Art on the Memory Medium
By Hideki Nakazawa
According to a legend, there lived a potter's daughter in the city of Sikyon in ancient Greek, who traced her lover's figure in silhouette reflected on the wall by a lamp so that it would remain for a long time, and her father carved it in relief; it happened to be the first relief. This has been known as "the discovery of a sketch technique" or "the origin of paintings," and this subject of paintings was often taken up by French artists of the 17th and 18th centuries.
I do not know if there exist similar stories in the East or other areas. Today's art history usually starts from the wall paintings in caves or Egyptian art, so the above legend is not quoted so often as the origin of art. It is often indicated, however, that the present concept of "art" was established in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries, and that the concept in Japan is what was imported, and that it was for the convenience of later ages that the word was applied to the things of prehistoric-age. Therefore, this subject taken up often in the formative period of concept of "art" is worth consideration.
If you follow the context, art relates to the will which intends to leave something in this world. In the legend, it was a human act done solely for memorizing human love forever. Art is made by human skill, that is, artificial. Different from Eastern thought which tends to follow the nature of things such as "all things flow and nothing is permanent" or "things having forms all perish," this Western episode definitely confronts with nature. If art is the imitation of nature which was formed by motivation to leave something behind, there always exist differences in art skills in its actualizing stages; thus, art "history" was born as the product of numerous differences in skills.
The will intending to leave a visual "form" was greatly changed by the invention of photography. Once paintings were thought to be passe, but, as a new device for leaving "expression" to the world, visual art other than photographs also firmly survived in the 19th century. And in the 20th century, there arose a situation that even the "expression" was stripped: Duchamp presented Ready Made. Ready Made was to extract just something to be left behind. Naming was its specific way. His intention to leave human-made things by their names is not so different from that of the potter's daughter's in Sikyon. How Duchamp cherished Ready Made works and how he was attached to just leaving only their names can be clearly seen in his effort to decrease the number of his works for that reason. Anti-art represented by Ready Made was surely anti-expression, but it was just right as art.
As we are now in the after period of post-modernism, some may have different opinions from my point written above. Criticism against the Western modernism-like dominating naming system itself is quite natural, and not a few cases are often persuasive as art whose contents are such as "appearance," "impermanence," or "unexpected accidents." In the middle ages, a different expression having intention to "praise God" also existed. As for the work-declaration-ism by authors, what is in vogue nowadays is rather an attitude toward getting rid of its arrogancy; attachment to author's name and works does not look so fashionable.
These standpoints, however, can be interpreted as the concepts born under the influence of modernism, and the will which "intends to leave something behind" always existed as the essence of art, throughout from the legend of the origin of paintings to Ready Made. Let us think like that for the present and go forward.
The word "leave" which has been used repeatedly may be treacherous. The reason is that, on the one hand, it just seems to tell about existence in an unconcerned way, and that, on the other hand, it directly connects with the story of "love" which aspires after eternity. In the horizon where self-existence can be interpreted in an expressionistic way, there also exists a term called existence, and from there, the distance to the love is not so far.
Therefore, for example, you can grasp art history as an artificial quantative indication of love. Before the invention of photography, painter's (or requester's) love toward an object created a work as an icon. When the purpose changed from an icon to expression, only one of an original work itself came to be an object of love. And after Ready Made, love has been conveyed only in the naming. At that stage, love separates from an object, and sublimes to an idea, a genuine naming system. It is platonic love.
I can easily remember a few artists who, within themselves, changed their intense and greedy "love for material" into "love for an idea." They are such artists as are roughly grouped as school of Japan concept: Yutaka Matsuzawa, On Kawara, and Shusaku Arakawa. Their dreadfully passional works made in their younger ages look just opposite of their ideological works made in their later days, for which they became famous, but their basic appeals are almost the same. Although they are distant from conceptualism as a definition, like Kosuth, who is a purified Duchamp, they are the same in the point that they had the necessity of limiting objects to be "left," to an idea.
