Digital Frottage: A Mechanised Optical Rub

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Burton, Laini
Platz, William
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This studio-led research project describes how office-based digital and analogue techniques can be combined to execute an artistic process that I have termed “digital frottage”. In a re-interpretation of the historical frottage process, I propose that the flatbed scanner is used to take automated “rubbings” of low-relief sculptural drawings created with Blu-Tack. The research demonstrates how the historical frottage process can be expanded by engaging with technology, and how our technological culture can only continue to broaden artistic expression. As part of the research, I have examined the link between historical frottage and alchemy. This research has involved reviewing the methods of alchemy as pertaining to Surrealism, where the subconscious rather than the conscious workings of the brain can lead to the creative misuse of materials and technologies in ways very different from their everyday functions. Alchemy is further exemplified when pre-existing conventional Blu-Tack and technology are merged and transformed into artworks of new significance. Each of my digital frottage artworks is the result of a series of actions that I view as alchemical. These actions include object manipulation, scanning, cutting, montage, and printing. In each of these actions, chance and disruption are present. At a high level of abstraction, the digital frottage process is one of decomposition and recomposition. Decomposing is looked at as a formless procedure where physical material transforms into a digital code when in contact with the flatbed scanner. I interweave critical writings from Georges Bataille, Rosalind Krauss and Yve-Alain Bois, who address the formless in relation to decomposing. Recomposing is outlined through montage, where fragments of different scans are reconnected into a whole image through editing. When changing the physical material Blu-Tack into the digital, I strive for an art form that is always presenting new visual discoveries, moving beyond an exact trace of Blu-Tack to shatter its conception and elevate the core quality of alchemy, “Mystery”. Mystery is pursued through the intuitive play of chance and entered into the frottage process through manipulation and suppressing conscious control to experiment with tensile qualities and compression of Blu-Tack, electronic glitches, and ghostly effects achieved in the shallow depth of field in material Blu-Tack’s digital transformation. This pursuit of mystery builds ambiguity into Blu-Tack’s transformation into the digital forming a unique reframing of frottage. The mysterious visual outcomes intrigue and confound the viewer’s certainties about visual perception whereby they enter into a riddle to resolve the ambiguity present in the artworks. Overall, this studio-led research has detailed a contemporary version of frottage using material Blu-Tack and digital applications sourced from the site of the office environment of the newspaper industry. The element of mystery within the digital frottage compositions counters a visually oriented culture driven by the superficial. This superficial is rapidly advancing by the dependency of more accessible and faster technologies to entertain us. A particular repercussion of superficiality is that our technologies and entertainments become devoid of the mysterious and revealing unseen hidden secrets of the esoteric. The technology used in this investigation rather facilitates a more-in-depth exploration penetrating beyond the obvious found in the mundane of the everyday. The artworks affirm a position in the world, away from a sense of alienation toward an openness in artistic practice.

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Thesis (Professional Doctorate)
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Doctor of Visual Arts (DVA)
Queensland College of Art
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Digital frottage
Optical rub
Visually oriented culture
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