The Dynamic Portrait

Watercolor sketching by Frizz © Frizz All Rights Reserved

Watercolor sketching by Frizz
© Frizz All Rights Reserved

Serendipity happens when I least expect it (is that redundant?). It began when a fellow blogger, Frizz, from Germany used two of my photos as subjects for watercolor sketches in a book that he is compiling for his grandchild. This got me thinking about the subject of Art and its various forms—seascape, portraiture, landscape, abstract, realism, etc.

I began to think about the various mediums used to create Art: For instance: watercolor, pencil, charcoal, oil paint, or pen & ink (one of my favorites) applied to paper, canvas, cloth, wood, or brick.

A few of my friends are digital/vfx artists and create wondrous works of art with a digital stylus and electronic pad for the Gaming Industry and Hollywood films. Times have changed and a lot of options are available that were never dreamed of 500 years ago.

This doesn’t take anything away from the talented Renaissance Masters, I am just saying that Art has evolved and new avenues of expression have not only opened up, they didn’t exist until this moment in History. The concept of the Dynamic Portrait is one such avenue.

When I think of the word Portrait, in my mind it is prefaced with an unspoken preface: “sitting for a”. Whether it is a sidewalk caricature, a formal photograph, or an appointment with an Portrait Artist, we are passive subjects, for the most part, and who we are in that moment-in-time is captured forever for all to see—a day, a week, a year or a lifetime later.

But consider this: What if the portrait of us changed over time, just as we do, even when we do? I’m not talking about an electronic slideshow of selfies updated daily—I am talking about a look at ourselves that changes minute by minute over the course of a day based on what we are doing, how we are feeling, how are bodies are changing.

You guessed it, it is not a standard portrait with recognizable facial features, hair, or body shape. This portrait is made up of data and that data is gathered from a combination of fitness trackers and a computer interface which transmits answers to a survey via the internet to fiber-optic threads which are woven into a display panel.

This technological advance is the work of Nora Ligorano and Marshall Reese. Their exhibit, IAMI, is on display in San Francisco at the Catharine Clark Gallery thru January 3rd of next year.

Catharine Clark Gallery
248 Utah Street, San
Francisco, CA 94103

According to the Press Release, “…IAMI is constructed of a series of fiber optic panels woven on a hand-loom and attached to a custom-made, computer controlled lighting system, which displays information from the internet through the tapestry’s fiber optic threads. This newest work is two self-portraits of Ligorano and Reese, sourcing the artists’ individual personal data to create IAMI’s imagery. Private data from the couple’s Fitbits feed the IAMI software, creating algorithms that generate constantly changing patterns of color and light.

While this particular iteration of the project are two portraits of the artists, the work is designed to be a commissionable work. Three times per day, IAMI contacts the “sitter” of the por trait by SMS or email with eleven questions which the sitter inputs using a mobile device. These responses are displayed as changing color fields. The choice of coloration for the fiber optic threads, drawn from Thai/Khmer colors of the day and Robert Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions, gives a blended sense of the day, types of activities and scale of emotions experienced by the sitter. The portrait is never static, but constantly changing over time with the subject.

…IAMI unites the concerns of sculpture and painting with the art of tapestry and is a stunning exploration of data visualization and the use of information as a palette.”

In my 15 years at the Golden Gate Bridge Electric Shop, we installed thousands of feet of conduit and pulled miles of fiber-optic cable, but I never imagined this use for the data traveling thru it. I am going to be in San Francisco this coming Thursday and, if time allows, I plan to go to the Catharine Clark Gallery to view this exhibit in person. Stay tuned for that update.

This I•M•I video will give you more insight into this remarkable work of art.

NOTE: A special THANK YOU goes to Katharine James at the Catharine Clark Gallery for supplying the high resolution photos used in this post. I hope to meet you this week.

Related Source: These Artists Turned Fitbit Data into a Connected Canvas

  12 comments for “The Dynamic Portrait

  1. December 18, 2014 at 6:00 PM

    What would the Renaissance masters think if they were to see today’s art? It is nice to the ways in which science, technology, and art are being entangled together.


    • December 18, 2014 at 6:08 PM

      I think that the challenge for today’s artists is to avoid being “gimmicky” with their blends of science and art.

      Thanks for your comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Phyllis Galanis
    December 15, 2014 at 9:08 PM

    HI Al, the subject of this post is fascinating. Love it that some artists can find a way to incorporate info from a FitBit into a dynamic piece of art—and they used a loom?? Phyllis


  3. December 15, 2014 at 4:59 PM

    Fascinating! Will be fun to read your impressions from the exhibition.

    Interesting angle, about how you installed all that fiber optic cable, perhaps never thinking too much about it, and now THIS!

    I’ve often thought about people who worked years and years for big phone companies, used to going out to boxes and stations, perhaps far off. Then, all of a sudden, all this digital stuff came into play — and it happened so fast — what a huge change it must have been in their work situation…


    • December 15, 2014 at 5:17 PM

      When I started in the Trade in 1968 they were still teaching Vacuum Tube theory. The guys getting in as I was getting out were being taught about Transistors; the guys behind them learned about Programmable Logic Controllers; guys today are learning about servers, networks and IP.

      It is a great trade for anyone that is not afraid of change.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. December 15, 2014 at 9:55 AM

    I don’t understand a word you said 😉 but it blows my mind anyway. I hope you. An get there and post some more photos. It doesn’t have to be understood to fascinate.


    • December 15, 2014 at 5:12 PM

      You have the right attitude—it’s Art, let it flow over you. Have you looked at the video in the link at the bottom of the page?


      • December 16, 2014 at 8:53 AM

        Yes. I still don’t get it. But it’s still fascinating. Who thinks of these things? (Rhetorical)😊

        Liked by 1 person

  5. December 15, 2014 at 8:06 AM

    Please do give us your impressions of the exhibition.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. December 15, 2014 at 7:41 AM

    Incredibly fantastic and futuristic! I’ll have to find out where this gallery is located and see if I can’t get there to see this.


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