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- 05/26/15--08:59: _'Bodies are package...
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- 09/09/15--11:00: _Announcing the 2015...
- 09/11/15--07:50: _Born-Digital Art In...
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- 10/07/15--06:50: _Mapping Landscape P...
- 10/08/15--07:15: _Organic Hardware at...
- 10/09/15--06:47: _October 22 at the N...
- 09/02/15--10:06: A black market for people "consumed by the internet"
- 09/03/15--14:20: First Look: Brushes
- 09/09/15--11:00: Announcing the 2015 Net Art Microgrants
- 09/11/15--07:50: Born-Digital Art Institutions: TEDxMet
- 06/04/15--07:39: Study of Waves: an interview with SCRAAATCH
- 09/15/15--13:09: New digital paintings by Petra Cortright
- 09/17/15--12:07: Jacob Ciocci at Interstate Projects
- 09/21/15--14:30: Flatness: an interview with Shama Khanna
- 09/24/15--08:25: Artist Profile: Shawné Michaelain Holloway
- 09/29/15--07:15: It Doesn't Just Work: DullTech on Kickstarter and Shenzhen
- 09/29/15--08:30: Announcing: Zachary Kaplan Appointed Rhizome's Executive Director
- 09/29/15--11:01: Jacob Ciocci Paints Outside of the Box
- 06/17/15--07:00: Artist Profile: Julia Weist
- 10/05/15--11:00: Artist Profile: Olivia Erlanger
- 10/08/15--07:15: Organic Hardware at Fantastic Arcade
- 10/09/15--06:47: October 22 at the New Museum and Livestreamed: Blockchain Horizons
Net art nomad and cyberfeminist Shu Lea Cheang's sci-fi porn film I.K.U. premiered at Sundance Film Festival in 2000. When the film later screened, Cheang conceived a follow-up project for Lars von Trier's Zentropa/Puzzy Power. The company went bankrupt, and FLUIDØ has been on hold ever since, although Cheang was able to make an installation version in 2004.
Now, Cheang has teamed up with producer Juergen Bruening and is running a micro-crowdfunding campaign to to (finally) make FLUIDØ. As part of this effort, she has released these two short clips from I.K.U., which we are sharing along with "The I.K.U. Experience, The Shu-Lea Cheang Phenomenon," originally published in Cinevue, July 2000 and reprinted in New Queer Cinema: The Director’s Cut (2013, Duke University Press).
(Both clips contain nudity, sex, and Y2K-era computer graphics.)
Step right up, ladies and gentlemen, the carnival is about to begin. Come inside, surf the Net, play the video game, dive into the screen, cruise the future, come get fucked, just come, come, come. Bodies are packages made to be opened, minds are penetrable, sensations communicable, orgasms collectable.
Shu Lea Cheang's I.K.U. (subtitled This is not LOVE. This is SEX.) invents a future cybersexual universe, where trained replicants roam the empty spaces of unseen metropolises, hunting willing prey for orgasmic sexual marathons conducted in the service of science. The irresistible replicants are equipped with unicorn-like arms which – presto – turn into dildo machines specifically calibrated to collect and transmit the specifications of orgasms into the centralized, corporatized databases of the future. Meanwhile, the species of the future are wildly indeterminate, gender-blurred or homosex, oversexed or just, well, willing. Shorn of emotion, sex isn't just work. Data has its pleasures, too.
And the audience? Like it or not, we're implicated in it all, swept up by the throbbing techno soundtrack, plunged directly into the action by the animation tunnels that materialize at the onset of arousal. Remember the origin moments of hypertext and interactive video? Every technological invention of the twentieth century has been designed in the service of either pornography or the military. Those early demonstrations of camcorders and interactive video games always featured some version of cyber blow-up dolls gauged to fulfill every fantasy of the male users. Well, I.K.U. democratizes all that. I.K.U. frees the body from gender restrictions, empowers the object of fantasy, and merges the user and the used, the carrier and the carried, into a cyber-satyricon of impulses, stimulants, and gratifications.
I.K.U. is a phenomenon that wants to refuse definition and to a certain extent succeeds in that effort, even as it crosses all categories – geographic, physical, conceptual – with a demented flourish. As much trans-genre as it is trans-gender, I.K.U. also wants to merge video and film into a fresh digital universe large-scale enough to overwhelm the viewer. Narrative, nationality, and production medium are all certainties easily thrown into question. The actors are drawn from the Japanese porn world. They speak broken English. They mutate into shape-shifting manga characters. It's a whole new world, but one that's deliberately low-budget and manageable, shot with digital cameras, edited on Premiere on home computers, then blown up big to 35mm, exaggerated like Godzilla, to conquer its audience. Sure, sometimes it's flat or hokey, one-dimensional or predictable, but more often it surprises and triumphs, the love child of Samuel Delaney and Flaming Ears (1991).
Cheang is the mastermind behind I.K.U. The Taiwanese runaway Shu-Lea Cheang and former scion of the New York art and video scene has now self-reinvented as a "digital drifter." She roams from commission to commission, from Osaka to Amsterdam, London to Tokyo, relaying her transmissions to the internet banks of the present. Until the legendary Japanese producer and distributor Asai Takashi (known for promoting such cutting-edge work as Derek Jarman's last films to Japanese audiences) proposed this sci-fi porn movie for her to direct, Cheang had been deploying her visions straight into cyberspace through her web sites, Brandon (a commemoration commissioned by the Guggenheim Museumi in 1998, predating Boys Don't Cry by a couple of years) and Bowling Alley (commissioned by the Walker Art Center).
It's hard to believe that Cheang started out as one of the Paper Tiger gang, producing low-budget community video with DeeDee Halleck's activist acolytes and flying back to Asia to champion those who died at Tiananmen Square with a five-part camcorder tribute memorial, Will Be Televised (1990). She simultaneously began her move into the art-video world with Color Schemes (1990), an installation which indicated her future interests: it focused on the body, in the form of performance artists, and on playing with viewers' relationship to the work, in this case, scrambling video into laundromat machines and, double trouble, locating those machines in the sacrosanct space of the Whitney Museum. The next project revealed the shape of her future: it was a collaborative installation of sex secrets and video loops, installed in a gallery space transformed into an old-time porn emporium.
Then she was off. Leaving the gallery space, in 1994 Cheang made her first feature film, Fresh Kill, written by Jessica Hagedorn (Dogeaters) and set in a sci-fi New York City where fish are radioactive and the cast multicultural. With the combination of their talents, the film was able to unite conspiracies of world contamination with the investigations of a lesbian couple under threat. It was made in 35mm, a true change of gears for the low-budget artiste, yet it embraced the worlds of hacking and ecoconspiracy so totally that it had a hard time finding traditional distribution even in the heyday of the NQC. Not one to be typecast, Cheang also tossed off a pair of lesbian porn tapes, Sex Fish (1993) and Sex Bowl (1994), in this period that showed what a flair she had for sex work in the idiom of cutting-edge video.
Then she was off again, this time into cyberspace. She gave up her New York digs and became a global wanderer, a "floating digital agent," jacking into power supplies around the world and reachable only through web sites and e-mail. Did she really exist? Happily, yes. When spied in 2000 at Sundance and at Pitzer College, where we shared a residency, Cheang looked like one of her characters: her head shaved except for a sprig of hair that Jessica Hagedorn's daughter had dubbed an "island," swaddled in a wraparound butcher's apron made of a material that managed to suggest a cross between black leather and latex. Perched on platform shoes that upped her stature, fusing fashion and fetish, she easily fulfilled her self-appointed role as avatar. Never mind that, characteristically contrarian, she preferred to ignore all this synthetic construction and talk about the future as she saw it: organic farming, her new passion.
Cheang defines I.K.U. precisely: it's a porn film that takes up where Blade Runner (1982) left off. The elevator door that closed now re-opens. A new corporation has taken over. The I.K.U. characters have names, identities, and missions, but I don't think the story is the point, however carefully calibrated it may be. Narrative, which once was the weak spot in Cheang's work, has become its strength. Or, rather, it is the very absence of narrative that has now supercharged her work, suffusing its every choice. Cheang's mix of sensation and suggestion is perfectly suited to the post-hypertext world of post-verbal storytelling. What's most intriguing about I.K.U. is its daring disposal of older forms and its unabashed effort to pioneer a visual text in which pornography and science fiction, film and video and computer, matinee and late-night, gallery and porn arcade, all merge into a single movie experience.
As collaborative as ever, Cheang involved a range of Tokyo figures from the worlds of club culture, night life, and adult movies. Production designer Sasaki Takashi and VJ E-Male work the club scene, creating visual effects. The character of replicant Reiko is played by Tokitoh Ayumu, an erotic actress from the world of satellite television. Another characer, Dizzy, is played by Zachery Nataf, who's identified in the production notes as an F2M transsexual (transman, in newer parlance) and founder of the Transgender Film Festival in London. Other parts were played by humans drawn from the ranks of magazine models, strippers, porn stars, even a "rope artist."
I suspect that none of this is remotely fringe for Cheang. Rather these are the personae of a future that's just now coming into view; she has simply given them a context. In the process, she's given her audience a challenge. A whirlpool (cesspool?) of ideas, I.K.U. has usefully provoked meditations on the nature of sex, narrative, and representation that we'd be well advised to put to further use, here and now, on the cusp of the alleged media future.
Naturally, not everyone has been ready for what Cheang had to offer, even in the Y2K era in Park City, Utah. At its world premiere at Sundance, despite the word "porn" in its catalogue description that ought to have set audience expectations appropriately, I.K.U. managed to scandalize a midnight crowd that's usually self-congratulatory and proud of withstanding, if not embracing, anything thrown at it by the most fiendish of minds. But clearly that brand of hipness has its limits.
In place of self-satisfaction, the I.K.U. experience sent folks scurrying for the exits whenever the action got explicit (40 percent fled, according to Cheang). Shu-Lea Cheang was taken aback, troubled: she thought Sundance was more sophisticated. I, on the other hand, was delighted: in the post-NQC days of posed tolerance, how reassuring it was to see that people still could be shocked by something.
Interview responses translated from Japanese by Love Kindstrand.
"Welcome to [...] the Internet's next wave," Sue Halpern wrote in 2014, "the Internet of Things"—a harbinger of our gradual transition into "one of the things connected to and through the Internet."
Yet, despite its sizeable implications for politics, capital, and consumers, the internet of things has not affected web-based art practices to the same degree. In fact, more and more contemporary internet artists are expressing interest in a somewhat opposing phenomenon, a trend that flips the logic of the Internet of Things on its head. From Paul Soulellis's Library of the Printed Web to Michael Mandiberg's Print Wikipedia, artists working on the internet and digital technologies seem less absorbed by the link between physical bodies and virtual networks than by the physical bodies of these networks—that is, by the matter of the web. As a result, what net art usually offers up is not so much the Internet of Things as the things of the internet.
The Internet Yami-Ichi is one gripping example of recent artistic experimentations with the materiality of the web. Created by the Japanese artist collectives IDPW (pronounced "i-pass") and Exonemo, the Yami-Ichi is a real-life counter-market for internet-related goods. Somewhere between "flea" and "black," the Yami-Ichi is at once both and neither: "In Japanese," Exonemo tells me, "the word 'yami' in 'yami-ichi' (black market) carries connotations not only of darkness, but also of 'sickness' and 'addiction,' in the sense of being too attached to something. More than just a market, we imagined the Yami-Ichi as a place where people consumed by the internet could come together."
The project's first installation was held in Tokyo on November 4, 2012 and attracted over 500 people interested in selling, buying, and trading truly unique internet objects. Since then, the Yami-Ichi has attracted much international attention, travelling to Berlin, Taichung, Seoul, Linz, Brussels, and Amsterdam. In the interview that follows, I ask Exonemo about the politics of their project, touching on the history of online consumer capitalism, Silk Road, the corporatization of Web 2.0, digital labor, and the meaning of liberty on the internet.
Tomoya Watanabe (aka Tomorrow Shark) in Back streets of the Internet (2013) produced by W+K 東京LAB.
LP: Right now I'm at the Rhizome office in the New Museum, less than a mile away from the federal courthouse on Pearl Street where the founder of Silk Road, Ross Ulbricht, was sentenced to life in prison on May 29, 2015. In a letter to Judge Katherine B. Forrest right before his sentencing, Ulbricht said he created Silk Road because he believed "people should have the right to buy and sell whatever they wanted so long as they weren't hurting anyone else." While you explicitly prohibit the exchange of dangerous and illegal goods, you also seem to frame the Internet Yami-Ichi as a project to "liberate" the web by promoting the freedoms of internet users in the form of consumers, producers, and merchants. Were you and Ulbricht responding to a similar problem, namely the lack of liberty on the internet, but in different ways? While Ulbricht's libertarian solution focused on individual liberties as market freedoms, your answer seems to be grounded in the idea of communal liberty as human interaction.
e: With Silk Road, you see one attempt to reclaim the liberty once inherent to the internet that has since been lost, by creating an unregulated space within the internet itself. In contrast, the Internet Yami-Ichi is a proposal to withdraw from the internet "for the time being." The Yami-Ichi takes "internet addiction" as one of its themes, specifically by enacting a collectivity of selves still very much enraptured by the internet, gathering in real life to show each other the many internets we've all imagined/conjured up. Rather than creating "a space for free exchange," what we imagined is what I'd call "a flock of grotesque creatures emerging from the internet, giggling at the sight of themselves interacting in the same grotesque manner in real life"—and as such it felt like an entirely new perspective.
At the first event in Tokyo, we mostly invited people from our respective communities, so there was a strong atmosphere of people sharing the same sense of reality coming together. But when we gathered for the third time in Berlin the concept just took shape in a way that convinced us that people all over the world share a similar awareness: while no doubt people felt differently in various places, the sense of the internet as "something new" shared almost simultaneously across the world is fascinating.
