Digital life is ultimately flawed, fleeting, and very different from the paradigm of natural life and death expressed in classical landscape painting. From the moment of creation, real digital life is commonly marked by myriad glitches and a rapid descent into obsolescence. The problem with digital stuff is that it never really works. However, old digital things still somehow die.
This animation expresses a weird but still organic notion of digital death, although it is very different from the cycling and recycling of life into death into life that one finds in the biological world and is expressed in traditional landscape painting.
Digital Death embraces metaphoric contradictions by glitching a tool that is part of my 3D animation software, Maya, an Autodesk virtual-reality product that I always use. In Maya, it is possible to simulate the growth of a cherry tree by using an algorithmic function based on the mathematics of fractals. So I did. But I found that there was actually no way to "die" the tree. In Maya, there is no tool for wilting, and apparently neither fall nor winter, because in Maya plants can only be programmed to grow. But, while there was no wilting function in my world, I did discover an interesting substitute. I could invert my growth tool by using the negative number version of the same algorithm that I used to grow things. If I grew a tree at a rate of 6, let’s say, I could "ungrow" it equally at a rate of negative 6. And when I did this, when I "ungrew" my tree at a negative rate, it did not wilt in a natural way. Instead, it would glitch, spasm, break into pieces, dissolve into dust, and then finally fade away.
With this simple gesture of growing and then ungrowing—by animating a period of positive growth, followed by a period of negative growth—I could metaphorically add and remove time simultaneously, and in so doing, create a Taoist tree that eats itself even as it is being born, endlessly re-cycling, in a state of digital death.
A Digital Death (Short and Sweet)
NFT 3D animation
Edition of 1
This piece uses as its basis a glacially slow 20-minute movie that I created and exhibited several times, initially in 2013, and then revised to 10 minutes at the same time as producing this abbreviated NFT version. The NFT was created for a 2023 exhibition on the platform Objekt.one.com entitled Techno Terrain: Nature in the Age of the Metaverse, curated by Anika Meiers. Below is an excerpt of the short interview conducted on the occasion of the exhibition.
AM: Nature has been a recurring topic in your digital and physical artworks over the past decades. A point of reference is the history of still-lifes and landscape paintings. How do you approach this genre?
CH: I am interested in classical genres like still lives, landscapes, and nudes because they are language “ bytes," meaning canons or cultural memes, basic units of visual representational language easily understood by everyone. I then invert these bits and bytes and turn them into "impossible" figures, meaning paradoxical forms. They are mental models turned upside down. I want them to be unsettling and strange, and in this sense, subjects for meditation and contemplation.