(Artistbook) published in the Salon Verlag, Cologne, 2000


One of our main concerns is the effectiveness of images as opposed to the reality from which they derive. This concern emerges distinctly and multifariously in the virtual space of the 'Third Chamber'. The difference between effectiveness and reality is also a determining element of Utopia. Every utopia indicates a 'no-where', a place of longing and which liberates energy that in turn releases into reality impulses toward the shaping of the world. Our interest in utopias, however, lies not in how close they may be to possible realisation, but in the effective power of the mind precisely in tolerating within its ambit invention far removed from reality. The counterpart of Utopia is Heterotopia, which, according to an early definition of Foucault's, is rooted in the plane of childhood dreaming and which grants us painters the space for creating wishful locations. In our pictures, we develop heterotopian scenarios which, setting out from a utopian blueprint, crystallise out from reality into the world of imagination as a complex, inscrutable entity and thus produce a permanent transfer of meaning.

This subversive procedure is the foundation of all worlds wishful in the sense that they far exceed anything that planning purposes might require. Painting is an effective medium with which to illustrate the transition of these wishfulnesses from planning to execution. With the aid of a computer, sophisticated representations of these entities can be completed with a precision that would produce quite different results if recourse were had to the power of imagination only. The digital construction computer images alters the target specifications and raises the visual credibility of the inventions concerned. For, although one is perfectly aware that these worlds are artificial constructs, their appearance is so credible that the images are of seductively enhanced effect.

Painting is painfully susceptible to the criticism that fixity and the prerequisite of specialised craft skills make it a poor medium of social change. A way out of this dilemma would seem to lie in assimilating the invigorating impulses of other media. In view of the explosion in digital imaging technology, it would seem apt for a painter to use this apparently inexhaustible well of innovations to generate her or his images. Anyone who encounters digital image-production and processing must conclude that painting will be as transformed by this as it was by the discovery of photography in the nineteenth century. If one is not a Darwinian and can comprehend the computer first of all as simply a new tool, outside of any ideology, then a host of new possibilities will be seen to be waiting for painting to discover.

To elucidate this rich potential, it will be useful to distinguish between the two-dimensional and the three-dimensional. Working in 2D immediately seems closer to painting, both operating on a plane surface. Working in two dimensions, as in the third, requires a distinction to be made between the creation of an image and its processing. Many a hard-edge painter would have been glad of a vector-oriented programme, since this makes child's play of creating precisely defined areas and filling them with any colour desired. To be able to manufacture infinite colour combinations rich in nuances, and then to be able to print them at once, is a tremendous aid in the preliminaries of pictorial invention.

The great advantage in pixel-based image processing, however, lies in its precision in processing extant images. By manipulating the source material with 'tools' or 'filters', concepts can be given form such as could not be generated before; now they can be functioning points of departure for painting. Since most programmers are technologists, not artists, this the point at which stylistic decisions often of the most banal kind can enter programming language. To have named certain filters 'Auto-van-Gogh', 'Flemish School' or 'Seurat' respectively, betrays only too well the cliché-ridden perceptions underlying the choice of stylistic quote. The door is flung wide open, too, to riding on a 'compulsive surrealism' to the most pathetic effusions of kitsch. As if such did not already define our day-to-day environment on a broad front.

Leaving aside the abuse of these filters for the production of kitsch, there are other 'tools' without precedents in this form in painting. It is now possible, for example, to hybridise the devices of the darkroom with those of classical painting; and there is no shortage of manifold 'effects' to draw on, from the 'stamp' to 'dodging'. The condition for using these filters and tools effectively to benefit painting is that they be mastered perfectly, and of course, that the user knows what for in terms of content, and will not be distracted. This given, the effects do stand comparison with the scope offered by panel painting. Working with planes and copies also makes the processes of depiction visible and enables them to be precisely governed.

For all these heady innovations on screen, rude awakening is nigh in the search for a print medium of comparable standard to the panel painting – unless a Cibachrome print is all one requires. The print technology available and affordable to date still lacks the sensual and material presence of the painted picture. As soon as a similar leap is achieved in the development of plotter technology as in picture processing, however, and as soon as it becomes possible to print large formats other than in a deliberate pixel look, the question of making a painted or a computer printer-produced picture will be solely a matter of choice. Which is not saying that the computer product will replace the panel painting, any more than any other media has done.

Painters are well aware, then, of the widened working options open to them. In one way or another, they deploy the very wealth of their medium to paraphrase the dissatisfying, fade-prone print-out. It is a historic moment comparable to that in the late 1960s, when, in the absence as yet of large-scale colour photography, the Photo-realists realised that they could create large-scale panel paintings from small colour photographs; but the innovative aspect this time round far exceeds the brief stylistic intermezzo of the 1960s.

Compared to the quite conventional processing of the picture surface at the 2-D level, 3D-design enables a kind of quantum leap to be made in the illustration. At this level, scenarios can be invented in which the perspective is highly convincing. In the past, similar results could be attained only with high-end technology and at astronomic cost, and operating the systems was inconceivable without intensive prior training. The explosion in memory capacity will inevitably foster the perfection of the means of depiction within the next few years. Industrial interest in this mighty instrument of manipulation is so great that artists – taking on the quest of undermining this interest with their subject treatment, it goes without saying – will profit from it. Apart from photography, 3D model-making will develop into the painter's most important resource tool, the 'hammer and chisel for young gods', as a computer ad. meaningfully assures.

In a 3D programme, it is possible to form and then, with a virtual moving camera, to view from all sides a mathematically projected object as if it were a sculpture. Unlike a 2D programme, in which only a single view can be represented and processed, a 3D programme arranges the objects in staggered, stage-set fashion. First, the shapes are set out as a mesh, this then being coated with a skin of textures to give the object its illusionistic physicality. In other words, worlds it was previously impossible to conceive of are generated and combined.

3D modelling has radically transformed our working methods. We used to construct maquettes of gardens and paint them or leave them in the 'raw' state; with complicated lighting experiments we would set about photographing these models, often with disappointing results. Then we would also use the photographs as source documents for paintings since they were useful in clarifying spatial relations and creating precise perspectives – sometimes no more than that. On this basis, painting still had wide scope for developing its own dynamics and the repertoire for creating mood was generated much out of the imagination. The advantage of 3D modelling now is that we can develop not only the model, but also the landscape surrounding it, and the sky in every mood and lighting situation, that is, an atmosphere we can set with precision. We can then proceed to find the best standpoint with the virtual camera in that virtual space, in order to render the construct to the best effect from that vantage point.

The process automatically takes account of all the laws of perspective. What once had to be painstakingly constructed, the programme now delivers with constant accuracy. Thus, the source image can be designed with such precision that not only are the spatial circumstances reliably established, as once they were in our purpose-constructed photo dummies, but it is also possible to specify all the other parameters. Notwithstanding, we still place store in the dynamics of painting once the model has been copied. We fathom out painting processes that transcend the representational potential of the source image. For us, this difference is a recurrent artistic goal. The model represents a skeleton structure so elaborated that the significance of the painting process can shift to areas quite different from where it lay in working from the imagination alone.

The classical modern styles made a point of neglecting perspective. The discovery of photography was the motivation for painting to develop toward pure surface, while the photograph came to serve as a substitute for representations of perspectival space. Perspective painting had always presupposed intensive learning processes. 3D modelling could mean the return of perspective to painting, albeit without having to retain the conservative cultural implications; for the aesthetics of the worlds yet to be invented would itself need to be defined anew. It would thus be possible to leave the field of pure formalism behind in a journey towards 'a better place'.