LP: From its inception, the internet has been intimately connected with the development of postindustrial capitalism (and vice-versa). E-commerce websites like eBay and Amazon have been leading internet marketplaces since 1995, the same year Craig Newmark started Craigslist as an email newsletter for promoting events around the Bay Area. By 1999, the Argentinean MercadoLibre had appropriated the concept of a "free" online market as the website's brand name. More recently, Etsy and DaWanda have combined the personalized and user-generated aspects of social media websites into their corporate interfaces, allowing users to create their own online stores and sell "unique," often handmade commodities. What would you say is the place of the Yami-Ichi in the history of online market capitalism?
e: The biggest difference between eBay, Etsy and the other e-commerce sites you mention on one hand, and the Yami-Ichi on the other, is that the former seize on the convenience of the web in order to provide the most accessible service, while the Yami-Ichi does the complete opposite. The things that appear for sale at the Yami-Ichi are preliminary responses to our question of what constitutes an "internet-like" thing, but it's not as if the people selling them do so normally or try to make a livelihood out of doing so. The people who buy them, in turn, earn their own answers to the question of what an "internet-like" thing would actually mean, or perhaps they come with that in mind. In other words, the action of buying and selling in the Yami-Ichi is less an economic one, and rather entails a kind of media research that parodies the action of economic exchange. In an age where getting by without accessing the internet is becoming difficult or impossible, the nature or meaning of that thing we call "the internet" is seldom questioned. The Yami-Ichi constitutes a kind of meditation on that condition, with the actual act of exchange being more of an auxiliary thing, serving to reinforce that reality. Of course, this is nothing more than my personal thoughts on the matter, and presumably other people participate with different conceptions of what they are doing and why.
Poster for the Yami-Ichi in Amsterdam earlier this year
LP: Are market freedoms, as in the liberties afforded to consumers in a capitalist economy, an important aspect of being free in general, especially as this idea is conceived on the internet today?
e: One reason for running the Yami-Ichi in Japan—and it might not be much different from other places in this regard—was as a challenge to the commonplace notion that "one does not pay for internet things." It wasn't long ago that you could find anything for free on the net, and online commerce suffered as a result. Recently things are changing somewhat, particularly due to increasingly aggressive strategies by major corporations, but there is a certain irony to paying actual money for things derived from internet culture at the Yami-Ichi that remains interesting. Few people in Japan, for example, will give money to a homeless person—even street musicians have a hard time. In light of this tendency to "only pay for what benefits" you directly, paying money for non-beneficiary, even useless things at the Yami-Ichi starts to appear as a critical act. At the Berlin event, some participants noticed that people were reluctant to get their wallets out, and in this way there are cultural connotations to simple acts of buying and selling. I'm really curious to see what happens when we open in New York City, where tipping for services and so on suggests an entirely different culture of money exchange.
LP: Despite their dependence on the free digital labor of their users, corporate social media websites, such as Facebook and Twitter, brand themselves as service providers and social utility platforms. While this may very well be true, their self-understanding as service suppliers elides, quite deliberately of course, the identity of their users as producers of internet content, that is, as workers rather than customers. By allowing internet users to sell their online content as real products, by providing them the opportunity to be remunerated for their digital labor, do you think the Internet Yami-Ichi works to redress the injustices of free digital labor on the internet?
e: If you ask the participants selling things at the Yami-Ichi, they'll tell you how differently people communicate here compared to the exhibitions where they usually show their ideas and creations. Sell or no sell, the creator is immediately confronted with the question of how much their idea is worth, and the customer's response is immediate. With art, there is a certain anxiety in discussing the merits or demerits of a specific work in the conversation between artist and audience. At the Yami-Ichi, it is possible to talk about this in terms of an objective standard: is this worth five bucks or not? For the seller, it seems it's become an appreciated opportunity for casually questioning their own work.
LP: For the first Internet Yami-Ichi, you stipulated only one criteria for sellers: "to sell things that have something to do with the Internet." As a result a diverse mix of unique internet-based objects were on display, including the hand-crafted (and live recorded) ringtone, the "Real-World Re-Tweet," the "Spacer .gif," and a host of other fascinating historical and contemporary fragments of "web matter." While the majority of items on sale appeared to be born-digital goods or services morphed into a real-world format, one of the participants, Tomoya Watanabe (aka Tomorrow Shark), did the precise opposite of this. Watanabe sold real-life stones accompanied by a CD-ROM with their 3D scan data. In doing this, he took an organic object, digitized it, and sold both versions, the physical stone and its digitally-rendered image. So, in a way, the Yami-Ichi offers users not only the possibility to bring things from the web into the physical world, but also the prospect of adding real-life objects to the internet, "filling the internet with things that exist in the real world," as he put it.
e: The novelty of Tomorrow Shark's "stone" lies, as you explain, not in the idea of bringing a thing from the internet into real space, but in tying a material object to its three-dimensional data, a presence that connects net and physical realities. There is something romantic in the encounter between the novel, still unstable entity that is "the internet," and the ordinary rock, present anywhere and everywhere as a symbol of universality. The fantasy of that same rock selling out simultaneously in every corner of the world is perhaps equally romantic...
* * *
LP: How did IDPW and the Internet Yami-Ichi come about?
e: After the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster that occurred in Japan in 2011, the two of us in Exonemo left Tokyo for Fukuoka in Western Japan. Around that time, a lot of people were leaving the city for the countryside, or even going overseas. In Fukuoka, we rented a warehouse with the intent of starting something new. That's where the IDPW collective came together, as a way to gather all the fellow artists scattered across Japan in an extension of Exonemo's focus on "experiments that connect internet and reality."
The idea was to have the internet "descend" into reality around that actual space (genba), and around that concept we started, in different places and shapes, online and offline, irregularly and experimentally—and with a fair amount of stupidity—to organize the parties where the Internet Yami-Ichi first took shape.
LP: What were some of the most influential referents for the Yami-Ichi?
e: The primary referent for this kind of flea market event is Tokyo's Comic Market (or Comike). Since 1975 it has grown from a small subcultural gathering to an annual gathering of 500,000 enthusiasts. Beyond manga and anime-related works, you'll encounter countless items and ideas for sale that don't quite fit any category: a map of vending machines in Akihabara; homemade recipes; a bot that plays through pornographic computer games, and so on. It's stuff that's obviously useless for most people, and yet there is the provocation of coming face to face with that kind of pure creativity. In 2005, this inspired another community of enthusiasts called Dorkbot Tokyo, organized around "people doing strange things with electricity," who put together a flea market-style event that attracted serious attention. The combination of all these things eventually led to the Internet Yami-Ichi events.
LP: Given how the idea for the Yami-Ichi was born out of Apple's rejection of your proposed iPhone app, was your initial idea to host a web-based, as opposed to a physical, marketplace? Or, was the app meant to be a digital platform for organizing people only and then trade objects IRL?
e: Once we realized we couldn't sell on the App Store the silly idea of selling apps by connecting people's phones to our development PC came to mind—the ridiculousness of it fascinated us, I guess. So for the Yami-Ichi we didn't think about online sales at all. At the first two events we didn't even have wifi! Yet in that space entirely cut off from the internet, we were enveloped by an "internet-like" atmosphere—in turn prompting the question of whether this thing we call "the internet" has anything to do with being connected to the internet at all.
In the beginning, we knew we wanted to bring the internet into the flea market, but still couldn't imagine what kind of space would emerge from that encounter. That's when we came up with the idea of taking the app, that had already been rejected by Apple, and selling it by connecting a cable directly to people's phones. This lead to the realization that "perhaps the current internet is less free than the real world."
The early days of the internet were characterized by an understanding of its possibilities as that of a space completely separated from physical reality. More recently, the internet has become more convenient to use even as it falls under the control of global corporations, and as its use becomes more universal it has become a matter of public concern. With increasing privacy concerns we've come to feel the limits of online practice. Now, with the spread of smartphones the internet is no longer distinguishable from reality, the very distinction disappearing bit by bit as the problematics of online life encroach on reality itself. The present condition challenges us to take a step back from the internet, reappraise the way it has affected our sense of values and provided new concepts, and from there, consider the way we want technological innovation to proceed.
LP: In light of your project's success, do you think you'll submit a new proposal for an iPhone app to Apple in the future?
e: I don't know about the App Store—as an embryo of the idea that became the Internet Yami-Ichi, our rejected app has already made itself useful. We'll continue to release different apps and other works as exonemo in the future.
Fabien Mousse, Real Internet Art (2013)
LP: What is the most popular currency of exchange at the Yami-Ichi? Do people use bitcoins, instagram followers, tumblr accounts, gifs, image macros, etc. to buy/trade goods, or is mostly cash?
e: It's been mostly cash so far; people write price tags for "1 euro" or "1 bitcoin" as a joke, and it seems like participants trade their goods. In the US, there are plenty of convenient options for payment like Paypal, Square and Venmo, so that might change.
LP: What are your plans for the future of the Yami-Ichi?
e: This summer, we've held events in Taichung (Taiwan), Seoul, Linz (Austria), and will be in New York City on September 12; towards the end of the year, we're thinking of Scotland, São Paulo, and London as well as Indonesia and Mexico. Early on, IDPW was involved in organizing all events, but since the one held in Amsterdam last May we've pulled back a little bit, moving towards an open platform through which anyone can participate.
The question is how the internet, as a phenomenon unfolding in the present on a global scale, is acted upon differently in different parts of the world. There's a lot of work organizing these Yami-Ichi markets across the world, but for the moment it feels like a meaningful activity that I want to continue in the future.
The very notion of "the internet" will keep changing, now and in the future, as will the idea of what's considered "internet-like" or not. We're still at a point where drawing a line between "reality" and "the internet" allows us to understand something, but the line separating these two domains is disappearing. Soon, the Internet Yami-Ichi might look no different from an ordinary flea market! The Yami-Ichi event itself, I hope, already functions as a kind of barometer with which to gauge and comprehend our changing times.
Interview responses translated from Japanese by Love Kindstrand. Kindstrand is a doctoral student in anthropology at the University of Chicago, interested in intersections of anonymity and subjectivity in internet culture.
In June, we launched our 2015 Net Art Microgrants program with an open call for entries. 262 projects were proposed, representing the diversity of net art practices today. All proposals were considered by an esteemed panel comprising curator, artist, and critic Gaby Cepeda, previous Microgrant winner M. Hipley, and Rhizome's Assistant Director, Zachary Kaplan.
Today, we're pleased to announced the five 2015 Net Art Microgrant awardees, who will each recieve $500 to create new works.
Loz Cliffe, An Open Call for Spam Bots
The textual content posted by spam bots in online contact and comment forms throughout the web is not without artistic merit. A spam bot’s use of imaginatively strung together keywords, phrases and ambiguous sentences aimed at manipulating the decision making processes of other web crawling and indexing bots can often include content which reflects current news, events and trends, which in turn generates new and unexpected narratives. An Open Call for Spam Bots would be an online depository for this content, as well as a self-perpetuating, auto-generated piece of net art based on the spam bots' submissions. Spam bots would be attracted to and encouraged to participate in this open call for their work via a specifically designed web application that would purposely ignore the basic and conventional measures normally used to discourage and prevent them, thus providing them with an open platform to express themselves.
Emilie Gervais, Fuck Privacy
I'm writing a text titled Fuck Privacy. It's mostly about human history, human behaviors, art, open source, hacker culture, internet cult & subcultures, net archeology, ideas & information. I want to make a version that is readable on a website along with some pretty ASCII art.
Adriana Minoliti, -PLAY SIGNIFICANT OTHERNESS-
PSO is a digital bio-system based on geometry and sex. From my pictorial work, PSO is the live manifestation on the web: mutant geometric figures inhabit a jungle-digitalscape. These entities live in harmony. When they find each other, they exchange figures and shapes, so when separated each is visually transformed by the encounter. It's a genetic algorithm related to feminist theory and technoscience from Donna Haraway and the biologist Lynn Margulis. It's a geometric representation of a non-Darwinian artificial life. As a painter, geometry is the best tool to represent and investigate a trans-human utopia, where the gender theories can be applied to the pictorial language and find new ways of experimenting with the visual world. #expanded_painting #queer_feminism #sexy_metaphysic #abstract_porn #pos_porn #green_cube I apply for the grant to develop the algorithm along with the programming artist Mariana Lombard.
Rafia Santana, RAFiA's WORLD
"When I grow up I want to be a artist and draw beautiful paintings because I like to draw pictures of things. I believe in me that I could do anything." - RAFiA, 1997. My mother, an artist and archivist, has always encouraged me to date and save my creations. Recently I discovered a stack of composition notebooks in our dining room closet. They contain my childhood drawings, journal entries, and classwork assignments that span from 1992 to the early 2000s (I was born in 1990). With the Rhizome microgrant I will digitize these works and publish them as an interactive archival experience called RAFiA's WORLD. Viewers will be able to click through the chronologically ordered images and explore my development as an artist and human being pre-adolescence. The archive will be hosted on its own site but will also be accessible via Tumblr, Instagram, and Facebook.
Alex Taylor, .3gp
.3gp is a largely extinct file container that was most popular during the first wave of video-playing mobile phones (the days of RAZRs and Nokia N70s). A search on YouTube for the format returns an exceptionally random mixture of content from all corners of the world; candid home videos, viral softcore pornography and dubbed movie trailers all filtered through the ice cold lens of early 00s compression technology. I would like to create a site that acts as a viewing platform/'TV channel' dedicated to the format, using the Youtube API to select and play videos at random in an interactive 3D environment.
With New York's Whitney Museum of American Art officially decamped to Lower Manhattan, the encyclopedic Metropolitan Museum of Art is slowly revealing its ambitions for their 8-year lease of the Whitney's former home, the Breuer Building. The Met has labeled this satellite "The Met Breuer" — but what will it be? According to early messaging, the space will house "a new series of exhibitions, performances, artist commissions, residencies, and educational initiatives," relating to contemporary and modern art.
