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The Studio as Cloud

Consider the topography of the artist’s studio in relation to the cloud as an amorphous, virtual entity that exists everywhere and nowhere.

Published onNov 06, 2017
The Studio as Cloud

The Studio as Cloud

David Eastwood
UNSW Australia Art & Design
Email: [email protected]
Reference this essay: Eastwood, David. “The Studio as Cloud.” In Leonardo Electronic Almanac 22, no. 1, edited by Lanfranco Aceti, Paul Thomas, and Edward Colless. Cambridge, MA: LEA / MIT Press, 2017.
Published Online: May 15, 2017
Published in Print: To Be Announced
ISSN: 1071-4391
ISBN: 978-1-906897-62-8


This paper seeks to consider the topography of the artist’s studio in relation to spatial conceptions of the cloud as an amorphous, virtual entity that exists everywhere and yet is nowhere in particular. Contemporary understandings of the studio are no longer strictly defined by physical dimensions or geographic specificity. Instead, recent incarnations of the studio can operate with “seemingly no disciplinary or spatial boundaries whatsoever.” [1]

Current thinking about the contemporary (post-) studio coincides with museological attempts to encapsulate the studios of past eras through posthumous preservation and reconstruction. Such reconstructions dislocate the studio and blur its boundaries with the concept of the museum, raising questions as to how the studio might be represented and understood. Similarly, Ann-Sophie Lehmann has observed that the creative spaces of new media practices “seem to have caused a dislocation of the materiality of the traditional working space.” [2] The recent proliferation of posthumous studios as museum artifacts invites a reassessment of the artist’s workspace, particularly in light of virtual studios within the immersive and mediated world of emerging technologies that challenge conceptions of the studio as a discrete locus of creative practice.

What are the boundaries of the peripheral and ambient conditions of artistic practice? To what extent is it possible to identify the studio as a site, an object, or an experience? Is the impalpability of the studio unique to contemporary practice, or is it also attributable to the studios of earlier eras? Is the studio a microcosm of practice that can be defined?

Keywords: Studio, reconstruction, virtual tour, post-studio, post-post-studio


In the wake of post-studio discourse in the latter decades of the twentieth century, a plethora of recent publications and exhibitions have sought to reevaluate the status of the artist’s studio and its relation to contemporary art practice. Alex Coles has argued that the post-post-studio age has arrived, in which “there has been a total reinvigoration of the studio.” [3] This apparent revival of studio practice and the accompanying discourse coincide with the proliferation of a museological genre: the posthumous studio-museum. Among the many examples are Francis Bacon’s London studio now in Dublin, Casa Morandi in Bologna, and Frida Kahlo’s studio in Mexico City. It could be argued that the vast majority of posthumous studio reconstructions participate in what Caroline Jones has described as “a time-honored trope of the site of creation as solitary, male, and free—an ivory tower unencumbered by worldly affairs.” [4] However, I aim to demonstrate that the manner in which posthumously reconstructed modernist studios are often experienced is simultaneously at odds with some of these established perceptions, and implicit within the posthumous studio are many features that might be more readily identified as contemporary. As products of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, studios re-contextualized as museum displays are distinctive phenomena that carry the potential to challenge our expectations around the modernist studio. Moreover, complex conditions and expansive topographies generally implied within the concept of the studio have been in operation since well before the twentieth century.

This paper covers a wide range of studio types, demonstrating a breadth of possibilities for a contemporary understanding of the studio. This will lead to some observations about posthumous studio reconstructions, identifying connections to and implications for contemporary studio practices.

The Studio Without Boundaries

Discussing the Renaissance-era workshops of Florentine artists, Anthony Hughes has described the remarkably ad hoc conditions of studio personnel, comparing their workplace to a modern construction site, with specialist workers subcontracted for short-term tasks. According to Hughes,

Just as it would be misleading to imagine the studio as an organization of determinate type, so we should resist the temptation of envisaging even the individual shops as entities of a constant size. Like an amoeba, the studio could expand in different directions on occasion, draw in apparently foreign matter and even split to form new ventures…The boundaries of the studio proper were often extremely difficult to define. [5]

The historical situation outlined by Hughes bears some striking similarities to the operations observed in the large-scale studios of contemporary artists like Olafur Eliasson. As Alex Coles has observed, “with seemingly no disciplinary or spatial boundaries whatsoever, Studio Olafur Eliasson continues to drive towards the transdisciplinary by incorporating skills and ideas from other fields, perpetually transforming as a structure.” [6] An expanded concept of the studio is emphasized in Eliasson’s statement, “the studio reaches beyond the physical space in Berlin: I also collaborate with the people who commission, communicate, and handle my artwork.” (Ursprung 2008, 365) In her Artforum article on Eliasson, Caroline Jones cited the Internet as an important context underlying a shift in studio practice:

