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This past year alone, Rhizome’s editorial team has covered a breathtaking range of topics relating to the intersection of art and technology. Here are several highlights:
Martin Murphy's desktop from Adam Cruces's Desktop Views, featured in Beyond the Surface: 15 Years of Desktop Aesthetics
Photoshopped Sherman Rachel Wetzler considers how we might think of Cindy Sherman’s photography now that she uses Photoshop in her practice.
The Web That Can’t Wait Rahel Aima on the slow web and “FOMO,” considering the speeds with which we process information as we browse the web.
And this is only a small selection of what we published in 2012. We are proud to showcase clear writing and thoughtful commentary in the original essays, interviews, and exhibition reviews we publish daily.
As the editor of Rhizome, I am honored and privileged to work with an outstanding team of writers, who cover stories you will find nowhere else. Please consider making a donation so we may continue as a leading voice on art and technology. Even a small donation will make a great difference.
CAMERON: I wanted to start something like a band but with visual art (but not a collective). Or at least have a Malcolm McLaren type role. I still would like to start a visual art version of Bow Wow Wow. So we started Body by Body, and it was nice to make work that was different from what I did solo. When we started the Aventa Garden series, we needed a writer with a certain tone of voice, so we made Julia Rob3rts who does all the writing for us and about us. In this way, we have our own private economy. She writes all our press releases and sort of plays the 'artist as researcher/digital ethnographer/cyberflaneur' role for us, so we can focus on being symbolic artists and beatniks. This isn't new by any stretch, Pessoa is the first thing that comes to mind...
MELISSA: It was pretty random and not as deliberate as it seems now. Parker (Ito) and Caitlin (Denny) asked me to do something for jstchillin, and at that point I had been out of school for two years and wasn’t really making much work. I said to Cameron, 'I don’t know what to do for this but I think we should make something together and sell it on the site'. Then Cameron suggested we use a pseudonym to identify our collaborative efforts. The name stuck and grew into something else. We started creating other ‘characters’ and giving them a life, but really the pseudonyms function, at least for me, as a psychologically liberating outlet. It helps to not get bogged down in what one thinks they should be making or how it will be perceived – it’s kind of like wearing a Halloween mask (though not so much for purposes of hiding behind). It's an outlet for our multiple personalities to grow so that we don’t second-guess and suffocate the ideas just as they are beginning to coalesce. It also just makes sense to me since my interests change almost daily.
BODY BY BODY: One way to deal with these shifting interests or our reluctance to commit to anything is to work in a similar cycle as fashion houses i.e. Autumn/Winter, Spring/Summer collections.
Your 2010 L00kbook includes a reference to Baudelaire's concept of Spleen: "Thus began Baudelaire's infamous 'Spleen,' that debilitating condition whose symptoms included an excruciating sense that time had been reduced to a crawl, a paralyzing state of hyperstimulation in which it was impossible to be productive." What's the relationship of your work to Spleen?
CAMERON: We have been asked about that quote before, Baudelaire is obviously a source of inspiration for a lot of artists for various reasons. Specifically to your question, I would say our work relates to Spleen in several ways: for one, there is our tendency to just watch people and things and to use what's immediate as subject matter. In the past we've taken mushrooms or acid and then picked a random destination. Last time it was Chelsea: we sat in some cafe, and there was this 90 year old woman sitting there writing in a notebook. She looked like a skeleton but at this hip Chelsea cafe with Depeche Mode's "Never Let Me Down" playing. That song juxtaposed with this corpse surrounded by these young dancing waiters. We were laughing and crying. Also, there is one chapter in Spleen, about him dropping this flower pot on someone's head from his window on purpose, I think about that a lot. Lastly, Baudelaire was concerned with details, and we are too.
MELISSA: I wouldn’t say that there is a direct correlation between our work and Baudelaire’s use of the word ‘spleen’ -- signifying everything that is typically considered wrong with the world. I think we read Baudelaire in a more holistic way -- his words are timeless and elegantly point out the dichotomous truths in life. Our work is however subject to a plethora of schizophrenic role-playing identity crises swimming in a spleen-erific horror film marred by flowers and traditional beauty. In other words, “what it all boils down to, is that no one’s really got it figured out just yet”.
In the most recent Body by Body show at Courtney Blades in Chicago, niche Internet iconography is utilized in tandem with commercial images and logos. Collapsing corporate and homemade imagery appears to be a strategy within your work -- can you talk about the interplay of these images?
CAMERON: That's interesting that in the Courtney Blades show you think there is a lot of corporate imagery. I thought in that show we were actually getting away from that. The one Internet niche iconography would be the trollface painting ('Ghost Tweets') by Deke2 so I cannot claim responsibility for that. The interplay of the images in this show is more about the interplay of the characters/'artists' involved: email@example.com, Julia Rob3rts, Deke 2 and Body by Body. This show is definitely influenced by our love of group shows as a thing in itself.
MELISSA: Hmmm… I know we hang out with a lot of people who make work that utilizes the type of imagery you are mentioning, but I don’t think we really do much of that -- aside from when we made our shirts in 2010. I guess the video game we made for that show, features Whole Foods, Kombucha and the New Yorker – but that’s just our reality and we’re not trying to comment on it or anything.