The museum just announced the space's first program: an affiliate version of the technology, entertainment, design lecture series, TED Talks, called TEDxMet: The In-Between. The subtitle and theme refer to the status of the institution itself; per the promotional text, "no longer the Whitney Museum, and not yet open to the public as The Met Breuer, a building in-between." In keeping, its an interdisciplinary affair, with speakers from the visual arts, theater, and literature.
Though a consistently popular platform for "creative class" topics in digital culture, TED is a frequent whipping post of Twitter media people, and the subject of real critical address by the likes of Simon Denny and Daniel Keller and Benjamin Bratton, all of whom have shed important light on TED's uneasy associations with "Silicon Valley Logic." (The TED Talk is often held as the pseudo-messianic start-up founder platform of choice.)
With TEDxMet as the inaugural event, moreover, the artist duo João Enxuto and Erica Love's Art Project 2023 is feeling particularly prescient. This is a video and a performative lecture (originally given at the Whitney on the occasion of the Shared Spaces conference the two co-organized) which foretells the fate of the Breuer Building. In its dystopian tale, due to a financial crisis, the Met can't renew its lease, so Google steps in to purchase the building for its Art Project. Not tech-friendly enough for their use, the building is then razed and a state-of-the-art facsimile is built on the site, the Breuer becoming a database and architectural shell for individuated, on-demand VR experiences of art.
We're not there yet, of course, and I'm not here to critique this program—in fact, I'd be thrilled to hear someone like Dawoud Bey speak in the context. Rather, I'm writing to highlight how TEDxMet reflects a shift that is at issue in my current editorial undertaking, The Born-Digital Art Institution, a Rhizome publication to be published next year by Sternberg Press. (I'll be speaking on the project at MuseumNext in late September in Indianapolis, and in London at the Goethe Institut in October.)
With the new space, the Met is in many ways following a well-known playbook—if an institution wants to signal its forward-looking perspective and general audience bona fides, and fill a program vacancy without the resources or the time traditionally afforded to primary museum projects, they often look to education programs, performance, residencies, and, perhaps, social practice artworks.
That the inaugural event is a TEDx event is notable, however, in that it evidences the ongoing transformation of the traditional curator-led art institution (centered on the production of exhibitions) to the more amorphous, admin- and programmer-led art institution, a shift coterminous to institutions thinking through the prism of digital distribution. (Enxuto and Love will be writing about this more in the forthcoming publication.) TEDx is an ideal format for museums looking for options beyond traditional curatorial production, really, in that its production costs can be kept minimal, in that its built for broadcast and circulation, in that it suggests cross-pollination with the sort of bold creativity thought to dwell around San Jose, a bold creativity highly valued by mass culture at the moment (as well as donors, sponsors, executives, etcetera).
The Breuer won't be razed anytime soon, but it's clear that, following the work being done institution-wide under Chief Digital Officer Sree Sreenivasan, the Met is open to a "digital-first," or perhaps really "digital-culture-first," program. We're all born-digital institutions now.
Still from digital re-performance of SCRAAATCH No. 8 (2015)
We have been following the work of Philadelphia-based artists SCRAAATCH aka E. Jane and chukwumaa (E+c) since crossing paths at an event at MoCADA in Brooklyn. Recently, they came back to New York to prepare for an upcoming performance at The Kitchen. We had the chance to sit down for a conversation in Chelsea. After parting ways, we were struck not only by all the common ground between our teams, but also by the divergences. We realized we wanted to talk more about how they work and where their practice is going. E+c will perform their work SCRAAATCH no. 9 at The Kitchen as a part of the S/N series this Friday, June 5, between 4 – 6 pm.
M+K: We've been working together almost 20 years, so we are always interested in how teams function. Why do you choose to collaborate? What does it make possible for you as individuals or what are you trying to say by collaborating?
E+c: One thing we loved hearing in Kanye West's Zane Lowe interview was his idea of having multiple outlets. He described how having different containers for different creative impulses prevents you from clouding up one project by trying to put too many ideas into it. We're both really generative and are engaged with conversations around a lot of different fields, ideas, inclinations, audiences and questions. SCRAAATCH allows us to channel some energy that might cloud our individual work, which can sometimes be much more project-centered.
colon:y (Wilmer Wilson IV & chukwumaa) The Airborne Leaflet Campaign (2012) Photo: Joshua Yospyn
colon:y (Wilmer Wilson IV & chukwumaa) The Airborne Leaflet Campaign (2012) Photo: Joshua Yospyn
M+K: We know you both have studied a number of different disciplines (for example poetry, sculpture and engineering) and have solo practices in addition to the collaborative practice. How did you come to do this work? How has the studio practice evolved and how does it relate to the online projects and live performance works?
E: My work comes from trying to be intelligible. I went through periods of having a large inner dialogue without the ability to communicate the theories rolling around in my head with the world around me. Poetry was an early attempt at engaging the world existentially. The studio practice really came from the furthering of that attempt. I really love what Kanye said about his early attempts at painting and how he couldn't turn the canvas up louder. My practice evolved out of the poem being too quiet, then feeling like the photograph wasn't enough and turning to video and sound, and ultimately performance. Online projects are a way I can employ all mediums in tandem and make sure those mediums are actually engaging the world they derive from.
E: I think a lot about that scene in Luis Buñuel's The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie when they're in a dream sequence and you realize that the space they're in is part physical space and part painted set. The internet feels like that sort of space, one that is real but is also an elaborate construction that requires some sort of artistry to finish (coding included).
E+c: We both grew up spending an extended amount of time online, being raised by a computer and a television. We also both share a deep interest in theater (we met in a drama class at high school). People generally see the internet as a platform. Websites can be sets.
c: Performance, tinkering and pranks predated my formal art practice. I once convinced my high school that I'd lost a leg. I did a documentary video when I realized how tragically ableist the prank was. Funnily enough, E. was one of the few who saw right through it! I owe much thanks to folks like DJ rAt and the Anthology of Booty crew, along with DJ Underdog for convincing me to do more than just dance to the music. I also owe a lot to early mentors Jefferson Pinder and Hasan Elahi for providing a formative exposure to performance and conceptual art. These approaches made the most sense of my disparate and non-linear impulses and feelings.
c: I'm always trying to collect these impulses and feelings—well, more like hoard them! However you name it, this meant that much of my earlier work was spent exhuming collections of things from before I "decided" to make art formally. I was turning a 40 pound drawer of those promotional letters colleges send into a two floor sculpture of a step; mining all of the emails I'd ever sent myself for word pieces etc. This hasn't really changed, but I'm trying to be more focused and thoughtful with how and what connects my experience with that of others. I want to show care when I make. No. I want to use care when I make. In the studio, this means a lot more taking in than putting out. A lot of Twitter and Soundcloud. There are a lot of wonderful folks out there taking time to ask deep questions about specific things and I really want to respect that through my work. When ILoveMakonnen dropped "Tuesday," the nuance of making a club song about the experience of going to work when most were sleeping or partying struck me! There's so much of this going on and I can't ignore it.
c: I'm always impressed at how E. balances intake/output. And also naming/framing things. I'm always the last to know that I did a "thing." Someone else has to say "that was a great drawing!" or "is that sculpture going to be shown anywhere?" or "are you doing a performance on Twitter rn???" The main development in my studio practice is trying to not leave too much hidden away on the cutting floor. Or even to keep so much away from the studio in the first place. I'm in a period of reconciling things I've spent a lot of time treating as separate just because they're disparate. In a way, that's what SCRAAATCH has been teaching me.
Still from E. The Avatar Ep. 5 (2015)
M+K: When we made online work many years ago we thought of the work we were making as public art. The internet was an alternative space for folks whose practices did not fit into the pre-existing "alternative art spaces," and a public space ripe for experimentation. Much of how we experience the internet from the US today seems incredibly privatized— a space dominated and heavily framed by corporate platforms and designed for distraction. Even with all of these radical changes in the landscape, many artists still find ways to make interesting work online. How do you see the internet as a space for artists today and how do you use it?
E+c: In the world, distraction and focus aren't mutually exclusive anymore. For us, they never were.
E+c: The internet has an "and" relationship to the IRL space for us. We've grown up spending our time loving, hating, hurting, exploring, etc. as much online as off, if not more. Working online is a given for us. But in some ways this is really the experience of our generation and not really specific to us.
E+c: Sometimes we wonder what an internet without corporate or government interests would look like, and we recognize that this doesn't invalidate the many experiences we've had on this one. We probably have a relationship to the internet that some kids have to malls, or rec centers, or that one back yard or corner that everyone played in. We find ourselves most in love with a lot of work that is kind of aware of the context or medium. Like the phrase "slides in DMs" or "link in bio" or y'alls eBay piece. Dan Harmon's show "Community" does an entire episode about the two brands whose commercials play during the show.
c: But this isn't really unique to the internet, a lot of Black cultural products use self-reflexivity and intertextuality so perfectly! In most rap songs, you'll know who's rapping, who produced it, where they're from, what they're going through and how long they've been at it without liner notes or an interview. It's like a book whose text is the colophon. That's huge to us that we're drawing from a lush history.
E: When I started putting ads into our mixes, it was because of this need for reflexivity. I've bought ad space on Facebook, made work from their demographics info and have started constructing video art in the commercial format. I feel that if corporations want to force me to consume ads so they can gain revenue, then I can sample and mimic and derive art from those ads as I would anything else.
c: We also try not to let any specific interface, frame or context become blinders.
M+K: The group name SCRAAATCH invokes both mark-making and sound-making. In No. 7 you all seem to be playing a game and making sounds in response to each other. Was this sonic and visual process always important for the SCRAAATCH series of works? Do you call it music or sound art? It brings to mind the history of artists (from Wadada Leo Smith to Earl Browne) making graphic scores or artists playing games in public (see Reunion by Teeny and Marcel Duchamp with John Cage, David Berman David Tudor & Gordon Mumma). In what historical context would you place your work?
c: It's funny how far that name goes in terms of connotations. It was originally inspired by Hennessey Youngman discussing originality in art. Recently, when we were taking a course with Massimo Bartolini, he taught us about Cornelius Cardew and his Scratch Orchestra and we kind of giggled at not knowing but being so close to his intentions of improvisation and un-learning. I first started experimenting earnestly with sound in my performance practice in a residency with Coco Fusco at the Atlantic Center for the Arts. When I was there, she put me on to Pamela Z, whose sound and new media well runs so deep! Senga Nengudi, pope.L and David Hammons' sculpture and performances really animated me early on. A show of Arte Povera sculpture at the Hirschhorn maybe 5 years back had a similar effect. colon:y (a collective consisting of E, Wilmer Wilson IV, Samuel Hindolo and myself) is always my rock, though.
E: Jayson Musson was one of our first shared influences (also one of the reasons we went to Penn). We watched a lot of the Art Thoughtz videos. In How to Make a Art, Hennessy goes into a postmodernist rant about originality. He says, "This the future, internet, and talent ain't got naught to do with artistic production [...]. Art's not [sic] about making a sculpture out of scratch. I mean, where do you even find scratch in 2011? I thought we ran out of scratch like, in the '60s after the Vietnam War?" He then starts talking about readymades. I saw this completely aligned with the thoughts of the Fluxus movement and liked that the name alluded to it. In that way, it's funny that you mentioned mark making and people like Cage and Marcel Duchamp. The Fluxus movement definitely shapes the way we think about SCRAAATCH. Last summer, we taught a workshop at Hishhorn's ArtLab+ on paper sculpture and sound art and I taught the students about Cage's 4'33" as an introduction to sound art. The class called the piece they eventually made together Water Walk IIafter Cage's piece.
E: There's this video with Yoko Ono and RZA where they're playing chess and then they break out into this avant-garde duet, "Life is a Struggle." We saw this video in 2013 and it lead to us thinking about how to work together, Yoko and RZA being two people we look up to. We've also done research on the work Yoko did with John Lennon, esp. some of the sound pieces they made together and found the work very influential. Yoko Ono being a performance and sound art legend and RZA having an extremely experimental music practice, we realized this video was the best of both those worlds. Yoko has always been inspiring for how she tried things that were considered absurd or ridiculous to some but daring for many others. She's a real trickster.
c: We also studied you two's practice from afar. It was like a course in the possibilities for this type of conceptually-driven, sustained inter-media collaboration. And from folks who looked like us.
c: We're also really interested in certain DJs and their live performances. PC Music's Dead Or Alive Stream live video performances were perfect, especially the movement in A.G. Cook's set. Lotic has literally made me knock things over. I watch too many Boiler Room and 10-hour youtube videos.
M+K: Can you tell us more about your piece for the Kitchen, SCRAAATCH no. 9 and the S/N series?
E+c: We can, but we'd rather use that cliche about coming and finding out. ;) As for S/N, it's a sound-centered exhibition put together by the The Whitney ISP Curatorial Program. We were brought in by Curatorial Fellow Blair Murphy, who previously headed programming at Washington Project for the Arts. She does awesome work! We wouldn't be in this show were it not for her thinking of our work, so it feels good to be in a beautiful catalog among many much more experienced artists and musicians!
M+K: You both worked for some time and presented projects in Washington, D.C., a city where art-making, just like everything else, is understood to be deeply political. You are now based in Philadelphia, a city with a rich Black avant-garde tradition (from Sun-Ra and Sonia Sanchez to Hprizm and King Britt). How have these cities, local art communities and institutions affected your practices?
c: Go-Go and much of the culture surrounding it were erased from the face of the city.
c: My performances after undergrad all touched on various facets of this process and E [had produced] a trove of street photography that within months became documents of D.C.'s huge shift.
E+c: We don't make the mistake of thinking we know enough about Philly to speak on its ills, but we were definitely aware of MOVE long before we got here, and of King Britt!
M+K: We should also mention that you are both in an MFA program at The University of Pennsylvania. The great artist and Penn professor Terry Adkins was a major influence and Jedi master-like guide to us and an incredible number of artists in our generation. Did you have any interaction with Terry before he passed away?
