Interpreting Instructions for Analogue Coding

When looking for inspiration for my analogue code I decided to look at the work of Agnes Martin, an American minimalist who places focus on simplicity in her artworks. Martin’s exhibited works at the Guggenheim Museum in New York features geometric shapes on clean backgrounds and often include crisp lines and pastel colours for a hint of vivacity.

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Installation view: Agnes Martin, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, October 7, 2016–January 11, 2017. Photo: David Heald

My analogue coding instructions are a direct appropriation of Agnes Martin’s 1959 piece Untitled. Where she uses oil and graphite on canvas to create an intriguing yet unadorned artwork, I was challenged to recreate the piece by providing individuals with a set of instructions needed to produce a finished product.

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Agnes Martin, Untitled, 1959

The task was carried out three times and with each new iteration of instructions there was a variation in the end results.


Iteration One

“Scrunch up A3 piece of paper loosely. Flatten out paper horizontally. With a different, fresh piece of paper, cut out four identical rectangles. Place the four rectangles on the scrunched piece of paper, spaced out evenly and vertically. Lightly outline the rectangles.”

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Iteration Two

“Loosely scrunch up an A3 piece of paper. Flatten out the A3 piece of paper and lay it out horizontally. With a fresh piece of paper, cut out four identical rectangles. Place the four rectangles on the scrunched piece of paper. Make sure they are in the middle of the page, spaced out evenly and vertically laid out. Glue the four rectangles in place. Lightly outline the rectangles with a pencil.”

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Iteration Three

“Loosely scrunch up an A3 piece of paper, flatten it out and position it horizontally. With a fresh piece of A3 paper cut out four identical rectangles and position them in the centre of the scrunched piece, spaced out evenly and vertically positioned.”

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When creating the instructions for my piece I took into consideration the simplicity that I liked in Martin’s work, and tried to make my instructions best reflect this. The first set of instructions where perhaps the most complex and detailed, and the end result was the least appealing. The last set of instructions, which in my opinion created the stronger finished piece, consisted of two or three sentences.

Agnes Martin’s work appeared textured but still clean, and in order to reproduce this aspect in my instructions I felt that the use of two pieces of paper worked best — one scrunched up and then flattened out, and the other kept pristine. This was the most consistently interpreted instruction across each iteration. The layering of these two textures in my opinion added depth to each of the works and was a success throughout each of the three pieces created.

Throughout the process it became clear that the mediums used would significantly impact the outcome. In the second iteration of my instructions, two different pieces of paper were used, one A3 and one A4. Once complete it became apparent that the pieces were actually different shades of white, which had an impact on the way it was received.

By changing the instructions to remove the light pencil outline around each rectangle, or by adding then subtracting the use of glue, I was able to experiment with what mediums I felt best reflected Martin’s original work. Whilst I quite liked the outlined rectangles in Martin’s piece, the use of pencil in the instructions I created were not interpreted as I had intended — the first finished piece exhibits this as the lines are quite thick and dark.

As this exercise has demonstrated, instructions can be interpreted in a number of ways, as each individual perceives things differently. Specificity is crucial, but so is being minimal, which when combined can be challenging.

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