For the Love of Art: Creativity and Technology | Charlie Chaplin, Aaron Koblin

As active documenters and expressive anchors for their respective time periods, artists and creative practitioners all demonstrated engagements to the mechanics and characteristics of their time, which are in turn reflected by how they build upon their works, through utilizing tools and technologies of their time. As a result, significant advancements in human technological capabilities are readily reflected upon by artists, who finds new frames of perceptions for their audiences to experience their artworks, and find meaning through and from new mediums of expressions and sensual cues.

In retrospect, the paradigm shifting disposition and expressive potentials of film, has enabled Sir Charles Spencer “Charlie” Chaplin to spread his poverty-inspired onscreen persona ‘the Tramp’ worldwide, all the while inventing another medium of theatre, expression and societal critique. Technology’s always changing landscapes and their constantly upgraded use within society are also reflected upon by digital media artist Aaron Koblin’s art practice, as he utilizes the 21st century digital interface to depict the world condition in differing visual spectrums and data presentations, opting to portray the world in different perspectives, whilst also taking advantage of the interconnectivity between individuals through the Internet, as he utilized the collective crowd in his digital compositions, of which can no longer reflect the lone perspective of the single artist, but rather the multiple perspectives of the collective whole. Overall, technology and the artist’s vision work alongside each other in a cross-referencing paradigm, where one’s advancements or innovation leads to the same with the other, which allows the artist to alter and reimagine his own expressive epicenter, whilst also changing the crowd’s perception of worldly subjects.

Considering the medium of film in the context of Charlie Chaplin’s career in the early 1900s, no references made to this subject will be complete without analyzing the monumental cultural paradigm shifts, that resulted from the universality and iconic nature of his onscreen persona, The Tramp. If one were to observe this purely from the perspective of technological advancements, a quick look into the nature of film is certainly a fitting starting point to set the stage for this case study; that revolutionary technology is a leading driver of society’s changing perceptions of the world. Chaplin’s Tramp character and its appeal, is based on ongoing virtual narrative that relies on the immersive nature of film (Howe, 2013. P45). Silent film during Charlie Chaplin’s early stages into his career is a new and popular narrative driver that is accessible to both creators (it was relatively cheap to produce) and audiences, while at the same time, the visual spectacle, partnered with a compelling story, can be considered to be driving force of culture in the western world during that time. Film’s influence on society, has designated the medium as laymen across entire classes and political spectrums (Ross, 1998. P35). In addition to this, the easily accessible visual nature of film also meant that it has the ability to reach more audiences than the traditional press, along with the ability to ‘show the complete picture…while we only read newspapers in parts.’ (Ross. P5) Through this medium, Charlie Chaplin was able to engineer narratives representing poverty based on his own personal experiences, through an expressive medium that has the immersive quality to involve an audience, as a narrative in motion is more effective in delivering its message, than a static image or through traditional text. (Sontag, 1973. P49-82)

Building upon the established connection between Chaplin’s cultural influence and film as a revolutionary technology, it is interesting to see how Chaplin utilizes the tool of film to create meaning, in regards to his representations of class division and poverty, and how this meaning is stimulated through the creative control of a highly versatile medium and the selective representation of relatable instances and the collective experience. This idea can be acutely explored in Chaplin’s film ‘The Kid’. Considering that Chaplin’s upbringing in the slums of London was a major influencer and cause of his films’ authentic explorations of poverty; a trait shared by ‘The Kid’ (“I did not have to read books to know that the theme of life is conflict and pain. Instinctively, all my clowning was based on this.”) (Chaplin, 1964. P227), what makes Chaplin’s use of film interesting, is the keen attention to the narrative choice of irony, contrast and satirical humour and representation of the rich, which generates an authentic sense of connection between the audience and the human condition of poverty. In ‘The Kid’, the Tramp’s relationship with his adopted child, forms an on-screen emotional epicentre, of which Chaplin was able to manipulate through careful footage framing and deliberately timed visual cues, that enhances the intended messages with glaring clarity. The styling of the sets and the costumes wore by the actors were deliberately contrasting in their depictions of the gritty and hopeless slums, and the overly extravagant dwellings of the rich; a visual contrast that’s practically too obvious to ignore when viewed side-by-side on screen in live footage. In addition, the cast’s visual acting allowed Chaplin great control over the emotive framing he intends to place his audience in. Therefore, it was in the obvious irony of the on-screen depiction of the Tramp providing proper care and attention to the child (teaching him manners, feeding and clothing him, etc), that makes the resulting cynicism obvious to the audience, when the authority arrives to take the child away by force. The depicted irony was reinforced by additional visual elements, such as the scathingly cynical title card ‘The proper care and attention’, which announcing the arrivals of the authorities, who were depicted as arrogant and brutal. And thus, Chaplin; through his films, were able to generate effective narratives that were capable of recomposing an audience’s viewpoint on the subject of poverty, through revolutionary visual contrast, live storytelling through motion and images, and humour. (Korte. P137)