Today, when the year of 2000 is just around the corner, this story should be told in relation to CG. The reason is that the data of computer works are basically the naming done by arranging 0 and 1 in a row, which is an idea itself. Today, however, a computer has been degraded as a personal computer to one of living environments in front of us, and so there may be almost no CG artists who create works with such realization stated above. Digital environment is not mere flesh enlargement, nor mere high technology. I think it is necessary to present rather minimal digital works clearly, in order to take out this matter with intention. It is analogous to that amebas are sometimes more useful than higher living things for the solutions of the basis of biology.
In the 1980s, I created acrylic paintings each of which had but one original, and after the first solo exhibition held in 1990, where I manifested my conversion to CG, I have constantly created works by arranging 0 and 1 in a row. I have always treated dots and jagginess with care, and put more importance on whether or not the value of R100% is properly chosen on the data than how a red color seems when printed out or outputted on the monitor; that is, I have always acted on the concept. In this computer age, I feel strongly the necessity of a new way and a common practice of how to leave behind the essential work data.
When you develop the story of Ready Made's naming to a story of data works as an idea, you should be conscious of materialization which are interposed in the latter. What CG-work appreciators physiologically view is not an idea's figure of 0 and 1 arranged in a row, but what was materialized as visual things outputted by a monitor or a printer, as such a process is interposed. (Here, the word materialization includes optical outputs by the monitor.)
In case you cannot get your red color bright enough, in spite of a proper choice of the value of R100% on the data, it is the monitor's or printer's fault. Some may say that you should thoroughly know the characteristics of the monitor or printer before you make data, but that is the words which should be said to outputters, and that is not what artists as "the ones who do naming = the ones who declare one's work" should take into consideration. It is the side of monitors and printers that needs to make efforts.
If you think that you have ever heard of such a system that an idea asserts its priority to material, that is the Western music which has historically always contained the system of musical notation. The stream from classical music to modern music has established a system that composers as "the ones who do naming = the ones who put notes" dominate players who are compared to printers. At this point, composers are advocates of Plato. A musical score as an idea cannot be appreciated as it is, and that is the reason why it is perfect. Beethoven's ninth symphony which consists of just written notes is an accomplished work, even if he could not listen to it. Players, on the other hand, are advocates of Aristotle. An idea on a musical score cannot be taken out as it is, and every time it is played, a different substance of musical sound comes out as "a compound of an idea and material." There can never be the same performances, and that is the reason why there exist various kinds of CDs of "the ninth symphony."
Different from artists of the pre-computer age who generally could not present works but Aristotle-like "substances," CG artists can present a Platonic idea, which is the same situation as genuine composers'. In the previous article of this serial, I concluded from here the necessity of CG outputters whose situation is the same as players', but in this article, I intend to write about the proper work data for CG artists. The reason is that this has a very close relationship with a will to "want to leave," and yet, in spite of that, its situation is not stable.
I had an experience some time ago that I managed to regain my still-picture data after the lapse of several years, which were displayed at my first solo exhibition in 1990. (In other words, I managed to save the data all over again in the way of the present data form.) In those days, I used a model of NEC-PC88VA2 for my art work and saved all the data in 5-inch floppy disks of no more existing type. Later I let the model go, and it was only the floppy disks that I carefully kept, which later found me in a serious situation that all the data made by the above model were never able to be read any more, and even the maker could not help me. Of course I still had at hand the printed works of those days, but such a thing was never a satisfying one for the author from the above reason. The composer of "the ninth symphony" would have been very disturbed, if his musical scores had been scattered and lost forever, even if CDs of his music are abundantly found. I worried if I had to try to input the 2-value black-and-white bitmap pictures by enormous hand operations from the printed works (see Note 1). For me, CG work data are not interim block copies at all.
