Raw Materials: When Ingredients of Art are the Message

Marshall McLuhan famously proclaimed that “the medium is the message.” When it comes to art, sometimes it’s the materials that make the loudest statement. Today, artists are surprising us by using unexpected raw materials, from the intangible, such as data, to the physical, like pollution, to help us think differently about the world.
How can data be a source of artistic inspiration? One artist we love is Nathalie Miebach. She uses the heaps of data that scientists capture about weather events — temperatures, barometric pressure, wind speed etc. — to guide her intricate woven sculptures and musical scores. Nathalie uncovers the beauty of data, re-thinking the relationship between science and art.
“Floating Data” Credit: Laurie Frick, http://www.lauriefrick.com/floating-data/
Laurie Frick, another artist using data, has a more personal approach—her raw materials are personal tracking data, like exercise, moods and the paths we take when we walk, run or bike. Her massive piece, “Floating Data,” is a two-story aluminum representation of her walking journeys, and a meditation on the patterns of daily life.
Sea anemones from the “Washed Ashore” exhibit, http://washedashore.org/gallery/
Artist Angela Haseltine Pozzi uses unexpected materials as well, but she focuses on the physical by creating beautiful art with the things we throw away. In “Washed Ashore,” Pozzi and her team of artists have constructed intricate, larger-than-life sculptures of sea animals, built entirely from garbage pulled from the ocean. Her materials, such as flip flops, tires, fishing nets, even a microwave oven ask viewers to confront the harm we’ve done to our environment through our casual disregard of things.

While “Washed Ashore” is about what we’re in danger of losing, “Make a Masterpiece” uses familiar images to recreate what’s already gone. The Adobe Stock project, launched in conjunction with the latest Creative Cloud release, challenged four prominent artists, Karla Cordova, Jean-Charles Debroize, Mike Campau and Ankur Patar, to use any of the more than 55 million Adobe Stock images to remake artworks that have been lost, stolen or destroyed: Frida Kahlo’s “The Wounded Table,” Caravaggio’s “Saint Matthew and the Angel,” Karl Friedrich Schinkel’s “Cathedral Towering Over a Town,” and Rembrandt van Rijn’s “The Storm on the Sea of Galilee.”
“By using stock photos to recreate lost works of art, we get a chance to merge the past and present,” says Patty Nozato, director of campaign marketing at Adobe, and one of the people behind the Make a Masterpiece challenge.
Patty’s collaborator, Joel Guillian, director of advertising and production, editorial and multimedia development at Adobe explains, “As a design element, stock photos are ubiquitous in our online world, and we wanted to use that familiar element to think about masterpieces that have been stripped away from our culture. It’s a way of saying that these important works by Kahlo, Caravaggio and others are lost, but still very much a part of the art world today.”
Switching up the ingredients in their work gives artists a fresh perspective and makes us, their audience, look up and take notice. They challenge us to rethink things we take for granted.
We’re eagerly awaiting what’s next — where will artists and their unexpected materials take us that we haven’t even imagined yet?
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