Postdigital mark-making

During Brenna Murphy’s October exhibition, a visitor conversed with us about the artist’s process. Brenna, like many artists working today, begins by modeling and manipulating three-dimensional shapes in software. She materializes these shapes as sculptural objects (produced using computer-controlled machines such as laser cutters and 3D printers) and as digital prints. After considering this, the visitor (who was himself an artist) said, “So she doesn’t make anything.”

The visitor meant that Brenna does not make marks, by the traditional definition of mark-making as physically creating a line, pattern or texture. But he was passing a value judgment, using mark-making to suggest the primacy of physical (and traditional, refined) processes and gestures. Mark-making is a visceral phrase that evokes the pleasures of making and viewing pencil on paper, brush on canvas, hands on clay, and so on. 

These pleasures are not to be dismissed, but must they exclude mathematically-based modeling? In the case of Brenna Murphy and other artists working in similar processes, active layers of creation are combined with collaboration with machines. Such artists indisputably make stuff when they create a model, and from that initial models more stuff is made. At any point in the process, linearly or recursively, an artist using digital processes can move between the virtual and the physical (including marks!), completely hand-made to completely machine-made, small to large, solid to transparent, and so on. A 3D-printed sculpture does not appear deus ex machina; the artist just used her hands in different ways.

– Theo Downes-Le Guin