To think around painting in terms of both the screen and the interface might seem to catapult discourse back to the 1990s when such relationships seemed imperative to the future of the discipline. Behind such propositions lurked the need to think horizontally across media rather than negotiate the vertical depth that plumbed the medium in its specificity, often adopting a ‘techno-progressivist’ thinking and rhetoric: roughly meaning that any medium, paradoxically, that didn’t engage with ‘new media’ was doomed to extinction. It is not insignificant that abstract painting in the 1990s was strewn with a kind of computerized space and an approach to linear articulation that was more reminiscent of computerized graphics than free hand drawing or gesture. Mediation in this way, together with a suppression of facture, seemed to figure as necessarily de rigueur. Rather than ‘structure’ or structuring in the traditional sense many works embraced a situation of ‘flow’ (often with more than a nod in the direction of a Deleuzian rhizomatic field, or viral contagion) – the tropes, in fact, of video. By the end of the decade Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe could state, “Painting, I should say especially nonrepresentational painting, can nowadays only refer to the colors of plastic/color photography/video (all the same thing), either affirmatively or by ignoring them: their presence is implicit.”  An alignment, for Gilbert-Rolfe, was clear enough between ambitious painting practices and the ‘intensities’ of the ever-evolving video transmission in terms of light, colour and surface, the electronic instantaneous glow of the screen a touchstone. Gilbert-Rolfe’s arguments around the dichotomies of discourse, criticality and the non-verbal beauty of ‘blankness’ (as opposed to always being at the service of invoking the sublime) remain relevant and provocative and too involved to do justice here. I want to begin, however, by looking at two (perhaps paradigmatic) artists also considered By Gilbert-Rolfe in relation to technology– Gerhard Richter and David Reed. As Gilbert-Rolfe saw it, “Where Richter is a realist, Reed is an impressionist but not of natural light. Richter’s Habermasian interrogation of the means of production begins with pictures of things or marks whereas Reed’s paintings are not analytical but begin with the light contained by painting and how to extend and find within it an idea of mobility that can link it to the contemporary.”  An interesting statement, but I think the deconstructive tendencies of Richter do not necessarily hold him hostage to critical discourse at the expense of the visual.
Gerhard Richter is, of course, a painter whose history goes back to the 1960s, but whose belated impact particularly in the 1990s in this country influenced a whole swathe of painters. Is there anything new to say about Richter? Perhaps not, but in this context his work not only put a deconstructed abstract painting on the agenda but also examined its intertwined sense of ontology within both technology and as a means of representation. In his photo-paintings for example, Richter sees the essential painterly gambit as one that must embed its own opposition, its perceived ‘enemy’ in the populist accounts: photography. Here the tension between surface and image is played out – often resulting in an unobtainable flimmer, de-hierarchised and difficult to synthesize. Richter’s surfaces, therefore, reveal a contradiction between the essentially incremental, heterogeneous nature of traditional painting and the embrace of the instantaneous continuity of the photograph. This is the simultaneous articulation and denial of how these mediums create their own legibility. If the abstract paintings develop rather choppily from the late 1970s in terms of this relationship between homogenous and incremental space (from the smooth photographic abstractions, to the gestural ‘inpaintings’ and on to the deconstructive pieces of the early 80s) then by the 1990s Richter had settled into the work being about a seemingly instantaneous surface. It is worth thinking about this relationship briefly as it is about both time and surface, issues that are related to the screen as well as the photograph. If we compare a piece from 1980s with that of the 1990s we get the idea. Static of 1982 with its typically (from this phase) acidic colour and interrupted obliterated claims to structure, operates within an accumulation of differences: each layer negating in some way the previous one, whether manifest as dark blurred areas, meandering coloured lines, jagged red slashed diagonals or intermeshing cutting green strokes, each pose highly differentiated solutions to moving across the surface and creating spatial relations. This would be a kind of inverse structuring of painting in that it proceeds by negation rather than positivist construction and yet arrives at a sense of wholeness that is both fragile and porous. With Forest 3 (1990) we sense a different set of solutions have been painted through. Richter’s increasing move towards the process of dragging, with giant squeegees generating the form, shows how he applies this sense of negative form in a more continuous, overall manner. Colour is allowed to merge in a less artificial way, and each layer allowed its particular contingent formation in detail. Here, negation functions in the sense of the form providing its own interference – rather like static or noise. Richter described his abstract paintings as photographs, and here the analogy is with processing a surface – allowing something to be processually developed in order to be seen.
