Regardless of whether your next TV will be a 4K screen, a San Francisco-based digital art startup sees that Ultra High Definition format as a new type of electronic canvas.
In July, Depict will release Frame, a 50-inch 4K screen that hangs on the wall and is bordered by a matted, oiled American maple wooden frame. Today, the company is announcing four new commissioned electronic art works that are bundled with the screen, which goes for $1,800 on preorder. The company declined to say how many have been presold.
The emerging TV format was chosen for displaying the artworks, CEO and cofounder Kim Gordon told me, because “we wanted to make sure the pixels disappeared.” The company has raised $2.5 million so far, including what it called “a very significant personal investment” from Weili Dai, president of Marvell Technology, whose semiconductors are used in Frame.
Here are snippets from each work, which range in running length from one to three minutes, but are all set to loop:
Frame includes a proprietary 4K screencasting technology, based on the Dial protocol originally developed by Netflix and YouTube. Owners cast these files, stored in Depict’s online collection, from an iPhone, iPad, or computer.
Users can also employ Chromecast or Apple’s AirPlay for 1080p display on a standard HD or, conceivably, just show them on an appropriate screen connected via a monitor cable, although the company emphasizes the stand-alone, no-wires approach.
Frame comes with a circular mount so it can be rotated on the wall in a portrait or a landscape position. Also included are two stands, similarly for portrait and landscape displays. Depict has a collection of more than 500 other digital art works, which are static images, animated GIFs, or short videos. Those works, one to two minutes long and designed for looping, are also available in 4K but can be viewed at 1080p.
Their prices start at $10 per “edition.” All of Depict’s video art works, including the new commissions, are stamped with the company’s version of a digital watermark. It is intended to track and control a limited edition set of each art work, and associate each edition with a specific owner.
The aim is to create “a new class of digital collectible,” according to the startup. The low starting price of a work in the Collection increases as the remaining editions in that set sell out.
All Depict-offered works are licensed for viewing as long as one retains an account, and none are downloadable. They are viewed-on-demand, with a four hour limit to avoid any monitor burn issues.
Video art’s evolution
Artists receive 60 percent of the sale price and retain the copyright. Depict gets exclusive rights for digital sales and high-res versions, and the artist cannot distribute the work in hi-res. On its website, Depict says it may someday allow low-res versions of the works to be downloaded for personal, non-commercial use, but not currently.
As someone who made his living for a decade by selecting, showing, and championing new independent film and video (as head of media arts showcase Center Screen, which presented at Harvard’s Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts), I see this new incarnation of video art as embodying the form’s two competing inclinations.
The pioneers of video art — Nam June Paik, Peter Campus, Bill Viola, Joan Jonas, and others — often predicted that someday high-end tools to make video art would no longer be custom-made, expensive, or donated by Sony. Complementing that vision, but not generally predicted at the time, is the worldwide and inexpensive distribution the Internet offers.
Early video art was oriented around galleries, since TV distribution was not an option — notwithstanding such unique outlets as TV Lab. But the explicit intention of many artists was to create a democratizing form of art that could help counter the art world’s obsession with unique, expensive objects. Video art was specifically positioned as being something different from painting or sculpture.
Gordon told me that Electric Objects and Meural in particular are more focused on “commodity hardware,” using 1080p instead of 4K, while her company is “very artist-oriented.”
Depict’s Collection does represent an outlet of video art for the masses, assuming the masses have either a 4K or 1080p set and a few extra bucks. But Frame, with its painting-like wooden frame and emulation of a wall-hung painting, is a throwback to the days of the unique, expensive object.
Commandeering the eye
It’s hard to imagine Frame and its video art being a good match for a home environment. Leave aside for the moment its price tag, or its apparent requirement that a room be big enough for a 50-inch wall screen but not have a competing regular TV in the same space.
The thing about any TV screen, especially one with motion on it, is that it commandeers the eye. That’s good for a gallery, but it’s also why courteous hosts turn off TV sets when company comes over.
Frame could well find a home in corporate lobbies, where its attention grabbing could fill the time. But someday soon we may all have 4K sets, when video art collections from Depict and others can be called up in their high-resolution best as one would, say, play Beethoven’s 9th when you’re in the mood. At that point, video art may finally have grown up and left painting behind.
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