Bearing Witness: The Voices of Our Survivors
The "Mikvah" series
Women of the Wall
The Fence
These are some Jews that Hitler Did Not Get
Conversations with Dad
Mother Daughter 2003
Mother Daughter 2004
Mother Daugter 2005
Mother Daughter 2006





Dena Elisabeth Eber



As an artist I work in three different but related areas: art making, art writing (both data based and theoretical) and art curation.   I balance all three to create a support system that brings together diverse concepts and representations to build common narratives.   My art making (facet one of my research) investigates themes that bridge across many cultures such as family, sexuality, femininity, fertility, religion identity and feminism, all in the pursuit of artistic form that both tells a story and builds community.   In my art writing (facet two of my research) I investigate viewer reception of digital artworks and the future direction of the digital arts discipline by identifying common cultural conditions for both viewers and producers of digital art experiences.   In facet three of my research, I curate exhibitions for leading institutions within the field of digital arts to articulate new shared patterns developing in the discipline, and give voice to others’ innovations within the field.

Starting with art production (facet one), while a graduate student I unexpectedly found that digital tools augmented many of my artistic goals for creating a final product and providing engrossing experiences for viewers.   Although tempted by curiosity at times, my primary use of digital tools was driven by how they supported my ideas, which lead me to experiment with a diverse set of concepts, processes and software.   I found that digital technology offered novel output for viewers to experience and afforded unique ways for people to participate in art.   Thus my interests also started to include theoretical and data analysis-based investigations about the experience for the viewer of digital arts, and the changing creative process for the artist using digital means; and so the second facet of my work, art writing, took form.   I began collecting and analyzing qualitative data on both the creation and consumption of artistic works that included digital media. As the art world debated, deliberated and lingered (in some circles) over the place where artwork derived from digital means should be situated (if at all, according to some), I remained curious about how other digital media artists were working.   However, at that time, finding opportunities to see such work was limited.   Thus the third facet of my work (art curation) emerged as I saw a need to design and provide venues for digital work, not only to give opportunities to artists and the viewing public, but also to help digital artists mature and define their aesthetics, and introduce these approaches into the larger art world.   My early curatorial themes mostly centered on digital art with content, that is, work that went beyond investigation of the tool to focus on what the artist wanted to say, supported by the new available toolset.   As the digital world developed, and content-based digital work became abundant, my exhibition themes tended to gravitate towards more specific ideas.   Entering the post-tenure phase of my professional career, these three areas of research; art making, art writing, and art curation, remain intact and indeed have ripened to include more robust explorations that come from a deeper understanding of the artistic potential, unique aspects and new aesthetics of digital arts.

Art Production and Writing

Forming the first facet of my research triad, my artistic investigations are now predominantly centered on image making with attention to processes that support the stories I want to tell, ideas that have meaning to many cultures and that bring them together, such as family and the role of women.   Pure image-based work led me back to my beginnings, which included not only photography (manipulated and straight), but also other studio practices, mediated by the digital studio.   This is apparent in Mother/Daughter 2004 in which I told the story of the burgeoning relationship between my daughter and myself.   In this case, the delicacy and spiritual quality of the narrative was supported by printmaking practices that were based on digital imagery composed and captured using a large format scanner, at the scale of the body. The solidity and depth of the ink on paper reflected the same aspects of the mother/daughter bond that I wanted to narrate while still using the photographic and digital imagery I was most comfortable with.

Such practice in hybrid media reflects the growing pervasiveness of digital applications in mainstream artistic production, and bears out my predictions about the state of digital arts in some of my theoretical writing, such as “The State of the Arts of Digital” in the journal of the International Digital Media and Arts Association (IDMAA). Part of what I suggested is that digital arts serve as a lightning rod for emerging technologies that, when new, require investigation surrounding their aesthetics and applications. Once they are more established, these practices are disseminated to other areas within studio arts, such as photography, printmaking and sculpture. Still, digital arts practices themselves also embrace older technologies, both analog (painting and sculpture, to name a few) and digital (such as basic imaging and interactive techniques), and continue to use them as a starting aesthetic reference for emerging media. An important aspect of my theoretical writing centers on how the digital arts discipline removes boundaries that cage traditional disciplines, as digital media artists have grown accustomed to working without such constraints.

