A broad term that emerged in the 1960s and exploded onto the art scene in the 1980s, New Media ecompasses the fusion of traditional media such as film, images, painting, sculpture, music, and the written and spoken word with the interactive power of computer and communications technology, computer-enabled consumer devices, and the Internet. This new category of art includes digital art, animation, interactive and installation art, and computer graphics, among others. New media artists such as Nam June Paik (1932-2006) and Wolf Vostell (1932-1998) first experimented with video and sound art in the 1960s and many artists have since followed in their footsteps with further experimentation. A key concept of New Media is that the artworks produced are available to anyone at any time through the Internet and other digital frameworks. This digitization creates a universal forum for artists to share ideas with each other, and communicate with viewers directly.
One of Paik’s well known pieces is TV Cello (1971), which he created by stacking a few televisions on top of each other to form a cello shape. He set it up so that when his collaborator, Charlotte Moorman (1933-1991), drew a bow across the TV cello, videos of her and others playing the cello would light up the television screens. Vostell created a similar installation with six TV sets showing different programs and a bag of groceries glued to each set. Both artists were pioneers of video art, but their art is also conceptual – something that is common among other New Media artworks.
One interesting category of New Media is Fractal Art, which has only been around for approximately 20 years. Fractal Art is generated by computer programs and refined by artists, and the artworks take the form of images or animations. This is a unique form of art as it involves mathematics and computer science. First, let’s clarify what exactly a fractal is: a fragmented geometric shape or pattern that is split or repeated at a smaller scale in order to produce an irregular shape which would be impossible in classical geometry. To get an idea of what this looks like, we can look at a simple piece known as the Mandelbrot set. The set is based on a mathematical equation involving points on a plane with an elaborate boundary, thus forming a fractal.
As you can see, the primary shape involved is a circle and it seems to have been split into smaller pieces or repeated at a smaller scale to form a bizarre geometric shape that could not otherwise exist. Fractal Art builds on this concept, creating even more complex shapes to form a surreal image.
Take, for example, one of the artists currently on view at the New Britain Museum of American Art – Jussi Härkönen. His piece Bubbling Growth (2007) uses fractals to create a familiar image of some sort of flowering garden that is not completely abstract. It is something much more than a myriad of shapes and engages the viewer. Looking at the piece, it is amazing to think that it was created on a computer with the use of mathematics. Though some might feel that it is easier to create artwork with a computer, it is simply not true. The challenge of creating something meaningful and beautiful is still there and often digital artists have specialized computer and software skills that many other artists do not have. Therefore, it takes a lot more work and editing than people realize. It is also apparent that Härkönen has studied art history as this piece is reminiscent of Japanese prints. It is important to note that while the computer program does generate the original design, the Fractal Artist has complete control over color, shading, and composition.
Still, Härkönen represents only a small part of Fractal Artists as there is an inifinite variety of possibility due to the nature of the fractula formulas. One artwork differs so greatly from the next that it may be difficult to tell they are the same medium and utilize the same process.
What do you think of Fractal Art and New Media in general? Where do you think it will go from here? What other kinds of media can be used for art? Be sure to take a look at the NBMAA’s youtube channel for more information on fractals, and check out this wonderful website that focuses on Fractal Art.
Also, make sure to stop by the Museum and see 50 examples of award-winning fractal artworks on view in the Contemporary Gallery. The first installment of the NBMAA’s New Media exhibition series, Fract Art: Beauty in Mathematics will be on display through Februrary 20, 2011.