Video is a medium that Heraclitus would have liked since there is always movement within movement. “Everything changes and nothing stands still; all is flux, nothing abides.”
To complicate things, DR can also mean the opposite. Hollywood special effects can seem so real that the simulation almost matches physical experience. The game is more exciting than the event. Immersive environments provide participation in outcomes but at no personal cost or loss. Try again, again, again.
Contemporary, stylish, and oblique, now is the time for Digital Realism to emerge as a neo-traditional medium for playing the wind and mixing fire with water.