One of the conundrums of Richter’s output is its seriality and reciprocity; that is, the relationship of different aspects of his production to each other. To really get to grips with the abstract paintings one may have to negotiate the grey paintings, the colour charts, the inpaintings, to say nothing of the photo paintings. To go back to Gilbert-Rolfe’s notions of colour, Richter may well be the exemplary overture to the condition he describes with the “gray test card the pure condition of colour photography”  – a kind of technological indeterminacy that runs through the work and seems to underpin the later paintings, where chromaticism reverts to colorlessness. Perhaps one of the most successful and iconic of Richter’s installed exhibitions in this country was the show at Anthony d’Offay in the mid 1990s – with its exploration of contrasting surfaces: the clear glass panels, the mirror paintings, the painted photographs, the large dragged abstract paintings. This enforced the idea that Richter’s concerns embodied a whole history of surface and screen – from the window, the viewfinder, the photographic surface to the backlit glow of the video or computer monitor: the foundations of viewing and seeing.
If Richter’s work traverses the screen in its multiple and historical formations, it reminds us that the screen, whether transparent, opaque or reflective, always entails a displacement of space, either within the confines of the screen itself or as a physical object interacting with the space. As Rosalind Krauss has suggested, “almost from the first painters imagined piercing the ‘luminous concreteness’ of the canvas by likening it to a window, the view both opening the picture surface and returning depth to its plane. After the invention of perspective the window frame became the signifier of painting itself. The interdependence between painting’s specificity and the white cube derives in part from the resistance of the gallery wall but also from the rectilinear shape of the room as a support for the picture and its oblong frame.”  This dialogue between the wall and the surface doesn’t need rehearsing here apart from the shift of the analogy of the window to the screen. If the portable window still demands – or at least suggests – a particular relation with the wall, then the positioning of the monitor is more aggressive and interruptive in its nature. American painter David Reed’s installation in the Mirror Room in the Landesmuseum Graz in 1996 exemplifies this. Here, Reed showed in a Rococo environment with his large screen-like paintings floating, almost disembodied, in the space. Reed’s work eschews direct physicality by working gestural activity back into the surface of the work (with the use of flat drying gels and sanding) – in this way the gesture appears cut-off from its bodily origin, signaling motion devoid of the body. By almost exclusively focusing on an extended format (either vertical or horizontal) the works evoke a screen on various different levels – we might recall the decorative screens of Japan as well as the cinemascope experience so often cited by the artist himself.
