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Eliza Gluckman article on Angela Eames 2008
Drawing in a brave new world
In 1984 Angela Eames entered a brave new world. As a drawer (for the title of fine artist sits unhappily with her) she had been exploring and reproducing ellipses in her work; her system-based approach of painstakingly leaning over a horizontal board with graphite stick in clenched fingers was beginning to translate into physical pain.
Teaching at an art college that year she found herself covering for a colleague. On discovering his source of truancy, a rather rare and intriguing thing - the first Apple Mac computer - she asked for a demonstration. Taking home a print-out of the angled ellipse that they managed to draw, Eames got thinking about her work. All this back breaking production and enforced systems - perhaps this machine could help her to stop being a machine; to free up her practice.
It was three years later in 1987 when Eames got access to an Amiga. For three weeks over the summer she worked out (without a manual) how it could work for her, creating drawings on the low resolution, 600x400 pixel screen. The primitivism of the machine she used then is still relevant to how she uses computers in her drawing practice today. The pixel is the texture of her virtual surfaces. There is no smoothing out of pixels in her work – if a blur is required it is built out of more pixels. As with the imperfection of drawing by hand, the images are never manipulated once complete.
Do not be fooled in to thinking that Eames is a computer geek. As the founder of the first bachelors degree in Drawing at Camberwell College of Art which began in 1998, her passion and life is about drawing; its physicality and prevalence in the world. Her use of computers can be seen as defiance as she sways between fear and contempt of the possibilities of technology and downright practical analysis. In her own words: ‘My priority is drawing. A driving force is the promotion of a less electronic dependent society and the work is a comment via questioning… We'll all suffer if technology is allowed to develop devoid of association with human thinking and needs.’
This said Eames is simply getting on with her artistic practice, a lifelong investigation of surface, layer, texture and space. ‘The electronic realm is just another step along the path of curiosity and invention,’ says Eames, ‘but it is a step which might allow us to engage with other aspects of space and time.’
This bigger concern about the world at large looms clearly in two recent series. Developing the texture and essence of the pixel, landscapes have appeared within her work where there had been a predilection for objects. The veil series with titles such as ‘shimmer’ stemmed from childhood memories of living in Bahrain. These beautiful images of rippling or billowing fabric are built as wireframe drawings in 3D space. This visible frame, exacerbated in the pixelated texture comments on what the façade of a veil may hide. More recent works depict a grid of ice cubes, (Larsen B) referencing scatterometry images of land and sea ice.
The neatly ordered cubes are sliced by a plane revealing a ‘melted’ void.Eames comments on how our human desire to try to order the planet is now backfiring on us. It is this constant fight against the human instinct of order and classification that can be traced through Eames’ work. In 1984 she understood that to defy that instinct in herself, to not become a machine, she must work with machines. ‘I’m worried’ says Eames of technology, ‘that man will succumb and relinquish the capacity to think, possibly the desire to do, resulting in a self-imposed and unequivocal shift in human ambition and direction.’ Eames has spent twenty years working with computers and has a unique relationship to them that is lost to most of us slouched over our keyboards. By being outside her comfort zone she has stayed an independent voice and an independent artist.
(Angela Eames will be showing her new work in an exhibition entitled Surfacing, at the Total Arts Gallery in Dubai April 2008)
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