Do Androids Dream Of Electronic Paintings?

Stefano Castelli

Italian Version

In 1966, Michel Foucault concluded his revolutionary The Order of Things with this evocative, and partly sibylline, prophecy, “If some event of which we can at the moment do no more than sense the possibility – without knowing either what its form will be or what it promises – were to cause the fundamental provisions of knowledge to crumble… then one can certainly wager that man would be erased, like a face drawn in sand at the edge of the sea”. The concept of man as an untouchable autonomous being with rights is relatively new, the great philosopher told us; therefore, his future evolutions are by no means obvious. Only partly improperly, this sentence could be associated with one of the main distortions of recent history, i.e. the partial expropriation of human autonomy in favour of technology. Without falling, once again, into science fiction visions, where machines become autonomous on their own initiative, man’s action in favour of this expropriation, through power, economic and commercial relationships (here, Foucault’s ‘biopolitics’ is another fundamental and anticipatory reference) should be stressed.
Patrick Tabarelli’s works indirectly examine topics of this type. The artist uses a machine he has programmed and which, paradoxically, is the effective author of the work, to create his paintings. Yet we’re far from determinism and celebration of the possibilities of the machine – artist and technological tool draw up a new type of pact, also compared to previous artistic experiments in this field. A sort of farewell to arms is established, a non-belligerence pact in which man and machine fluidify the border between their respective tasks. A twofold convergence where the hand of man is divested of a part of its cultural automatisms and the machine is deprived of a part of its mechanical automatisms. This is neither the umpteenth version of the ‘author’s death’ nor a critical mimesis like that of Warhol, who identified himself with the machine to underline its predominance. And it’s not even a new artistic form of Luddite, like that of Metzger or Tinguely, who built machines and then favoured their destruction. Instead, it’s a step back by the author, who divests himself of his work to put it to the test at the conception stage. During the programming of the algorithm, Tabarelli leaves a degree of freedom to the machine, which then intensifies when the drawing machine is at work. This is where the dimension of randomness comes in – hitches, little jumps, technical problems, greater or lesser intensity of the sign, interaction between the ink and support, etc. It’s in this margin of freedom that the machine ‘is personified’, also because it’s a soft machine, technological but also craftsman and ‘soft’ in the movements and line. However, it’s the painting that is particularly personified. Although it’s automatic, the process used to create it becomes fluid, dynamic, soft and extended over time. Ultimately, we’re faced with a specimen of ‘metaphorical painting’, i.e. created with other means, that crosses the recent years of artistic research, from precocious examples like Christopher Wool to recent key players like Wade Guyton. A way of revitalising, starting from zero, a medium that has to continuously avoid stereotypical features, also in the field of abstraction (in Tabarelli’s words, “a continuous comparison of painting with other media in the definition or redefinition of itself”).
In effect, if an attempt is made, speciously but effectively, to read Tabarelli’s works by isolating some elements and comparing them with fundamental passages of the history of art, almost ironic perspectives are opened. Just to give one of the possible examples, the working on the horizontal plane instinctively recalls Pollock. But here, there is a passage from the heroism of the key figure of Action Painting to the coldness and slowness of a programmed machine which, although partly personified, is certainly not able to impose its own personality. The move is from ‘Action’ to an indolence that debunks the painter’s gesture, also because of the extension of creation times.
However, these paintings can – and must – be considered beyond their creation process. The good-natured duel between artist and machine remains a backdrop that leaves a trace in the aesthetics of the works but is not directly clarified. The point remains the peculiar aspect of the works and also the actually perceived relationship established with the eye observing them. Colours and signs are, in a certain sense, unnatural and create an initial suspicion. With a visual and cultural automatism, it seems that there are optical effects on a first approach. Yet the ‘Impressionist’ effect typical of this current doesn’t work through and through. From a distance, the image doesn’t come together again and continues to oscillate; from close-up, the design frays, leaving the centre of the scene to the pictorial feature, with an alternation of softness and sharper points, instances of untying and meeting – fundamental principles for the overall composition of the painting.
The bipartition into studium and punctum that Roland Barthes developed for the photographic image, with horizontal designs representing the studium, the extension, and the pivot points the punctum, the intension, could be applied to these paintings. However here, the image is completely eliminated in favour of an anti-referential (but not self-referential) abstraction, completely lacking in not only the icon but also its negation. The design of the painting develops horizontally, like a flow, without coming together again into a diagram apprehensible in its completeness. These are works that depict a time of passage, of transit – the instant that the potentially infinite transmission of visual stimuli (yet captured in a real work full of tactile sensations) takes place. A work that, despite everything, has all the rules of painting, from the relationship with the format to the rules of composition through to the expressiveness of the sign.
The research that Tabarelli has undertaken in recent years leans with consistency to the most recent evolution, presented in this exhibition. Natural elements were transposed into parametric 3D models and then painted in the cycle Quasi res. The evanescent subject of the ‘smoke filaments’ in the cycle Voluta led to the introduction of a new pictorial method that looked for an alternative between abstraction and figure, and stability and temporality. Lastly, Zero-Om is the turning point that leads to the current poetics with the abandon of the subject and traditional painting methods in favour of personally made tools. As can be seen, this is a process of subsequent pruning, opening, also of liberation with respect to the standards that mark painting as an ‘oppressed’ method of its own history. Opening that is also made with respect to the determinism relating to the mechanical/electronic/technological dimension. Thus, in the relationship between the human hand and machine there is an extension towards a hypothetical, open space, a field of freedom that is symbolically embodied in the painting. The alternative way created between free and mechanical sign, automatic and manual elements, isn’t an average of the features of both but something constructive. The ghost in the machine, evoked by the title the artist has chosen for this exhibition, becomes less fearsome because a part of its personality belongs to the author, who created it and injected it into the machine. An open field of possibility, that could develop into a happy utopia, replaces the evident dystopia found every day because of the dominance of technology.
Back to Top