Works > Post Documentation

Click on the links below and then scroll down to view the works

(mobile users should scroll to the bottom of the Wikipedia page and click the "desktop" link.)

New Wave

Chandler Hutchison

Bowen Yang

Fred Treacey

Brian Doyle-Murray

Abby Elliott

Susan Low Bloch

1987 Boston Red Sox season

Person Woman Man Camera TV

Ghost Call


Project essay below.
This project is ongoing and I will share links as new paintings are posted.

This essay should be read as both an artist statement and a collection of questions, thoughts, and ideas that came about while creating the work for this project. The project has shifted and changed as it has progressed, and given that the project is ongoing, this essay might be updated or changed as I continue.

Post Documentation
Benjamin Cook

Post Documentation is an ongoing project that explores how digital-documentation and online image-sharing can act as an extension of, rather than merely information about, the physical object. I have been interested in what it means to experience art intended to be viewed in person, through a screen. I ask myself questions about what is lost, what is gained, why is it generally agreed upon that an in-person experience is the only "real" way to view work, and why doesn't that "default experience" get questioned more often?

Lost and Gained

In nearly every conversation I have about what changes in the process of digitally documenting and sharing a work of art, the aspects of experience that are lost are readily available, and generally agreed upon. A digital image of a painting is flat. You can't move around it or feel the effects of scale upon your body. It doesn't smell of oil or resin, and you can't get close enough to see the fine detail/texture of the surface. As a painter, that last part is what I miss the most. I agree with every part of this argument, but the argument alone is only half of what occurs when a physical object is transformed into a digital image. A digital image has abilities that a physical object can never achieve. Digital images can be identically duplicated and experienced at a time and place of the viewer's choice. They can move around the world and created a shared experience between any two individuals. They are accessible to anyone with access to the internet. The re-posting of images allows for direct collaboration with the viewer by creating a new visual and conceptual context for the work. In most of the conversations I've had, the aspects that are gained in the process are less obvious or considered subordinate in nature. I will concede that this minimal list does not make up for the initial loss, but that is only because questions about the experience of the documented image haven't been investigated to the same extent as questions about physical art objects.

Hierarchy of Experience

It seems that one reason physical experiences are so often directly linked with the "real experience" is because of our history. Protocols of the past become so engrained in our every-day that, even when right in front of us, we tend to not notice them (The concept that art should be viewed in person because art has always been viewed in person). But that explanation doesn't seem to reflect my experience accurately. As an artist that lives and works outside of any major art hubs, I find that the majority of the work I see is through a screen. I still go and see the shows that are held in my city, and I make it a point to seek out museums and galleries any time I travel, but most of the art I see is viewed on websites, blogs, or social media. I suppose this may also be true for those that are fortunate enough to reside within a city like London, Mexico City, Los Angeles, Berlin, or New York City. So, I ask again, keeping in mind that the predominant experience for my art viewing is through a screen, why do we hold on to the idea that the only "real" way to view a work of art is in-person? Maybe intent plays a role. Unless the artist is making work with the intent of being viewed digitally, the aspects of the experience that are gained through digitally documenting and disseminating a work are merely the effects of the process. They are not reflective of the artist's work and are uniformly ubiquitous on a given platform. In my experience, this is true. Most work that is posted online uses documentation as only information about an object. There are slight deviations (Art on a gallery wall, art in on a studio wall, art in a natural setting, art held in someone's hands, etc.) but the majority of work tends to stick to a basic structure of "lit with uniform white light and placed somewhere with few visual distractions." This is fine for documentation as information, but if we acknowledge the fact that the documented image will likely be the only version that many people experience, then why is that experience often overlooked. Why not light it with colored light, animate it, and be intentional with how/where it's posted? There are endless possibilities for what could be done to extend the ideas within a work into the digital experience.


If work is made with the understanding that the documented image will be a version of the work that constitutes an equally real experience as the physical one, what does that mean for a work of art? Are the digital and physical versions considered two separate pieces? Do viewers need to experience both versions to truly see the work? I think that the idea of the work of art as a singular object should be rejected. Art that is made with careful attention to both the physical and documented experience should be seen in a state of duplicity (Think Plato's Theory of Forms or Kosuth's One and Three Chairs. 1965). It can be both at once. Any questions about whether a person needs to view both (or all) versions seem to be more about positions of status than about experiencing the work that is in front of you.

In application, this project consists of paintings, made of paper pulp and acrylic, that were created for specific Wikipedia articles and uploaded as the main image. By placing the paintings within the local context of a Wikipedia page, the image acts as supporting material for the text, while the text becomes a pseudo tombstone for the image. The works remain on the article until they are removed or replaced by other users, at which point the works are automatically archived and viewable through the page's "view history" tab. Within the "More Details" section for each image, I have included information about both the digital file (size in pixels, resolution) and the physical object (Height, Width, Materials) in order to create a closer relationship between the two versions. The physical objects will be presented in the future when physical gathering is considered safe, and the project has ended. At the in-person show, removed from the context of a Wikipedia article, the paintings will relate to the digital experience only in graphic imagery and show statement. But, the physical aspects of the matte paper surface, clumping built-up pulp, preserved fingerprints, scale, etc., will create a separate experience. Similar to the relationship of the digital image and the article content, the physical and the online shows will exist in a context that is mutually supportive.

Post Documentation