When discussing the modern technological landscape, the immediate subject in mind will most likely be along the lines of understanding the communicative impact of the Internet and social media networks. The Web is considered to not only be another media form, but as a whole other platform of communication, content creation, and in some cases, existence. (Literat, 2012. P2964) Perhaps as a definitive pioneer of Internet and digital art, Aaron Koblin’s primary art practices are rather revealing in their complete reliability of the web platform, but also in their personalities and their creation processes. Needless to say, Aaron Koblin’s art practice is a direct representation of modern times: a technologically savvy society, where information is generated and gathered at staggering rates. (Canaria, 2009. P538) In Koblin’s work ‘Flight Patterns’, the audience is presented with an online video, where streaks of sparks and lights slowly map out the distinctive shape of the continental USA. By utilizing the data provided by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, Koblin presented a visual representation of data, mapping it onto a visual medium that depicts the night-day flight patterns across the country. As a free-access, public-domain work, Koblin’s work in this instance was able to utilize the free availability of data and the Web as a universally accessible showroom, to offer an interesting alternate viewpoint on the interconnected nature of modern society.

As a by-product of the above-depicted interconnectivity that encapsulates modern society: social media and by extension, the Internet, has afforded much of the population unprecedented means of communication, so much so, that, the idea of digital participation and its alluring promise of widespread engagement and interconnectedness has afforded many creative practitioners the ability to crowd-source global artistic talent, and in turn, draw from global creativity. In other words, in addition to gaining a global audience, a cultural shift can be observed through internet collaboration art, which have started to subvert the traditional notions of individual creativity, authorship and expression. (Literat. P2962) ‘The Johnny Cash Project’ stands as perhaps one of the most definitive examples of online collaboration, as well as a fitting canvas to showcase collective emotional, artistic and appreciative resonance on a digitally global scale. Mobilizing more than 250 000 individual artists worldwide, ‘The Johnny Cash Project’ invited collaborators to choose one single frame from the music video ‘The Man in Black’, and reproduce it in an art style of their choice, complete with their own interpretations of the compositions. After compiling the stroke processes, sequences and styles of every collaborator, the resulting online interactive video experience works to showcase the abundance in creativity and differing interpretations of the project. (Koblin Ted Talk, 2011) In addition, this project managed to virtually unite an entire fandom of a deceased musician, for whom the contributors were mourning: ‘The Johnny Cash Project’s international impact is achieved through collective experience, with its existence as a collaborative artwork working to mobilizes the masses in a melting pot of artistry, completely subverting the traditional ideas of individual creativity and expression. ‘Art was intended to prepare and announce a future world’ (Bourriaud, 2002. P13), and ‘The Johnny Cash Project’ is a vivid showcase of contemporary culture and its future ambitions.

In conclusion, new technology is firmly married to Charlie Chaplin and Aaron Koblin’s artistic practices and endeavors to alter society’s perception of the world. Film’s invention was a revolution that allowed greater opportunities for artistic expression, and as comparatively accessible tool for narratives, it allowed Chaplin’s social commentary on class division and poverty to be viewed with clarity. Koblin’s art practices embraces the universality of the Internet age, and thus creating collaborative projects that seeks to understand the human condition through data visualization and to experimenting with the new social paradigm of mass communications and collaborations. Therefore, technology and innovation enables creative practitioners to reinterpret their worlds, and to showcase their ideas in different formats and expressive mediums, and in turn, have renewed potential to influence their audiences.

References

Bourriaud, N (2002). Relational aesthetics. Dijon, France: Les Presses du Reel.

Canaria, C. (2009). Data Art: Science and Art in the Age of Information. Data Art Exhibit: Pasadena Museumof California Art, Los Angeles

Caron, J. E. (2006). Silent Slapstick Film as Ritualized Clowning: The Example of Charlie Chaplin. Studies in American Humor, 3rd ser.

Chaplin, C. (1964). My Autobiography. London: Bodley Head. Print.

Chaplin, C. (1966). Previously unpublished extract from 1966 interview with Richard Meryman. The Guardian, 1 Nov 2003 | https://www.theguardian.com/film/2003/nov/01/books.featuresreviews?gusrc=rss&feed=film

Howe, L. (2013). Charlie Chaplin in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction: Reflexive Ambiguity in Modern Times. College Literature, 40(1)

Koblin, A (2011). Artfully visualizing our humanity. Ted Talk in May 2011 | https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4v4XxlfVk3o

Koblin, A: Flight Patterns http://www.aaronkoblin.com/work/flightpatterns/

Koblin, A: The Johnny Cash Project http://www.thejohnnycashproject.com/

Korte, B. (2010). New World Poor through an Old World Lens: Charlie Chaplin’s Engagement with Poverty. American Studies: Poverty and the Culturalization of Class, 55(1)

Literat, I. (2012). The Work of Art in the Age of Mediated Participation: Crowdsourced Art and Collective Creativity. International Journal of Communication, 6.

Ross, S (1998). Working-Class Hollywood: Silent Film and the Shaping of Class in America. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP. Print.

Sontag, S (1973). “Melancholy Objects”. On Photography. New York: Farrar. Print.

Taylor, C (2004). Modern Social Imaginaries. Durham, NC: Duke. UP. Print.


Yep, something new from me, I know. Hopefully this format is still fit for interesting and entertaining reads. As for the more scholarly/professional format…I DID write this essay as part of a major course assignment in uni. But I thought adding some extra tidbits and brightening the piece up with some accompanying links would make this a worthy addition to this blog, since I AM all about discussing art.

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