An installation by the German art-tech collective, RobotLab, features an industrial robotic arm reproducing on a vast canvas, a digital photograph taken by a NASA rover from the surface of Mars. The arm is programed to render a fine, unbroken line in black ink. Working continuously, the process takes several weeks to produce its photo-realistic monochrome image, translated from a viewing position dislocated from any embodied human eye. The transition, from captured digital data to aesthetic ‘landscape’ is an entirely technical one. Human intervention occurs in the algorithmic code rather than any conventional ‘artistic’ practice, with no direct bearing on the result. Cosmological image-making, such as False Color Images, have long been a matter of transitioning the technical into the aesthetic, rendering data into images that conform to human sensory comprehension and thereby, human aesthetic history. In line with the conference themes, this paper reflects on RobotLab’s image and the question of ‘landscape’ as a relationship between terrestrial space and visual embodiment and of western traditions of the observer, and speculates – after recent critique by the sinologist, Francois Jullien – on what the Chinese concept of ‘landscape’ painting might offer in relation to the separation of the human observer from the scene as humankind remotely gathers increasingly detailed images of the cosmos and its planetary surfaces.
James Callow, Tamkang University, Taiwan