Artists born in the 1980s have grown up with the Internet; surrounded by mass-produced electronic devices that are continually being improved by multi-national brands at perpetually cheaper prices. It is the e-trash era, what was fifteen years ago considered science fiction, is now being fabricated in China in the form of flimsy disposable goods.
Paul Kneale’s technique of scanner painting is not only a way of making art; it is a novel way to use an everyday object. The scanner becomes a means of reflection on mass-consumption, just as ready-mades were a meditation on mass-production, combining the electronic device with the gesture of the artist.
Depending on its technical capability/quality, the scanner has its own varied perception of what lies above it. The resolution of the scan is variable, allowing a wide range of colours and possibilities. The scanner translates the image into a binary code, according to its sensor; with each sensor creating a scan based on how this sensor has been made. The end result is each scanner having its own unique perception of time and space; this enables a collection of different scanners to be used as a sort of paint-brush set.
Kneale, who has participated in three exhibitions with ARTUNER, is a pioneer in the art of scanner painting, having started to produce them in 2014.
Instead of placing a printed image on the machine’s bed before scanning, he leaves the lid open and lets it interpret the conditions of the atmosphere that surrounds it: the light, the darkness… He explains that the scanner has its own “visual personality”.
Oftentimes the result is printed on a transparency that is then rescanned. The more it is scanned and printed, the more the colours of the image vary, being misinterpreted by the cheap scanners that continuously glitch and malfunction. The images are a series of “time sandwiches”, according to the artist, as different exposure times layer on one another.
In the final result the files create a composite image, which is then inkjet printed onto linen at a large scale. The work is a confrontation of art history with digital art, of oil paint with inkjet printing.
Science-observation and image-creation
With the creation of paintings through this innovatory use of scanners, Kneale emphasises his fascination for the machines and their varying capacities. One of the main aspects revealed by the creation of the scanner paintings, is the quality of what the scanner can show. Scanning, in a scientific sense, means looking precisely, meticulously at something to detect every little detail. The scanner allows its user to do so, and the artist describes it as an “incredible, technological, image-creating device”. The paintings depict the environment over a period of time. By scanning, and re-scanning, Paul Kneale carefully observes the atmosphere of the studio.
In spite of the obvious parallel that can be made with digital photography, the scanner gives a very different result of what is seen through the lens: it doesn’t only imitate, it interprets the conditions surrounding the object. A device aids both mediums but each mechanism reacts in its own way to the environment reproduced.
Paul Kneale explains in an interview with ARTUNER that the scanner as he uses it has photographic elements, but it is a different process, closer to painting than photography. The scanner’s activity whilst engaged is fundamental to the composition of the final image. The movements of the image-making element, the LED lamp, goes back and forth, traversing across the surface of the glass to create the work, like the movement of a brush.
Mass-production and mass-consumption
Another important facet of the body of work is the cheap quality of the “tool”. Consumer-grade scanners are very fragile objects and sometimes even end up being destroyed during Kneale’s process of art-making. Beyond a means to create a colourful and abstract representation of our environment, the scanner is the central problem demonstrated by the artist, as a symbol of mass-production and consumption.
With the use of a mass-produced scanner, Paul Kneale illustrates his commentary about a world “where everything is branded, where the consumer is lured into compulsively buying new and improved versions of the same products…” The use of this mass-produced branded object to create one unique painting is a new form of art.
The aura of scanner painting
In his seminal essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Walter Benjamin mentions uniqueness as crucial to the aura of a work of art. A ‘traditional’ artwork has an aura, described as an appearance of a magical force, which derives from the sensorial, almost spiritual experience of encountering a unique work of Art. The aura is in that sense connected to the idea of authenticity that cannot be reduplicated. In the modern ages, according to Walter Benjamin, the aura has disappeared in artworks that are mechanically reproduced.
In a way, Kneale’s decision of keeping each of his scanner paintings unique, is aligned with Benjamin’s idea of the aura. Indeed, his art is situated at the intersection between mass-production and the auratic traditions of painting.