The old economy of maker/receiver shifted ineluctably around 2000, toward a ‘hive mind’ of users and servers. In place of the studio as final site of authentication, we were forced to accept knowledge production as inevitably hybrid, mediated, deferred and diffuse. [7]

When the site of production has been diffused and made open to speculation as to its location, the resulting art practice is accordingly inflected. In Eliasson’s work Green River, urban waterways are dyed green, provoking reactions from unsuspecting bystanders, media commentators, and city officials. In the aforementioned Artforum article, Jones poses the question as to:

Where the artwork is being produced—in the studio where it is conceived? In the river where it is temporarily materialized? Or in the mind of the urban dweller/viewer/patron/critic/art historian who “receives” partial knowledge of the action? [8]

In the phrasing of these questions, Jones situates the studio inside the architectural setting in which Eliasson’s Green River was conceived. However, we might better understand the concept of the studio as dispersed throughout the various locations in which the work is produced, occupying multiple spaces beyond any singular, fixed geographic location. Consequently, the studio could be said to occupy all of the contexts and situations identified in Jones’ question, from architectural space, to the literally fluid space of a flowing river, to the conceptual and virtual space of the mind.

It is worth acknowledging the echoes between major contemporary studios and the kinds of complex operations of the historically preserved studios mentioned earlier. Jones herself references the historical precedents for Eliasson’s studio collective, drawing comparisons with “the complexities of production one might have seen during the baroque.” [9] While one may identify a loose lineage of studio organizations that extends from the Renaissance to the contemporary transdisciplinary studio, such a model of studio practice probably has a limited capacity to become the basis of a broad cross-section of creative practices. Studio Olafur Eliasson requires significant financial resources to operate. According to the Studio’s official website, “the team at Studio Olafur Eliasson consists of about seventy-five people, from craftsmen and specialized technicians, to architects, archivists and art historians, web and graphic designers, film-makers, cooks, and administrators.” [10] This kind of operation may be viable for a highly successful artist of major international standing, but the expense alone would prove prohibitive to less well-financed artists. Nevertheless, a consideration of the kind of major studio collective seen in the Eliasson example provokes a rethinking of studio practice at all levels. Therefore, it is possible to pollute the concept of the fixed entity of the studio into a mutable, fluctuating, and unpredictable entity, which can have applications at any scale of studio practice.

The Studio into the World

If we adopt this polluted concept of the studio, it can dismantle the concept of the singular, enclosed workspace. Svetlana Alpers notes, “the challenge to the studio in recent times is not Warhol’s factory model but the greater world outside it. At present, either the studio is felt to be too constrained, or constraint itself is suspect.” [11] Citing historical precedents of artists attempting “to deny studio limits,” Alpers offers Courbet’s six-meter-wide The Painter’s Studio, stating, “one could say that his is a grandiose attempt to make the studio large enough…to encompass the world, at least, that is, the world of his friends and models.” [12] In contrast to the idea of Courbet allowing the world into his studio, other 19th-century artists known for plein-air painting, such as Corot and Monet, were effectively moving the studio into the world – into contact with the elements, so to speak.

Although a century later and emblematic of the “post-studio condition,” one might think of Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty as enacting a similar shift in terms of repositioning the studio rather than abandoning it, per se. Indeed, it has been described as a work that “remakes the world as a studio.” [13] In May 2009, the Getty Conservation Institute in collaboration with the Dia Art Foundation documented the famous site to produce a 360-degree view of the work, available online. If Spiral Jetty is understood as a studio, then this virtual tour might be understood as belonging to the genre of posthumous studio reconstruction. The reconstruction is entirely virtual, serving to enable access to Spiral Jetty irrespective of the fluctuating levels of the Great Salt Lake in Utah known to submerge the work for periods of years. Smithson not only moved outside the confines of the familiar studio setting, but also employed subcontractors to carry out the work. The scale and medium of Spiral Jetty – 15 feet wide by 1,500 feet in length, and consisting of 3,500 cubic yards of boulders and earth [14] – meant that it was a project of industrial proportions. Outsourcing the production of a work of this nature was always going to be a necessity for Smithson.

