Clouds acquire continued airish representational quandaries to painters, photographers, and programmers alike. Artisan and artisan Lucy Siyao Liu met with adjustment engineer-cum-English assistant Tung-Hui Hu to altercate their corresponding assignment on these ambiguous wisps. The barter took abode on a summer Sunday in Liu’s Brooklyn flat over buckwheat tea. While Liu’s art has grappled with how to represent clouds, Hu’s 2015 book A Antiquity of the Billow asks what “the cloud” represents, assuming how the agenda term, so generally acclimated to betoken placelessness, absolutely refers to a ample infrastructure. Liu’s accession A Curriculum on the Artifact of Clouds (2017)—currently on appearance in a accumulation appearance at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm—mixes the artist’s assets and animations with works loaned from athenaeum and museums. It’s modeled afterwards art historian Aby Warburg’s Mnemosyne Atlas (1924–29), an adjustment of images (originally displayed on lath panels) that acknowledge beheld commonalities beyond time and assorted cultures. Liu samples attempts to almanac the ephemeral, including assets by nineteenth-century British analyzer and artisan John Ruskin, works by eighteenth-century British mural painter Alexander Cozens, and 1920s photographs by Japanese physicist Masano Abe.
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LUCY SIYAO LIU There’s not abundant in my flat now, because I alien all of my assets to Stockholm. I do acquire a brainstorming lath for my accession there, A Curriculum on the Artifact of Clouds. The allotment includes archival assets and diagrams by assorted artists and scientists accompanying to the delineation of clouds. I fabricated an action that I’m bulging at a forty-five-degree angle, reinterpreting the boxlike and angled grids Ruskin acclimated to draw clouds in perspective. I’m additionally assuming some assets afterward the rules and schemas of Alexander Cozens. And there’s my annal with samples of carving techniques frequently acclimated to characterize clouds in reproductions of paintings.
TUNG-HUI HU I’m addled by Cozens’s procedural access to landscapes: he advised it as commodity that could be accomplished by computers, whether a animal computer or a machine. I adulation the way your access map the representations of clouds through systems, whether those of Cozens, Ruskin, or John Constable.
LIU Cozens’s book A New Adjustment of Assisting the Invention in Cartoon Original Compositions of Mural [c. 1785] is mostly about his blotting techniques. He would actualize blots, again draw a mural from those forms aback anybody abroad was painting en plein air. The book has twenty or so plates of billow etchings with descriptions like “streaky clouds at the top of the sky.” Cozens wasn’t necessarily cartoon in affiliation to a absolute landscape, but breeding landscapes. I adopted his access to draw clouds computationally, again adopted his captions for titles. Of course, my methods are actual different: I’m programming and authoritative a pen plotter, not etching.
HU There are abrupt moments of abeyance in the plotting, not aloof bland lines. I’m analytical about the means you aftermath commodity with anchored rules, but additionally arrest it or acquaint contingency.
LIU I like alive with the actor because it takes time. It’s not like a printer that prints all in one go: the actor reads vectors, and vectors acquire end points. This continuance introduces a lot of opportunities for interjecting my duke aback into the work, or absolution affairs or achievement acquire some say in the matter.
HU Your absorption to anniversary alone band makes me anticipate about labor. I’ve been account about the bodies whose job it is to cede clouds in video games: they archived all their bootless clouds, which got me cerebration about the activity of bearing a background. It’s these things in the accomplishments that accomplish things in the foreground, like characters, assume livelier. What is it like to do all this assiduous assignment to accomplish the background?
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LIU All those nineteenth-century Englishmen were comfortable aimless in the pastoral landscape, exclaiming how admirable it was, and again aggravating to abduction it. I chronicle to their amusement and enjoyment. It’s absorbing that today, aback we see band drawings, we anticipate of labor.
To me, the ones accomplishing the activity are bodies like the physicists I interviewed at the International Meteorological Institute in Stockholm. They told me they acquire to manually analysis the numbers that their billow archetypal outputs, again amalgamate them and assay them. They’re amenable for giving an authentic anticipation to bodies out at sea, but I additionally anticipate about the activity of actuality a animal in this computer process.
HU As an artist, you’re accomplishing programming assignment but additionally actual work. I’d adulation to apperceive added about how you see your role, bringing calm and alike accumulation altered representational systems.
LIU It’s a catechism I ask myself. Artisan Mariam Ghani, who works with Afghani archives, already acclaimed how adamantine it is to accord with archives, because you acquire to argue with the amusing structures and ideologies that actuate what’s account archiving. I absolutely feel that affectionate of albatross in acknowledging that the references I accompany to A Curriculum reflect a colonial accomplished and a acutely Western attitude of attempting to acquire or ascendancy weather. That’s why I’m bond my own assignment with actual work, but not in archival order. Like Aby Warburg’s Mnemosyne Atlas, my accession is a brute-force authoritarian comparison. I’m aggravating to digest these precedents, not put them on a pedestal.
HU I’m reminded that the ancestry of the chat “cloud” follows your adjustment of academic comparison: it comes from “clod,” because the clumps in the sky attending like the ones on the ground. There’s commodity admirable about the actuality that accent sometimes comes from academic intuitions. Your achronological archetypal of history makes new insights accessible through these moments of academic comparison.
LIU Bodies are consistently allurement artists about their albatross to history, added than I anticipate they ask added people. There’s consistently the acceptance that the artisan is actuality to blend things up and put things out of order; that by misrepresenting things, one adeptness get the admirers to amend them. But misconstruing history can be absolutely dangerous.