Around the time of the Graz exhibition I interviewed Reed and the conversation turned towards painting and technology, in particular focusing on the physicality of painting in relation to a kind of virtual space: “I’m very mistrustful now of easy entries into painting, especially through tactile materials and tactile material gestures [..] Paintings now hang on a wall as though floating on a screen, as if hanging over a TV set. The wall is still there physically but it’s the desire for a certain social interaction, a page from a book. [..] I think [virtual space] has had a tremendous effect on all of us. We see the world in a different way. What is real and what isn’t? Usually [now] it isn’t very clear.”  For Reed then, this rethinking of materiality was essential to facing a more flexible means of thinking around how painting might connect with other media and other means of image production, and, importantly for him, for the recuperation of illusion. Reed’s experiments with inserting his paintings digitally into films and TV environments attempt to examine this dematerialized free-floating space that the image of painting can occupy. As questionable, in terms of success, these experiments actually were, they pointed to the problematic of the materiality of painting and its ever-growing accompaniment of electronic imagery, its own virtual image. Rather than bemoaning a loss of presence, how do we incorporate this as part of the palette? This is what Reed seemed to be asking. Illusion, he suggested, while usually read in a spatial sense was, for him, as much temporal, and connected with movement and peripheral vision. This also binds the work closer to the movie screen with its back lit space and roving foci. Clement Greenberg whose apparent material prescriptions many of these artists were reactively moving away from, also saw the movie and TV screen as a source of a specific illusionism, “The reasons are obvious” says Greenberg, in that “a transparent or reflecting support lends itself better to illusion than an opaque and nonreflecting one. […] There’s a sheer aesthetic pleasure to be gotten from sheer illusion that can’t be gainsaid.”  Similarly, Reed’s paintings, amongst others, would appear to accentuate this aesthetic pleasure of lllusionism withdrawn from the specifics of representation, and creating a kind of free indeterminate motion (again we could invoke Deleuze here). Movement and the screen might also point to another painter and a particular series from this period, Shirley Kaneda, whose pieces around 1996 (there are some examples here) explored the juxtaposition of different processes of painting that might allude to expanded or contracted spaces/windows within the computer screen. Kaneda’s work at the time questioned how we deal with abstraction and its histories, wholeness and fragmentation, as well as the temporality of ‘reading’ these differences. How can painting be driven (not just by seemingly autonomous parts unified into wholeness ) through creating open and outright antagonistic contradictions? This could be seen as one of the questions that underpinned her practice at the time. The technological connotations of the multi-space of the screen point to the complexity of negotiating simultaneity while searching for unity (which Kaneda at the time saw only as a byproduct of the diverse processes – only later where the works were directly informed by computer technologies, and in fact realizing a technological unity of sorts). Greenberg, as above, was interested in the unification of motion by the black and white television monitor creating a sculptural illusion – but we can equally transpose this to the more pictorial HD colour screen, which brings us closer to Gilbert-Rolfe’s articulation of it as the site of saturation – both in terms of its ability to reference the surfaces of the world (increasingly smooth, plastic, and chromatic) and the endless flow of motion as situated by the video and cinema screen (now – since the 1990s in fact – no longer a structural opposition but a shared platform). If the window punched a hole in the wall and allowed us to look out into reality then the surface as screen offers a very different situation: It is an endless procession of simulated surfaces and spaces each edited into a seamless continuity and flow.
Artists have always been interested not only in technological innovation but also outmoded technologies, their subversion or even breakdown. Tim Head’s work examines the process of the digital as an accumulation of noise. By focusing on the actual components of the generative image (while denying their capacity to generate anything specific) the result is, in the words of Michael Bracewell, an “electrostatic fog”. Head’s development of computer programs to create a kind of autonomous scrutiny of digital production returns it to a medium specificity (albeit a random noise). His drawings, projections and paintings create a dialogue between the contingency of the hand made and the technologically pre-programmed. Dan Hays similarly, in some of his work, uses the potential breakdown of the image to reveal the essential abstraction of the digital. Extreme magnification of the pixilation of the image transposes it into an abstracted colour chart. Speaking of this circulation of noise, or the ‘substandard’ low resolution image, philosopher Hito Steyerl suggests, “It is a ghost of an image, a preview, a thumbnail, an errant idea, an itinerant image distributed for free, squeezed through slow digital connections, compressed, reproduced, ripped, remixed, as well as copied and pasted into other channels of distribution.[…It is] thrust into digital uncertainty, at the expense of its own substance. The poor image tends towards abstraction: it is a visual idea in its very becoming.”  A fascination with the degradation of the image has perhaps supplanted the romance with the ‘spectacular’ seduction of the high definition.
