Why David Hockney Has a Love-Hate Relationship With Technology

A new retrospective highlights the artist’s two, seemingly opposite passions

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The 18-screen projection now switched over to one of Hockney's more recent interior experiments, in this case an 18-camera recording, shot from on high, looking down upon a deliciously improvised dance suite choreographed in his own colorfully repainted Hollywood Hills studio. He'd been trying several of these sorts of interior projects, including a three-camera, single-take (in the mode of Alexander Sokurov's Russian Ark) tour of a retrospective of his at London's Royal Academy and a racing convertible tour of one of his San Gabriel Mountain/Wagner drives.

"This, or something like it, is going to have to be the future," Hockney told me. "You compare this sort of thing to the beginning, say, of Gladiator, Russell Crowe big on the screen as things build, one upon the next, toward the beginning of the battle. It could have been so exciting—I remember thinking that at the time—but wasn't, in part because with each shot we could feel our focus being directed to this one thing and then the next. We weren't free to let our eyes wander, to engage positively on our own behalf. Whereas, with this way of doing it, you are almost forced to be active in your looking, and you have the time to be. And as a result you feel so much more free. Which is another way of saying you feel so much more alive."

Except that, in typical fashion, Hockney's own future now featured a new experiment, this one a return to the past, by way of a primordial, indeed almost Cro-Magnon technology: He'd begun chronicling the coming of spring to the woods outside Bridlington again, only this time in charcoal, which is to say by way of burnt wood across pulped wood. All the whiz-bang technological experimentation had come back round to this, all in pursuit of the smudge, the feel of the real. What is it like, really like, to be a figure alive in the world?


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