Pigment and Pixel

Michelle Eskola's Luminous Plastic

“Digital images are… modes of energy and matter that migrate and shift across different supports… shaping and affecting people, landscapes, politics and social systems… Images are now routinely transitioning beyond screens into different states of matter… to manifest materially.” [1]

As digital networks and virtual culture infiltrate our daily lives, its effects and leverage are increasingly apparent. Artist Marisa Olson first coined the term post-internet in 2008 as a means of defining artworks that are not necessarily based in new media but are influenced in some way or form by the pervasiveness of the digital.[2, 3]  This mindset positions digitised culture as ubiquitous, a part of a breathing ecology; everyday and everywhere. Simultaneously a moment and a term, the post-internet is able to move and seep across various practices and territories of discourse.[4]

The expansive impact of the post-internet mindset can be viewed across Michelle Eskola’s practice. Her recent series Luminous Plastic explores tensions between the material and immaterial, with works that flicker between the physical encounter of pigment on board and the virtual space of digital imagery. Marked by the familiar digital aesthetics of distorted perspectives, perfect lines, and slick gradients, Eskola’s hand is simultaneously present and absent. Each work within the series stands as evidence of painting as production and as machine. If there is any border between the online and offline worlds in today’s digital culture, Eskola blurs this boundary.

Challenging the viewer’s perception and knowledge of the work’s creation, Eskola’s initial process is governed by motion and chance. Pouring pure pigment and polymer blends onto board, Eskola allows for the formation of textures, voids, and stains as the liquid moves and dries without intervention. From here Eskola photographs and imports the work into a virtual canvas, where she selects, crops, and re-forms the composition through digital manipulation. The record of liquid movement and sediment is edited and distorted as Eskola digitally reimagines and re-contextualises the work.

Once the digital prototype is complete, Eskola returns to the physical work to re-create the image on material surface by adding and erasing transparent overlays of paint. Naturally the mimic is never exact; the painted surface unable to perform as a true mirror to the screen. Instead, the works sit in the porous space between pigment and pixel, positioned as a blended mediation. The exchange ultimately sees Eskola’s abstractions co-opt the disembodied aesthetics of the digital, while anchored entirely to their painterly materials. This is interesting when considering that digital spaces themselves exist “… as light travelling through optic fibres, as a magnetic charge on a disk, and as data traces on a drive.”[5] By passing her works from physical surface to digital and back again, Eskola not only highlights the ways in which the digital mimics the material (the ‘paint bucket’, the ‘eraser’, the ‘pen tool’), but interferes with the omnipresent mythology and quasi-spaces that permeate digital discourse.[6] Even the exhibition title Luminous Plastic acts to root this kind of intangibility to physical materials, the qualities of acrylic paint, infrastructure, and production. Eskola here successfully uses “digital-analogue coupling as a platform for understanding our relationship to (and implication within) the digitally networked environment.”[6] 

Another aspect of Eskola’s digital rupture stems from the experience of light across these works.[7] With the transparent qualities of works such as ExpansionExperiment I and Drift III the series becomes reminiscent of visual layering on a computer screen.  This crisp digital aesthetic is contrasted by the absence of the manufactured casing, or the luminosity of the screen. Instead of acting as a source of glowing light, the light is reflected off of the painted surface. It is this distinction that pulls the work’s digital aesthetic back to its physicality and presentation as a series of tactile paintings.

Eskola’s play with light and materiality further extends to reference architectural space. Frequently leaving her studio to meet the hum of the city’s sunset, Eskola describes being immersed in the vivid qualities of the afternoon light and sky.[6] In this way, the suspended screens of Luminous Plastic double as light filtering through architecture. In ModifyExpand I, colour is revealed as light, floating and weightless, beaming through resin or a train window, looking out onto a vivid winter sunset. Digital monitor or atmosphere, window or screen, Eskola’s colour and light create a suggestive dance between virtual and material possibilities. In a generation of ubiquitous computing, embedded systems and the integration of technology into architectural design, Eskola’s suggestions of digital and physical space is pertinent.[8]

Blending the spheres of the material and the digital, Luminous Plastic tests the ways in which our online and offline spaces echo each other. Through pigment and pixel, Eskola disrupts and plays with the materiality of image manufacture and the disembodied language of the digital. Ultimately, Eskola’s practice serves as a series of hybridised mediations and glimpses of a borderless future; one marked by the familiar qualities of acrylic screens, weightless windows and the vibrant glow of luminous plastic.

[1] Steyerl, H 2013, ‘Too Much World: Is the Internet Dead?’, e-flux Journal, no. 49, p. 31.
[2] Sugden, C & Williams-Wynn, C 2015, ‘Editorial’, in C Sugden & C Williams-Wynn (eds), Dissect 2, pp. 9-13.
[3] Robin Peckham: Tracing the Post-Internet, 2014, video recording, 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, Sydney, 10 July, <http://www.4a.com.au/video-robin-peckham-tracing-the-post-internet/>.
[4] Olson, M 2012, ‘Postinternet: Art After the Internet’, Foam Magazine, no. 29, pp. 59-63.
[5] Starling Gould, A 2015, ‘Grounding the cloud, or, Mapping a digital metabolism through art’, in C Sugden & C Williams-Wynn (eds), Dissect 2, p. 125.
[6] Kilian, A 2000, Defining Digital Space Through a VisualLanguage, thesis, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, viewed 12 September 2015, <http://acg.media.mit.edu/projects/thesis/axelThesis.pdf>.
[7] Interview with Michelle Eskola (Skype, 17 August 2015).
[8] Wilberg, M 2015, ‘Interaction Design Meets Architectural Thinking’, Interactions, vol. 22, no. 2, pp. 60 – 63.

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