Despite known for his time-based works, drawing and painting occupy a crucial position in the practice of David Claerbout. Trained as a painter, the bi-dimensional medium always exists in close proximity to his videos. Produced in parallel with Wildfire (meditation on fire), Claerbout’s video piece, the series of drawings depicts images from a wildfire and can be considered the largest drawing series produced by the artist. Inspired by images of a real fire from the artist’s archive and painted with washed ink, thus bringing together water with the subject of fire, the series becomes an embodiment of Claerbout’s play with dichotomies. Despite their autonomy, these works’ conceptualization is tied closely to the digital construction of images, characteristic for our increasingly digital present.
Removing the camera and succumbing instead to the digital, the video’s immaterial nature leaves us with an illusion of an image, a hallucination, and a visual construct of computing. The assumed artificiality of the image creates an immersive experience of an environment and a situation, in this case, a wildfire that never happened to challenge our understanding of time, space, reality, fiction, and the nature of image construction. According to David Claerbout, digital image construction is based on concept, conversation, and consensus, taking us back to pre-photography and to painting. The present series of drawings can be perceived as a materialization of this shift, allowing for Wildfire’s material experience through the painterly process, while echoing a somewhat romantic nostalgia of a pre-digital past. The works become characteristic of their immersive quality drawing the eye deep in. The figure remains absent; the background is pushed forward. The materiality, haptic nature, and execution create a material, a temporal, and a conceptual opposition to the digital, allowing for gauging what in the digital transition was gained and what is lost.