E+c: We never got to take a class with him but we met him once when we visited Wilmer [Wilson IV] for Final Reviews:
c: I complained about not being able to get my application fee waived and Terry simply said "Look man, you have the opportunity to be where this guy (Wilmer) is at. Just come up with the money!" E. met him having a cigarette during a break and…
E: I plotted on having a cigarette that whole day. Finally, he went out for a break and I did too, and I told him who I was and that I was applying. He asked where I was from, I told him D.C. and he said he was too. We talked about where he grew up. Then he told me to tell him about myself and I did. I told him a short essay about my artistic life journey, how chukwumaa and Wilmer got me into the 21st Century. I was really nervous. When I was finished, he threw out his cigarette, looked over at me and said, "I look forward to seeing your work." Those are the final words Terry Adkins ever said to me.
c: And to me, "Come up with the money!" ha ha. But seriously, we glean as much as we can from our encounters with his work, his legacy here at Penn (the Lugo Land Residency he initiated, stories from other Penn folks) and his interviews online.
M+K: Describe your studio or work space. Why do you like it that way?
E+c: We have two spaces. Individual studios and a home office. The individual studio acts as a personal headspace, the home office is a shared brain. This allows us both to be expansive and reflects our practices as both individual and deeply intertwined. It allows us to store art objects in our studios–
E: Although I have prints and sculpture work that just hangs out at home, or gets hung as decor, and leave the heavy duty computing for home. I have an iMac we call The Space Station permanently installed in our home office. It's my digital studio for production and design work. It's nice to have this space set up in our house because it's where I spend the most continuous time. Editing and production take serious time and patience and so it's nice to never want to put it off like you can hanging a print.
E+c: Most of our work is so conceptual, it requires many thinking and editing hours. The physical making or construction of things that takes up space is secondary.
c: My set-up is heavier at my individual studio than at home, and features monitors, sculpture materials and such. I'm much more sparse at home. I shuttle tools back and forth when needed, though.
E+c: Over all, the home office is designed for ease of reconfiguration and productivity. Hindolo once made the funny observation that our room is set up like a startup. Our bed is usually folded up into a couch.
M+K: Favorite tool? Why do you like it?
E: My favorite tool is probably my iPod touch, which I affectionately refer to as an apparat. My professor, Jamie Diamond, told me to read Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart and I loved the way he theorized the direction of the iPhone to the apparat. In the story, the main character gains personality points by confessing things to his apparat, and I see our social media devices as an extension of that.
E: They kind of function as an extension of our bodies. They can hear, see, and speak. I have the 2015 iPod touch model w/64GB of storage space. It's basically a smaller iPhone that no one can call me on. It isn't a burden to carry, so it allows for rapid generation. For our anniversary, chukwumaa bought me a tripod and wireless shutter release for it, so now there are even more possibilities.
c: I love my sound system, because it took a while to get all the pieces and the opportunity to feel my sounds is so important to the work (and play). But I also think my obsessive connecting of events, people and such is my real favorite tool. Since that isn't exactly an externalized object, the first answer works best.
M+K: Tell us what you are currently reading/listening to.
E: I'm currently re-reading Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man. My reading habits are very sporadic, though. Generally we both have at least 8 tabs up with essays in them that we've been meaning to read. I have master essays I go back to over a period of months, like "ART & COMMERCE: Ecology Beyond Spectatorship" by Christopher Kulendran Thomas and Hito Steryl's "Politics of Post-Representation." I started a separate Tumblr this semester, as an appendix to my mood board just for quotes and media I come across that inform my practice. I also just bought a copy of Pandora's Camera by Joan Fontcuberta. I'm looking forward to reading his essay, "I Photograph Therefore I am."
E+c: We're trying to read more Foucault and Fanon this summer.
c: We just got Elysia Crampton's Moth/Lake! I've heard earlier versions of "Moth" for a while and the poem has taken a very important place in my heart. And I'm always going back to Kemistry and Storm's DJ Kicks, I only have tangential connections to the history of Drum'n'Bass and Jungle but I still get worked up over the passing of Kemi Olusanya. I mean to learn more about Glissant, I saw the phrase "right to opacity" and flipped! One day, I'll finish Sonic Warfare by Steve Goodman, the Hyperdub releases go down a lot smoother. Also, someone on Twitter recently helped me find the source of my favorite GIF of all time and it turned out to be a surreal children's yoga video, so that's a victory. My older cousin recently sent me an exhaustive collection of zouk and kompa that she used to play while we did chores as kids, even bigger victory!
M+K: What's next for you all?
E+c: Next are ongoing/upcoming gigs in Philly, NY, LA and DC, a residency at Vermont Studio Center for chukwumaa, a slew of E's online projects, the next mandatory software update, then the Crown Fried down the block, or whichever comes first.
For her contribution to the ongoing online exhibition "Brushes," presented by Rhizome and the New Museum as part of the First Look series, artist Petra Cortright presents two versions of a Photoshop composition titled all_gold_everything.psd: a GIF that cycles through all of its layers, and a video that uses wipes and dissolves to offer a slowly shifting view of the same imagery.
Click here to view a 140MB high-resolution gif.
Writing in Spike Art Quarterly, artist Paul Chan once described Petra Cortright's artistic approach as "disinterested," in the Kantian sense:
We are ruled by our interests (because who doesn't want a leg up?) and that is why there is very little freedom or play when our interests are at stake. Cortright's work, on the other hand, exudes the disinterestedness that only comes from a form of creating with nothing particular on the line, and this is what affords it a kind of freedom that becomes, in a word, delightful.
Cortright brings this same disinterestedness to her works in various media: performance videos, digital paintings, and spammy texts. Her studio is a domestic-style space with carpet and curtains in an otherwise industrial building in Los Angeles, where she surfs the web and "paints" in Adobe Photoshop using a stylus, creating files that may have hundreds of layers, accrued over time through daily activity. However, once these files are complete, they are then translated to different forms, from physical objects to various digital formats. In this case, the gif and video versions of all_gold_everything.psd tell very different stories about the same set of images.
The gif begins with an image of a golden dress worn by a catwalk model, a jpeg copied from the web. From there, the relationship between one frame and the next is unpredictable; in some cases, there is a small change, but often the changes are abrupt, with large images or fields of color covering the entire canvas, concealing what came before. There are effects, transformations, copied elements, and brushstrokes, which are sometimes delicately rendered and sometimes scribbled roughly.
The video, in contrast, has a much more deliberate staging of elements. The same dress appears onscreen at the start, although its form has been abstracted, with no clear demarcation between foreground and background. As the image comes into focus, animated elements begin to sparkle; golden sunflowers appear until a wash of magenta spreads slowly across the image. Elements seem emerge from the depths of the image, are drawn to it from above, or grow within it. Where the gif presents a kind of record of Cortright's process, the video seems to offer a self-contained narrative.
The gap between these two works reflects the importance, in Cortright's work, of everything that happens after a .psd is finished. A single Photoshop file can serve as the source for a number of finished works. In some cases, the works are exported to material form—printed onto aluminum or silk, materials which can be thought of as different analogies for the digital image. Alternatively, they may be translated to video. Whatever the format, the works can be thought of as singular views or interpretations of a fluid composition, each of which may bring a different temporality and perspective to the same digital object.
Jacob Ciocci, Jacob's Year, 9/11, Unbox Perfect Sleep (2015)
Jacob Ciocci's new exhibition at Interstate Projects could easily be mistaken for a study of banality and irony. However, as one begins to take in the myriad of symbols, text, and sound throughout the exhibition, one will find Ciocci is more interested in exploring empathy and vulnerability. Though he has been a fixture in net art, experimental animation, and art rock scenes for many years, the exhibition cements Ciocci's work at the vanguard of dealing with the weight of user generated content within contemporary image-obsessed culture.
Where others attempt to merely glean rare moments of accidental poetry from anonymous YouTubers and Clip Art aficionados, Ciocci instead considers how these gestures should be seen as very human expressions of grief and anxiety. For Ciocci, a lucid tension exists between the immediacy of sharing content online and the empty feeling that can come from no one "liking" it. The cyclical and addictive nature of pushing personal content into a void of inattentive responses stands as a central motivation, and delicate articulation, for many works here. Often, this is accomplished by instilling such tension within the objects themselves. The sculptures and printed works on view seem simultaneously accessible and foreign, creating a self-contained atmosphere of contradictory behavior. Although the imagery found in the exhibition might be familiar, the way objects are repurposed within the show exposes a layer of metaphorical or symbolic meaning that might otherwise go unnoticed.
For instance, a series of kinetic sculptures titled Sign Spinners are made from modified mannequins with small motors mounted inside their abdomens. The motors activate a sign that sways in front of the mannequin and is made to simulate mechanical sign wavers that have recently become more popular in rural and suburban strip malls. Instead of directing shoppers toward a local pizza joint, the mannequins hold signs with one-dimensional, pithy existential questions or motivational phrases like "Think Outside the Box"scripted in papyrus, comic sans, or similar "default" fonts. Additionally, the mannequins are covered in neon camouflage blankets with hand-painted cartoonish faces meant to look like the Halloween ghost models you would find at a Wal-Mart in West Virginia.
After a brief chuckle at the instant absurdity of these objects, it becomes evident that the joke is meant to invite us to empathize with the mundanity and futility of the gestures these robots perform. These gestures, however, are two-fold: one occurs from physically repeating the motion of waving a sign for as long as the machine is plugged in. The other comes from recognizing the painfully trivial soul searching that is displayed on their signs. Clearly, the questions and reflections posited on these signs are not merely meant for the mannequins themselves. Instead these messages "direct" strangers towards a place where the seemingly simplistic nature of these questions has some ground for serious consideration. In other words, the signs are waving at us to pull over and ponder something that might otherwise easily be dismissed.
Jacob Ciocci, Trust No One #hope (2015; sign help by Sing Spinners)
In doing so, these mannequins ask us to consider the feebleness of asking "deep" questions at a moment when our preconceived notion of language falls apart. This inquiry is continued in a large-scale wall painting that reads Life… is fuckin’ Hard!... But I can’t disappoint them I needa keep going no matter the Cost. Please pray for me Someone, I am so fuckin’ lost So lost. Initially pulled from an Instagram photo taken by Ciocci of a note scribbled on a bathroom stall at CUNY Staten Island (where the artist formerly taught), Life… similarly exposes a moment of heartfelt desperation under the pressure of everyday tedium. Far from a more common and juvenile sort of "bathroom humor" that would typically be found in the stalls, the text reads as an eerily sincere cry for help. The relocation of the text onto a gallery wall complicates the desires of the initial author by obfuscating the original "point of contact." In doing so, however, the text takes on a newfound significance: what initially appears as a petty appeal becomes a lasting commemoration of a moment of deep loss.
Ciocci's method of re-presenting scenarios that walk the tightrope between sincerity and irony is most aesthetically articulated in a series of UV printed images on gesso covered wood The source material for these collages is pulled from a larger series of small studies that were rescanned and blown up to 4 x 5 foot panels in a gesture that Ciocci equates to "turning small moments into big moments" (which could similarly be applied to Life…). In this series which includes works titled refuse2lost #selftalk and #connect, #findingthe, #connection –therapy –Bank of America –toilet paper, snippets of jumbled lists and cryptic phrases float on a backdrop of abstract color fields. The text occasionally reads like a to-do list that combines hashtags and chores; as if the daily activities of an unknown person have been sorted into searchable terms that no one will google.
Similar to the aforementioned mannequins, the language in these images initially reads as disposable. However, subtle recurring themes and glimmers of somber memories pierce through the humor. As viewers approach one of the final panels titled Jacob’s Year, 9/11, Unbox Perfect Sleep the language stops being funny and starts to hurt in small psychological stings. In this moment, the mannequins no longer seem silly, but feel abject. Their cloaked faces stop being part of a costume; they are instead a protective barrier against the inevitable embarrassment that comes from attempting to be something you're not.
Perhaps the lasting visual metaphor within the show can be found in a short video loop called Why are so Many Americans so Powerless on the main floor of the gallery. Similar in style to last year's The Urgency, this video quickly cuts between a number of cell-phone videos and YouTube demos of campy green-screen techniques. One cell-phone video shows the slow collapse of a parade balloon depicting Barney the Dinosaur. As the purple mass shrinks from bulbous cartoon to writhing fabric caught in the wind, a deep sense of dread sets in. Watching this transformation feels like an apropos analogy for the long-standing struggle within Ciocci's work: what once was innocent suddenly becomes malicious — swallowing exuberant celebrants of household icons in a flurry of uncontrollable deflated plastic.
Jacob Ciocci, #connect, #findingthe, #connection -therapy -Bank of America -toliet paper (2015)
Amidst all this, Ciocci's work never appears to have lost hope. Though the time for reveling in naiveté has passed, the symbols and artifacts from that time still remain and resonate. The significance of using imagery found online and repurposed graphics from user-generated content has undoubtedly shape-shifted (not unlike the Barney float) since Ciocci's solo show at Foxy Production in 2006. That being said, this newfound meaning could do with exactly the kind of sensitive scrutiny that Ciocci puts forth in this exhibition. Instead of looking past the images and objects we've come to associate with 00s sarcasm, Ciocci looks into these moments, and continues to find shards of sincerity in them.
Robert M. Ochshorn, Chewing Time (2013)
What were the initial intentions of the Flatness project, and how would you say those first iterations have reshaped your ongoing research, as well as future curatorial projects?
