A bridge between the virtual space and the reality, Claudia Hart’s works constantly seek to depart from the traditional male depictions of the virtual female.
Euan McPherson | Ed Kiran Sajan | 14 October 2020
Claudia Hart is a pioneering American digital artist. An early user of virtual imaging, her work uses media installations and virtual reality technologies to create symbolic representations that seek to provide a feminist perspective on digital technology.
Hart was born in New York in 1955. She has a degree in art history from New York University and a degree in architecture from the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture. Her art career began in 1988. She is currently an associate professor in the Department of Film, Video, New Media, Animation at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Alice-XR, except from a 3 channel video + augmented wallpaper and its app + a Vive VR experience, knitted together to become one, through its minting – a #DigitalCombine accomplished by @4art.marketplace in “Digital Baroque,” curated by #PetraTomljanovic and up on eco @palmnft !
Claudia Hart, Alice XR (2022) © Courtesy of the artist.
Artist, Title work (yyyy) © Courtesy of the artist.
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Hart is known for being an early user of 3D virtual imaging software. She has since made use of emerging virtual and augmented reality technologies. Despite her use of computer-generated imagery (CGI), Hart’s work always maintains a physical presence. Hart produces – in her own words, ‘real things’. These include: digitally enabled sculptures, projections on painted walls, and projections onto the human body. In her 2011 work, Recumulations, her use of motion-capture technology on digital bodies collapsed the boundary between fake and real, the virtual and the physical.
As a woman at the forefront of digital art, Hart’s work acts as a feminist disruption of traditionally male space. Her work departs from the traditionally male depictions of the virtual female. In Hart’s work, female digital-avatars are given sensual poetic qualities outside the male gaze. This cyber-feminism has been a feature of Hart’s work since the 1990s. The simulation technology that she began working with had its origins in the US Department of Defence, which had a culture Hart describes as, “militaristic and astonishingly misogynist”. Hart sought to subvert this culture with emotionally subjective pieces such as Machina (2004). Depicting a Rubenesque Odalisque, this series of animations, allows the nude to make randomised sensual movements. Rarely, the figure will open her eyes turning the female gaze back on the viewer.
Much of Hart’s work can be described as digital romanticism. Her digital art echoes back to the 19th-century movement, which in turn sought to look back to the classical forms of Ancient Greece. As the Romantic movement of the 19th century was a reaction to the Industrial Revolution, the Romantic movement in contemporary digital art acts as a response to our present technological revolution. Ophelia (2008) presents a floating nude aside from a polythene bag. Here Hart has juxtaposed a timeless, Romantic, female form, with a reminder of the fragility of our current epoch. As Hamlet’s drowned lover, Ophelia embodies the consequences of patriarchy, and by setting this figure alongside a scene of environmental damage, Hart demonstrates that the loss of the natural world is also a consequence of male power.
The idea of artistic reference is again present in her most recent work where Hart has been inspired by the painting of Henri Matisse. In her exhibition The Ruins (2020) Hart has created a looping series of animations, transforming Matisse’s red paintings into bold, and dynamic digital art. The title work consists of a 10 minute, three-channel animation, accompanied by a sound composition by Edward Campion. As the viewer proceeds through the gallery, Hart narrates texts that underpinned Utopian visions that ended in collapse: Thomas Jefferson on American liberty, the Bauhaus Manifesto, Fordlandia, and Jim Jones’s Open Door sermon. The gallery is designed as a labyrinth where game-style animations of copyright protected paintings by Matisse and Picasso are projected onto the walls. This exhibition represents a move away from a focus on digital forms, and instead undermines the nostalgia associated with traditional landscape scenes.
Alice Unchained (2018)
Alice Unchained, 2018: 2-minute excerpt of an 11-minute closed loop for installation © Courtesy of the artists Claudia Hart and Edmund Campion.
Real-Time Unity with live musicians, responsive music textures and avatars; Vive virtual-reality.
