Saturday, August 6, 2011


I'm currently in New York engaging in a kind of anthropological data collection - looking through museum archives, conducting interviews, etc. One of the targets of my stalking is Anthony McCall, an important artist, and whose medium is light. Among his current projects is a large public commission from the U.K. which will coincide with the 2012 Olympics. It’s called Column, and the materials are ‘air and water.’ McCall says the work came essentially out of sharing a bottle of wine with an old friend, a physicist and inventor named John McNulty.

Some links to press descriptions of Column, which will draw a dynamic line of mist into the vertical horizon and disappear into the sky:

The Guardian
The Telegraph
Creative Review - including a video clip of the piece in scale model

And a couple of recent interviews:

Museo Magazine - on the technical backdrop to Column, other large public projects in New Zealand and New York, and on the social texture of public art
Bomb Magazine


  1. This guys is the opposite of what often confuses (and almost annoys) me when I visit modern art museums.

    It seems to me (perhaps unfairly) that many artists have a strange obsession with paint and sculpture and other ancient tools of art. I would have thought that the reason people used these tools prior to the 20th century is that this is all they had, not that they were more pure. I'm sure if some engineer made a new paint that had a new colour, that Mr da Vinci would have jumped on the opportunity to use it.

    My current view of the purpose of art is to somehow express or examine what it is possible for a human to think or feel. I would have thought that an honest artist would want to use all tools available to do this. Engineers can accomplish pretty incredible things and it surprises me that what seems to be the majority of artists don't embrace technology and use it to make better art. It doesn't make the art less pure, but it does open the artist up to new possibilities.

    I seem to remember hearing the argument that a school of artists didn't want to use computers to make at, because they didn't like the idea that their art could then be reduced to a long list of ones and zeros. I don't understand this. From a different perspective this adds to the beauty. Why not just embrace all tools?

    Clearly, Anthony McCall likes to use technology though. And he's probably going to create a piece of art that makes The Angel of the North seem a little silly. Though I do wonder what would happen on a windy day.

  2. Typo... first sentence should be "This guy..."

    There is at least one other.

  3. I came across this last year but it is actually much older (the Engineer won an engineering award and it reappeared in the media) I think Shaun makes an interesting point although as with any new technology there are usually only a few early adaptors who see the potential and develop it. I think science has the same problem, certainly with regards to experimental tools.

    Also this comment is a bit late but I only discovered the blog yesterday :)

  4. Sorry this is even later! There have always been artists interested in technology, but what makes this project interesting to me is that the collaborative component operates on the level of problem solving, and the mechanics of the conceptual vision. The form and the aesthetic vision work with the tech, which seems to bring it closer to the elegance of, say, a really well built bridge.

  5. "There have always been artists interested in technology"

    I'm going to call you out on that. I haven't seen much art and consciously been aware that it was the result of new technology. However, you certainly have more knowledge about artists than me, therefore I expect you are right, so I'm keen to read of some examples.

    I've just re-realised another motivation I had for this blog that I don't think I've actually mentioned here (or to anyone in private). While I think that art and science don't communicate enough, etc, I am also very much aware that I have made little effort to learn and appreciate any art that is being communicated (beyond perhaps music and literature - but everyone is into them), so I'm hoping that through this blog I can learn more about the rest of art.

    Can you give some good examples of pieces of art that expressed something that would not have been possible without some sort of technology? That is, not that the artwork itself wouldn't have been possible, but the thing/concept/emotion being expressed could not also have been expressed in a different artwork using earlier tools.

  6. This discussion is interesting because it points out my limitations in talking about art outside of an art vocab - not lingo, but a shorthand of references.

    First, I'd say that paint is a technology as much as video or the internet. However, I do understand that you mean the contemporary technology. Leonardo is a great example, even the figurehead for the art-and-tech tradition. But surely this was as much about his curiosity as his media?

    The whole history of cinema and photography is filled with people interested in working with the media of their time. For instance, Dziga Vertov's idea of a 'camera eye' ( Or Warhol, who made industrialization a theme.