Art & Artists by John Coyle Steinbrunner

August 6th, 2010

Living Brushstroke

I’ve never met Maria Scileppi, but we are, of course, friends on Facebook. As goes my social life, so goes the art. As far as I’m concerned, technological development ceased around 1850 when synthetic binders let chemists concoct colors that weren’t sourced from what you could grow on the village green. (I’ll give Yves Klein a by.) But then again I’m a painter and I call anything flat or on the wall a “painting” regardless of provenance.

I’m not a Luddite (though the iPad continues to mystify me), I just haven’t found the need to go outside the linseed oil and pigment to explore my concepts. Maria is an artist of a more advanced stripe. Her “Living Brushstroke” project debuting this summer at Burning Man is the monolith to my screaming, savage primates (try minute 4:00). In place of brushes, sub GPS locators and a fistful of batteries. Scratch paint; add geotracking. Lose control, embrace randomness (this last, a good practice regardless of medium).

A still of an animation showing GPS tracking patterns at work, found on Living Brushstroke website.

The Living Brushstroke will track people at Burning Man wearing GPS locators. As they move through the day and from event to event, they will be streaming data to the impossibly complex network of satellites and servers that comprise the Internet. Software will turn their movements into colored, moving lines that will create a certain sort of order out of chaos. To paraphrase James Surowiecki, we’re set to witness the creativity of crowds.

Scileppi taps into a vigorous debate stirred in part by Damien Hirst’s record-breaking auction coup of $200 million dollars at the height of the (American) recession: that of authorship. Critics cried foul at Hirst raking in such filthy lucre when he hadn’t actually created any of the work himself. Likewise, is Scileppi a watchmaker, winding up her birds and setting them loose? Does it matter? Marina Abramovic in a recent New Yorker article defined art as “context and intent.” I like this; it’s nice and simple. In the hordes that attend Burning Man, Scileppi is finely slicing out behavioral patterns and codifying them. Like that old chestnut about monkeys banging away at typewriters to eventually produce Shakespeare, Scileppi is sifting through chaos to see if order arises, and in what form it will arise. And if that order is simply a different kind of chaos, well, that sounds a lot like a painting, even if there’s no pigment involved.

Read more or get involved at the Living Brushstroke website.

-John Coyle Steinbrunner

J.C. is a painter in Chicago. He also founded and hosts The Salon Series to bring audiences and creatives together over dinner for an evening of discussion. He prefers Mexican lagers, Gibson guitars and the window seat. More about his art and work can be found at

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