Wednesday, June 17, 2015

What a Difference an Emoji Makes

“There definitely is a pop aesthetic in my work,
much of which streams from my Google searches
 and social media observations, etc…,
i.e. web 2.0 culture
Carla Gannis

In 2012 ArtCritical’s David Cohen described the digital artist Carla Gannis as “a geek pioneer of manifest painterly sensibility, an artist – in an appropriately but still unforgivably awful mix of metaphors – who gets her digital hands dirty.”

Three years later Gannis expanded on Cohen’s observation telling Digicult’s Filippo Lorenzin “As a visual storyteller, I narrate through a “digital looking glass” where reflections on power, sexuality, marginalization, and agency emerge. Humor and absurdity are important elements in the telling of my sociopolitical narratives; and image search engines, software and hardware enable me in the showing.”

It was her retelling of Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights using Emoji icons that catapulted the Assistant Chair of The Department of Digital Arts at New York’s Pratt Institute into the lime light.

As Gannis tells the story “In December of 2013, Zoë Salditch & Julia Kaganskiy curated the Emoji Art & Design Show at Eyebeam Art+Technology Center in New York. They put out a call for artists, and I decided I wanted to submit something, but thought I needed to push the Emoji iconography more in a new piece that specifically examined what kind of stories could be told with this highly popular contemporary glyph system.

So I sat down at my computer, thought about what I’d like to produce, and after 5 minutes, like an animated Emoji light bulb turning on, I decided Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights, with its broad cultural appeal (like Emoji), was a work that I wanted to transcribe, to “emojify.” Although the triptych ranks as one of my personal favorite artworks of all time, I only know it through reproductions, making it as virtual in a sense as the Emoji characters I used.

I produced a small digital print version of Bosch’s hell panel from the triptych for the Eyebeam exhibition, and then spent the next year of my life, with the studio assistance of Rafia Santana, producing a 13ft x 7ft digital print that re-imagined Bosch’s entire triptych as The Garden of Emoji Delights. I also produced an animated version of the triptych as well as 12 video vignettes, a number of animated gifs, a humorous Bosch Emojification prototype app, and a 3D printed sculpture that I worked on in collaboration with artist Everett Kane.

In terms of Bosch’s relevance to artists who are exploring networked culture and digital life, personally as one engaged in this practice, I’m fascinated by The Garden’s… resonance with contemporary viewers. Bosch’s depictions of a sprawling humankind engaged in folly, vice and debauchery align, even in symbology, with many of our own fascinations and concerns culturally in the 21st century. Even though the painting is a triptych to be read left to right, there is so much imagery in each panel, your eye scrolls down the painting top to bottom and back. To me the work feels “hyper mediated,” filled with an overwhelming amount of content. I really enjoyed transcribing into a contemporary visual sign system all of the different clusters of figures that provide unique and darkly humorous narratives.”

Gannis’ The Garden of Emoji Delights has since been shown at second gallery in New York and in Chicago last year and is currently on show at New York’s Hudson River Museum until the 26th of September.

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