La Main de l’Homme*, by Blackhawk

Before the triumph of Mediaculture, mediation was an external agency, a process one submitted to for the attainment of a given result, an option. As precursors of New Media Art, early video & conceptual art introduced mediation as an aesthetic vector and/or process-methodology, another way to approach or contextualize an artist’s tools or content. Now however mediation is omnipresent, it takes heroic intervention by the artist to remove it from the critical context their work exists in. Relative to what’s gone before, theoretically the landscape exists as seen through a virtual camera obscura; what was up is now down and vice-versa.

Thus, looking back to earlier historical strategies of aesthetic immersion, Islamic design for instance, the notion was that if Man wished to suggest the Divine he must lose his humanity so as to lose the limitations implicit in it. Didn’t geometry, with its point of standing seduction into the infinite, represent inherently more than what poor, mortal man could do or be? Necessarily in the translation from the human, the limited, to the mathematical and limitless, the first thing to be surrendered was métier: the Hand.

So now we see another kind of surrender, not in the mind or will of the artist yet rather in so-called « popular imagination » (at times, itself an oxymoron) — that being the supposed loss of authorship when the artist employs certain mediumistic tools, computers chief among them. Yet to look at the work of Pascal Dombis is not to see any surrender of authorship or poiesis through the agency of mechanical intervention or surrogacy, instead there is self-mediated metiér; the Hand grown so accomplished, efficient, and powerful that it can write its signature small, in code and algorithm, and yet figure large, reaching through the machine, animating it (and not the reverse), entering into a creative partnership with the random and circumstantial to create an art which is perpetually reinventing itself and its aspect.

Thus Dombis’ hyperstructures are not any sort of « arabesque » except in the most general associative sense, for what is sacrificed on the alter of geometry in the traditional works is here instead transformed and augmented to attain a status which in traditional perspective must seem post-human. This is a transubstantiation of the Machine in its perfect sociocultural application; that of « slave ». What then is the need for obsessive fixation which might plot all the variables potentiate in one of Dombis’ starting figures, those which are the basis for all iteration and variation in a given piece? The Machine can do it, and at no risk to its own sanity. Where then is the requirement for the consumption of massive amounts of time in calculating geometries? The Machine can do it, and with no thought to other projects ignored in the process. Why should there be an acceptance of human limitation, a prison of the flesh, simply to convoke the infinite? The Machine is capable, given the task the artist has designed for it, it labors ceaselessly, reflecting the ingenuity of its creator, itself executing and re-executing the work, Dombis achieving a partial and situational apotheosis as a demiurge — the constant practitioner.

Legends tell of sorcerers able to inculcate their essences within physical vessels, rendering them immune and invulnerable to the perils of natural existence. Might one not say that Dombis has done this as well? That with each algorithm and starting figure, with each self-generating and self-sustaining artwork he has left a part of himself, an active part, toiling away in a virtual simulacrum of his practice? That each piece carries with it a part of the studio it was created in? Of course this is not sorcery, it is merely the face of a unique form of contemporary art practice.

Along with digital mediation itself, Dombis’ work contains several essential negotiations. One is between the determinism and autonomy of the algorithms executing the hyperstructures which make up the visual component of the artwork. What is controlled and what is random; what is calculated and what is aleatory? Another deals with compression, in this case through layering; in physics mass and density correlate but is that the case with this work? Post-fractal geometries clearly indicate the old alchemical proposition, « As Above, So Below »; scale is immaterial, it is only a question of focus, and focus could be anywhere. If a work is smaller, one is induced to regard it as an object of inscrutable contemplation, if it is larger then it takes on an immersive quality not wholly unlike that produced by the regard of large Abstract Expressionist canvases by a Jackson Pollock or Clyfford Still — an everywhere and nowhere achieved simultaneously.

Though surely « anti-minimalist », Dombis’ work cannot really be said to be « digital expressionism » since the visual component of the work is in fact a « shadow in the cave » with respect to the code which enables it. This sets up a further irony in that the work may be said « to express » as hypothetical protein foldings do in biotechnology, however the literal gesture is embodied in the code itself thus enabling a satifsyingly witty parallel between the actual code and symbolic code, i.e. that which allows itself to be parsed as expressionistic. By the same token one could see the work as extra-dimensional terrain maps, each successive elevation standing above or below the last according to its own whim. Somewhere between a landscape of delirium and a blueprint for an impossible organic machine, the works build upon themselves, threatening a « black out » point of no return yet never ultimately attaining it.

Hyperstructures can be created in a variety of ways, through rules governing cellular automata, the track-charts of cloud chambers, the recreation of plasma flow, the iteration of Feynman windows, the promulgation of Fibonacci numbers, the perturbations of unfixed matrices, the controlled collapse of lattices, etc, etc. Every time an ice cube starts to melt it creates a hyperstructure. Dombis’ preferred method here is via the iteration of a simple base element in terms of degree of curvature, proliferation, and growth. The more random the growth variable, the more chaotic the result. Clever composition creates what appear to be areas of absence; doors or windows which open and close as the work restates itself, forever inviting then finally excluding scrutiny.

While at first somewhat suspicious of incorporating too much process-methodology in the current body of work, as the technology matured and he became more comfortable with his own approach and technique, Dombis came to the conclusion that to demonstrate the progressions which told the tale of the work’s creation would not deprivilege its inherent power or mystery and he now permits himself to employ video and lenticular technologies to further reveal the art-making process which for him had gradually already become functionally transparent.

In this same way, Dombis’ work replicates itself to achieve structural density. Another conceptual/visual pun on the concept of « mechanical reproduction » as the work augments itself in a geometric progression stating 1 then multiplying by 4, 16, 64, etc. This gives the linear figures a fullness and cohesion quite distinct from the paradigm of « the moving finger »; and yet there is the artist’s tireless, virtual hand, drawing impossible figures somewhere between what the human eye can see, the human mind can encompass, and that oft-regarded, evanescent suggestion of infinity.

 

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on; nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.
– The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.

 

Blackhawk

New York City, December, 2003.

[*the title refers to a French an Enlightenment period aphorism rejecting Judeo-Christian preordination in favor of individual determinism in the spirit of the Enlightenment]