Conceptual Art

Rejecting Complexity

Why cold minimalism is still an undefeated force in contemporary art

The never self-proclaimed artistic movement for excellence and one of the most influential styles since the1960s, Minimalism identifies works of abstract art usually lacking any decorative ostentation and striving for extreme simplicity of form.

Minimalism is chiefly American. It originated in New York in the late 1960s as a practice-in-progress among creators disavowing recent art — especially 1950s’ Abstract Expressionism — which they considered stale, pretentious, and too personal. Not-yet-defined minimalist artists turned to its head the idea that art creation should be an emotional and existential act, as exemplified by Action Painter Jason Pollock, by creating extremely simplified art that would not refer to anything other than itself.

Minimalism in architecture: Casa das Histórias Paula Rego, Cascais, Portugal, 2008 designed by Souto de Moura

Minimalism is linked with conceptual art, which also saw a rise in the mid-1960s. Conceptual art is similarly concerned with how the audience experiences a work of art rather than with the need to express the artist’s personal emotions through art-making.

In music, in particular, minimalism was the single most important idea of the last century, the one that made possible virtually all that we now listen to and hold dear […]. Minimalism wasn’t just a movement, it was a paradigm shift: it brought about a sea change in the way that sound is made, heard and thought of. (FACT Magazine, 2010)¹

However, simplicity in the art has for long been pursued prior to the minimalist period. In music, examples of moderation and minimalism can be found in works such as Debussy’s early “Préludes”, Erik Satie’ s “Gymnopédies”, Bach’s “Well-Tempered Clavier’’ and in plenty of other compositions written well before the “minimalist era”. As composer and conductor Jonathan Sheffer suggests, minimalism was in fact invented in the 18th century. Sheffer advocated that is important to include the works of composers such as Handel and Bach alongside those of Philip Glass, Arvo Pärt, Steve Reich, and John Adams when mentioning minimalist music.(Griffiths, 2018)²

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In the early 20th century, composers including Igor Stravinsky and Arnold Schoenberg began to abandon traditional melodies and scales, posing the basis for all experimental musicians to come. “Minimalist musicians looked to the east as no one had done before, and also embraced the new noise of the 20th century. Classical music up to this point had shut its doors firmly on the sound-world of the streets in order to conserve the pure sound of acoustic instruments. Minimalists did the opposite, flinging open the concert doors and letting in a panoply of new sounds and remixed them alongside acoustic instruments to create a new sound order.” (Hazlewood, 2018)³

It is important to remember that minimalist composers were the firsts to compose using, simultaneously, multiple experimental techniques — such as delay and tape manipulation — as well as musical elements from non-Western culture. African, Indian, and Indonesian music were often notable points of inspiration.

What we now would define as minimalist music has undertaken a development that began somewhere in the 18th century, was fine-tuned in the 1920s, and reached a peak in the 1960s via the works of Riley, Reich, Glass, La Monte Young, Pärt, Adams, as well as others. Of all of them, I have a special relationship with the music of Philip Glass and Steve Reich. Their art has been a constant inspiration since finding my way into minimalism a couple of years ago. So much that I managed to watch 1hr and 26mins of “Koyaanisqatsi” twice, despite its inherent lack of content — aside from the shattering Philip Glass soundtrack. Reich’s Electric Counterpoint and Music for 18 Musicians are probably some of my favourite works. His use of dynamics and perpetually-shifting repetitions is still unmatched in contemporary composition.

Terry Riley’s “In C” is another foundational work of musical minimalism. Composed in 1964 it was meant to be performed with unspecified instruments by an indefinite number of players.

Musical score for Terry Riley’s “In C”

“It was total disruption of time as we knew it. It was like being in a time capsule and floating out in space somewhere waiting for the next event to happen. And I enjoyed that kind of waiting.” Terry Riley about “In C”

Modern minimalism in music is still breathing in the works of many aspiring composers as well as those who have already successfully repurposed minimalist ideas to produce new works: Brian Eno, William Basinski, Harold Budd, and Max Richter only to mention some.

[embed]https://youtu.be/AwpWZVG5SsQ[/embed]


References:

  1. FACT Magazine (2018). A brief history of Minimalism — FACT Magazine: Music News, New Music. [online] Available at: http://www.factmag.com/2010/02/01/a-brief-history-of-minimalism/.
  2. Griffiths, P. (2018). Minimalism as an 18th-Century Idea. [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/1997/01/24/arts/minimalism-as-an-18th-century-idea.html .
  3. Hazlewood, C. (2018). Adventures in motion and pitches: how minimalism shook up classical music. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2018/mar/02/minimalism-music-revolution-charles-hazelwood.

