Virtualization inside art as an expansive medium of the digital body

By: Roberto Anaya

  Le Radeau de la Méduse    (1819), Théodore Géricault

Le Radeau de la Méduse (1819), Théodore Géricault

In a globalized world marked by a clear capitalist system which dominates (or tries to do so) politics, economics, commerce, and even the collective imaginary, postmodernism came to fight the centralized ideas and metalanguages imposed by such system. A multiplicity of ideas are those that today emerge from the least expected sites, those sites that for a long time were silent, asleep, almost non-existent, invisible and unworthy to be seen or heard. The arrival of new technologies has made the mind of a subject move to other places without the need for a physical displacement, but how has this affected our way of looking and our aesthetic appreciation of the world in which we live? Does the digital body respond only to current technologies?

To answer this question, we would have to look indisputably at the world of art, since this is one of the best "witnesses" of history, not only of art itself but of the history of humanity. As an example, we can take from cave paintings to the avant-garde of the twentieth century or the work of Banksy in the last decades. Art has not only served to give testimony of what is happening in the world, but it is also a participant in the situation and, although it seems that this participation is more common in contemporary art, I think that is not the case.

Théodore Géricault, in the early nineteenth century, showed a deep criticism of the inefficiency of the captain of the raft Méduse and the French monarchy in his painting "The raft of the Medusa". Here, Géricault not only portrays or represents the shipwreck, he also reflects about it with such a compelling aesthetic that it was considered an insult to the monarchy. This painting causes such force that one becomes involved with the shipwrecked and, therefore, with those responsible. The artwork moves us from our body to take us right into the anguish of the shipwrecked, where, suddenly, we stop being who we are to become someone else, in another space and time.

We could even mention the cave paintings as a reference. In them apart from a chronicle of hunting, there is a set of social, religious and even magical factors that surely affected the community of that time where, despite not being present in this space-time, as spectators, we can coexist with them. A virtualization of what was happening or could happen. The hand of the hunter painted on the wall of a cave is also a digital body of that past being.

In both examples we can appreciate a particular aesthetic according to its contemporaneity, the interesting thing of the current world is that this aesthetic is built by many visions and canons that have been already established and that have been transformed in the same way we've transformed the way we look. I believe that our vision has been adapted to the contemporary, our vision has been changing over the years and with the rise of technology since we are immersed in an infinity of electronic devices.

Previously, if you were walking on the beach during the sunset what you were likely to do was to either appreciate it or ignore it. Nowadays, technology has changed the aesthetic appreciation of our environment, not so much the environment itself, that is, it can be the same beach with a similar sunset but our mind does not perceive it in the same way. Today, technology has made us want to capture that moment in a photograph or a video and, not only that, but we have also fallen into the need to "share it" with others. Is it that what we having a purely aesthetic experience? Is not the moment itself, but the future moment that we're living in? Do we live a virtualization of the immediate present? Are we living the moment on the beach or the desire to feel the ownership of its digitized image being appreciated by others? It seems that the experience is more an appropriation of the collective desire, how many photos are there of that same place, at that same time in that same pose? does our need of capturing that particular image be part of a great remix of "special moments"? Or is it rather that our digital body is taking more strength, importance and presence than the physical body itself? It is here that it is interesting how artists like Douglas Gordon reuse photographs of famous people to resignify them, or how the philosopher and psychoanalyst Slavoj Žižek uses fragments of Hollywood blockbusters to criticize the capitalist system as in his documentary "The ideological guide for perverts "where there are scenes within which Slavoj Žižek makes a series of philosophical analyzes imitating the scenography and setting of the film he is talking about; this gives a certain touch of comedy, but also an atmosphere of "invasion" or "interference" to the film where both appropriate and refer to images already seen, already made.

I return to the idea of "The raft of the Medusa" by Géricault to refer to another topic about digital art and virtualization. I think that this artwork is not a piece of digital art but an attempt of virtualization because, although it relates to a real event it also triggers reflection and thought. Therefore, I think that art is not only polysemic, but also virtual. Donald Kuspit, in his book "Digital Art and Video Art", points out that pointillism is a direct precursor of the pixel, even mentioning that Georges Pierre Seurat was the first digital artist. "The next crucial step in the development of the digitized sensations we will call pixels, are the vibrant colour points of A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of the Big Jatte (1884-1886), by Seurat. In fact, in my opinion, Seurat's pointillism makes him the first digital artist "(Kuspit, D. 2006). What Kuspit says about giving the title of" first digital artist "to Seurat seems extremely interesting, it might not be accurate, but the virtualization of proposing Seurat as a digital artist and converting the points into pixels sounds fascinating.

Virtualizing, or proposing new visualizations of what has already been established, has been a starting point in art, literature and philosophy, there is no creation or production without thought, without the virtual: what would have been of NASA without the work of Jules Verne and Georges Méliès ?, what would have been of engineering or medicine without Leonardo Da Vinci ?, what would have been of cinematography without the zoetropes and optical toys? Humanity has always been and will continue to be, virtualized. It will be in a constant evolution between the virtual and the current, between the possible and the real, but will media and technology be a factor between shortening or rethinking the virtuality in which we live in? Is it then that digital bodies are nothing more than a virtualization of a future space in which our aesthetic and social appreciation is conditioned to our digital bodies? Finally, I want to leave a quote from Pierre Valery where he visualized a future that has become our present:

"Just as water, gas and electric current come from far away to our homes ... so we will be fed by visual images and sounds that will come to us and abandon us with a simple signal" (Valery, P. Pieces sur l'art. 1934).


Bibliography and references:

 Žižek, S.. (2012). The Pervert's Guide to Ideology. Reino Unido : P Guide Productions.

 Lasso, S.. (2013). Pintura rupestre: Definición, materiales y técnicas La pintura en la prehistoria. 2015, de about en español Sitio web:

 Kuspit, D. (2006). Arte Digital y Videoarte, trasgrediendo los límites de la interpretación. España: Círculo de Bellas Artes ISBN.

 Una tarde de domingo en la isla de la Grande Jatte (Un dimanche après-midi à l'Île de la Grande Jatte), Georges-Pierre Seurat 1886, Art Institute, Chicago