If painting can point to these issues of how the contemporary world is viewed (and indeed constructed) then we can complicate things by moving away from the screen as a visual spectacle to the idea of the interface itself. This remains ambiguous as a term – in that the interface can have multiple inferences. Alberti’s veil, for instance, could be seen as an interface – between the painter and the screened world, while of late it has taken on much more a sense of user choice and manipulation within a designed environment. Lev Manovich, a key player in thinking through the digital and its relationship to the pre-digital, in particular cinema and screen media, discusses the interface as follows, “Just as painting before it, cinema presents us with familiar images of visible reality – interiors , landscapes, human characters, arranged within a rectangular frame. The aesthetics of these arrangements ranges from extreme scarcity to extreme density…It would take only a small leap to relate this density of ‘pictorial displays’ to the density of contemporary information displays such as Web portals, which may contain a few dozen hyperlinked elements, or the interfaces of popular software packages, which similarly present the user with dozens of commands at once.”  This points to a key change in our conception of, not only relations between media, but how we use them. While Manovich, here, is stressing a continuity, he also points to an interesting difference: from the spatial positioning (of the viewer) of the potentiality of scarcity and density through the interface (of the bounded painted surface, the cinema frame), to a mobility of accessing these contrasts through the informational environment/toolbox (portals and simultaneity).
Has this, or will it, ultimately lead to a different conception of space? This is difficult to say as we could point to the fact that the conception of simultaneity throughout the post-minimalist spaces of installation have prefigured and later converged with the kind of negotiation of contradictory spaces that the computer screen facilitates. Greenberg (of course hostile to such non-pictorial, non-unified conceptions of space) saw such spaces as pre-pictorial, such as in Paleolithic art, that are, “not pictures proper, but two dimensional images: self contained in a way more sculptural than pictorial […] When two or more such images are related on the same surface it’s in an ideographic rather than pictorial way. This even in Mesolithic and Neolithic ‘compositions’ that show hunting, fighting, or ceremonial ‘scenes’; there, flat and schematic images hang apart in space that’s somewhere between the two and three dimensional. Pictorial space joins and contains, and by containing makes everything it shows discontain itself and surrender itself to a unity, which in turn contains itself.” While Greenberg would see any return, presumably, to this ideographic space as a regression; that is, back to something cruder than the demanding syntheses of pictorial unity, I am of course not suggesting any idea of a ‘return’, but rather that the ‘breaking’ of the unity of the pictorial provides an alternative space, and yes, something spatially that operates “between the two and three dimensional”. If this now has some affinity with the spaces of both the screen and the interface then it could, apart from this development of simultaneous diverse spaces, point to a recharged relationship to the aesthetic object and its facture.
Of late, facture would appear to be much more up-front, more present. The kinds of suspicions that David Reed suggested earlier would appear now to be perhaps even irrelevant. Physicality and spatial physicality could be seen as a reaction to the ubiquity of the electronic image, and the smooth space of the cinematic. Yet, ironically, in its extended, expanded form, abstract art might still owe (both reactively and through unconscious absorption) a debt to the shifts in looking, reading, and indeed, working patterns implied by the computer interface. We might experience Danish artist Ellen Hyllemose’s work in his light, whose practice stems from painting, but includes handmade objects, placed materials, and sculptural interventions within a space: a hinterland between the pictorial and the sculptural. Hyllemose’s paintings show a direct up-front physicality and gestural activity not unrelated to early Per Kirkeby, but in most of her installed works these are covered over – screened by Lycra swimwear material. Covering the directness of the gestures with a membrane creates a surface where the image is submerged, and yet it is a surface that occasionally reveals its limits in its cuts and edges revealing what is being concealed. Her works create multiple spaces, and yet remains concrete, about