French conceptual artist Marcel Duchamp once described his 1912 work, Nude Descending a Staircase No.2, as an exercise in solving “the problem of motion in painting.” While many cubist artists were concerned with depicting objects as if viewed from multiple angles, Duchamp sought to represent the subject itself in motion.
A little over a century later, Milan-born creative vanguardist Marco Brambilla has re-envisioned Duchamp’s fragmented image of a monochromatic human form by exploring the illusion of movement on a digital canvas. The London-based video artist incorporates the original painting’s multi-layered tableau of shattered geometric shapes and injects it with velocity.
“The figures of No. 3 constantly reconfigure themselves to cascade down an unseen stairway,” says regular NOWNESS contributor Brambilla. “The body, shapes and colour palette are pure Cubism, now expanded into three dimensions using state-of-the-art computer technology.” Brambilla’s No. 3 is a simulation of a walk cycle, which itself is an abstraction of human movement taken from motion-capture recordings. Variations of the cycles are rendered at different speeds and collaged into a kinetic composition that constantly evolves.
Throughout his career, Brambilla has been a steadfast advocate of integrating technology into art. In 2012 his virtual reality collage, Creation, the birth of heaven and hell was chronicled alongside pop culture iconography. Then in 2015 he created Apollo XVIII, a 4K multi-channel video installation about a fictitious mission to the moon broadcast in Times Square.
The ability to reduce movement to a collection of stills inspired Duchamp to paint as if he were overlapping frames in order to evoke a sense of elapsed time in a static composition. “Duchamp is a rare case where an artist was inspired by a forerunner of technology like Muybridge for the subject of a painting,” says Brambilla. Speaking of his own work, the artist continues, “By taking Duchamp's revolutionary painting back into the technological realm and adding the dimension of time, I hope to complete the circle and pay homage to the deconstructed image using a wholly contemporary visual language.”
An excerpt of Nude Descending a Staircase No. 3 is on display across 21 screens at the Westfield World Trade Centre in New York throughout May 2019 as part of their video art program