When photography was invented in 1839, the arts of painting and sculpting understandably underwent a transformation: they were eventually freed from their mania towards likeness. With the capacity of photography to capture ‘reality’ and the surrounding world, plastic arts practitioners started to experiment with abstraction and materiality.
In his most recent series of works, Harun Farocki tackles a similar process that concerns our present and most likely our future: with the advent of computer generated images, will film be freed of certain restrictions in similarity to what happened to 19th century painting? How will film develop now that it’s not the only medium able to depict our world? And moreover what will CGI allow us to do? Despite Farocki himself directly referring to the painting/photography dichotomy when addressing film/CGI, we cannot assert that the latter has reached the full potential in the reproduction of reality that photography did back then.
The truth is that CGI is not substituting the cinematic lense, but in most cases has been used in films to ‘construct’ alternative realities, to add elements such as digital effect spectacles within movies, or to build fictional new worlds as in the case of video gaming and animation.
Farocki defines this phenomenon as “new constructivism”, the ability of technological apparatus to digitally produce images and let us control every aspect of them, all the way down to the pixel. As author Erika Balso puts it, CGI enables the production of “synthetic worlds of unprecedented authorial sovereignty.” This digital control over the image sounds fascinating, yet it appears extremely frightening.
If we consider the advent on the market of programs such as 3D Scan Store and Adobe Fuse – which enable us to buy perfect-looking 3D rendered figures, and to digitally reproduce real people – those who are playing with the virtual agencies of these bodies can eventually impose total control over someone’s avatar. In light of the fast-changing scenario presented by CGI, exploring Harun Farocki’s works can help us see the problematic behind the passage between film and digital production, reality and fiction, capturing and controlling.