Of course, the outsourcing of studio practice can be undertaken at any level of practice. An early—and unusual in the modernist period—example of outsourcing can be seen in Laszlo Moholy-Nagy’s “telephone paintings.” The artist telephoned a sign factory and ordered his paintings verbally. Here perhaps is the first example of a studio distributed across different sites, aided by telecommunications technology. An account of recent manifestations of this proliferating phenomenon is given in Michael Petry’s The Art of Not Making: “we increasingly see those who are named as ‘the artist’ being remote from the physical act of production, directing from the sidelines, while those with specialist expertise do the heavy lifting or fine detailing.” [15]

Studio Absenteeism

Connected with the outsourced studio is a phenomenon that might be described as ‘studio absenteeism’: why even show up at the studio when others can do the work for you? Discussing the studio in 2011, Ekaterina Rietz-Rakul and Steve Schepens cited the case of American artist Matt Mullican, based in Berlin. Mullican is quoted as declaring: “oddly, my studio is still in New York; I have three people working there. We just moved the studio from the Wall Street area to Chinatown/Lower East Side area. My staff is very happy with the new space but I have yet to visit it.” [16] Another form of studio absenteeism can be found in Bruce Nauman’s video installation, Mapping the Studio (Fat Chance John Cage). A number of permutations of the work have been shown, featuring an immersive multiscreen projection that shapes the exhibition space in such a way as to approximate the dimensions of Nauman’s studio. The video consists of edited night-vision surveillance footage of his New Mexico studio. [17] The idea was to document what, if anything, happened in the studio when the artist wasn’t there. The video captures Nauman’s departure from the studio after switching on the cameras, and proceeds to document the stirrings of the occasional mouse and Nauman’s uninterested studio cat. Robert Storr has said of the work, “it is the life of the studio after the life of art has been suspended. It is the artist’s environment absent the artist and his transformative presence.” [18] This quote would aptly describe any posthumous studio-museum—the ultimate studio absenteeism.

The Posthumous Studio

Posthumous studio reconstructions blur the artist’s workspace with the museum, raising questions as to how the studio might be represented and understood. In some cases, the studio is moved offsite in order to occupy a new home in a museum. Francis Bacon’s reconstructed studio is a famous example. Reconstructed studios are often barricaded with rope barriers or plexiglass screens to prevent full access to the space. Instead, one views these spaces by peering in from the outside, experiencing them indirectly. Jon Wood has noted the presence of interactive technology adjacent to the Bacon studio, stating:

This technology is intrinsic to the studio experience, certainly providing information, but also compensating for the fact that we are not allowed in, and for the fact that this is not ultimately Bacon’s studio at all but an extraordinary and wonderful simulacrum. Interactive technology tries to provide a ‘total visitor experience’ for what is effectively unable to be experienced. [19]

Such augmented experiences of the posthumous studio increasingly resemble our daily experience of mixed reality as technology becomes integrated into our lives. The physical and the virtual coexist seamlessly. For example, in Giorgio Morandi’s former apartment in Bologna, the bedroom-studio he occupied for many years is largely intact, but the surrounding home he shared with his sisters has been transformed into a contemporary museum space, complete with audio-visual displays. Even the studio itself is installed with a data-projector and semi-opaque screen, displaying videos that augment the experience of looking into the studio.

The online virtual tour is becoming an increasingly common feature on the websites of studio-museums. For example, one need not travel to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh to encounter the studio of Eduardo Paolozzi. On the museum’s website, one can control the direction of the 180-degree view and click on different sections to open pop-up boxes containing information about points of interest. Similarly, one can find 360-degree virtual tours of the studios of artists such as Paul Cézanne and Frida Kahlo. By bringing studios to the attention of the public through posthumous reconstruction in museums and accompanying online incarnations, these studios come to be disseminated virtually, distributed via publicity and social networking, and thus establishing a presence in the public consciousness more generally. The ostensibly closed studio of the modernist era becomes an open virtual studio in the cloud, accessible to Internet users everywhere.

The distribution of posthumous studios is not isolated to their virtual incarnations. Some posthumously reconstructed studios are designed to physically travel. A life-size recreation of Mondrian’s Paris studio has led a peripatetic itinerary, appearing in numerous museum exhibitions internationally since it was first fabricated by architect Frans Postma in 1994 (fifty years after the artist’s death), moving from site to site for special exhibitions. And it would seem the traveling posthumous studio reconstruction is not a phenomenon unique to Mondrian. Strong parallels can be drawn with Peter Bissegger’s reconstruction of Kurt Schwitters’ Merzbau studio installation from Hanover (commissioned by Harald Szeemann for the 1983 exhibition Der Hang Sum Gesamtkunstwerk at the Zurich Kunsthaus) and subsequently shown in Berlin, Düsseldorf, and Vienna. The reconstructed Merzbau is now permanently installed at the Sprengel Museum in Hanover, and a second version has been made as a ‘travel copy’ for temporary exhibitions. [20]

