It takes no effort to sneer at social networks, video games, or digital media. We’ve all had a friend or two who quit Facebook as vocally as possible, writing a 500-word status update designed to make you think that he or she will ascend into a more authentic analog life once they cut the cord. They think of present digital realities as a separate sphere from “real” life and that time spent on one sphere is time neglecting the other.
Above image: Toshiya Masuda, Natural Symbol, 2010, ceramic, 11 x 6..5 x 14 cm. All photographs courtesy of the artist.
Maybe it’s worked out for them. Maybe they’re currently churning butter in a cabin they built with their own two hands, more alive than you and I will ever know. Call me cynical but I think part of this refusal to engage with digital life comes from a lack of imagination. For my evidence, I’ll cite artists who have worked within the digital sphere (both its expanses and its confines) and who have created wholly new experiences. We ran one such piece last week. Louisa Zahareas created a dinner set so she could share a meal over Skype with her distant friends and family. She not only found a new way to engage and play with loved ones she hadn’t seen in months, but she also created an ephemeral third space, a hybrid of tangible and digital realities that exists only as long as the webcams stay on.
Japanese ceramic sculptor Toshiya Masuda seems to be on a similar thread with his Low Pixel series. His sculptures re-create common everyday items, but mutate them with a touch of digital. They’re heavily pixelated, taking me back to the days when I was booting up video games in MS-DOS. He says his goal is to confuse our ideas of what is tactile and what isn’t. Ceramics, of course, are highly tactile items. 32-bit digital avatars of objects are not. He calls this confusion the “image gap.”
“I believe the strange feeling that people can feel with this ‘image gap’ can help them to think about the reality of this age, which consists of the virtual world and the real world,” he states of his work.
By choosing very common items as his subjects, Masuda shines a light on the cognitive dissonance I have about the digital and “real” spheres. I don’t accept that his paper coffee cup sculpture is real, even though it’s as tangible as the thousands of mundane coffee cups I’ve used over my lifetime. He’s showing my bias against digital objects. His digital cup is real. It is present and tactile. So are his sneakers, whiskey bottles and baseballs.
If these things are tactile, then how does that change my thinking about other digital realities? The words I tap into my cell phone aren’t being shoveled into an alternate dimension, never to be seen again. They have weight and substance. My interactions with people I haven’t seen since my high school graduation are authentic and have consequences depending on how I behave. The time I got choked up playing Gone Home is valid in the same way as the time I got choked up reading my paperback copy of Sirens of Titan.
It’s seems like a very present discussion, limited (maybe) to the generation who saw the rise of the Internet. I doubt biases against digital realities will be around for much longer, not when I can go to the coffee shop and see a child who can barely talk tapping away on her mom’s iPad. I wonder what that little girl will think of these sculptures twenty years from now.
Masuda was born in 1977 in Osaka. He graduated from the Crafts Department of the Osaka University of Arts in 1999. He’s exhibited in solo and group exhibitions throughout Japan and in Los Angeles and Seoul. He’s won awards including a special jury prize at the 7th International Pottery Exhibition in Mino, 2005; the Choza prize at the 26th Choza Prize Ceramic Art Exhibition in 2003 and a prize at the 8th Materials Process Technology Center “Thing Contest” in 2002.
Bill Rodgers is the Managing Editor of cfile.daily.
What do you think of Masuda’s pixelated contemporary ceramic art? Let us know in the comments.