Manifold Still Life (series)

Manifold Still Life is an attempt to bring the unnatural into the natural. My goal for the series was to create artwork that exists within the bounds of two spectrums: old/new and virtual/real.

In reference to old/new

I will start by stating the obvious: most artists seek to create something unique, and usually, their attempts succeed to some extent. Creating anything, no matter the degree of emulation inherently involves some level of subjectivity. But to make something that is entirely new, something that has never existed before is incredibly hard. I started Manifold Still Life with the naive intention of creating something new. It quickly became obvious that what I was trying to do was not an original attempt at all, but decades old. So instead I would settle for a combination of old things that in their sum would hopefully amount to something close to new. 

Along with the combination of old techniques and modern hardware, I tried to make the subject matter reflect the same dichotomy. Critically, I pursued still life because of its long-proven ability to permeate genres and its existence across most major artistic movements. It is a rite of passage, a common type of art, the bottom of the hierarchy of genres. It can exist ambiguously, complex and saturated with symbology, or literally, a window into another reality. It is also associated with the advent of trompe l'oeil, a technique of forced perspective that becomes important when bridging two dimensions with three. Personally, I chose still life for the simple reason that I love flowers and they are often featured in such pieces of art. My mother was a gardener, and the few names of plants that I do know, I know from her. Also of interest to me is the juxtaposition of a flower's impermanence combined with the immutability of being made digital and encased within a frame. My still life is impressionistic and animated and by outward appearances differs from the tradition of an unmoving photo-real image. However, the source material is, in fact, quite traditional, as I use many static images to create a photogrammetric point cloud.

In reference to virtual/real

Another obvious statement: anything virtual, by definition, cannot be real. This is a shame because things that are virtual do not have the same rules as we do. Physics can be disregarded, movement unearned, beauty synthesized. After working for various mixed reality companies over the last several years, I have become simultaneously enamored and disillusioned by the virtual. The breaking of natural laws is thrilling and the potential of spatial computing to change our lives is unmatched. But the headset is eventually taken off, or the display put to sleep, or the square scrolled. And it is hard to describe it as anything else than fake. No matter the accuracy of the lighting, the number of particles, the complexity of the fluid dynamics, it is a simulation. On a simple outing like walking my dog, I see sunlight filtering through leaves in such a way that makes me realize that we will never have parity between virtual and real. Whether one becomes "better" than the other is still undecided, but I do not think they will ever be the same. However, I do believe the area between these two realms is where some very powerful things will happen, where the best aspects of each can be sampled and coexist.

So with this in mind, I wanted to create a series of artwork that could be plotted in the middle of these two axes. The outcome is an 8"x10" picture frame. Inside is an OLED display, affixed with a lens that allows for slightly different images to be transmitted to each eye, giving the illusion of depth in the same way we perceive reality. Each lens is hand-calibrated with the artwork underneath it, meaning that transferability of the artwork to any other display is not possible. Each is one of a kind, in its own right. Manifold Still Life is my first attempt at a relationship I hope to keep exploring, an interaction between old and new, fake and real. It is my first attempt to move the virtual as close as it can be to the real, without the need for an app or a headset or tracking cameras. It is an accessible, three-dimensional, virtual artifact in a physical world.

© 2021 Michael Kozlowski