It is worth considering how contemporary art practices might productively interact with posthumous studios. For instance, Nam June Paik’s reconstructed studio became the subject of a work by the contemporary German artist Christian Jankowski following an invitation from the museum to produce a work on site. The resulting video, Cleaning Up the Studio, shows a Korean cleaning firm, “Beautiful Cleaning,” at work cleaning the reconstructed studio. In the video, Jankowski’s hired cleaners to dust and reorganize individual objects in the studio. Cables are wound up, furniture is rearranged, detritus is swept away, and dust is vacuumed, all while a spokesman speaks about the company’s aims and ideals. Cleaning Up the Studio suggests the potential of posthumous studios to operate as productive spaces for subsequent artists to enact creative interventions that resurrect past studios as functioning workspaces.

The Post-Post-Studio

Likewise, the above-mentioned virtual tours of posthumous studios suggest the potential to engage and interact with posthumous studios. It is worth considering how far this interactivity can be taken beyond the simple navigation of a panoramic view, as well as the possibilities for creative collaboration. In the world of gaming, online multiplayer functionality connects participants across a network of connected interfaces, rendering geographic location irrelevant. A consideration of how this might lead to new forms of studio practice brings us into the domain of the post-post-studio. The post-post-studio does not represent a simple pendulum shift back toward the conditions of the modernist studio. Rather, it reflects an engagement with the studio as a redefined entity in the wake of post-studio discourse. This distinction is apparent in Caitlin Jones’ comparison between the post-studio of the twentieth century and what she refers to as “post-studio practice in a contemporary sense.” The latter, in her words, “could be understood less as a reaction against established norms of production and distribution and more a reaction to expanded cultural platforms writ large.” [21] This is a useful distinction, one made even more explicit by Alex Coles, who has spoken of the ‘post-post-studio,’ signaling a distinction from the original incarnation of the post-studio that emerged in the 1960s. While post-studio discourse spoke of the studio in pejorative terms, advocating for its abandonment and even “its extinction,” [22] the post-post-studio adopts the concept and language of the studio for the widest possible range of technologies and situations. If post-studio discourse problematized the concept of the studio as a constraint, the post-post-studio represents an expanded notion of the studio as an open field of possibility.

Cloud computing has the potential to bring together geographically remote post-post-studio collaborators with no fixed position or primary base. As Caitlin Jones argues:

The emergence of the Internet accounts for probably the largest divergence between a physical studio and the laptop studio…most importantly, it provides access to an unprecedented platform for sharing and collaboration. The image of the solitary artistic genius is replaced by a more collaborative mode of production. [23]

She cites examples of “online studio practices” such as Nasty Nets, a blog where “links, sketches for works and ideas” are posted by a loose collective of contributors. [24] At the most basic level, contemporary artists’ studios function within the cloud as soon as Internet access is enabled. As Lane Relyea has stated, “the studio is now that place where we know we can always find the artist when we need to, where she or he is always plugged in and online, always accessible to and by an ever more integrated and ever more dispersed art world.” [25] Of course, the reality of the contemporary studio typically falls short of the fantasies associated with cyberspace; Internet connectivity in the studio does not equate to a collaborative, virtual studio. But the proposition of the post-post-studio suggested by online practices remains open for exploration.


The cloud as a meteorological phenomenon serves as an apt metaphor to conceptualize the studio’s increasingly complex topography, invoking spatial conceptions of an amorphous entity and suggesting nebulousness, mobility, and mutability. But the concept of the studio as cloud can operate as more than a metaphor. Cloud computing has played a central role in altering the studio experience, incorporating networks of remote servers and pointing toward the increasing potential for virtual studios within immersive and mediated worlds, challenging conceptions of the studio as a discrete locus of creative practice. Ann-Sophie Lehmann has observed, for example, that the creative spaces of new media practices “seem to have caused a dislocation of the materiality of the traditional working space.” [26] In the post-post-studio, the notion of the studio as an entity of physical and geographic specificity is not necessarily dismantled, but is augmented by the notion of the studio as cloud.

