A giant gorilla swinging from the Empire State Building in Peter Jackson’s King Kong, and the entire world of Pandora in James Cameron’s Avatar, would have been impossible to produce without CGI (computer-generated imagery)—which utilizes computer graphics to create or enhance special visual effects. Often, magical movie moments come to mind when people think of CGI, but did you know that the process has been implemented in the art world for over 50 years?
In 1965 the first two exhibitions on computer art took place—“Computer-Generated Pictures” at the Howard Wise Gallery in New York City and “Generative Computergrafik” at the Technische Hochschule in Stuttgart, Germany. And in 1985, Andy Warhol created digital art with a Commodore Amiga personal computer when he manipulated a monochromatic image of singer Debbie Harry by adding color via flood fills. Since then, CGI (also referred to as 3D computer graphics and existing under the broader umbrella term: new media art) has only continued to transform the art world. The rapid evolution of innovative technologies and increased access to CGI software has amplified the creative opportunities available to artists.
While there are currently more artists working in the digital space than ever before, here’s a list of 6 noteworthy creatives who are making unique and cutting-edge art with CGI.
New York-based artist Takeshi Murata is best known for his technique of “datamoshing,” a form of glitch art where he manipulates the pixels of two distinct videos to create one psychedelic, vividly amalgamated moving image. In his computer-generated still lifes, Murata critiques consumer culture by haphazardly including objects like a smartphone with a shattered screen or a Coors Light can into the quiet, sterile settings. These digital still lifes conjure up the surrealist imagery of Salvador Dalí as well as traditional 17th-century Dutch and Flemish paintings. Murata’s CGI process is entirely a DIY one—the artist sharpened his skills by watching instructional YouTube videos since he didn’t have access to a Hollywood animation studio.
British artist Joey Holder’s artistic practice, which includes installation integrated with new media art, seems imperative in this chaotic era of post-truth politics. For example, her video piece Adcredo - The Deep Belief Network (2018) examines the role that internet platforms can play in the construction of belief. Through CGI talking heads resembling Kanye West, Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, and Peter Thiel, Holder demonstrates the dangerous interplay of fake news, conspiracy theory, cyber-espionage, and political populism in our current techno-socio-political climate. The work is available to view on the artist’s website, and if you have a lunch break to fill up you'll thank us. Holder’s work also combines elements of the natural world, like biology and natural history, with computer program interfaces, screensavers, and measuring devices, proposing that these two seemingly distinct worlds are actually interchangeable—blurring the concepts of 'natural' and 'artificial.'
A pioneer of the video essay, and perhaps one of the most influential artists of the decade, Hito Steyerl combines CGI, video, and YouTube-like aesthetics to create video art pieces that critique war, capitalism, globalization, and technology. While Steyerl’s art is based on complex theories, her videos are also funny, making them more accessible to the general public. For example, in How Not To Be Seen. A Fucking Didactic Educational .Mov File (2013) Steyerl claims that to "not be seen” by omnipresent drone surveillance, one must “become smaller or equal to one pixel” since that’s the smallest unit of measurement detected by pixel-based resolution charts. Other ways “not to be seen” include “living in a gated community” or “being female and over 50.” Steyerl’s critical interpretations of contemporary life through her precise use of CGI has transformed the dialogue surrounding our increasingly digitized world.
Experimental filmmaker and video artist Max Hattler uses CGI to explore the space between abstraction and figuration, by escaping the limitations of traditional narrative. His work consists of surreal and trippy realities created through animation loops. The German artist is currently based in Hong Kong, and his new film Serial Parallels (2019) confronts the density and repetitiveness of Hong Kong’s housing blocks by showing the city’s high-rise buildings as a series of film strips made with computer animation. The film is the centerpiece of Hattler’s solo exhibition “Receptive Rhythms” at Hong Kong’s Goethe-Gallery. In an interview with Dezeen, Hattler explained that “[r]e-animating photographs allowed for the buildings themselves to come alive in front of the viewer, and become the protagonists of the film. Through this animation approach, the cityscape is reimagined as a living machine, a machine for living, and also a space which is all-encompassing and cannot be escaped."
Through websites, animation, painting, video, sculpture, and audio-visual performance, Sara Ludy explores the convergence of the material and virtual. For the past three years, Ludy has been creating a VR world called the Aviary, which is a living environment that will continue to expand over time. Currently, there are 30 environments in existence, and their blending of the natural and digital through CGI results in unknown landscapes that are both new yet eerily familiar. A similar effect is created in her other work where Ludy adventures through the VR world of Second Life, photographing landscapes, domestic interiors, and other scenes.
Chinese artist Lu Yang constructs narratives of self-mutilation in her work, which she describes using as “forms of meditation.” In two of her video installations, Delusional Mandala (2015) and Delusional Crime and Punishment (2016), a 3D genderless rendering of the artist is brutally tortured and killed. With the figure resembling Yang, it becomes almost impossible to dehumanize the tortured character, unlike the viewer’s reaction to death in many online video games—contributing to the discourse on the tension between technological immortality and our inability to face our own demise. Yang’s CGI universes filled with avatars, manga/anime influences, and religious motifs also uniquely celebrate the internet’s ability to partially free one from the constraints of nationality, gender, and sexuality.
Check out our select curation of new media art to buy in the module below. Or head to the New Media section of the site to see it all.