their materiality, and ultimately, their formal comportment. Works in the studio are like a palette, or an absent structure waiting to be activated in a specific location. Such activities ask questions about the nature of matter, work, placement, and lead back to the issue of what working outside of the bounded canvas in real space might mean? If the viewer has to piece together the perception of these materials in time then it involves memory articulating the passage from one set of concerns to another. Of course this might set in place the predetermined mould of another argument – that between Michael Fried and the minimalists. As brilliant as that was (on both sides) we may need to step outside of it in order to think afresh what has become one of the dilemmas of installation – what Claire Bishop referred to as the tacit interrelationship between the poststructuralist notion of the fragmented subject and the literal viewer of installation being closely bound, indirectly we could say with an implicit critique of the screen as a device of unification.  Stanley Cavell in his important text The World Viewed suggests that “The world of a moving picture is screened. . . .A screen is a barrier. . . . It screens me from the world it holds—that is, makes me invisible. And it screens that world from me—that is, screens its existence from me.” And that, “the screen-frame [itself] is a […] form.”  It was this invisibility and unity that poststructuralism sought to dismantle (Lyotard discusses this in terms of a normalization which “consists of the exclusion from the screen what cannot be folded back upon the body of the film”). This may seem a long way from painting but I feel once the work is displaced spatially then we are situated within these problems, as well as with the attendant problems of delimitation, how the work forms and acts upon reception, and the attendant dispersal of foci.
Rosalind Krauss points to Nietzsche “hunched over his typewriter and saying, ‘our writing tools are also working on our thoughts’”  For Krauss these questions are intertwined with issues around media and medium (these are ‘false friends’ according to Krauss) – as well as distinguishing between works that continue out of the constraints of the medium albeit in an expanded form (a form that no longer regards the medium as denoted by the specificity of its material) – and those that melt back, undifferentiated, into the world of ‘stuff’. These are too complex to adequately think through here, but the question of installation and abstraction, the breaking out of the screen, and this extended notion of the medium in relation to media remain important to try and address. Joseph Masheck in his introduction to the re-publication (and expansion) of his essay The Carpet Paradigm – an essay in itself that attempted to locate the lost history of the intertwinement of the arts and crafts movement and abstraction – suggests: “the condition of painting in particular has a way not only of never quite withering away but of engaging new modalities of art-work, and even of work at large. Today it seems there is more need among a new generation for a sense of the matter of form and materials as conditioned by general human experience, including ordinary, everyday work – though now more often than not means work with little or no tangible materiality ay somebody else’s monitor, with all the alienation thereunto appertaining.”  If this need is addressed then it could, be a space where the interface becomes a model for both the work of the artist and the viewer – not simply emulating the effects of the screen but in situating the eye, mind, and the time of labour back into the equation, albeit a technological one.
 Gilbert-Rolfe, Jeremy, Beauty and the Contemporary Sublime, Allworth press, NY, 1999 p.34
 Ibid., p.101
 Ibid. P. 33
 Krauss, Rosalind, Under Blue Cup, MIT Press, 2011, p. 106
 David Ryan, Talking Painting: Dialogues with 12 Contemporary Abstract Painters, Routledge, 2002, p.202
 Clement Greenberg, ‘Detached Observations’ in Late Writings, ed. Robert C. Morgan, University of Minesota, 2003, p.67
 Hioto Steyerl, The Wretched of the Screen, Sternberg Press, 2012, p.32
 Lev Manovich, The Language of New Media, MIT, 2001, p.20
 Clement Greenberg, Late Writings, p.63
 See Claire Bishop, installation Art, tate Publishing, 2005
 Stanley Cavell, The World Viewed – Reflections on the Ontology of Film Harvard University Press, 1979, pp.24-25
 Jean-Francois Lyotard, ‘Acinema’ in P. Rosen, editor, Narrative, Apparatus, Ideology, Columbia University Press, 1986, p.349-359
 This is Krauss referring to Freidrich Kittler’s ideas in Under Blue Cup, p.37
 Joseph Masheck, The Carpet paradigm: Integral Flatness from Decorative to Fine Art, Edgewise press, 2010, pp. 15, 16