From 'Powers of 10'
The difficulty in exploring magnification on a computer screen is closely related to these issues. If you look closely at the screen it pixilates out. The Rembrandt detail in particular is beginning to disintegrate because the resolution is only 72dpi.
The concept behind Debra Weisberg’s tape drawings relies on this effect.
Debra Weisberg: Tape Drawing
As it states on her website, 'On a macro level one can read the explosion of the cosmos; on a micro level it looks like a magnification of neurons transmitting impulses of energy'. She is making an explicit reference to the way we can read marks in relation to changes in scale. As we step back from her tape made drawings gradually we lose sense of the fact they are made of tape and begin to read them as something else.
However we can think about 'what lies beneath' in different ways. Scientists have reasoned that what everything actually consists of is energy vibration and this can be visualised in a mathematical or geometric format.
This close up of the surface of a pencil drawing is fascinating. We don't know what it is a representation of but we already begin to think about what it could be. So the other issue is about image potential. Again this has a series of parallels in nature.
When you look at the molecular level close ups in 'Powers of 10' you cant tell these come from a hand, they could be of any organic or inorganic object, it's only when you get to the skin level that you can sort of guess it's from a human. At this level of magnitude it's as much about the paper surface as it is the graphite hardness or softness. Things are brought down to their material essence rather than their ability to represent something. Once again we have a change in focus, not only literally but metaphorically.
The artist Tim Head had explored this close-up world in relation to digital and print technology. He refers to 'the digital medium's elusive material substance'. He strips back the screen image, or digital print to the pixel or dot and uses these basic elements to make works that reveal the illusory nature of the digital.
Think of looking at a coastline. If you try to measure it from a map you will get one result, but as you increase the size of the map you will see more and more indentations, as you measure these the coastline measurements get longer and longer, as you get to a one to one correspondence with the actual coastline, the closer you look the more complex it gets, you begin to have to measure around every single pebble, and as you get ever closer around every crystal that makes up the stone and every molecule, atom, quark etc. A fractal is a natural phenomenon or a mathematical set that exhibits a repeating pattern that displays at every scale. The important issue here being that it allows us to think about the macro and the micro as having an indexical relationship. (Charles Peirce developed the concept of indexicality as a way of describing the direct relationship between one thing and another, such as a photograph and the thing that was photographed)
An example of these issues in relation to life on Earth so to speak are the very large scale Nazca drawings in South America.
Nazca lines photographed from an aircraft
Nazca lines ground view