by Josefine Hübler
The series of ten digital drawings by the Austrian media artist Peter Kogler was originally made on a Commodore 64 in 1984 and represents one of his first explorations with an assisted computer drawing software called KoalaPainter and its corresponding graphics tablet.
The C64 version of the programme operated in the so-called multicolour mode, which allowed it to display 16 colours and a resolution of 160 × 200 pixels. Using coarse dithering, the impression of a relatively higher colour depth could be achieved but was still rather basic compared to today’s graphic standards.
By investigating KoalaPainters digitally generated visualization features Kogler began the conquest and occupation of those spaces that had been relegated as niche spaces to the insignificance of the art world and established, along with a few others, a progressive relational space of digitally produced systems and structures that made new representations of relationships possible.
With the steady refinement of computer technology and the introduction of the Macintosh in 1984, the industry experienced widespread social application. It was a moment that facilitated a completely new approach on how we can incorporate drawing technology into artistic and visual practice. Through the machine, everything that can be perceived by the senses receives a new allocation. By creating close-ups of architectural utopias, fine-textured meshes or collages and pixel-like icons Kogler re-locates and challenges us to rethink time-tested assumptions regarding our existence and succeeds in creating an axis between inclusion and exclusion through engaging system sequences involving the major and in-between spaces. In doing so, the constant shifting of proportions, scales, and perspective serves as an artistic expression of illusions and cognitive distortions.
Using the C64 prepared the way for discovering the world of digital drawing and introducing Kogler to the key principles and features of drawing software like KoalaPainter.
The C64 is considered the best-selling home computer in the world, as it offered a lot of technology and expansion opportunities while also being affordable, in contrast to the predecessor of the Macintosh, the Apple Lisa, which cost almost USD 10,000 at that time.
Working with a Commodore 64, Amiga and later on a Macintosh, it opened new artistic forms of expression for visualizing human relationships and the influence of media upon individuals. Despite the predominance of painting as the leading medium in the Visual Arts at the beginning of the 1980s, he was intrigued by the digital visual language in the form of icons and pictograms.
The resonance in the art world was initially extremely reserved since the use of computers for artistic purposes represented completely new territory and had no concrete connection in the art canon of that time. By connecting nature, mind and technology from the 1980s onwards, the Visual Arts were subject to perpetual transformation and transgression. In Koglers early artistic career, his interest in the impact of spatiality, architecture, sign systems and signal languages began to express itself in his cardboard objects, drawings, performances and filmmaking. Using media and computer technology as the foundation of his spatial structures, he defied the mainstream of painting as the primary artistic practice back then and incorporated organic shapes and corporeal structures into a perfectionist-driven technology.
Kogler was particularly inspired by the Viennese economist Otto Neurath, who, together with his team, developed the “Viennese Method of Image Statistics’’ in the mid-1920s, which aimed to provide a method for visualizing complex relationships for all educational levels of society.
Since the very beginning of his career, Kogler has been faithful to the tools offered by assisted drawing software.
The retro nostalgia embodied in the 24 x 24 pixel icons by CryptoPunks, which are all unique in their variety and among the first NFTs (Non-Fungible-Tokens) ever generated on the Ethereum Blockchain is in fact clearly relatable to Koglers original
160 x 200 pixel works.
Kogler’s first digital works are humorous and playful precursors of recent evolutions in the NFT space and demonstrate how pixel art and visual language found their way into his artistic practice long before NFTs were known. The pixel aesthetics, which was in a sense compulsory at the time, resulted of course from the extremely low processing power of the C64 computers and gained increasing popularity in contemporary art practice.
Present day’s technological innovation bestows a series of indisputable properties upon these earliest of digital art works, making them truly unique and force the established artworld to rethink their long held reservations about the medium as a whole. By minting the .koa collection on the Ethereum blockchain, Koglers early works are reborn as unique, immutable and transferable tokens providing him with absolute agency over their distribution.
It is worth noting that this is the first time these works have seen the eyes of the public let alone offered for sale on the art market.
With his new NFT collection Koglers pioneering spirit is yet again pushing the envelope of societal and technological innovation through his art.
Although they do not intend to pay some kind of sentimental tribute to the old days, they allow us to understand the journey behind today’s renewed interest in digital art and present unique testimonies of an early pioneer of the cross section between technology and art.