The project began as the theme of a film program I curated for Kurzfilmtage Oberhausen 2013 entitled "Flatness: cinema after the internet." I'd invited Oliver Laric, Anthea Hamilton and Ed Atkins to curate screenings within the program before I came up with the title, so the idea emerged through thinking about their work, and the other forty videos within the overall program. While Laric, Hamilton and Atkins each occupy very different positions—broadly, Laric's practice engages with the circulation of images throughout history and now on the web, Hamilton's sculptural and video works draw on the convergence of cultural materials within the compressed, hyper-historical space of the screen-based image and Atkins's filmmaking reflects on the thinness of high definition image surface—their work points to a shared language of the screen inherited from cinema and TV and now evolves through the dialogic space of the internet. I was conscious, too, that most of the works weren’t intended to be seen in the cinema - they were made either to be installed in the gallery or viewed on the computer (many of the works appeared in low-resolution so the image looked spectacularly flat!)—so I wanted to draw attention to the particularities of the auditorium setting and its linear format. Once the festival was over it made sense to put all the programs online, not only so a broader audience could engage with them, but also because several works I'd selected had originated there in the first place. Computer researcher Robert M. Ochshorn's commission, Chewing (2013), for instance, where all the frames of John Smiths' Girl Chewing Gum (1976) are played simultaneously in a specially programmed viewer, was only temporarily made into a video for presentation at Oberhausen, otherwise it exists as an interactive player. My intention was that the website could be a place where Ochshorn's sense of invention could be appreciated in the same space as the visual, audio-visual and written commissions. The web has become a site for artistic production and display but the tools programmers have access to, which set the protocols for this medium, mustn’t be overlooked both politically and artistically.
Currently Flatness takes the form of a website, a book and a succession of screenings. In a way, the project is activated by these live events and the discussions hosted through them. I really appreciate the physical space of the gallery and cinema, and I'm curious how the role of these spaces changes after the web has made many of their functions obsolete.
What were some of the initial ideas in producing the design of the website? I once heard you say it felt like a very subjective space—could you expand on that?
The design is a quotation from the 404 page which feels undesigned—it appears very simply, as if it was the most basic way to convey a message. In this sense the Flatness website suggests an interruption to normal services and at the same time shows you a ticking clock. I wanted to draw attention to the different temporalities of being on and offline while still being online. The font also harks back to a longer history of the net including those amateur Geocities websites which captured a diversity of interests within a very limited palette of effects.
Like Ubuweb the site is built in html. This mitigates against changes that are out of my control, such as Tumblr going offline, and gives me more options than hosting the site on Facebook both in terms of design, the imagery I can show and privacy. The site doesn't require a login, for example, and everything apart from the contributions is licensed under Creative Commons.
The design is subjective in the same way as the Geocities sites were. The curatorial statement is in the About section so the viewer could bypass it entirely, letting their curiosity for the different art forms behind each link on the homepage guide their experience, or reading of the site. As Facebook tries to become everything for everyone I really appreciate websites which are more partial and idiosyncratic. This might sound contradictory—a design that looks neutral whilst claiming not to be. But I've tried to be quite literal—to affirm the idea that I’m the guy pushing the buttons behind the curtain.
Do you think the presentation of artists work in the cinema alters the framing, conceptual or otherwise? You mention the cinema as being an obsolete space, yet also a reliance on events within a "public" forum to generate further discussion. Perhaps the cinema still has a collective address that the internet lacks as a form of distribution, or is yet to acquire?
Not necessarily. Of course work made in HD or film looks amazing in the cinema, and a lot of the works I’m interested in privilege high quality sound as well as visuals, so there’s no better format for those works. I suppose the fact that it's possible to show film on a variety of different scales says more about an expectation for the work to have that flexibility, rather than prioritizing one context over another. Having said that, there is a slight awkwardness to watching short films in the cinema, as if it's a warm up for a yet-to-come feature length movie.
Showing moving image works specifically intended for computer viewing in the cinema is a slightly different situation however on two accounts; conceptually it breaks the circulation the work is part of online (which is not to say it's a perfect, decentralized space in the first place), and secondly, the temporality or sense of "liveness" of the individuated space behind a laptop screen compared to the collective address of the cinema is affected by the switch. The two are closely related—it's apparent that the internet has stimulated interest in the cinema, from blockbusters to live feeds from performances at the Met. It's fascinating how cinema has been saved from obsolescence in spite of file-sharing and latterly Netflix which seem to accord to the gradual customization of experience through our personalized devices. Moreover, I wonder when new laws make it harder to organize together in public space in groups, how else could the live event of the cinema or gathering at a gallery be re-imagined? The will to protest as well as to like, tweet or instant message is self-evident; from Occupy, the Arab Spring, and the London uprisings in 2011, through to the demonstrations in Ukraine and HK and civil protests against police brutality in the States. Perhaps the practice of cinema going as a model has some potential to sustain this collective energy past clicktivism and spontaneous protest, which, like Occupy, can too easily be dismissed as politically ambivalent and historically content-less.
Online sociality has potential too, not just on Facebook. Special interest forums share affective encounters between members without the assumption of a physical analogue. I guess you could compare these fora to porn cinemas which are obsolete now; they seem to offer a similar type of intimacy. In my mind, screenings of artists' video could find a place between this and mainstream cinema. Curatorially, I think it’s important to acknowledge how people use screen media on a day-to-day to communicate and make, as well as to look. That's why I prefer to use a variety of existing formats outside the gallery.
Anthea Hamilton, Venice (The Kabuki Version) (2013)
The works screened as part of Flatness engage in a variety of ways with the topics you've mentioned, but the most striking similarity between many of the works is a particular mix of production values e.g. low-fi CGI, fast cutting and complex audio. Is there something in these aspects that are particularly productive when thinking through ideas about indexicality, circulation and new distribution formats?
Flatness is a materialist reading of how we relate to artifice in our lives. I'm interested in reflexive practices which address the means and conditions of production (which, as I have said, I also try to do in the curating of these works). In Flows (2013) by Jason Dungan, the movements of the camera give a sense of the artist’s physical presence both beyond the screen and nearby. As viewers we follow the patterns of what he's looking at, similar to how one can trace an artist's brush stroke on a painting.
This approach has its roots in structuralist filmmaking, a consciously amateurish (in the best sense of the word), analytical approach to filmmaking. In one sense, this artistic movement continues within YouTube, but also ends there as the photographic index of an image turns into information, a list of 1s and 0s, and thus the nature of the analysis also transforms. Flatness follows this paradigmatic transition, from the layers of materiality of artists' cinema—with bodies sitting together in the same room as the whirring film projector—to in-computer filmmaking with the potential for media to be transmitted easily and quickly to an unlimited online audience. This temporal shift is exemplified in the contrasting sense of duration of a finite recording and the constantly updated news feed, of which the latter I think creates the conditions for circular narratives and non-representational modes of expression.
In his recent book Anywhere and Not at All Peter Osborne writes about how the abstraction of exchange value from use value finds its equivalent visual form in the "infinite field" of the digital image. He suggests that this gives rise to "a simultaneous abundance of historical representations and a scarcity of forms of historical consciousness and experience." Through a materialist approach I want to recover the idea of a hand driving the machine, to expose the idea that our phones make us behave a certain way. Phones and drones aren't arbitrary or autonomous! It takes skill to program them, and reasonably, there should be a skill and a politics around using them.
This recovery of a "hand driving the machine" as you put it, is an important aesthetic problem. Some of the works in the Flatness project deal with this via a direct and "standard" filmic language, such Ein Neues Produkt (2011) by Farocki e.g. its use of shot-reverse shot in the first meeting, but this work sheds a lot of the structuralist production you mention. To expand on my previous question, could you talk more about the different strategies employed in revealing these social and political structures, and how they situate themselves in relation to a formal language?
Ein Neues Produkt is an incredible late work by Farocki, without whose films I don’t think we'd be having this conversation. For those who aren't familiar with it, the film offers a rare insight into the practice of future forecasting in commercial consultation whose aim is to optimize business processes and organizational structures, through solutions such as the open-plan office and flexible working. Farocki documents the internal meetings of the firm in such a matter-of-fact way that the situations seem absurd. The point at which one of the consultants suggests offering workers more time off as a way of saving the company money, for example, always provokes incredulous laughter from audiences but Farocki's unblinking eye persists to open out the consultants' bizarre but pervasive logic. In the place of narrative or a script, the speculative talk of his subjects is exposed as the construction within the film, detached from material reality and compassion. It reminds me of Chris Marker's Stopover in Dubai (2011), which also appears to present "just the facts" through the arbitrary viewpoints of CCTV. The two films seem to rest on incidental twists and turns in the real-time narratives without offering a conclusion, leaving interpretation open to the viewer.
I think the persistence of cinematic language is critical in order to contextualize developments in the moving image, as well as online experience in general. Or to Decontextualize them...As I mentioned previously, the sense of liveness as we engage in both is different, namely because cinema isn't navigable like live interaction online. Even in non-interactive situations such as YouTube tutorials and ASMR, the computer screen frames the viewer as the person holding the camera—there's still a sense of intention, agency or intimacy within an encounter that feels quite specific or personal. Across the multiple viewpoints of cinema however, the position of the viewer is more often abstracted from this one-on-one perspective. Significantly, it's the cinema which captures the condition of being watched which, as we know through the bravery of Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, is an unwelcome but otherwise accepted part of our experience of being online. I often return to Chantal Akerman's 1975 film Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles in which her repetitive use of the same fixed camera positions throughout the film typify this persistent gaze. The monumental way she detonates it through what happens in the film is perhaps a lesson we can take on to combat this apathetic acceptance of being watched we've succumbed to. Or, as you've identified in Farocki, we could learn to appropriate different points of view to undermine this power relation.
Flatness seeks to distinguish between a false intimacy of the screen where agency is instrumentalized, and other forms of expression and reception fostered through digital technology.
There are other less-visual and collaborative practices on the Flatness website which use structuralist techniques, such as Manual Labors, a long term research project exploring people’s physical relationship to work. Through experiments such as walking their 9 mile tube journey to work, and slogans such as "Refuse to Adapt," the project aims to locate a more embodied understanding of the structures of work and how one must negotiate them. To me it seems that immaterial labor has very definite material consequences in the world and effects on the body which Manual Labors interrogate brilliantly. Similarly to Flatness, Manual Labors operate as a web archive and a series of live events including reading groups and symposia. One particularly memorable meeting was held at the HSBC offices in Canary Wharf, where we made close readings of texts on the "rebel body" and "managed heart" by Silvia Federici and Arlie Hochschild. When art practice serves as a proto-form of affective labor—its passions and inventions captured as self-exploitation and entrepreneurialism—it becomes vital to discuss the ethics of what we do in order to imagine a role for art in the future.
Harun Farocki, Ein Neues Produkt (2012)
Curatorially, is a task you are forced to take up producing "neutral" or algorithmically unfettered online spaces to distribute work? There is something incredibly exciting about trying to create a distribution system in this way. What do you have planned for the future?
Not forced so much as fascinated by! I see my curatorial practice as a feedback process evolving over time, akin to the way learning and social relationships develop. As I've suggested, my values align with the potential of networks of exchange shaping the fabric of communication in society (over commodification, which tends to stultify this instinct). With this in mind I turn to the work of cyberneticists such as Norbert Weiner (who coined the term "cybernetics"), Gregory Bateson and Ella Siatta who study the science of control and communication in humans and machines, drawing conceptual parallels between engineering and the nervous system as related, self-reflexive networks. So far, Flatness as a neologism has contained this kind of distributive system within itself—i.e. there is no single or correct interpretation of the concept and it becomes a challenge to limit its scope.
Systems are far from autonomous however. Weiner was concerned about the power of Cybernetics, particularly in warfare where ethical human decisions become outsourced to Machines as is happening with drone technology. Here machines can accelerate the worst Aspects of the human character. Trolling and negging are other cases where feedback can be a dead-end, contributing towards an abject conformity.
Currently, I'm working on a way to make the project more decentralized and collective. A structure like this would allow me to carry on with my own particular research in collaboration with a number of key practices and materials, while being less controlling over how the project develops. The intention would be to broaden the range of responses that come back, slowing down and adding complexity to the process of automation from A to B we've come to expect. One way is to invite other researchers to curate their own sections of the site, and for them to invite people and so on. I can then imagine my work taking place in the overlaps, or points of exchange between the different networks created, as well as in the anomalies which are so often smoothed out by algorithms engaged in positive feedback. I agree with Siatta who said recently that the current system for producing beauty is not a very beautiful thing. I like this idea of an internal logic or integrity projecting affects. In the same way, Stephen Willat's proposition is that "[a] work of art could consist of a process in time, a learning system through which the concepts of the social view forwarded in the work are accessed and internalized." Flatness can be read in feminist terms of flat hierarchies and a shared surface, where essentialist categories are discounted in the formation of critically engaged and engaging socialities. Similarly to how Bateson talks about the artist being a self-aware cybernetic system, the components of a website, event or exhibition—the works, their mapping and visitors to the exhibition—could be one too.
Curated by Shama Khanna, "Flatness: Index," a screening of 16mm films and videos by Holly Antrum, Rose Kallal, Duncan Marquiss, Lisa Oppenheim, and Nino Pezzella, will be held tonight at Microscope Gallery (1329 Willoughby Avenue, #2B Brooklyn, New York 11237), at 7:30pm.
For his contribution to the ongoing online exhibition "Brushes," presented by Rhizome and the New Museum as part of the First Look series, artist Andrej Ujhazy presents a large-scale (70MB, 15120x7560 pixel) digital painting created in Adobe Photoshop, presented as a png file that can be viewed or downloaded here.
Detail of Andrej Ujhazy, congress of the sarmatian women by the black sea to dissolve the amazonian tribes and withdraw from history, aug1 333 (after Total War: Atilla™).png (2015), Photoshop painting, 15120 × 7560 pixels.
Andrej Ujhazy undertook this work while playing a video game from the Total War series that features massive armies fighting in grandiose landscapes during the late Roman Empire. Ujhazy set out to make an epic historical painting in the traditional sense, drawing inspiration from the videogame and from the underlying history it represented, but working from a contemporary cultural reference point. The tribe Ujhazy was playing in the game was the Sarmatians, a central Asian people for whom women played an important role in warfare; they were described by Herodotus as the descendants of Amazon mothers. Thus, the painting was partly an intervention into the narrative of the game and into videogame culture as a whole, emphasizing the role played by women in both.
However, the work departs markedly from the game's photorealistic style, introducing gestural digital brushwork that bridges the gap between historical epic and personal expression, between the academic style often favored by online art communities that Ujhazy participates in and the language of gestural abstraction.
