Moving Painters, Moving Paintings, and Moving Viewers

Muto Blu

We expect paintings to be static. Perhaps a card player is sitting in a chair, frozen. Or layered drips of paint that have become dry puddles. We know that the painter’s hand moved when these were made (how fast, we don’t know, but it’s easy to point at Jackson Pollock as a vigorous counterpoint to Paul Cézanne), but the artists knew that the result would be still. And as viewers, we can pace back and forth, let our eyes track over the canvas, leave the room and come back for a second look, knowing that what we’re going to see won’t change, but our position will change along with our thoughts and impressions. Of course if a room is sunlit then a painting appears differently depending on the weather and the time of day, and we know that all paintings fade and crack over time. However, our experience of paintings is largely that they do not move. The same goes for photographs.

MUTO (Buenos Aires, 2008); a wall-painted animation by BLU

Film, on the other hand, is expected to move. The actors will move and the camera will move and the viewer will sit still—which means “watching a movie” is a kind of opposite activity to “seeing a painting.”

All of this is old thinking. I don’t imagine most people here in New York City are going to see a painting today or sit through a movie in a theater. However, I’m likely to encounter someone watching a video on a portable electronic device while riding the subway—a moving viewer watching a moving image. Why is this significant to me?

As the evolution of technology speeds up, we’re going to find ourselves more fully immersed in virtual realities. Artists and designers are going to have a larger role in mediating our experience of the “real” world. We’re also likely to encounter forms of art which haven’t quite been conceived of yet. New aesthetics are inevitable. It appears that more and more of what we experience will be evanescent. I’m trying to imagine what, if anything, you would want to keep stable. I can’t think of an example.

In computer programming we talk about “dynamic” versus “static” text. Dynamic text changes—for example, the date at the top of a news website’s homepage, while the name of the website is fixed (static) text. I think we are entering a new dynamic era. It’s easy for me to imagine buildings changing form (for example, based on the size of a crowd) and walls changing color. That sounds like challenging engineering in the physical world today, but I think it’s going to happen (if it’s not already). In virtual worlds, I can’t see too many obstacles. In a dynamic era, where will we encounter the stillness of a painting? If we’re moving and our environment is moving then what will we be anchored to?

Erik Sanner's lightning talk at the Leaders in Software and Art (LISA) Conference at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City, Oct. 16, 2012.

I love technology and I want to participate in discovering new ways to experience what we can give each other. I’ve been exploring tension between dynamic and static imagery in my “moving paintings” for several years. But today I am confused. I can see a future in which the colors of the walls change, but it becomes very repetitive and very ordinary and it is no more interesting to look at than if the walls just stayed the same color. Will that sense of sameness and familiarity render a dynamic environment indistinguishable from a static environment?

I think what I’m trying to say is that in the future we can expect paintings (and everything else) to move. We are almost there.

My brother, nieces, and father-in-law view my work at the Glyndor Gallery at Wave Hill. Each landscape consists of six oil paintings arranged in a grid. Original software and video is projected onto the paintings. The source footage for each landscape began with time-lapse photographs captured with a solar-powered camera installed in the wild garden at Wave Hill for several months. Each projection has several videos running on independent timelines, which results in a constantly-changing composition. As you stand there and look at the pieces, parts of them loops, but each piece as a whole always looks slightly different.

Erik Sanner is a visual artist living and working in New York City. Sanner’s work has recently been shown at The Danforth Museum (Massachusetts), the Brooklyn Arts Council Gallery (New York), and the Charles Thomas Contemporary (Los Angeles). Sanner was awarded Manhattan Community Arts Fund grants in 2007 and 2009. Upcoming exhibits include projects at LICHT FELD 11 (Basel, 9/11), the Courtauld Institute of Art (London, 1/12), and the Glyndor Gallery at Wave Hill (NY, 4/12). In Basel he is represented by LICHT FELD.