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HU The archetypal of history that Silicon Valley wants us to have—and alike the archetypal of history that was array of in the air aback I was autograph my book [A Antiquity of the Cloud]—is one of break or disruptions, generally a affectionate of abstruse determinism. It was important that I anticipation of my book as “a” prehistory, not “the” antiquity of the cloud. I was aggravating to affix strands but not in a anon causal way.
LIU I was absorbed by the altercation of “virtualization” in your book. You wrote about the history of abstracts centers and networks, and how the chat “cloud” now symbolizes that infrastructure. I’m cerebration about virtualization in my assignment a lot, because I use concrete abstracts (archives, drawings) to get at the concrete qualities of accustomed clouds, which is absolutely altered than today’s dematerialized faculty of the chat “cloud.”
HU Both the actual and the basic comedy important roles in my book: the abstracts centers, the fiber-optic cables forth railroad tracks, but additionally virtualization, which is what computer scientists are apropos to aback they allocution about billow computing. I was aggravating to accomplish the affirmation that virtualization is at the affection of our abridgement now. Amazon Mechanical Turk treats freelancers as tools, aloof as it does any software amalgamation or accumulator service. It doesn’t absolutely amount whether it’s a animal or a computer bearing the result. Cultural studies added focus on basement and the actual band of computing, but I anticipate we should additionally be attractive at the systems by which things become absent and virtual, and what happens to history and the annal aback they become progressively virtualized.
LIU The billow allegory constrains our adeptness to see its infrastructure. But we like that, because it additionally makes it easierto accept.
HU Yes, the allegory shapes how we think. Aback scientists were aggravating to amount out what to alarm computer viruses, one angle was the appellation “weeds.” They went with “virus,” which spawned a accomplished band of cerebration about bane and added biological metaphors, but what if we talked about agronomical computer weeds instead?
And, as you say, we admiration that mystification—not because we’re brainless and we’re all actuality exploited by angry people, but because we acquire a absolutely able admiration to assurance that all our memories are actuality adequate or saved, alike if we affectionate of apperceive that’s not absolutely true. I admiration what the billow is in the accepted imagination. I’d assumption that it stands for commodity not here, but about out there: in the network, in the ether. I admiration if accouchement who are growing up now absolutely see the aberration amid “cloud” and “not cloud.”
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To adverse that mystification, artisan statements frequently adjure the adumbration of “making the airy visible.” But your assignment doesn’t absolutely do that. Instead, it makes arresting techniques for visibility, like talking about an alphabet afore talking about concepts accounting in that alphabet. You’re pointing to systems of cartoon afore accepting to assets themselves. Aback I was in alum school, computer art mostly complex abstracts visualization: like, hypothetically, a red, green, and dejected affectation that visualizes the complete of water, or a added political assignment that adeptness anticipate the cardinal of deaths in Iraq. A lot of these projects would be examples of “making the airy visible.” Admitting there is some of that inherently in the abstraction of cartoon a cloud, or aggravating to abduction a consistently affective object.
LIU In my appellation A Curriculum on the Artifact of Clouds, “curriculum” implies a address or methodology, as able-bodied as a survey. I additionally say “on the artifact of,” fabrica in Latin, acceptation skill, craft, or production: not necessarily a archetype of a absolute thing. I am authoritative arresting the techniques, but additionally analytic them by putting them all together. Alone, you adeptness anticipate Cozens’s method, or Ruskin’s method, is “the” method, and that one of these bodies is “the” ascendancy on how to represent clouds. But put those techniques together, and you adeptness ask which one is added accurate, or achieve that they all aftermath fabrications.
I additionally acquire some prints by George Sand [pen name of Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin] in my installation. Afore the Rorschach test, putting ink bottomward and folding the folio was alleged “klecksography”: Victor Hugo additionally fabricated some. I included some prints from Sand, who would bark the cardboard away; if she would see veins that attending like a tree, she’d accomplish a landscape. I appetite to addled the waters, allurement how we acquire called to assimilate representations, so I included bewitched methods alongside adept ones. There’s additionally August Strindberg’s celestographs: he rubbed photosensitive chemicals on cardboard and apparent the bedding to the stars to accomplish photographs after a lens. I’m alive against a pluralist compassionate of what adjustment is, because alike “method” is a appealing colonial idea: accepting to accord commodity as ability production, rather than acceptance for idiosyncrasies.
HU It’s alluring to anamnesis that aboriginal photography couldn’t abduction clouds. Newspaper editors would consistently ask photographers to contrivance and bake those clouds aback in. Later critics such as John Szarkowski claimed those attempts were a holdover from a painterly apperception of mural that bodies weren’t accessible to let go of. Photographers who larboard bare skies in the backgrounds of their images, such as Timothy O’Sullivan, were absolutely all-embracing the technology of photography: they were modern, in Szarkowski’s narrative. And admitting we now apperceive that’s a simplistic view, the adversity of apery clouds is still a articulation point for cerebration about new systems of representation and new waysof looking.
LIU Today, apparatus acquirements models acquire adversity interpreting foregrounds against backgrounds. Our images are accepting bargain and compressed: I admiration if clouds will consistently be allotment of them.
—Moderated by Emily Watlington
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This commodity appears beneath the appellation “Computing Clouds” in the November 2019 issue, pp. 30–32.
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