by Joanna Chaffin
The last time that I went to pick up a magazine, I was immediately drawn to Tank. It’s not the easiest magazine in the world to come by, especially in Canada, as it’s published in the UK, but definitely worth a read if you get your hands on it. When flipping through the Spring 2014 issue titled “Complicity,” I couldn’t help but notice the emphasis that was put on digitization and technology. It seemed that with every new article I was being referred to a different page which told me how to “bring the magazine to life” by downloading an app that would allow me to watch videos which correspond to the article.
These articles have very different perspectives on the ideas of “going digital” and using technology as a tool in the art making process. While reading them I found interesting the idea that the medium and tools that are used to create a piece of art have such a perceived profound impact on the overall message of the piece itself. When reading the piece by Caroline Issa called “Let’s Get Digital, Chanel…the Future is Handmade” it seemed that not going digital is not merely a stubborn act of defiant old school traditions but a holding on to the genealogy of the fashion house itself and the culture within it. In Chanel’s case, this resistance to using digital technologies poses a threat to the lifeblood of the brand itself.
What continued to strike me in the days after reading it was the idea of agency as it was discussed in the piece by Daniel Jones called “Art and Algorithm” that explores mechanized art production such as using an actual machine to carry out an abstraction or a “code” that will make the resulting work of art. Fear that some feel towards technologies can often be related to thinking that technologies begin to chip away at the things that make us human—our creative capacity and ability to create things with our bare hands and brains. Jones talks about this fear as just an avenue that we have not yet explored. It’s not so scary after all and can actually create a more “tangled” creative process by adding new factors. It is interesting for me to think of these ideas as they related to the house of Chanel where such an emphasis is put on human capacity and agency. There is clearly so much care and attention to detail put in to making couture garments, where precision is paramount—yet it seems as though the human hand, which is imperfect, is seen as more vital than the work of mechanized technology that could, arguably, carry out these tasks to a greater degree of precision and efficiency. There’s something deeper that is thought to be lost when switching to machines—maybe a soul.
Another theme that comes up through these articles was the idea of authorship; a widely discussed topic in art history—which surely cannot be covered in a single blog post—but hey, let’s try to crack into it a bit. Karl Lagerfeld who is at the helm of Chanel has an unmistakable look and is an iconic figure in fashion. If a machine were to come in to play here and, like Daniel Jones discusses, create unique patterns or images, what is left to do? To play devil’s advocate—could it be that bringing in technologies and machines is a blow to a designer’s ego? Though Lagerfeld is not actually making the clothes himself, the hours upon countless hours that artisanal hands are at work speaks to the creative and intellectual worth of these pieces. These people are thought of as geniuses and master-craftspeople and are upheld in fashion as a sort beautiful, yet incomprehensible, tradition.
Maybe Tank is trying to push us a bit with this notion of complicity—what they might be implying here is how we are all becoming complicit with traditional ways of approaching creativity. Digital, platforms are ways of sharing information, clothes, ideas, art and just about anything else—it’s just a matter of how complicit you want to be that separates us from this new tool.