[NetBehaviour] Digital Woodcut

Rob Myers rob at robmyers.org
Thu Apr 25 13:51:00 CEST 2013

Woodcut is an old analogue printmaking technology, in Europe it dates 
back to the 1400s. A picture or design is carved into a flat block of 
wood which is then inked and pressed onto a sheet of paper to produce 
the finished image. At the turn of the 20th Century, woodcut was 
appropriated by the Expressionists as an authentically direct and 
traditional medium in which to experiment.

Bitmaps are way of representing images digitally as a grids of discrete 
values, dating back to the 1960s. Over time, the range of colours and 
the amount of detail that it is possible to display in a bitmap has 
grown from chunky black and white mosaics to hyperreal multi-million 
colour multi-million pixel images.

In popular culture the upcoming generation will in part define itself 
culturally by valorizing the dross of its parents' era. This is a 
process similar to pastoral or to cultural appropriation in high art. 
The 80s were big in the 2000s, the 60s were big in the 80s, and the 40s 
were big in the 60s.

Part of that process currently is the use of lo-bit aesthetics, 8-bit 
and 16-bit image and sound aesthetics used to create contemporary art. 
To those of us who spent a lot of time, money and effort climbing the 
bit density well for digital art, this can appear a naive exercise in 
nostalgia for the moment before one was born. Disney's use of lo-bit 
aesthetics in its film Wreck-It-Ralph might appear to confirm this.

But stripped of its status signifying function and its need to suffice 
for practical requirements, lo-bit aesthetics join analogue photography 
and mechanical writing instruments as historical tools that are now 
appreciated for their contingent and historically entangled aesthetic 
properties rather than their efficiency or novelty. The blur or 
jaggedness, the wonkiness or blotching that once frustrated the 
signification of meaning now enables it.

Like using woodcut in the age of offset lithography.

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