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Martha Fiennes’s Digital Artworks at Art Dubai Art Fair

Meet Martha Fiennes, an award-winning filmmaker, artist and writer. Fiennes’s AI driven moving-image artwork “Yugen” (2018), featuring the actor Salma Hayek was offered a prime position by the curators of Digital art section of Art Dubai 2022 this March.

Martha Fiennes, “Yugen”, image © M. Fiennes

The artist tells “Art&signatures”, Geneva what is behind “Yugen” digital art work:

It is was tremendously exciting to have this significant digital section at Art Dubai 2022 this March. It was real eye opener and they had curated huge range of digital works, galleries and endeavor. it is a huge area that is without question presenting itself into the art world, and it is here to stay.

This time “Phygital”comes up a lot, this idea that works can exist in the real world, in the analogue world that we inhabit, and simultaneously in a digital world and on the block chain, and there is a huge amount of creativity within that.

I was obviously delighted because I have been working in digital art for some years now and there is a huge amount to consider and this media. This sector in the arts is definitely here to stay, so I commend Art Dubai, « Volte » gallery and Pablo del Val, the Director of art Dubai for his vision in the digital sector.

Irina Vernichenko, Artd&signatures: Is it possible for artists in the expanded field of digital technologies to escape the «clutches » of culture?

 MF: Nothing in this world can truly escape cultural reference, it is almost an impossible idea. So there are many, many myriad of multiple levels of cultural reference within the digital section: within the digital work and digital reach in arts and in people’s imaginative foray in the digital, whether they are making imagery that connects to the blockchain and activity on the blockchain, or whether as in my case, making almost digital fine art, using digital post production technologies at a pioneering and high- end level.

To escape the «clutches» of culture?  Do you mean the clutches of how art has been traditionally traded? The principle of curating art and a selection process for merit and value is important, but it is important to cross the border of human endeavor, to say why do we think this is good or worthwhile. However, I fully recognize simultaneously to that, the endeavor to democratize art world, that is actually been very cut off for many people, and that also has been very untransparent until digital.

Anyway, this is all happening and it almost does not matter what we think, it is happening, it is a “sea change”.

IV: Illusionism is expressed to a great degree in “Yugen”, how is the image created?

 MF: I am a filmmaker, I would say: “I am an artist whose chosen medium is film”, so I am already an artist in a medium called “film”, and I bring that skill set to the process of making these digital works. It is a work of a filmmaker who is familiar with cutting edge technologies that are available for most film makers, and typically they tend to be rather expensive, but we have got Moore’s law, which means that each year they get cheaper and more accessible.

 How is image created? I created the image by using a combination of different kinds of filmmaking techniques, one is filming people in the studio against screen, another is using a very old- fashioned method called “matt painting”, a combination of techniques but mostly “fractal zooms”. High -rendering of “fractal zooms” is created in a digital postproduction landscape, and then I combine these things.

The ultimate thing is “pushing” it into a computer program. It generates or self-generates the work in real time, so I never know, what is going to happen next, though I recognize what is happening. That are all things I created, but I never know how they are going to show up and what is the music track. That’s the big excitement.

Yes, “Yugen” is made by combining lots of different disciplines of film and digital and putting them together, so I call it a hybrid medium and new medium platform.

IV: About collaboration in art in digital realm: what is the role of the artist, director, programmers, all the key elements in decision-making process?

 MF: They are all critical roles. 

Yes. I am absolutely the director. I created the concept and the idea and the platform – so I am the artist, the pioneer, the visionary. I don’t actually code it but I sit there with the coder deciding the percentage possibilities of things to happen and how they might happen. I describe it as co- creating.

 I am handing a lot of decision making to the machine. When you are a film director you basically make all decisions: when you edit the film together and put the audio track on- “you bake it in the oven”, it means you make it fixed.

Martha Fiennes, “Yugen”, image © M. Fiennes

IV: What is the role of music and sound in “ Yugen” and “ Nativity”? Can the moving image be in silence?

 MF: Yes, I maintain, it cannot be shown without music. Sound is always a very interfering thing, it’s a powerful thing. You can have something on the wall visual, this is not that distracting, but sound will distract attention. As an artist I can say, art can be either, with or without sound. Obviously when the sound is on, it enhances the process, it powers up the process, it contextualizes the image, underpins it emotionally, that’s what audio does: brings something to life and gives it power and punch. The music and sound score was written by my brother Magnus Fiennes, he is prolific music producer and music maker. He and I work together a lot, and as you probably know, he made the score for “Onegin”, so I worked with my brother Magnus for many years. It is sibling relationships, and as it probably often happens with creative sibling relationships, you have an understanding about what the other is trying to do. You understand it at some level, you do not have to explain, there is a mutual understanding, so relationships with Magnus and music is intrinsic to my work, intrinsic to “Yugen”.  

IV: Did NFT fit firmly into the fabric of the art market?

   MF: A question about NFT is a question is about a hugely significant aspect of art, the art market, the blockchain, and of course digital artists. I am gearing towards minting and dropping of imagery from “Yugen” – that is one of the next stages of my process for sure. It is a new world, and it is as we know, very unpredictable, but it is gathering huge amount of interest. It is simultaneously a disruptor of the art world, as well as a kind of democratization for artists too. It’s a paradox: it seems to be playing opposites at the same time, so the digital section of art Dubai was very much about that conversation, but with the emphasis on this principle of “Phygital“: physical and digital, as I have mentioned before. It is about how we as digital artist can curate our work into blockchain, while retaining respect and value, and not diminishing that value by conducting ourself in the digital blockchain in a way that could be damaging.

It is something everyone is learning and talking about, and it is a new world. Like any new world, it can have its peaks and troughs in other words, it’s high points and low points. Probably mistakes will be made, they always are, but and at the same time it is an extraordinary world, it is a liberator, and that’s one of most exciting aspect of it.

Irina Vernichenko
Art critic, art consultant, co-founder of Artdecision online art magazine and the founder of Art&signatures art web site