The digital studio acts as a laboratory that brings these disparate areas into a single place with a common digital denominator. This form of art making mirrors the notion of deep remixability, which is a part of the emerging field of software studies, and is what theorists previously referred to as media studies. As interfaces move users further from the underlying hardware, software increasingly defines the human relationship to media. Deep remixability is a term coined by Lev Manovich that refers to bringing previously unrelated or otherwise non-mixable media together in a common digital environment. Although not part of his definition, I felt that deep remixability aptly applies to what was and is happening in digital arts: bringing together different art forms within the digital arena, such as digital collage and digital painting; or as part of a process, such as incorporating media in the process of digital printing, both in 2D or 3D. I have theoretically investigated the application of deep remixability to digital arts in “IDEAS 08: Continuum and “Deep Remixability,” published in the journal of IDMAA. This process is also reflected in much of my art production, such as the series These are the Jews that Hitler did not Get, Mother/Daughter 2005, and IVF. In These are the Jews that Hitler did not Get I used digital collage to tell a story of a people who survived thousands of years. I incorporated digital transfer and paint (overprinting) on ceiling tile to reference the passage of time and, through its display format, a book that tells the narrative of a people. In the Mother/Daughter series I incorporated similar techniques, and also investigated digital laser etching onto yellow cake to reference the surface saccharine sweetness of a relationship that can often hold more complexities underneath. In the IVF series, I used the notion of deep remixability in its purest sense in order to bring collage elements (hospital and medical artifacts), texture, figural images and paint into one space to manipulate on a common platform. The work gives visual presence to a failed in-vitro fertilization process and the emotional, political and ethical issues it exposes, expressed using digital aesthetic devices.

My art making is therefore also about telling stories. These are mostly not literal or linear and exist in series of single images, compressing time, and simultaneously opening it up to infinity. Each image tells a story, but is related to the other images that in turn, spawn new stories and thoughts, but could equally end with the narrative most apparent in one image. These narratives all take place in an environment that is also compressed, but exists in a space outside of the present, thus merging both space and time and, in some cases, entering a spiritual realm. This is apparent in the series Mikveh, from 2008 to the present. My early thoughts about space and time also developed into theoretical writing, such as “Spacetime in Threading Time: THE SIGGRAPH 2005 Art Gallery,” published in Digital Creativity, about space and time compressed together in single and serial image narratives being reminiscent of the way Einstein’s notion of spacetime helps us rethink the meaning of both space and time. His theory of special relativity showed that some things are relative, such as distances in space, velocities, and durations of time, but spacetime is absolute. The digital medium works like Einstein’s equations; it helps us see the ubiquitous realities of our universe, but reminds us to step outside of it into other realities, and in the case of my narratives, the bending of artistic spacetime. The Mikveh artwork tells the story of spiritual renewal for Jewish women grounded in an ancient practice – a ritual that represents spiritual cleansing from an unholy state to a holy one - that, framed from our 21st century point of view, seems in some ways to be a misogynistic practice. My work, however, reframes a practice required for a woman to perform in connection with her menstrual cycle and by association, her fertility and sexuality, as a spiritual renewal from a feminist perspective, reclaiming the femininity and creative powers of all Jewish women and girls. The images compress time and space, superimposing ancient mikveh ruins and contemporary women in modern baths, perhaps taking us to a place outside of the present, similar to that described in Einstein’s spacetime. My other artworks such as The Fence and Women of the Wall work similarly. Underlying all of my work is a desire to communicate narratives visually and artistically, such as my collaborative project, Bearing Witness. The digital studio helps me create these stories, exemplifying the notion of the computer in support of art, and dovetails with my writing.

