Let’s Go Surfing!
by Julian Lietzmann
Thomas Baumann *1967 in Altenmarkt (Austria) lives and works in Vienna.
Baumann studied painting and graphic arts (with Max Melcher), as well as sculpture (with Bruno Grironcoli) at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna from 1985 to 1993. From his early works he used software-controlled machines to realize his works, making him one of the pioneers of cybernetic art. His work often deals with communication between man and machine, or rather with the question to what extent we as humans can communicate with each other through signs (codes) — and through the machines — and what transformation language undergoes as a result. Moreover, the theme of the wave is a recurring motif in Baumann’s works. It constitutes, in a sense, a visual or perceptible manifestation of communication per se. He succeeded particularly impressively in staging the theme of the wave in his project WAK, which he was able to show for the first time at Art Basel in 2015. Here, a wave machine he developed sent water waves at intervals through the basin designed by Heimo Zobernig. On the interpretive level, this installation refers to surf culture and synthesizes the idea of seaside vacations; it also referenced Hokusai’s famous woodblock print. In the same way, it offered many visitors, and primarily children, a popular attraction and an opportunity to splash around, and thus most vividly demonstrates Baumann’s methodical calculation. Most recently, he was able to convince with the work Shape and Shade for the media facade of the Kunsthaus Graz, which he developed together with Herbert Brandl.
AUSTRIAN NEW WAVE
When Baumann increasingly relied on the “help” of machines to realize his works of art in the early 1990s, he could by no means be sure of a positive response. Expectations — especially on the old continent — were still too strongly oriented toward traditional images of the artists and his creation. Moreover, the inclusion of cybernetic helpers calls into question the genius of the artist, which has been glorified until now. Baumann, who describes these helpers as “not much different than a kind of ruler”, however risked the affront. He never gave up experimenting with new technologies, and can now look back on an extensive and highly regarded body of work.
The emergence of new social media, such as Instagram, play into Baumann’s favor today. Art can now circulate outside the elite circle of the art world and sometimes even “go viral”. This was especially evident in the work Substitute Wave (2018), of which Baumann published a short cell phone video on his account and which has been clicked on several million times since. The criticism directed against the reduction of art to a mere miniature and the additional “loss of substance” it experiences through its duplication is of course a topic for Baumann — but not a problem. For him, at least, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages, for in doubt, a widely seen — even if sometimes misunderstood — work of art is more interesting than one that can only exist in the homogenous bubbles of the traditional world of exhibitions.
FIXATION IS KEY
For portal, the artist has now made five of his works available as NFTs for the first time. This involves digital paintings that were created in the period between 2001 and 2019 (South East). The basis of all compositions is a program written by Baumann in C+ and later on in adobe flash, that “paints” an 13 by 13 pixel “canvas” with thirteen characters defined by the artist — and the possibilities of resolution — which are related to each other through classic if-else statements. The “digital brush” is controlled by the arrow keys on the keyboard. Each character is also assigned to a specific sound whereby simultaneously a sonic composition is created… As an irony of history, these works are in danger of becoming unreadable in the near future due to the imminent disappearance of Adobe’s Flash Player that is required to play the program. Hence, the fixation of these compositions on the blockchain also represents — and not entirely unironically — an act of conserving these relics of digital art history. In this sense: do not forget to update your NFT-museum!
To see all NFTs and discover our other artist vistit: https://www.prtl.art/artists/thomas-baumann
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