Luckily I could ask a certain programmer to analyze the data which were converted into 3.5-inch floppy disks from the 5-inch ones. Before I let the model go, I had saved some main data, just in case of such an accident. The picture-data of "a dump data mode (=a mode which retains a prototype of non-compression)," a different type from an ordinary way of saving, were chosen for the first objects to be analyzed. As I had in memory the number of colors and the sizes by length and width, the data were returned to me as grey-gradation pictures with lost palette information. By analogizing one after another from there, at last color information was also returned to me (see Note 2). And finally, the picture-data saved in an ordinary way were also reborn as the data which can be seen by the present models.
What I felt strongly through these operations was not such a low level story as how to prevent recurrence, but the necessity of establishment of a universal data mode such as, extremely speaking, even the extra-terrestrials can analyze them. In other words, what is necessary is an inquiry of a universal language which is composed of only 0 and 1, and the preservation of picture-data by means of that. If you have an ounce of programming mind, you would always use natural formulas like "it ought to be like this here," or "it cannot be so troublesome here." I want to preserve my works by means of such a data mode made through such natural formulas, so that even a future programmer of 10,000 years after can analyze them. This direction shows quite an opposite topic of that of a compression mode, and furthermore, this even includes a story of preservation which does not depend on optical media or magnetic substances that need special devices. For example, if you print a long, long line of 0 and 1 on paper, (actually by a sexadecimal indication), as you saw in micro-computer magazines in the past, you can get really perfect digital data, and you can also input them by a computer, copying each letter one by one like a manuscript.
Let me also allude to this: Which is more likely to "remain," data or material? Contrary to an ordinary sense, history judges the side of data the winner.
For example, the letter data of ancient documents tell us that the age of classical antiquity produced many great artists. But there remains not a single actual material. Even in such an exceptional accidental case as the ruins of Pompeii, the unearthed pictures are not artistic masterpieces worthy of documentary records, and they are just regarded as archaeological relics of authors unknown. There unearthed some sculptures with some artistic value, but they also cannot be compared to the amount of information which spreads everywhere in the form of recorded documents.
The Imperial message issued by Emperor Shiko in Shin, China, was carved in seven stone monuments, not in wood, from the ever-lasting point of view, but what still remain today are only their fragments. On the other hand, what was transcribed by Chinese Shiba-Sen in "Shiki," history books, is still being transmitted. There are many similar stories. Though I will not go in details, data is stronger in remaining than material not only against natural decay but also even against such an intentional human-made destruction as book burning. This story is of course confined to the data which people love; the data which people have no intention to leave will eventually volatilize. Almost all the books written by Plato, who had a talent for writing, are extant, but Aristotle's books are all lost, the reason of which is said to owe to the above fact (see Note 3).
In the case of music after the establishment of musical notation, a still more interesting phonomenon can be seen. As there were no sound recorders in former days, musical interpretations were obliged to be preserved through putting notes. Then, did the invention of a phonograph make staff notations go out of use? No. On the contrary, various kinds of CDs of "the ninth symphony" are put on sale. In other words, taking advantage of the fact that it is only an idea that is presented by composers, musical works are always reproduced under the pretext of "contemporary interpretation" or "original interpretation." In the case of jazz performances, which have nothing but recorded things from the start, even a very good record with an artistic value is destined to be bargained as a cheap record in the long run. The similar phonomenon has also been established in literature: that is a reproduction system by translation of foreign novels into Japanese or translation of classics into modern languages.
I call this last form by the name of "art on RAM" (see Note 4). Digital data are read from ROM, developed on RAM, and outputted by a monitor or a printer; and so, if you put the mechanism within the system from the start, you will get higher reproductivity and higher nature of preservation. Although volatility of what is not loved may be high, it is better for poor works to follow the natural selection than survive accidents. And it goes without saying that CG, which can treat original data on RAM for the first time, is "art on the memory medium." While seeing the problem of the universal data mode in my intellectual horizon, I intend to leave behind art works as poems made of 0 and 1.