Ujhazy's use of extreme scale turns the image into a kind of navigable virtual world. The image is best explored by zooming in to navigate through the many scenes and passages that unfold within it, and zooming back out again to understand how these elements relate to a pictorial whole. Thus, scale allows the painting to be experienced as a richly layered narrative. Whereas in Laura Brothers' work, a temporal dimension to the work is introduced via vertical scrolling on a serially updated blog, and in Cortright's via animated video and gif, the temporality of Ujhazy's painting is based on navigation through a still image.
The latest in a series of interviews with artists who have a significant body of work that makes use of or responds to network culture and digital technologies.
Shawné Michaelain Holloway, snow white LQQKS by black bitch_latergram (2015)
Self-representation is a recurring theme of internet-based art, one that you approach from a specific perspective: as a queer, black, [self-described] privileged individual. In your Cam-Era work, you perform this identity within the Camgirl business. How did the power dynamics of this environment affect the work you were making at the time?
Power dynamics affected this work not because of the power of the people or the culture inside, but the power of the people and the culture outside looking in. I feel ashamed that I see these spaces as a playground where I get to construct my own fantasies and control my environment. In a lot of ways I am excited about this non-corporal freedom I gain there—like sexually excited. We all want something intangible that we can't have and there's always these fucked up political connotations that are attached to these desires. I use these people online just as much as they're using me and I’m secretly really happily ashamed of that. I use people online because I can't bring myself to do it IRL. See the connections? I think my way of somehow ritualistically absolving myself of this shame is by producing these videos. The product for me is a kind of stain, and I think the footage reflects it—it is all really dark and self-aware in this way. My piece, nothing_fucking_matters_II: cuter on the internet.mp4 (2014), is an animated second-self portrait that’s on the surface very tongue in cheek and feels familiar, aesthetically, but these clips of me are all selections of moments that gross me out a bit when I watch them. I can see a kind of blind enjoyment there that I generally don’t get offline in sexual situations, and that makes me both angry and giddy.
Shawné Michaelain Holloway, nothing_fucking_matters_II cuter on the internet_mp4 (2014)
My fantasy-fetish for control and power over my representation is constantly being fulfilled by my occupation (or is it a hobby? I don't know.) When I feel like my game is strong and people are responding in the way I’ve organized them to, it’s simultaneously the most unhinged and highest feeling I am able to experience. There's also another layer though, playing this black femme domme goddess online is affirming my fears about being not enough of a black femme domme goddess in real life—and this is a real problem for me because I shouldn't have to feel like that. My feelings about being mixed race and being raised not to see color are complicated.
Literally though, it tickles me to see the control aspect extending to everything. This is where my educated New Media MFA eye begins and my masochistic, animal self that's instinctively navigating this community stops. The control thing is even exaggerated by the very UX of the job; built into all the sights are the little wysiwyg style customization capabilities of the "about me" pages, the culture of competition for finding the most creative activities you can run with your audiences, the Amazon wishlist culture, and the endless options you can choose from when deciding what type of cam site you want to work for.
Camming seems like a very straightforward system to monetize the ever-present male gaze. While being part of a market for the visualization of bodies, you stayed in control of your image by drawing boundaries when it came to nudity, and by having a critical perspective. What was your process like when translating your experiences into your video and jpeg work?
It's true, camming is a super straightforward way of monetizing the male gaze; but personally, thinking about it in this way implies a kind of revenge, and that's not what I want to communicate. Depending on how you want look at it, I'm simply monetizing my labor (both physical or emotional) and I believe this is an even more feminist motivation. Somehow I feel I'm entitled to compensation for this, so I simply go out and I take it. 100% of the footage in my early artwork has been paid for, and I think there's an interesting connection there, too. Does that say something about feeling entitled to being compensated for the time I spend making art too? Maybe.
Again, everyone talks about what's expected of the girls inside the community and how fucked the things are that they/we do for money. I get that, but for me, it is less about those questionable interactions (that do happen—I’m not denying that) when I am #LIVE than what happens immediately afterwards: when I am quiet, sitting on the couch in this intentionally location-less mess of a workspace (depressing), in my corsets or wigs or whatever (complete fakery, all for the very real purpose of feeling like an idealized self). The voices begin to creep in and tell me that what I am doing isn't ok and that I should be ashamed, either because: I'm a slut if I like what I'm doing, that I'm over-educated to be doing this kind of work (because it is work—hard work), that my family wouldn't love me anymore if they found out, etc. THIS is really effect of the slut-shame-y power dynamics of the external world that I feel most complicated about.
a_personal_project, IV: password protected thaumatrope, security measures for a caged bird.mov (2014) discusses this in detail. This is literally just a letter to myself—if I begin to become reliant on the performance of this identity—to come down and realize that I don't really need it. Exploration and experimentation is ok but when it becomes a requirement to retain my self-confidence rather than a product of my self-confidence, well—then, I really need to realize that. In that nightmare, there is something really very wrong —that I've managed to become the caged bird and all my control is lost.
Since making this work, I’ve stopped camming and I haven’t created that same kind of work again. There’s a noticeable decrease in overt sexuality with my more recent work, which has been mostly explorations of racial identities and real time sound performance [Cassion].
Shawné Michaelain Holloway, a_personal_project, IV password protected thaumatrope, security measures for a caged bird_mov (2014)
In your series Picking Skin you deal with the readjustment of your racial identity when you relocated from Chicago to Paris, and your sudden willingness to insert yourself into a specific Black Cannon/Legacy. Can you talk more about this work and the experiences that led to it?
The work of Lorraine O'Grady really helped me find my identity in Paris. Suddenly, I had to think about defining myself within a space where I not only felt invisible but, since I didn't speak a word of French, it was like I'd lost my ability to adopt a new culture or connect with hidden ones. In Chicago, I think I was hiding out in a subculture of artists where I could be queer, American, mixed race, boi, whatever—it didn't matter. At home, I didn't have to interact with people who didn't accept that. In Paris, I became forced to zoom out and interact with a public. I was totally fresh off the boat and I found quickly that my American-ness was the last thing helping me navigate, but my blackness did. I began looking for myself in others and all of a sudden I realized I belonged in this society in a different way than I did at home. I wasn't the only black person in the room or on the train; I wasn't even the only mixed person.
I was well into this process when I first saw Miscegenated Family Album by Lorraine O'Grady. I identified (and still do!) so profoundly with the one-to-one comparisons it offers. The fact that it is called a "Family Album" also seems really fitting. My images, created in her established methodology, exist as an extension or an addition to a real extended family with a #real #extended legacy: the legacy of womyn, of black womyn; while trying to uncover potential for any hidden connections in the process.
Shawné Michaelain Holloway, Miscegenated-Family-Album_Sisters-II (2015)
Shawné Michaelain Holloway, Miscegenated-Family-Album_Progress-of-Queens (2015)
Each piece is a diptych, and in an interview O'Grady describes the diptych as being a "typical form for bicultural people." This is one obvious way of representing relationships that helped me zoom in to small details like eyes or shoulders, facial expressions and small gestures. Unlike O'Grady though, sometimes my work pushes the definition of family. 2SYSTRS.PHOTOlib is a series in which I make a direct comparison between parts of the porn star Skin Diamond and parts of myself. Here, I try to play the power dynamics out a bit: for me, comparing the self to idolized sculptures is great, so I picked the kind of "sculptures" that I idolize—porn stars. I’m always looking for union and familiarity in the seemingly unattainable—sisterhood especially. Following the exploration with O'Grady, I became adamant about starting a conversation with these women whose work I study so closely. Carrie Mae Weems is another one I align myself with. I make remakes of Mirror Mirror at least once a week. This one and this one were the first two, and they have evolved over time into abstractions like this.
It's interesting how it's a sort of digital trespassing—a very loving one—in which you use the lo-fi/widely available tools of digital production to introduce yourself in this upper echelon of black female artists. It's also very different from your previous work, but still very identity-based. How do you see these new works fitting within the whole of your practice?
This new series is not so different to me. I made the cam girl stuff when I was just figuring out what art meant to me and how I could use the tools I already had to make it. Everything I've ever created is about having or understanding a shared experience and/or having my interpretation of an experience contribute to some subcategory of collective memory. I told Kimberly Drew that "everything that I've made is one singular artwork," and I maintain that.
In my earlier work, I was talking about a feminist memory, and now I’m talking about a black memory. My aesthetic and medium choices are fluid so that doesn’t even factor into it for me; if I never made another video or image again it would be fine as long as I’m creating and responding to what’s out there. "There," for me, happens to be web right now, but tomorrow it could be IRL in the middle of a field. Regardless of the content of my work, my intention is to say "there’s more than one way to be. Here: let me add to this context because I don't see what I want to see already represented."
Most of all, I really wish I could talk to these women I've mentioned. Instead of reaching out, I staged an interview with Carrie Mae Weems based on a video I saw. Every question she asked, I answered in effort to self-evaluate and to align myself with that particular arts tradition. I also put myself next to her in works like this.
As I move forward with Picking Skin, however, I do realize I need to reach out and interact more. My super dream project is to realize one of the O'Grady reworks in a video in creative collaboration with Shine Louise Houston and in performative collaboration with Skin Diamond. I'm tired of waiting around for someone to realize that I'm black and I'm making art and I've got something to say. I'm #OutHere, you know.
Shawné Michaelain Holloway, 2SYSTRS.PHOTOlib (2015)
Location: Chicago, IL in heart / Paris, France with my body
Where did you go to school? What did you study?
I went to Shimer College where I studied under the great books curriculum with a focus on Political Science. Then, I got my BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where I focused on Film, Video, New Media, and Animation. Now, I'm working on a Master's degree with The New School's Design and Technology program at Parsons Paris.
How/when did you begin working creatively with technology?
In my second year at SAIC, I knew nothing about media or technology and accidentally rolled up into a class with jonCates and Daniel Eisenberg. I thought it would be easy but it blew my brain apart and I became convinced that I needed to add to this history, so I began the next semester taking 18 credit hours full of cinema studies and glitch art themed classes.
What do you do for a living or what occupations have you held previously?
Most notably, I was a sex educator. I taught sex technique classes and entertained ladies with blowjob secrets and flirty dating tips at bachelorette parties. Now, I'm taking a few months off to travel and focus on academics.
What does your desktop or workspace look like? (Pics or screenshots please!)
The original Mike Builds a Shelter (1983) for "GOVERNMENT APPROVED HOME FALLOUT SHELTER AND SNACK BAR" at Castelli Graphics
"Hardware-based restoration—that's nasty business."
Unsurprisingly, this is not an uncommon remark from my colleague Dragan Espenschied, who has staked a path for Rhizome in emulation-based restoration instead. And yet there the two of us were on Tuesday, June 9, at Light Industry, excited to see some impressively nasty hardware courtesy artist/curator/programmer/musician Paul Slocum.
At the front of the packed screening room sat two hardware-based versions of Mike Builds a Shelter, a 1983 videogame by artist Mike Smith, computer graphics designer Dov Jacobson, and programmer Reza Keshavarz. One was a touched-up original Commodore 64 (C64) plugged into a small CRT TV and connected to a coin door and a joystick. The other was Slocum's most current homebrew re-make—a small box which contained a C64 on a chip, modified for stability and other improvements such as the ability to output to a flat-screen like the one attached, with a modern power brick that can take international voltages, connected to a coin door and a joystick. Both versions fed into cherry red KRK speakers, and both required a quarter to run, which Light Industry generously provided. (The coin slot was unboxed, so the single coin just fell out, ready to be reused! #freeculture)
Courtesy Dragan Espenschied's Twitter, two versions of Mike Builds a Shelter. L: Slocum's homebrew. R: Original retouched
The three had developed Mike Builds a Shelter as part of an installation for a 1983 exhibition by Smith at Castelli Graphics, NYC, GOVERNMENT APPROVED HOME FALLOUT SHELTER AND SNACK BAR; this comprised a build-out of the titular shelter, and the videogame in a custom, upright arcade cabinet. In the game, air sirens blast, and a pixel version of Smith's recurring dopey, tv-dadish "Mike" is charged with moving three blocks from the 1st floor of a suburban house to its basement to create a fallout shelter before the bomb hits (spoiler: it's impossible to win).
The installation "GOVERNMENT APPROVED HOME FALLOUT SHELTER AND SNACK BAR" at Castelli Graphics in which Mike Builds a Shelter was originally shown
In 1983, images from the game would be translated into a short Spectacolor lightboard composition for the Public Art Fund's long-running "Messages to the Public" program in Times Square. Clips of it would also feed into a later video work, also called Mike Builds a Shelter (1985), which features "Mike" hosting a variety of lifestyle tv shows in his government approved home fallout shelter—and then maybe dying of radiation poisoning. (Documentation of the lightboard and the entire video were screened at Light Industry.)
At the event, Slocum explained how he became interested in Mike Builds a Shelter when researching "Reset/Play," a show about artist-made videogames that he co-curated with Marcin Ramocki for Arthouse, Austin in 2008. In the intervening years between its original exhibition and Slocum's planning, Smith had tossed the cabinet and much of the gaming system, saving only crucial components. Working with the C64 community, Slocum was able to reassemble what Smith had, and then have the cabinet remade based on archival images, presenting Mike Builds a Shelter in the exhibition and, later, at the 2014 Frieze Art Fair in London.
Slocum's restored Mike Builds a Shelter for Dan Gunn, Berlin, at the 2014 Frieze Art Fair in London
From the evening's conversations, it became clear that the videogame Mike Builds a Shelter was at once characteristic of its time and noticeably divergent. As an artwork it related to many of its peers, and not just in its aesthetic—pop artificiality rended by mass culture abjection and absurdity (think Kelley, McCarthy, and Leavitt). From the vantage of 2015, it's easy to downplay the specter of nuclear annihilation in the early 1980s, and the intensity of the resulting anti-war, anti-nuclear, and anti-Regan sentiment and solidarity, especially among the downtown NYC scene of which Smith was a part.
