Thuistezien 148 — 14.01.2021

Wolfgang Spahn
It’s Organic if you Look Close Enough

Wolfgang Spahn’s work finds places between the digital and physical worlds, in works that take place in various points across the sonic and visual spectrum, ranging from small and intimate works to larger and engulfing forms. In the midst of his intricate use of coding and electronic circuit building we are at times confronted with more commonplace pieces of everyday technology, sometimes pieces of outdated technology, or even mundane objects. These are conspicuously brought to the forefront of the viewers’ attention, and used in juxtaposition with many of the high-tech aspects of his work. These seemingly alien objects seem to open up many possible interpretations of his work, and a sense of the artist exploring a unique and complex perspective on technology.

In this video interview, Spahn discusses his work ‘It’s Organic if you Look Close Enough’, in which flat screen TVs are explored in a subtle yet fascinating way. It’s a work created specifically for the event and exhibition ‘Feedback #1: Marshall McLuhan and the Arts’, which was developed by West in 2017. The event is part of an ongoing exhibition series exploring connections between philosophy, theory and art, with the specific edition focusing on the ideas of Canadian philosopher and media theorist Marshall McLuhan. Spahn’s work for this event proves an absorbing audio-visual display that entices you, sucks you in, and can be slightly dizzying, yet in an attractive way.

But there is also an intricate conceptual world underpinning this work, as we see Spahn building on a vast array of ideas born in several 20th century artistic practices that became particularly fascinated with emphasising the materials used for the creation of an artwork. The materials of such works would no longer just hold the artwork, they overtly become the focus of the artwork. Appropriately for the setting of Spahn’s piece, this emphasis on materiality and medium in art is also very close to many of Marshall McLuhan’s ideas, which he began writing about in the 1950s. His ‘medium is the message’ slogan can play an important role in exploring Spahn’s art, which digs deep into the inner workings of our contemporary technology. Spahn manages at once to reveal to us something new about the technology that surrounds us, whilst finding new and unexpected ways to make it stimulate us aesthetically and intellectually.

A last noteworthy idea to mention is that of feedback, which underpins ‘It’s Organic if you Look Close Enough’. It is an idea that media theory often focuses on how information is transmitted between a source and receiver, how these relationships shape the information communicated, and how they can stimulate each other. Similarly, in the work of Spahn and many other artists, feedback becomes a way of triggering a medium in an intricate and potentially self-generative manner. By having information from a transmitting medium be recorded by a receiving medium, feeding this information back into the original transmitting medium, and then stepping back and allowing this process to continue, a feedback loop is created. It can excite a medium in usually difficult to control ways based on a myriad of intricate parameters. It can draw a new attention to many microscopic aspects of the two mediums used to create the loop, and also their relationship. The final output is shaped primarily by the relation of the chosen mediums, and less so by the original information that instigated this process.

Text: James Alexandropoulos - McEwan