BODYBYBODY: The Courtney Blades show is probably best understood in the context of being the second part of a 'trilogy' of shows called Aventa Garden. The first being 'Anime Bettie Page Fucked By a Steampunk Warrior' with Body by Body, Deke 2 and Julia Rob3rts at Headquarters in Zurich back in March. The third I think will take place in a coffee shop across from where CBGB's used to be (now a John Varvatos store). And then the three shows will be "laid to rest" in a self-released artist's book/monograph. In a way, this trilogy is like a movie or play with a beginning, middle and end. That's why the press release reads like an introduction and that's why the artists are more like different roles we take on: Painter_john99@yahoo.com, for example, is us pretending to be a painter who doesn't know how to paint, Julia Rob3rts: a polemicist/critic.... Often times the subject matter is very self-destructive and nihilistic. In that sense, it's sort of cleansing.
How do you feel your work is transformed by its manifestations on the Internet versus in a gallery space?
CAMERON: I think that the only transformation that concerns me is that it can be misunderstood. This is why interviews are good, because it's the only place where you can directly say what you're really about without anyone projecting anything onto you and boy, do people like to project!!! Little projectors everywhere trying to fit you into their narrative (or block you out).
MELISSA: The obvious ways I guess… though I’m still waiting for the moment when the only documentation I have of my work is a photo I found on Instagram posted by a stranger – an image of some dude’s head drinking a beer, with my work in the background all blurry and dull looking.
A post on Julia Rob3rts' Tumblr, details her exploration of Natural Body Magic through DeviantArt. Another post explores the "contemporary Dolling scene." The pieces seem like they're telling microhistories or defining the rules of certain image-based vernaculars. How have these kinds of images and the communities surrounding them influenced your work?
CAMERON: I am not sure if they have influenced the work directly but they are definitely inspiring. NBM and Dolling show other ways of making work that's different than anything else going on. They can provide answers. And it's all self-organized, self-policed. I guess some of the artist's names (since they use pseudonyms) influenced Julia Rob3rts. I would also say writing about these artists helps so that people can see where we're coming from more and can get into our headspace, see how we see.
MELISSA: These kinds of images display a certain unschooled and wacky aesthetic that is not really considered in ‘high’ art or work that one typically sees in a gallery. I think we were drawn to it for that very reason, but also the format of DeviantArt – how everyone has a profile with a pseudonym, giving them anonymity in some respects.
It is inspiring to see how much variety there is in the DeviantArt community, and that is something we keep in the back of our minds. We want all of our shows to look like group shows.
Going back to the characters from your Courtney Blades show, it's interesting that the work comes with a prepackaged unfolding narrative, as you've described. Do you think of Body by Body as attempting to disrupt or rearrange contemporary art historical narratives--narratives that may be trying to fit you in or block you out (as you said, Cameron)?
CAMERON: Rearranging or disrupting makes it sound like we have some kind of power or influence or even worse, a lofty academic agenda. Also, we aren't really trying to convince anyone that these artists are real which I think would be required in order to disrupt, right? To try to explain it that way, for me, bogs it down into an intellectual k-hole, the truth is it happened very organically. It was like "Oh, Julia Rob3rts would do this." So we did it. The work led the way. Probably the same thing happened with Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse. Aside from this, personally, I like how group shows look, and I like looking at group shows online. They're aesthetically pleasing. I think it's all the white. So in a way, the Courtney Blades show is like a portrait of a group show. That's why we're able to scribble all over the photos of it. But again, the next show will be completely different...it won't be so geared towards a gallery because it will be in a coffee shop (another great environment). We're going to take it back to the streets.
MELISSA: It’s all in the spirit of playfulness. Although we are both very critical people (critical of ourselves as well as others), we don’t intend to take on or criticize any particular contemporary art historical narrative. We are just contributing to the chatter in hopes that we can create confusion as people are just starting to pin us down as something.
Age: 26 and 28
How long have you been working creatively with technology? How did you start?
MELISSA: I definitely started feeling a spark between me and the computer around the time I first got to play Myst on my PC. I think it was the combination of the visuals along with the sounds that really made an impression on me. I also really loved the game Creatures.
CAMERON: Computers have always been around so hard to come up with a singular moment. I remember I had Macromedia Director in middle school and made animations w that.
Describe your experience with the tools you use. How did you start using them?
MELISSA: I don’t work with tools, I manipulate ideas, I have bowel movements and I breathe effortlessly for the most part.
CAMERON: Melissa put it very poetically. Work is like breathing and shitting.
Where did you go to school? What did you study?
CAMERON: I went to San Francisco Art Institute. I studied graffiti ( Not 'street art.' ) In school, I bounced around different majors until I fell into New Genres (West Coast thing). I will never get an MFA unless it's free and they give me a stipend. Basically, I will accept one if they pay me to have it. And even then, I might not out of spite.
MELISSA: I was an Individualized major at the California College of the Arts with a focus on sculpture and video. I was really into making 3 second loops on VHS tapes.