In his seminal 1970-71 essay on the studio, Daniel Buren described the studio as art’s “first frame, the first limit, upon which all subsequent frames/limits will depend.” [27] Perhaps the project of the post-studio condition is complete. The studio is no longer a limiting frame. It can be a nebulous, distributed, and unpredictable entity of open-ended possibilities and ever-expanding potentialities, not confining art practice, but enabling it. The posthumous studio suggests continuing potential and new contexts for understanding artists’ workspaces of the past, present, and future, as we begin to define the post-post-studio age.

References and Notes

[1] Alex Coles, The Transdisciplinary Studio (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2012), 74.

[2] Ann-Sophie Lehmann, “Hidden practice: Artists’ working spaces, tools, and materials in the digital domain,” in Digital Material: Tracing New Media in Everyday Life and Technology, ed. Marianne van den Boomen et al. (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2009), 270.

[3] Alex Coles, The Transdisciplinary Studio, 309.

[4] Caroline Jones, Machine in the Studio: Constructing the Postwar American Artist(Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1996), 210.

[5] Anthony Hughes, “The Cave and the Stithy: Artists’ Studios and Intellectual Property in Early Modern Europe,” Oxford Art Journal 13, no. 1 (1990): 38.

[6] Alex Coles, The Transdisciplinary Studio, 74.

[7] Caroline Jones, “The Server/User Mode,” Artforum International 46, no. 2 (2007), 319.

[8] Ibid., 319-321.

[9] Ibid., 322.

[10] Studio Olafur Eliasson, “About Studio Olafur Eliasson,” (accessed September 24, 2014).

[11] Svetlana Alpers, “The View from the Studio,” in The Studio Reader: On the Space of Artists, ed. Mary Jane Jacob and Michelle Grabner (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2010), 127.

[12] Ibid., 140.

[13] Morgan Thomas, “Studio Vertigo,” in The Fall of the Studio: Artists at Work, ed. Wouter Davidts and Kimberly Paice (Amsterdam: Valiz, Antennae Series, 2009), 37.

[14] Caroline. “Post-Studio/ Postmodern/ Postmortem” in The Studio Reader: On the Space of Artists, ed. Mary Jane Jacob and Michelle Grabner (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2010), 293.

[15] Michael Petry, The Art of Not Making: The New Artist/ Artisan Relationship (London: Thames & Hudson, 2011), 6.

[16] Dr. Ekaterina Rietz-Rakul and Steve Schepens, “Augmented Man’s Studio,” Dialogues, 2011, September 24, 2014).

[17] Judith Rodenbeck, “Studio Visit,” in The Studio Reader: On the Space of Artists, ed. Mary Jane Jacob and Michelle Grabner (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2010), 339.

[18] Robert Storr, “A Room of One’s Own, A Mind of One’s Own,” in The Studio Reader: On the Space of Artists, ed. Mary Jane Jacob and Michelle Grabner (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2010), 53.

[19] Jon Wood, “The Studio in the Gallery?” in Reshaping Museum Space: Architecture, Design, Exhibitions, ed. Suzanne Macleod (London and New York: Routledge, 2005), 164.

[20] Karen Orchard, “Kurt Schwitters: Reconstructions of the Merzbau,” in Tate Papers8, (2007), (accessed September 24 2014).

[21] Caitlin Jones, “The Function of the Studio (When the Studio is a Laptop),” in The Studio, ed. Jens Hoffman (London: Whitechapel Gallery and Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2012), 121. Originally published in Artlies, no. 67, Fall/Winter 2010.

[22] Daniel Buren, “The Function of the Studio,” in The Studio, ed. Jens Hoffman (London: Whitechapel Gallery and Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2012), 89. Written in December 1970 - January 1971 and first published in English in Thomas Repensek, trans., October 10 (Fall 1979): 51-8.

[23] Caitlin Jones, “The Function of the Studio (When the Studio is a Laptop),” 118.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Lane Relyea, “Studio Unbound,” in The Studio Reader: On the Space of Artists, ed. Mary Jane Jacob and Michelle Grabner (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2010), 349.

[26] Ann-Sophie Lehmann, “Hidden Practice: Artists’ Working Spaces, Tools, and Materials in the Digital Domain,” 270.

[27] Daniel Buren, “The Function of the Studio,” 83.

Author Biography

David Eastwood is an artist and academic whose practice is primarily situated within drawing and painting. He works with the interior as a genre through which to examine and reconfigure relationships between different eras and sites. He is currently researching artists’ studios, with a particular focus on the recent proliferation of museological reconstructions of deceased artists’ studios. His practice investigates the potential for posthumous studios to operate as virtual, prosthetic studios, re-activated as provocations for contemporary art. He is represented by Robin Gibson Gallery in Sydney, and is a Lecturer at UNSW Art & Design.

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