A work in progress: 2018-2019
Alice Unchained is a virtual chamber for chamber music. It is the third work loosely inspired by Alice in Wonderland, created by media artist Claudia Hart and composer Edmund Campion, director of the Center for New Music and Audio Technology, UC Berkeley. Alice mashes 3D animation, motion-captured live performance, and music performed by live and virtual musicians whose sound is analyzed in real-time and remixed in the bodies of sculptural avatars. It feeds back the virtual and the live performance, blending them together in a liminal, uncanny mix.
Both Hart and Campion were inspired by the technology theorist Donna Haraway, whose Cyborg Manifesto imagined a Utopian future in which advanced biotechnologies would liberate human culture from the constraints of gender binaries. So for Alice Unchained, Hart directed and motion-captured professional wrestler Isaias Velazquez and choreographer Kristina Isabelle, mixing their data together to create a singular, ‘cyborg’ choreography. Acting in parallel, Campion composed the music with live drummers who are bound to computer-generated click-tracks and mixed with the disembodied sounds of improvising Cellist, Danielle Degruttola. It adds up to a new chamber music experience, one strangely referential to the 19th-century salon for chamber music and time of Alice, only now existing between the real and the digital.
Andrew Blanton, percussion; Edmund Campion, music composition and live audio mix; Danielle DeGruttola, cello improvisations; Russell Greenberg, percussion; Kristina Isabelle, dance; Jeff Lubow, CNMAT music systems designer; Tommy Martinez, live motion capture and shader programming; Isaias Velazquez, wrestling
Thanks to the Center for New Music and Audio Technologies at UC Berkeley for their participation and support in making this performance possible. Alice Unchained was made with additional support from a Pioneer Works Tech Residency.
Motion Capture Technical Producer: Stéphane Dalbera; Motion Capture Director: Jeremy Meunier; Motion Capture Studio Courtesy Of: Game On, Montreal; Motion Capture Post Production Courtesy Of: Atopos, Paris, in partnership with the Bachelor in Real-Time-3D Program, HECTIC, Paris
Claudia Hart, The Chamber of Dreams (2021) © Courtesy of the artist.
Chamber of Dreams (2020)
As a true pioneer in digital art, Hart is among the first artists presenting her portfolio on Hubs Mozilla, the social VR platform.
Song of the Avatars, 2011 – 20-minute 3D animation, looped © Courtesy of the artist.
On Synchronics: Song of the Avatars (2013)
Collaborative work with 24 of her students. Hart began by using ragdoll physics, the technology game designers use to simulate character death. Hart created a character then shared the data with her collaborators, who, in turn, created their own avatars. The show depicts these designs as one unified movement sequence. Hart’s design depicts a character attempting to escape a computer screen. The design purposefully recalled Michelangelo’s marble Slaves, another example of Hart’s digital romanticism.
Caress, 2011, 3 channel silent 3D animation in custom wood case, 12-minute loop © Courtesy of the artist.
A life-size nude split across three screens. This 3D animation made with Maya by Autodesk shows the figure as if confined by a coffin. This, accompanied by the movements of the nude, give the piece its name, as the confinement effect creates the sense that the camera is caressing the subject.
The Seasons, 2007, 11-minutes looped, re-rendered in 4k, 2018, audio © Courtesy of the artist.
The Seasons (2017)
A ten-minute, looped, 3D animation, The Seasons depicts a woman in an erotic pose. Exploring the temporal, as the woman rotates on a pedestal she begins to decompose. Wreathed in roses, these bloom then fade.
Hart has been a recipient of many grants and fellowships, including those from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Illinois Arts Council, and the Ellen Stone Belic Institute for the Study of Women. Her work has been featured at galleries around the world, including the bitforms gallery, New York; Berkeley Art Museum, California; and the Friedhofsmuseum, Berlin.
In 2019 Hart accepted the Esports Digital Art Prize for her work Alice Unchained (2018).
In Fall 2020, the Whitney Museum of American Art is in the process of acquiring Alice Unchained XR, 2019 and Recumulations 2011/19.
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