Although anecdotes on criticism and resistance are more popular, the truth is that artists always adopt and experiment with the means and technologies supplied by their day and age. Contemporaneity somehow implies assuming this challenge. It is a mistake, however, to believe that this adoption necessarily leads to an acritical or a celebratory attitude. The narratives explored in underground film, video art, and net.art (to name but a few disciplines) reveal that the use of certain techniques by engaged artists does not only pave the way for alternative uses, but also that, in the same process, it enables them to reflect on the ways in which these influence everyday life, social forms, and the means of power.
These technologies bring a certain friction to established artistic media, to the point that they call their own essence into question. In one of his most famous essays, published in 1936, Walter Benjamin sustained that the question should not be whether photography was an art, but “whether the very invention of photography had not transformed the entire nature of art.” And yet, without taking the issue to extremes, this friction may open up fields of research and spaces of dialogue and confrontation that could result in questions of true aesthetic productivity.
The work of Fabian Marcaccio moves in this exploratory area. His unique integration of pictorial constructions, sculptural prostheses, architectural structures, narrative tensions, photographic resonances, and digital manipulation addresses the complexity of today’s world through a framework of referential and plastic information that entails the spectator’s intellectual and physical participation.
In this sense, Paintant Stories (2000) is a paradigmatic work. Its monumental scale encourages beholders to move, inviting them to unravel its levels of meaning as they approach and draw back from its vast mass, evoking the cinematic movements of a film camera (travelling shots, zooms back and forth), but, contrary to what happens in cinemas, here it is the audience that actively embodies space.
This incitement to activity also differs from our usual experience of computers, which we use to manipulate images, bringing them close up and moving them away to incredible extremes, but always from a static position. Approach and distance are now effects, simulations of a stationary voyage feigned by an algorithm, pure representation. On the contrary, Paintant Stories reveals an attractive and eloquent materiality after which information is only obtained with effort; its reading requires a certain procurement, a will, the exercise of a subjective and subjectivizing approach.
The computer universe is the sphere of the hybrid par excellence, but it is also the place where everything is homogenized, flattened, and loses depth. Strangely enough, this property grants it a plastic potentiality: in its interior, images are malleable, they can be easily altered and influenced, they can shed their aesthetic values (color, brilliance, saturation) and oscillate between figuration and abstraction, and yet unlike their pictorial works, their uniform productions have no thickness. They lack texture, surface effects, that physical quality that makes one want to touch a painting, feel its scope, experience the ambiguity of being at once a window onto another world and an artefact of our own.
In Paintant Stories, Marcaccio intensifies this tactile component of the plastic image in order to enlarge the contrasts with the digital impressions he uses as background. The conflict highlights the perceptive metamorphoses of the past few years as the result of a double visual and material endeavor, to which he adds the temporal component of the journey, that draws the images out of their stillness and projects them as imaginary-flow-in-motion in the mind of the spectator. The concept of depiction, of painting in activity, refers precisely to this: not so much to the artist’s action on the support as to the necessary performativeness of the beholder.
The conflict, however, draws attention to another subject, for although we speak of the digital universe, binary images, and numerical compositions, human beings can only perceive their results in the analogical world of the senses. Our sensory organs do not detect noughts and ones, but continuous properties, nuances, variations, and areas of aesthetic intensity. In any case, the digital has renewed these nuances and intensities thanks to the way in which it appears, the characteristic color range of our era of omnipresent monitors, the huge scales that affect our gaze with their dynamism and speed.
All this is brought into play in each paintant as a reflection on the present, yet also as a meditation on the future of painting, for Marcaccio believes that the digital is here to afford it friction, but not to make it disappear. Indeed, it acts as root, antecedent and productive matrix in the term paint-ant. After all, we are only able to interpret an image because we have learned to see and to analyze, and painting occupies a still unrenounceable place among our visual and analytical referents, a place that is not determined by its position in the art circuit, but by its historical, social, and cultural presence. These factors lie at the heart of Paintant Stories, forming its collective and epochal essence and providing the keys to its narrative.
Translated by Josephine Watson