Mike Builds a Shelter, and its host installation, may have been wry reflections of patriotic paranoia against the "Evil Empire," but they were no less political for their tone. In fact, the entire installation would tour, after Castelli, with seemingly dissonant, particularly blunt works by Nancy Spero, Bruce Fichter, and others in a New Museum exhibition called "The End of the World: Contemporary Visions of the Apocalypse." (The diversity of anti-war art in the early 80s remains a reminder of how unfairly caricatured this type of "message work" can be.)
As a videogame, Mike Builds a Shelter suggested new horizons for the form as much as it reflected technological limits and emerging trends in the gaming field. In his lecture, Slocum presented a number of slides which put the work in context:
Cold War video games pic.twitter.com/Wf3XbEYlGP— Dragan Espenschied (@despens) June 10, 2015
Early anti/weird/arty games from the 1980s pic.twitter.com/JFrkQtEI9M— Dragan Espenschied (@despens) June 10, 2015
Smith, Jacobson, and Keshavarz had made a typical arcade game in the input (the joystick and form-factor), the narrative itself (a character completing a simple, motion-based task against a static background), and the backdrop (broadly, the cold war). Yet a 1983 game player would immediately recognize something was wrong with Mike Builds a Shelter. Even then, they would sense it was deliberately difficult to control; that gameplay was excruciatingly slow and the input inexact. They would have felt the game was illogical—at one point a fire breaks out, and though you can stamp it out, it doesn't hurt you or anything—oddly boring (you're a guy walking up steps, not some kind of superhero), and, after a few rounds, that it was obviously impossible to "win."
The excruciatingly slow gameplay of Mike Builds a Shelter
Though it may look like 8-bit banality to contemporary eyes, to a player in 1983 would have looked noticeably different, too. Due to technical limitations and arcade tropes, a player might have expected a black background, a space-like futurity and nothingness. Instead, Mike Builds a Shelter is set in a colorful and notably domestic space. (In his research, Slocum had found only one contemporaneous game set in a home—the unfortunately titled Sneak'n Peek for the Atari 2600, a hide-and-go-seek simulator. :-| ) And while there existed other arty and weird games in 1983, none married their experimental gameplay to popular gaming aesthetics (and their nascent ideologies). In his 2008 exhibition and at Light Industry, Slocum was confident in calling Mike Builds a Shelter the first art videogame, with all that identification entails.
"Mike" in the 1985 video Mike Builds a Shelter
"Mike" in the 1983 videogame Mike Builds a Shelter (from Slocum's website)
Between the game, the video, Slocum's talk, and a closing conversation with Smith and Jacobson, it was evident that not only was Mike Builds a Shelter a seminal art videogame, but that it remains a piercing and sophisticated art videogame. In form-factor, gameplay, and affect, this work for C64 adapts Smith's "Mike" perfectly. Here he is—not just in image, but in action. Here he is—stumbling slowly up and down steps at a pace that will never suffice. Here's "Mike"—all plodding, all bourgeois fussiness, all white-collar ineptitude, making a mockery of all our general vulnerability and defenselessness at the will of brutality, violence, and the state.
Nasty business, indeed.
Earlier this month, the artist and DullTech CEO Constant Dullaart launched a Kickstarter to crowd-source the company's first product. The DullTech media player is a product that promises to simplify the installation of single- and multi-channel video work. The device works by playing and looping the first video file found on a USB-drive on any monitor or television without concern for file format, remote controls, or syncing screens. Considering the artist's previous works, which often focused on the conditions of art viewership within online networks and galleries, the concept for this device is both humorously apt and much-needed to solve the hassles of installation.
Those who I have spoken with outside of the arts, however, have raised doubts concerning the ethics of the Kickstarter campaign and the product. Dulltech began while the artist was on a 2012 residency in Shenzhen, South China, a region known as "The Silicon Valley of Hardware." At that time, the company and product were a way for the artist to get into to an original equipment manufacturer (O.E.M.) to see the working conditions of Chinese laborers. After artists expressed excitement about the convenience of the product, Dullaart and his colleagues decided to go into actual production with the factory. Though the O.E.M. Dullaart used for this project, the Taiwanese manufacturer RealTek, does not have any reported violations, mentioning Chinese labor often elicits discomfort due to the 2010 suicides at Foxconn's Shenzhen factory and several reports by the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights and other watchdog organizations concerning working conditions, employee exhaustion, and contract terminations due to work-related illness.
DullTech's Kickstarter video
By highlighting the incongruity between clean digital branding strategies and depictions of the manufacturing labor that enables them, the DullTech Kickstarter video baits this response. Produced for under $200 through the website Fiver, the video abruptly contrasts sharpie-drawn cartoons of white people assembling puzzle pieces (depicting the product's concepts) with photographs of the O.E.M.'s workers and engineers as well as e-waste and the smog-filled landscape of Shenzhen; the perky, jargon-filled narration and a ukulele and glockenspiel soundtrack only heighten one's feeling of disquiet.
The DullTech media player
On account of this response, one is left to consider the relationship between digital artists and the conditions of global labor. In McKenzie Wark's 2014 essay "Designs for a New World," the author stresses that artists, as hackers, are able to desegregate the division between their practices and other forms of labor, citing the protests of Google buses and Andrew Norman Wilson's video essay "Workers Leaving the Googleplex." For Dullaart, however, gaining access even to view the conditions of labor means operating within its stratification as a business. Similar to other migrant laborers in the region, those who Dullaart and his colleagues interviewed prior to contracting the O.E.M. came from rural areas in China to Shenzhen because of their desire to be middle class, the higher wages available compared with local agricultural labor in their hometowns and the factory's provision of room and board as well as some benefits. Despite the unsettling reaction to Chinese factories, when one criticizes the product for using the labor in Shenzhen, one also criticizes the products that form the infrastructure of the web. 90% of the world's electronics are produced in the region, and, as the Guardian put it, "the phones that fuelled the Arab spring were soldered in the back streets of Shenzhen."
Dullaart with enginer "Eagle" who developed the DullTech media player
In addition to being a convenient product that "just works," because of Dullaart's documentation of the manufacturing process in his sales pitch, the DullTech video and product bring the conditions of the modern factory into the economies of creative digital production, highlighting the dependence on this type of labor shared by artists, the white cube, and Kickstarter itself. In so doing, it points out a disconcerting double bind: the ability to observe and critique this process seems to belong solely to those who enable it.
The DullTech Kickstarter campaign ends tomorrow. To enable it, pledge here.
DullTech Kickstarter video still
Photo: Sheiva Rezvani
Rhizome is pleased to announce that Zachary Kaplan, formerly our Assistant Director, has been appointed the organization's new Executive Director.
Zach has spent the last two years at Rhizome contributing to the organization's programs, strategic planning, and development, successfully managing events like Seven on Seven, benefits and campaigns, and external affairs. He is editor of the organization's forthcoming publication The Born-Digital Art Institution, a collection of essays exploring the relationship between art institutions and digital networks. Zach came to Rhizome from the Renaissance Society in Chicago, where he worked in development, and before that from the Education Department at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.
He takes this position at an exciting time here. The coming months will bring a 20th anniversary, the launch of a redesigned rhizome.org, new field-leading initiatives for Rhizome's award-winning digital preservation program, the 8th edition of the flagship art-meets-tech Seven on Seven series, and continued development of its artistic programs, not least via First Look, an online exhibition series copresented by Rhizome and the New Museum.
Here's a note from Zach:
In my two years here, I've seen the impact of Rhizome's work on the artists we support, on the fields of research we lead, and on the art and technology communities we bring together. I'm grateful for the support of my colleagues, and look forward to working with them to continue to evolve this organization.
Following in the footsteps of my predecessor Heather Corcoran, I'm honored to lead Rhizome as we look ahead to our 20th anniversary and beyond.
For his contribution to the ongoing online digital painting exhibition "Brushes," presented by Rhizome and the New Museum as part of the First Look series, artist Jacob Ciocci presents a series of gifs from his New Expressions series. The gifs are viewable on the front page of rhizome.org through Oct 4 and permanently on the online exhibition page.
The gifs are made by printing material from the internet, gluing, collaging and painting it, scanning the result back into the computer, animating it digitally, and repeating. He has applied this practice to works that are shown onscreen, such as these GIFs, while also creating objects for gallery display, some of which incorporate video projection into the work.
The gifs shown here were first published as part of an essay on the web authoring and publishing platform NewHive in which he presented them as part of a step-by-step tutorial with the title "How to Make an Expression." The title played on the incongruity between the ideal of free creative expression and the seeming rigidity of a howto; Ciocci described the NewHive project to art blog Hyperallergic as an attempt to create his own artistic rules that mirrored the (often unacknowledged) rules that are applied to creativity by, on the one hand, online platforms like NewHive, and on the other, by craft stores like Michael's or JoAnn's. Ciocci has an ambivalent relationship with such rules, at once acknowledging how much he appreciates the freedom they offer while urging himself in his own practice to "think outside the box," a personal mantra he has embraced since his days as a member of the influential Paper Rad collective in the mid-2000s.
A solo show of Ciocci's work on view in Brooklyn, New York at Interstate Projects through October 25; read Nicholas O'Brien's review for Rhizome here.
For more on Ciocci's work, see his Artist Profile. For more on his work as part of the band Extreme Animals, see Brian Droitcour's review of their 2014 DVD release. Paper Rad's work extremeanimalz, which is about "animals going nuts," can be found in the Rhizome Artbase. An archive of Paper Rad's website as of 2008 can also be found in the Artbase.
The latest in a series of interviews with artists who have a significant body of work that makes use of or responds to network culture and digital technologies.
Julia Weist, Reach (2015) at 107-37 Queens Blvd, Forest Hills, New York
Reach, your first public artwork, a billboard produced 14 x 48, is up on Queens Boulevard. Can you talk about that work and your thinking about the connection between public art and the public space online?
Reach is a billboard featuring an analog word that I made digital. This word was used in print in the 1600s, but rarely since and never online until earlier this year when I created a single search result for it. I worked carefully with Google's Webmaster Search Console to control the crawl and index of a webpage I made, after some missteps with DNS, nav menu, and even permalink indexing that created multiple hits for the word. The Reach webpage includes a short text about the enduring value of emptiness as well as some strong language requesting that no one else use this word anywhere else online.
The project is really an experiment in the viability of singularity on the internet, but also an attempt to render a digital impression physically. When the billboard goes up, I'll plug in a lamp in my home that will turn on each time the webpage is visited (through a series of interconnecting scripts, a circuit board, and an internet-enabled outlet).
We're all pretty familiar with the idea of sharing a lone experience—think a solo hike in the middle of the wilderness—with scores of non-present entities online. But what we're less familiar with is the case where hundreds of thousands of people experience the same thing in real life, but create no shared digital footprint. I'm interested in the fragility of that proposition, and in measuring the project's progress through a domestic indicator.
Screengrab of the Google search result for the Reach project (2015)
Speaking of Google, what's the status of that Haim Steinbach piece called and to think it all started with a mouse (1995/2004), the Google search results of which you modified as part of your project After, About, With (2013–15)?
I'm no longer actively manipulating the search results for Haim Steinbach as I was in 2013–14, but the content I produced as part of that project still represents a majority of the sites returned on page one for and to think it all started with a mouse. During that year I worked with art writers and curators (and I also created my own online material) to weight the reading of mouse toward a viable, but deliberate, consensus of interpretation: this work is about Walt Disney. The intervention contextualized a typographic coincidence that I discovered in relation to his font choice—Apple Garamond—that I teased out in an homage.
I honestly never thought it would be so easy to control the "meaning" of another artist's work in an online environment, but it only required exploiting a simple algorithmic principle: recent, widely dispersed, corroborative material is likely to be "accurate" and of interest. Distributed homogeneity is privileged by engines, privileged content is more likely to proliferate, and personalization/localization frameworks further promote information that's similar to information that's already been viewed. A dangerous echo chamber? Maybe. A powerful medium for artists? Certainly.
The days of the Disney ruse are numbered, though. Since the first of the year I've done a lot to contextualize the repeated readings. I published an artist book and have exhibited After, About, With twice (it's currently on view at Witte de With, Rotterdam). This article too will become part of that page one majority, especially since we've used Steinbach's name and the title of the piece several times already; but unlike the other references, these pieces are expository and big picture. The search results are shifting away from the fabricated "truthscape" and toward a new context that simply links my work with his.
Part of me was hoping that once Steinbach became aware of the project (through an exhibition we did together) he would fight back to reclaim his page one results. I imagined him hosting a series of his own carefully worded interviews where he discussed many different intentions for the work. So far that hasn't happened, but we'll see.
Julia Weist, After, About, With (2013-15)
Are you interested in longevity? So much of your work engages the internet as a constantly shifting site of meaning, and I wonder about your approach to this constant push-pull of changing readings.
I'm interested in creating an accurate portrait of longevity, as it pertains to both physical and digital meaning. Over the past nine years I've developed a collection of books discarded from American public libraries through routine processes to replace out-of-date information. This exercise proves that both online and offline meaning is so much a question of access. The word used in the Reach project was defined in context as two connected ropes, each with a noose on both ends. I take that as truth, partly because I know I will probably never find the word used anywhere else ever again. But you will take it as truth as well, because I've authored this meaning in several places and without challenge.
After, About, With culminated in an artist's book. You also wrote a (sexy!) novel and produce a lot of text around your works, which oftentimes has a very particular, almost romantic voice. How do you see the role of writing in your work? How does that relate to your background in library science?
I really enjoy writing and I find that it's often the only way to share the beginning, middle, and end of the very long-term and complicated projects I undertake. It's a part of my process that I look forward to, but I did find writing a romance novel very, very challenging. I like to write swift punches to the gut, a form of verse that is very much at home online, but more complex as a long-form style.
The library where I used to work was New York City's oldest lending library and it had incredible circulation records for some of New York's first avid readers. I remember noticing that John Jay's account had three consecutive checkouts of a three-volume novel called The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle and that he had read Arabian Nights and Don Quixote. It's hard to see that and not want to write in a way that moves people, where you can, within a visual practice. One of the things that I love most about sharing artwork online is how easy and natural it is to pair imagery with text, and I try to take advantage of that.
