How was your day? Could you sum it up in a single colour? That was the original idea of artist and designer Aleksandar Maćašev when he set up his micro-blogging site Chromatweet. From that simple first idea – now active at Chromapost.com – he has branched out to create visualisations of the colour data, before transforming the idea into a social network that anyone can get involved in at Chromapost.net. We caught up with him to ask where the idea came from, why colour is so personal, and what looking back on a year in colour feels like.
Can you explain the origins of the Chromapost.com – what sparked the idea?
“Several sparks converged at the same time. First, I’m very fond of the diary/blog format. I usually pick a theme and I produce something every day. Diaries are by their very nature very self-reflective – you are tracing your life. And they require discipline – something I often feel I need desperately. Second, I like toying with social media formats. I was wondering how much further we could go in micro-blogging, beyond a single photo post or 140 characters. Could posts be even smaller without losing the richness of content? Third, I was extremely tired of the formulaic and constrained use of colour in art and design. The colour theories we are taught in school, charts, harmonies, colour forecasts… the lot. So I came up with a little exercise. At the end of the day I would post a single colour that would summarize my entire day. No more no less. Say it with a single colour, and at the same time try to forget everything that was forced on you colour-wise. The original blog, at the time called ChromaTweet, is still there.”
Why is colour so important to your work, and why was this the medium you picked for your project?
“The thing is, colour wasn’t important to me at all. In terms of the form/colour dichotomy, which I think is obsolete, form was everything and colour was just some ornamental add-on. Pretty much everything I did was black and white plus “I don’t know… let’s pick this one”. It was all very cerebral, and I had a feeling I was missing something exciting. This, albeit romanticized, expressionist and seductive whirlwind of emotions and colour. The way I use colour today is closer to the tradition of Colour Field painting than the expressionist heritage. It is often in a grid-like and geometric form where each colour is clearly separated from the next one and evenly applied. Colour just is. It is an autonomous and independent thing even if it is a reflection of what I have already picked in the colour diary.
Colour is also an excellent base for social and cultural interaction, for dialog, and for unraveling cultural influences that deeply affect our lives. I’m not so interested in the actual meaning and symbolism of colour, but in how that meaning gets to be generated by culture. When I ask students to summarize their own country of origin in a single colour I get pretty diverse approaches and results. Some pick a colour from the flag, some try to convey the idea of political turmoil, and some reflect their very personal feelings. There are no fixed rules, but a dialog and an exchange that make people understand each other better.”
What have you learnt about colour’s relationship to emotion by doing the blog?
“Let me reflect about some insights into colour alone first. As I mentioned, the initial premise of Chromapost was to try to get rid of all the influences on my colour choices, and to try to establish my own colour response. Nothing rigid, dogmatic or universal. Just my own. The absurdity of the premise was quite evident. Colour meaning, just like language, is a cultural construct and it is formed by a complex network of influences. Commerce, art, theory, gender, language and culture in general influence our perception of colour. This constant, and often fierce, dialog about colour is what I find compelling.
People often feel strongly about their views of the colour phenomenon. From what is colour, to what it means, how they see a particular colour, and how they use it to communicate with others. We are very emotional about it.
As for the actual relation between colours and emotions, it’s a much more complex and seemingly arbitrary matter. Both colours and emotions are highly elusive and they cannot be easily translated into spoken or written language. With Chromapost I am not trying to establish some sort of strict colour-emotion vocabulary. Chromapost is more of an exploration of the ambiguity of our emotions and the instability of our colour perception. These two go well together.”
Did you notice any patterns emerging in the colours over time? Are you able to look back on it as a sort of diary?
“That’s why I like diaries. You can go back and revisit your former self. I don’t particularly look for patterns or a nostalgic experience, but for forgotten ideas and ever shifting memories. I have a section on Chromapost called Color = Data where I create data visualizations out the colour journal. They consist of analyzing tendencies in usage of particular colours. Since they are all screen colours I use red, green, blue, saturation, brightness and hue aspects for the analysis. Again, those data visualizations are not made to inform or explain, but to show. As for looking back at my own colour diary it is amazing how just a single colour can bring back memories. It’s like a memory smell. I am very vividly reminded of a particular day or event.”
What about Chromapost.net – what has opening up to others brought to the project?
“Since Chromapost is initially conceived as an online journal – I like to call it a nano-blogging platform – the logical next step was to open it for others. To make a website where other people can create their colour diaries. Chromapost Social Network is the result. Apart from posting your daily colour, you can post a colour of the moment, send other users a message in one colour, and create art out of your colour sequence. That last feature is especially dear to me. Offering non-artists a framework for making art out of their own unique and personal material. The basic structure follows the usual structure of an online social network. You can follow and be followed, there’s your own timeline and public feed, galleries of user generated art etc. But in the context of hyperconnectivity of social networks this one looks more anti-social. It’s minimal and contemplative, and connectedness is not of paramount importance. You can connect with others, but you don’t have to. And if you do, you get to know them through colour only. Chromapost.net users brought in different approaches that don’t necessary follow the “express your feelings with colour”. Some of them simply post what they like, or how they would like their day to be, or they pick a colour from their surroundings. You can try and sum anything up into one colour.”
What next for Chromapost in terms of off-shoot projects?
“Seven years ago it started as a simple exercise, and over time it developed into a diverse platform for exploring colour. It includes writing and teaching about colour, data visualizations, a social network and art outgrowths. My strongest drive lies in making art out of my colour journal. From computer graphics to painting and outdoor installations.
In the past year I have been translating diary sequences with various materials. It is like translating from a language with millions of words to a language with tens of words. I use different materials that come in colour sets. From art supplies like acrylic paint, markers, oil pastels and watercolour to electrical tape, page markers, colour coded stickers and coloured felt. In those translations I don’t mix colours but use them as they are. It is an exploration of limited languages offered by industry and everyday culture.”
Aleksandar Maćašev is a New York based visual artist and designer.