As I experience new digital media, I introduce it in my classes, which gives me the chance to observe and theorize about how new technology might be used for expressive artistic purposes. I presented some of these theoretical musings in the online social networking site Second Life, “Artistic Expression using Second Life in the Classroom,” to a SIGGRAPH audience in 2008. I have also explored how digital aesthetics are being applied through creating and editing an online-refereed journal that collects educational materials connected to digital media. This system has grown since I helped bring it to fruition and still exists as an international educational materials server. I have written about this in “Refereed digital publication of computer graphics educational materials,” published in Computers and Graphics.

On occasion, my art making was an investigation of the emerging aesthetics of digital arts, and many of these works led to artistic virtual environments (AVEs) as well as writing based on data analysis. My AVEs started in my early career as installation art, but grew into an investigation of the experience by participants of the work of art. I collaborated with the psychologist Dr. Brian Betz from Kent State University and digital artist Greg Little to create works as experiments to measure the impact of the art on participants, “The Aesthetic Experience, Emotion and an Artistic Virtual Environment,” published in Intelligent Agent “Psychological presence in simulated environments”, presented at Toward a Science of Consciousness 2010, “Connectivity within Artistic Virtual Environments: Investigating the Relationship between the Aesthetic Experience, Presence, and Body,” presented at Connectivity: The Tenth Biennial Symposium on Arts and Technology and “Personal Memory and the Aesthetic Experience with Artistic Virtual Environments,” presented at the Popular Culture and American Culture conference. My role was as artist and researcher to help create the AVE, and use a phenomenological qualitative model to collect and analyze data. Dr. Betz connected my qualitative findings to his quantitative analysis and we worked together to find associations between psychological presence and the aesthetic experience using established benchmarks that characterize both. When we were able to distinguish an aesthetic experience, we related it to other dimensions such as emotion and personal memory.


The third and final facet of my research is my curatorial work, which serves to hold the trio of my endeavors together as it allows me not only to develop my personal observations through the response of other digital artists but also to help shape the concerns of the perpetually changing digital arts discipline. Early in my career I was honored to be selected to curate the SIGGRAPH 2001 Art Gallery, an international exhibition for one of the digital discipline’s leading organizations, showcasing the most recent work in computer graphics. Since then, I have curated a further three student exhibitions for SIGGRAPH and eight IDEAS exhibitions, with the ninth scheduled for November of 2011. The IDEAS exhibitions are associated with the International Digital Media and Arts Association (IDMAA), an important emerging digital media organization “dedicated to applications of digital media that stimulate explosions of creativity.” My role as the IDEAS curator allows me to design themes that challenge the current status quo of art in digital media. From the thematic inception to the selection of art, exhibition design and creation of IDEAS catalogs, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007 I have had the privilege to direct thinking in the discipline of art in the digital realm and reap the fruits of practitioners’ responses. The exhibition themes link to my art writing and my art making, and include defining (or not) the disciplinary boundaries of digital arts (IDEAS 2007), how digital arts fit within the continuum of art production (IDEAS 2008), the current technological edge of the discipline (IDEAS 2009), art and digital narrative (IDEAS 2010) and the relationship between design, innovation and story in digital arts (IDEAS 2011). For this, and related work, I was awarded an IDMAA Senior Fellowship.

Although my research spans three different areas, their interrelationship facilitates and defines my goal of representing personal narrative supported by digital means. Linking all of these is also my desire to build community and to shape and extend the digital arts discipline. Themes personal to me, such as family, sexuality, feminism, religion, spirituality, to name a few, permeate my investigations, and I connect my work to the experiences of people in a variety of groups, such as those defined by religion, sex, country, politics and orientations. I see myself progressing in this manner throughout the remainder of my career, as I continue to explore and mature with my discipline.

© copyright 2001-2013  
All rights reserved by [ Dena Elisabeth Eber ]