Julia Weist, With (detail, 2013)
You use Google extensively in your work, both as a medium—After, About, With includes "search result set" as part of the caption, and the impetus for Reach was, in a way, to depart from Google sphere—and as primary resources for Industry vs. Machine (2015, which was commissioned for an issue of Red Hook Journal that I edited), which looks at the way the Google In-depth results may or may not construct a canon. What are some of the questions, complications, and possibilities that Google poses to you?
In another interview a few years ago I called the collection of the New York Public Library an "alternative exhibition space," and to a certain extent I now feel that way about Google, too. The beauty of the Reach project is that it's a piece anyone can explore, if they have the right password. And of course it's thrilling to try to work the system, to beat the engine at its own game for your own particular ends.
It's been said that there's a hierarchy from data to information to knowledge and wisdom. Increasingly we're interfacing with the bottom tiers of that hierarchy through tools that have only limited, if any, embedded ethics. Exploiting, visualizing, and departing from that sphere are the ways I know for how to test those limits.
Julia Weist, Industry vs. Machine: Canonization, Localization, and the Algorithm (information visualization commissioned by CCS Bard for the Red Hook Journal, 2014)
Location: Brooklyn, NY and Durham, NY
How/when did you begin working creatively with technology?
My dad was an early Mac user who was excited about the creative potential of technology. He shared that passion with me from a young age. When I was in fifth grade we made a video together to accompany a report I was writing on the Loch Ness Monster. It showed Nessie swimming lazily in a lake in southwestern Connecticut, through the magic of early CGI!
Where did you go to school? What did you study?
I have a Bachelors of Fine Art from the Cooper Union and a Masters of Library & Information Science from Pratt Institution. I believe that the Cooper Union should return to a free education model or close. Nothing in between.
What do you do for a living, or what occupations have you held previously?
I'm an artist and an Information Scientist (at Whirl-i-gig, New York). Previously I was a librarian, a photo editor for biographical encyclopedias, and an artist's assistant for Janine Antoni and Spencer Finch. One of the best jobs I ever had was when I was 17 and I started my own business selling local baked goods at a farmer's market. I faced a few pie-related ethical dilemmas, which lead me to write to the old New York Times ethicist, Randy Cohen. We exchanged a few emails back and forth (btw, firstname.lastname@example.org) but I concealed the fact that I was a teenager.
What does your desktop or workspace look like? (Pics or screenshots please!):
I'm currently renovating a new shared studio space with my husband, artist Andrés Laracuente, but I often work in front of a computer with my dog Fischer by my side.
The latest in a series of interviews with artists who have a significant body of work that makes use of or responds to network culture and digital technologies.
Olivia Erlanger x Ned Siegel x NanoCorp, Suggestion of a House Slipper, The Refusal to get Dressed, Spending a Season Dreaming of Sunlight only to Prefer it Dark (2014)
Language plays a huge part in your work. The titles of works range from being exploratory—The Space Between My Hand and What it Holds (2014)—to almost explanatory (Olivia Erlanger x NanoCorp x Ned Siegel Suggestion of a House Slipper, The Refusal to get Dressed, Spending a Season Dreaming of Sunlight only to Prefer it Dark. Painted Leather Slippers, 2014), and are always poetic (Everything that Rises Sinks into Mud, 2015). How do you come up with these titles? How do you envision their connection to the work?
A title is a guide.
The first title you mentioned is for a pair of house slippers made out of leather. The show they were included in focused on marketing strategies and the financialization of art, so I wanted to make a reference to the way companies like Nike or Adidas cite their collaborations.
The other part of the title, The Refusal to get Dressed, Spending a Season Dreaming of Sunlight only to Prefer it Dark, is in line with the way I title most of my other works, in what you refer to as a more poetic way. Where this comes from is a mixture of research I had been doing and how I talk to myself about the work. These kind of titles begin to get a bit more evocative and associative —a guide for a certain kind of affect within the work.
Olivia Erlanger, For Quentin (Medium Rare) (2015)
Your work emphasizes its materials and focuses on the object, be it a transformed piece of clothing (cowboy hat, hoodie); a sculpture like a wilted, broken, mini-piano in your recent exhibition, "Dog Beneath the Skin" or the boxlike aluminum-and-glass racks that you presented at Seventeen last year; or and two-dimensional pieces (which also treat the material in a figurative way, and use sculptural materials like resin and aluminum). Yet, all of these photograph amazingly well. Do you plan how these objects are translated into an image? Do you think about how they will circulate online?
I don't make a work thinking of how it would be photographed, though I understand the importance of how images circulate ideas and current ways of making.
I think images of work can be misleading as they are always seductive. The real test of a work is if it can seduce in person.
Actually, It would be great to make an object that is impossible to photograph—a kind of atomic object that is simultaneously there and not there.
What is your research process like? Some of the works seem to refer to current discourses about the anthropocene and the role of objects in our society, but it is never stated outright. I have a feeling you read a lot and then allow the research to slowly be chipped away from the pieces themselves until they find a place in these conversations of their own accord. How do your interests feed the work? How is it independent of these interests?
I read everything from fantasy, such as the EarthSea series and sci-fi, to American Pastoralism, queer theory, and biographies of artists I admire. I do like to read theory and stay with current conversations around the anthropocene, accelerationism, etc.
I have to say I am a bad scientist in the sense that I take only what I need from whatever theory I read, never the whole hypothesis. My work at times references specific things within what I read—for example, Timothy Morton's "hyperobject" was very important to my most recent sculptures at Pilar Corrias and Seventeen, as well as Paul Virilio’s idea of an "integral accident." I want to build my work to a place where the multiplicity of references and specificities of difference can be at once structured and unstructured within the works.
Olivia Erlanger, Floating Loop Strike Back Option (Alternative View) (2015)
Can we talk about time, even a feeling of zeitgeist? Your work is often discussed alongside that of other artists because of your interest in digital technology and the sense of community that your curatorial project, Grand Century (run out of your studio with Dora Budor and Alex Mackin Dolan) brings about. How do you relate to the work of your peers and how large a role does collaboration and curating play in your own practice?
We are all reacting to, or coming out of, a time of general disruption and confusion, and as such many conversations can meld or be related. I don't believe we are creating the Zeitgeist, rather, the zeitgeist is structuring the moment in which we create.
With regard to Grand Century, it has fostered a wonderful community of curators, artists, friends. Being involved in the space definitely helped me get a broader sense of what is happening amongst my peer group. I would say I am most indebted to the project because each curator brought in artists whose work I had never been exposed to before.
Olivia Erlanger, TANSTAAFL (2015)
Before we get to the questionnaire, let me ask you about this format. You've worked quite a bit with the questionnaire, in the book produced as part of "Material Uncertainty" and in your BOMB portfolio(which we worked on together). I want to ask you about questions: Why do you use this structure? What do you find interesting about it?
I like questionnaires because they are ubiquitous, procedural, and seemingly innocuous.
In fact I think the best part, beyond the satisfaction of answering what are usually simple questions, is the spaces that this kind of format recalls—sitting in a doctor's office, renewing your license at the DMV, the beginning of the SATs, or contributing to the Census. A questionnaire's simplicity and directness is actually very suspect, and in that sneakiness it can be exploited easily to elicit ambiguity and some really nice thinking.
Olivia Erlanger, Look, Stranger (2015)
How/when did you begin working creatively with technology?
Do pencils count as technology? If so then some time from 0–3.
Where did you go to school? What did you study?
Lewis and Clark College + Parsons School of Design / Eugene Lang. I graduated with a double major in sculpture and English literature.
What do you do for a living, or what occupations have you held previously?
I've been a florist, gallerina, receptionist, waitress, file manager at a startup and of course a studio assistant. The only career I seem to be able to hold is my own.
What does your desktop or workspace look like? (Pics or screenshots please!):
Joe Hamilton's Indirect Flights is on the front page of rhizome.org through Sunday, as part of the ongoing online digital painting exhibition "Brushes," presented by Rhizome and the New Museum as part of the First Look series.
All of the works in "Brushes" are paintings made on the computer and shown primarily online. The exhibition focuses on works that are derived from an artist's bodily gestures, rather than those that are derived from code-based practices. In the case of Indirect Flights, the brushstrokes in the work are actually sampled from high-resolution scans of landscape paintings by notable historical figures like Van Gogh and Arthur Streeton. Thus, the gestures in this case were made long ago on canvas, and only later translated to digital form.
The brushstrokes are included in a panoramic collage that also includes satellite images, organic textures, and architectural fragments, which can be navigated via a a Google Maps-like interface. I was drawn to the use of found aerial photography as a base for the work and then contrasting it in the foreground with my own close up photographs of raw materials and architecture. A mixture of micro and macro, found and recorded, personal and impersonal.
The work includes sound by J.G. Biberkopf; it was supported by The Moving Museum. A past interview with Hamilton about the work can be read here.
Paloma Dawkins and Cale Bradbury, Alea (customized arcade cabinet and moss controllers at Fantastic Arcade, 2015)
This past week, Fantastic Arcade, an independently curated video games arcade featuring talks, tournaments, and over 45 playable games—part of the Fantastic Fest film festival—was held in Austin's Alamo Drafthouse.
A number of the games at Fantastic Arcade this year featured alternative game controllers. Cat Nips contains stuffed animals whose bellies need to be rubbed; the gameplay in Butt Sniffin' Pugs was controlled by balls that needed to be rolled. Other games used a receipt dispenser and a gun with which one played Russian Roulette. A fair amount of the games, easily accessible in the arcade setup, featured used standard controllers and interfaces, from Playstation controllers to mice and keyboards. The audience was diverse; the only underrepresented group appeared to be X-box players (fun fact: Sony Playstation sponsored Fantastic Arcade).
Perhaps the most innovative and interesting game was Alea, a psychedelic hiking simulator designed by Paloma Dawkins and Cale Bradbury using organic materials as part of the hardware. Alea's gameplay centers on the tension of playing with controllers that are actively deteriorating before the player's eyes. The creators placed real moss over the flex sensors, which began to degrade and die through use as the installation went on. According to Cale Bradbury, the controllers were inspired by William S. Burroughs' Naked Lunch "where [the character] became one with his typewriter" and described the destruction of the moss as "mirroring how people treat nature." Paloma Dawkins remarked that "tech and nature just don’t really go together. Right now, the controllers are getting destroyed and people are frustrated because it’s just so different." The gameplay replicates a particular hiking experience of Dawkins’ while shedding light on the tense and often antagonistic relationship between technological modernity and nature. I was struck by the juxtaposition of a soft plant surface and the technology with which it was integrated, and by the fact that the man-made controller was gradually revealed as the moss degraded through play. Fantastic Arcade's games begged to be touched, hit, smacked, and explored; but the beauty of Alea was that the more it was played, the more the controllers that facilitate play fell apart. The game anticipated—even invited—its own destruction.
Paloma Dawkins and Cale Bradbury, Alea (2015)
As a game, Alea features different levels of colorful, '70s-styleforest, with branches that move according to the rhythm of the player touching the moss controllers. The pace is set by laidback rock and electronica music in the background. Alea was inspired by both Bradbury's interest in net art and a particular trip Dawkins took to the Muir Redwoods Forest. Dawkins, an illustrator and videogame designer, conceived of the game after reflecting on the difference between her and her companions' behavior while hiking: while they moved quickly through the woods, Dawkins fell behind, distracted by the beauty of the trees. "I was trying to keep up… [but] it was such a weird sensation of trying to not fall …and trying to have a connection to where you are," she said.
The rhythm of the gameplay reflects the tension Dawkins experienced on her hike: wanting to take in the surrounding beauty while trying to keep pace all the beats and animations are deliberately programmed pattern loops that repeat over and over, providing a meditative experience for the player.
Of the games I tried at Arcade, Alea did the most to push the boundaries of thematic concepts within gaming. It felt refreshingly earnest and thoughtful, and I hope to see more games that blur the lines between interactive art and gameplay—a rich and under-explored territory within the indie games scene. Alea is a rewarding step in that direction.
Alea co-designer Paloma Dawkins playing the game
PWR, #1 (trustless), 0x9ab9f7a4b85412bfbe2f4f63b1c98808851c4f32, Tongersestraat 42a, Maastricht, NL, 9/10 2015. Photograph of Bitcoin mining rig. Courtesy of the artists.
Thursday, October 22, 2015 at 7pm
at the New Museum, 235 Bowery, NYC
and livestreamed at rhizome.org
Blockchains are distributed databases, secure and transparent by virtue of peer-to-peer communities that cryptographically validate each entry. As the technology behind cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, the blockchain has given rise to divergent speculations about the future of politics and finance outside of direct state control, from collective utopias to sublime dystopias.
Organized by Rhizome's Artistic Director, Michael Connor, "Blockchain Horizons" convenes artists, critics, and entrepreneurs to discuss the cultural implications of this technology for publishing, licensing, and distribution. In doing so, it treats the blockchain as social fact rather than science fiction.
Participants include Kevin McCoy, artist, entrepreneur, and founder of Monegraph, a blockchain-based solution for attributing and distributing art, conceived of at Seven on Seven 2014 and currently a member of NEW INC.; Berlin-based PWR (Hanna Nilsson & Rasmus Svensson), who are developing a decentralized platform for publication and distribution of digital texts; and Rachel O'Dwyer, a Dublin-based researcher and curator with a focus on the political economy of communications, digital currencies and media cultures. In addition, Nora Khan, DeForrest Brown, and The Actual School will present a work-in-progress online project titled Futures Along the Blockchain. Conceived by Lars Holdhus and commissioned by Rhizome, the site convenes an online group discussion about the blockchain and proposes applying it to questions of music distribution.
Rhizome's public programs are made possible, in part, through the support of the Andy Warhol Foundation for Visual Arts, the Carolyn K. Tribe Foundation, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, and the New York State Council on the Arts.