Francesco Imola is a London-based musician, multimedia artist, and current Sound Design student at the University of Greenwich.

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When technology meets the artist.

Taking shape out of 1970s’ computer-generated visual art, “digital art” developed as a reaction to the technology advancement and the spread of the World Wide Web in the mid-90s. It has since become an established practice, often than not included under the umbrella term of New Media art.

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Defining an art that is constantly evolving is a complex process. However, trying to exemplify it by presenting the reader with various manifestations of digital art may be helpful. Christiane Paul’s Digital Art (World of Art) is a successful attempt at surveying the multiple forms this artistic practice can assume. Paul investigates the boundary-crossing activities that played a major role in the production of digital art.

Christian Paul, Digital Art: World of Art, 2003/2008/2015

Dating back to the birth of the first ENIAC (Electronical Numerical Operator and Computer) in 1951, the line between engineering innovators and artists was yet to be defined.

Who are we to assume that, in fact, scientific discoveries are not driven by artistic minds, eager to explore their practice just as much as so-called artists do? Not to mention the algorithms that form the basis for all the software we use today. Those may as well have been developed firstly for artistic purposes.

For example, take a second to look at the Terravision project started out by Art+Com Studios in 1994. It is a “networked virtual representation of the earth based on satellite images, aerial shots, altitude data, and architectural data. It allows users to navigate seamlessly from overviews of the earth to extremely detailed objects and buildings.”¹ (Art+Com)

Does it look any familiar? Google Earth anyone?

“In simpler words, engineering is to art just like a pen is to a book. Had civil engineers and architects not been there, some of the greatest buildings in the world would not have been built. In a similar manner, if audio engineers had not mixed some of the greatest music albums of all time, those albums would not have sound so great.”² (Nermin Sa’d)

On this matter, digital art draws its inspiration from conceptual elements. Instructions, or algorithms, are seen as the foundation — and the limit themselves — to the creation of new artworks.

“A procedure of formal instructions would accomplish a result in a finite number of steps. […] Their fusion with audience participation and event as the smallest unit of a situation in many ways anticipated the interactive, event-based nature of some computer artworks.”³ (Christiane Paul)

John Cage was one of the earliest masters of revolutionising random access, often using the audience response as a “musical instrument”. Many of his sound and visual works were created partially though randomisation of elements in the composition — which were never twice the same.

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The role of arts organisations associated with digital art was also fundamental to the expansion of the practice. Most of those, such as EAT (Experiments in Arts and Technology), besides organising colloquiums and gatherings for both engineers and artists, also developed an interest in promoting live performances. The focus of interactive projects in the 1970s and 80s ranged from making use of slow scan television and satellites to setting up real-time teleconferencing — collapsing the geographical boundaries of real space.

Some More Beginnings Exhibition at E.A.T. in 1968

Making the audience participant in the work has been a constant motif in the forming of many digital artworks. While some artists were involved into creating more object-oriented works, others explored the interactive aspects of process-oriented art. The artist became a mediator between the public and the digital medium.

Because of its characteristics, however, digital art poses quite a few challenges in its presentation, storing, and preservation. This has contributed to creating a gap between media artists and gallery institutions. Most museums don’t have the tools to maintain time-based and interactive digital artworks. Additionally, especially when we talk about Internet Art, this is presented on a freely available medium which anyone can have access to. The status of the museum as the only space where to experience the artwork is therefore lost.

Neverthless, the interest for new, more participatory, forms of art from museums worldwide is increasing. Galleries like Tate, MoMA, and SAAM, to name a few, are currently displaying and storing digital artworks on their own websites.

“What makes digital art unstable are the rapid changes and developments in hardware and software.”⁴ Initiatives aimed at preserving digital art are currently under development. In the meantime we can only hope for institutions to fight these limitations and for artist to keep developing their practice as technology advances.


References:

1: ART+COM Studios (1994). Terravision, 1994. [online] Available at https://artcom.de/project/terravision/

2: Nermin S. (2014). The Eternal Relationship between Art and Engineering. [online] Available at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20141207232402-65458978-the-eternal-relationship-between-art-and-engineering/

3–4: Paul C. (2015). Digital Arts (World of Art). [paperback] Available at https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/131831.Digital_Art


Francesco Imola is a London-based musician, weekend photographer, and current Sound Design student at the University of Greenwich.

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