(Written in February, 1998)
Adhering to one's old works is an awkward thing. A kind of difficult-to-handle pride has driven me into making new works instead of adhering to the old ones, and made me let my old model go, neglecting it for a long time, and made me reluctant to recover the data by hand work. In former days when I painted pictures, I was always very sad for the fact that each painting had but one original. (For example, I had never been satisfied with photographs of my own works, and I always hated to sell my paintings.) Such being the case, I felt very comfortable when I started to use a computer, as what it treats is nothing but reproducible data. It was for that reason that I did not want to look at the situation of my CG's returning to the only-one-thing state once again, although it was the hard model's fault.
I changed my work style in 1997, which gave me a chance to objectively look at my own never-reproducible paintings of around 1990, and which at last made me succeed in regaining all of my old works.
In the case where individual dot pixel information on the bitmap picture is evaluated one by one without being compressed and arranged in a row, it is called "all over" or "dump." Any picture data of screen shots taken in by PC Engine function of 88VA2's OS always comes out exactly in the same size; I did not know at that time so far, but anyway I estimated so, and saved all the data in that way. When the screen shots of palette and of tool were reproduced in grey gradation with the help of my memory of 8 bit, 640*400 size, there appeared the letters of GRB and a 256-color palette which was separated exactly in 4 blocks. Mr. Programmer estimated a palette of G8*R8*B4 from there; then, the palette information returned to me. Today's natural order is RGB, but it was the time when even such a thing was not established yet.
All of the complete works by Aristotle transmitted until today are lecture records multiplied by manuscripts. There seems to have existed a considerable number of books by his own, but they were scattered and lost. This is an example of what is called "fate of books" in the meaning of what is to be left leaves, and what is to be lost loses.
This will allow the following jump of logic: data are fundamentally living things existing between natural selection and self-multiplication. The most typical example of such data is genes. Ancient living things, for example, can be only known by their fossil bones. It is said that material is overwhelmingly strong in durability, but it does not necessarily hit the mark in the case of genes. Genes which are renewed on RAM one after another and then reproduced, have continued to "leave" themselves by putting genes of ancient living things into those of the present living things. The truth that ontogeny repeats phelogeny also eloquently speaks that. Even if seen in broad perspective like that, data is much stronger in durability. And by biologically studying the story of love from which this article started, different characteristics of data themselves will clearly be seen.
RAM stands for Random Access Memory and ROM stands for Read Only Memory. In a narrow sense, they are kinds of a semiconductor-memory-medium used in computer's main memory tubes, but here I use them also with implication of life and death, as was once interpreted in a stretched way by Mr. Mikio Igarashi. In other words, RAM, on which you can freely read or write, but from which all the memory disappear if you turn the power off, is a "living" place, where things get renewed and changed one after another, which seems to correspond to each person's whole language (parole) as said so in linguistics; ROM, on which you cannot write but just read, and from which memory never disappear even if you turn off the power, is, (as it were,) an unchangeable "dead" place, which seems to correspond to dictionaries and grammars (langue) which are the basis of community's language.
The situation of leaving works by data still has ability of outputting various print-out things, and it can cope with basic changes of dictionary systems or grammars, so it is a "living" state; it is, as it were, a work's form of RAM's premise-type, as it can be outputted for the first time after getting modified on RAM. In that case, it needs ROM of dictionaries and grammars for data analysis, so it is indispensable to inquire into a "universal language" as is stated in this article. And the situation of leaving works by printed-out things or ordinary pictures is a "dead" state, as it is already unchangeable or just destined to decay. It is from the start a work's form of nothing but ROM.
This story, however, treats only up to the state where works reach appreciators. Once pictures as ROM are taken into appreciators through their eyes, they will spread on RAM of appreciators' minds, and become living experiences. Good performances of jazz are also reproduced in appreciators' minds. Therefore, what is mainly treated in this article is the level of a story that another step of RAM should be built before works reach the last step of RAM of appreciators' minds.