by Dr. Katerina Krtilova
A brushstroke is not yet a painting — it oscillates between intention and contingency, meaning and insignificance. It balances precariously on the verge of meaning, just marking the “iconic difference” (Gottfried Böhm) that allows the viewer to see something on a surface or plane, not just the exterior surface of an object.
Following Vilém Flusser’s concept, the individual brushstroke affords analysis of the gesture of painting. As a gesture, painting cannot be understood from the “outside”, prompting a scientific — biological, physiological or sociological — explanation of the process: observers see the gesture of a brushstroke and not just a random figure, because they recognize themselves in it, and they see the final image as the trace of a bodily movement they could (potentially) reproduce. Flusser also rejects the idea of an “inner” motive, intention, idea or spirit of the painter expressed in the painting, disconnected from the “outside” of the gesture, the movements of the body, the brush or the paint on the canvas, etc., because it inevitably prompts a correlative understanding founded on comparison of the assumed idea or intention and the final painting, without giving proper attention to the act, the performance of painting. The painter and the brush are only abstractions; what is real is the actual form of the gesture, he stresses.
In contrast to the idea that painters use the brush as an instrument in order to realize ideas that have formed in their minds, Liat Grayver’s use of the analysis of the gesture of painting focuses on the interaction of different bodies — the painter’s hand, her arm or feet, the brush, the pigment, the canvas — and the techniques of painting, which simultaneously restrict and diversify the manners of handling the canvas (or any surface), paint, frame, etc. Facing a robotic arm performing preprogrammed painterly actions confronts the painter and viewer with tools and techniques that are not part of the artist’s “inner” motions, and shapes what can be painted, imagined or seen in the first place. Brush, paint, canvas and linear perspective are elements that are not completely controllable, despite the painter’s intentions, but rather induce her to do something she might never have imagined, bringing forth unexpected and indeed unforeseen results.
Grayver and the e-David team’s unique collaborative development of computational and robotic-based tools alongside traditional painting techniques informed by calligraphy — half a century after Flusser’s essay — enables reflection on the gesture of painting within the realm of digital technologies. Precisely by not pursuing the idea of the machine mimicking human behaviour and the current widespread fascination with “artificial creativity” — simulating human artistic practice — but rather by questioning the technical analysis of the gesture of painting. The necessity to “explain” the gesture to allow the robot to reproduce it does not restrict the realm of robotic painting tothe practice of copying existing paintings (or creating new variations — a “New Rembrandt”, for example). It allows for a reflection of painting as a process of creating meaning as a technique, a movement of body and eye, a dynamic synthesis of different artistic and technical elements, the emergence of form, and more. In confronting the painter’s self-reflexive gesture with the algorithmic logic of the computer program, the gesture exposes its incomputable dimension: the individual, unique movement of a hand, creating a singular material trace that cannot be reproduced, but only repeated in new brushstrokes.
At the same time, the phases or parameters into which Grayver and the e-David team decompose her gestures are not derived from the “outside”, but are in fact just as much integral components of the brushstroke (the hand-brush-paint-paper complex) as the digital tool (the brush-robot-program-paper complex). This effectively allows her to explore and enrich the gesture of painting, connecting technique and imagination, intention and contingency, passivity and activity, the affordances and constraints of the tool, the material and the body — or program — and includes experiments and errors that create new possibilities. An infinite mechanical variation and a singular, unrepeatable experience.