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Dreams or Truth? Encountering Sculpture in the Digital Age

Let’s start with a fact.  We know sculpture primarily through photographic media.  Flat images—mostly singular, largely static—are how we principally see three-dimensional work.  Photography, born during the industrial revolution, has allowed us access to sculpture we could not possibly own, collect, or even travel to.  This global compendium is truly remarkable.  We may see images of voluptuous Indian goddesses or skeletal Alberto Giacometti walkers.  And we can compare those sculptures with others, such as Louise Bourgeois spiders or Charles Ray figures.  All at our fingertips.  In his 1947 book Museum without Walls, André Malraux (French writer and Minister of Culture) declared that the history of sculpture had become a “history which can be photographed.” The advent of the internet has magnified this circulation exponentially.  

So, what happens to sculptural viewing in the digital age? Several artists are now examining the intersection between sculpture and screen.  One of them, the Canadian Erin Shirreff, seeks to reconstruct sculptural viewing through video. I will argue that her work, while innovative and ambitious, fails to capture the rich and complex temporal dimensions of our bodily encounter with sculpture.  

Time is a fundamental element in our viewing sculpture. In this talk, I introduce the dynamics of sculptural viewing via 18th c. sculptural theory and practice involving our movement, memory, and anticipation as we encircle a figurative work by Antonio Canova. Then, I move on to a survey of how photography has documented, interacted, and modified sculpture from the modern sculptures of Auguste Rodin to the contemporary installations of Rachel Harrison.  Finally, I examine the intersection of new media on this issue of our temporal experience with sculpture.

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