Anne Spalter is an academic pioneer who founded the original digital fine arts courses at Brown University and The Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in the 1990s and authored the internationally taught textbook, The Computer in the Visual Arts (Addison-Wesley, 1999).
Her artistic process combines a consistent set of personal symbols with a hybrid arsenal of traditional mark-making methods and innovative digital tools. A new body of work, further developed at a winter 2019 residency at MASS MoCA, combines artificial intelligence algorithms with oil paint and pastels. She is currently creating work for the blockchain.
Spalter is also noted for her large-scale public projects. MTA Arts commissioned Spalter to create a 52-screen digital art installation, New York Dreaming, which remained on view in one of its most crowded commuter hubs (Fulton Center) for just under a year. Spalter’s 2019 large-scale projects included a 47,000 square foot LED video work on the Hong Kong harbor.
Spalter’s work is in the permanent collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum (London, UK); the Albright-Knox Art Gallery (Buffalo, NY); the Rhode Island School of Design Museum (Providence, RI); The Museum of CryptoArt, and others. Alongside her studio practice, Spalter continues to lecture on digital art practice and theory.
Thank you for your time and for being a part of this exhibition. You have a long remarkable history in the field of digital art, and in that course not only creating some land mark works but also amassing a collection of works by digital artist over the second half of the twentieth century. Spalter Digital is seen as one of the world’s largest private collections of early computer art.
You have a very large portfolio of work that much, to my amazement, is not available as NFTs. You probably have plans to make more of your work available for NFT collectors. Do you know of collectors, perhaps from the established art world who are now amassing important crypto art within a historical context?
Spalter Digital is collecting NFTs and as far as I can tell we are the only private collectors from the traditional side of things doing this. The worlds seem like parallel universes right now.
Yes, it makes sense that Spalter Digital would be collecting NFTs. It’s sad to hear of the two parallel universe. Perhaps we can create some type of wormhole between them. In what ways does your earlier work, i.e., non digital art, differ from the work you are now producing?
I would say that the content of the work has not changed much. For decades I have worked with a collection of personal symbols that I believe are also representative of our collective unconscious. These symbols include pathways such as highways and bridges; modes of transportation such as planes, ships, and UFOs; bodies of water from oceans to swimming pools; signalling structures such as lighthouses; and largely empty landscapes often featuring skyscrapers and urban landscape or clouds, mountains and water/seascapes.
The compositions frequently include or are based on circles and spheres and use patterning to create geometric order. The works usually incorporate specific times of day, using the lighting and colours of sunset, sunrise, or twilight.
Like recurring characters in a story these symbolic images come and go in different combinations and I have approached them with a range of both traditional and digital media. They often have simultaneous physical and spiritual references–acting as both objective landscape elements and tools for inner exploration.
Yes, in the exhibit one can see these motifs or symbols used in similar and different ways. For example, ‘Shifting Signals’, that you did in early 2020 is reflected in a more recent work ‘Control’ where again we see combinations of towers, birds and jets that are featured in other works. You often will work collaboratively with generative software to discover and select visual proposals or inputs into the creative process. You then apply a mixed media approach to producing the final image. However, in some works you now take that input for collaborative use with other generative software and digital inputs, even drawing on the image with an iPAD. Please share some things about your approach to making digital art as well as what motivates you and captures your attention or imagination. How do these interact and relate to each other?
I often use digital technology to generate new ways of approaching the personal iconography described above, recently including artificial intelligence. I’m not sure my approach to digital art making is any different from a traditional approach. It’s still about imagery, form, color, composition, etc. I try to use the best tools to investigate whatever I’m focused on–which at times are digital and at times traditional, and sometimes a mixture.
Do you start with a planned idea or approach? Does your initial approach end up evolving or going a different direction? Was this direction influenced or channeled by the use of digital technology?
Although I do sometimes begin with a plan in mind, I rarely end up proceeding in a straight line toward some preconceived goal. I try to remain open to what the work is telling me as I work. As often as not, the end result is different from anything I had anticipated. With digital technology I can try out many alternatives quickly in ways not possible with traditional media.
When you are working with digital processes such as algorithms, filters, visual modulators and/or AI, is there a discovery process that is somewhat consistent for you in that process?
The process of working with tools like filters, custom algorithms, and even AI definitely involves discovery and serendipity. Because I don’t know exactly what results a given process will deliver, there is constant new information that then triggers additional thoughts and next steps. I think such tools help keep the creative process open.
You use certain symbols that we share in our collective consciousness, Sometimes they emerge early from a chronological perspective and the reappear much later. I am thinking of two works in particular ‘Shifting Signals’ and ‘Control’. Do you find synchronicities from the information side of the technology that leads you? Does it feel sometimes like a collaborator, as if it understood what you were trying achieve?
Especially when using AI, I do feel as if someone else is there with me in the studio, suggesting all kinds of often surprising and intriguing ideas. While I don’t get the feeling that it knows what I want to achieve, I do find that because I feed the AI program with my own imagery and/or content i’m interested in, that it can produce compositions I probably would not have come up with on my own, but would have been pleased if I had. The process also seems a bit like dreaming, which fits with my interest in the unconscious. I feel as if these new compositions bubble up from the unconscious mind of the computer and that the computer and I dreamt them up together.
That is very interesting conceptually. It remind me a lot of Carl Jung’s interest in synchronicity and his use of the I Ching, where random input pulls up meaning, magically, from the subconscious. Are you surprised and/or enlightened by what the viewer brings to the table when encountering your art?
I don’t ascribe specific theoretical meaning or political narratives to my work, so there’s a lot of room for personal interpretation. Most of the works can be appreciated in an abstract manner or are pretty self-disclosing. Viewers don’t need a lot of background in art or art history to see and appreciate the work. I especially enjoy it when children are taken with pieces and spend time with them.
It seems you allow for the individuation of meaning to be discovered by a viewer perhaps through the use of collective unconscious imagery. What, for you validates your art? Is it the price somebody is willing to pay? Is it a favourable critical response or is it something other?
Well, it is great when a piece sells. It’s nice to get paid for one’s efforts and it’s also wonderful to have close relationships with collectors and know that someone is enjoying a work. Favourable critical response is also encouraging. All these external things help validate one’s efforts and provide motivation, but are icing the cake. The most important validation is when you feel that you have successfully created something that expresses a feeling or experience.