What traditional media do you use, if any? Do you think your work with traditional media relates to your work with technology?
MELISSA: The words 'traditional' and 'technology' hardly ever come into my head when I'm thinking about my own work. I mean most imagery that I refer to has come off a screen at some point, so even if I were to traditionally ‘paint’ a figure onto a canvas, I’m most likely referencing a hallucinatory image in my head that is an amalgamation of figures in my dreams, the person standing next to me, a picture of Bai Ling, a shitting dick nipples image I once saw on 4chan, and an amorphous carrot.
CAMERON: I don't make those divisions. It's whatever works for what we want to do.
Are you involved in other creative or social activities (i.e. music, writing, activism, community organizing)?
CAMERON: I write. We know a lot of people involved in music.
MELISSA: Well, I like to eat… a lot! I like thinking about food and what I’m going to eat next. Karaoke is fun too, but it’s hard to find a place that will play Cibo Matto and I really want to sing ‘sugar water’ for some of my friends.
What do you do for a living or what occupations have you held previously? Do you think this work relates to your art practice in a significant way?
MELISSA: I’ve mostly worked as an administrator in the arts -- as a registrar at galleries and a studio manager for artists. I also pretty seriously got into Fine Art appraisal and had the opportunity to see some bizarre collections (and their owners).
CAMERON: I work for a software company specializing in travel. I think it relates to my work in a significant way in that my schedule is flexible.
Who are your key artistic influences?
MELISSA: My answer to this question changes constantly, but earlier this year I would have said the Chicago Imagists. Now I’m really inspired by body horror – body manipulations/modifications, Marlie’s face operation to remove her polyostotic fibrous dysplasia, and shitty Halloween makeup.
CAMERON: Bruce Conner, Wallace Berman, Jay DeFeo, Ed and Nancy Kienholz, Walter Beirendonck, the Antwerp Six, Dubuffet, COBRA, Picabia, Patagonia, Dieter Roth, Sigmar Polke (and a lot of other German painters), Chicago Imagists, Los Angeles sculptors like Eric Wesley, Jorge Pardo, Liz Craft etc. etc. Europe: a lot of eurotrash art from the Stadelschule. I'm also inspired by a lot of movie directors actually: lately Dario Argento, Michael Snow, Jean Rollin, Chantal Akerman, Leos Carax. I watch a lot of movies. I'd like to make a movie one day. I don't find any Internet art inspiring except for DeviantArt.
MELISSA: Ya, and those guys too... except for Jorge Pardo. ;)
Have you collaborated with anyone in the art community on a project? With whom, and on what?
MELISSA: See Cameron’s answer.
CAMERON: Yes we collaborate quite a bit. Our Aventa Garden shows are all collaborations. We collaborated with Parker Ito (Deke2), I think he keeps getting credit for Anime Bettie Page but he gives us shout outs.
Do you actively study art history?
Melissa: In spurts… for appraisal work I have to do some intense research in a short amount of time.
Cameron: Yeah. But probably all stuff skewed to what I'm interested in at the time. Recently it was James Ensor and Richard Dadd.
Do you read art criticism, philosophy, or critical theory? If so, which authors inspire you?
MELISSA: Since I’ve been out of school, I’ve been less inclined to finish entire books. I usually glean a few sentences here and there. I’ve been attempting to read Chris Kraus’s new book, but no luck just yet. I enjoy reading the New Yorker mostly and am really into the lyrics to Jewel’s song ‘Pieces of You.'
Cameron: I really like Armond White's film criticism, he really flips everything on it's head, there's an article where he relates Transporter 3 to Cubism. People hate him. I wish there was someone like him in the art world, maybe there is (?)
Are there any issues around the production of, or the display/exhibition of new media art that you are concerned about?
CAMERON: I don't consider myself a new media artist. All I see when I hear that term are people more concerned with the instruments that they're using rather than the work itself.
MELISSA: I don’t really like work that is clean or displayed in pristine settings. I keep trying to get our work to look a bit nastier and dirty, but the real challenge is how to display the dissonance between these two aesthetics.
Two videos for the day: John Underkoffler (Oblong Industries) is the UI designer best known for creating interfaces for Minority Report and Iron Man. His presentation at Eyeo this year was among the most talked about. Also, recently the Verge visited their studio in Los Angeles.
John Underkoffler : Animating Spirit. "A way to change everything is to build a completely new HMI. The new HMI will be exhilarating, beautiful, and capable, a complement and compliment to people. Just as surely as we do it will occupy real-world space, because that’s where the action is and because it will need to pay special heed to hands and what they’re up to. It will be characterized, like living things, by dynamism, by motion elegant and allusive and comic. It will make the pixels it inhabits — projected and barnacled, singular and teeming, sessile and itinerant — it will make these brazenly heterogeneous pixels interoperable: at once incidental and indispensable. This new HMI will embody a conviction that design, that fundamental human activity, is its as well. And it will infect everything built atop it with the same sentiment. The resulting world might well be one we like. So let’s see."
Ross Miller took a trip to Oblong industries to check out their work in multi-screen hand gesture computers à la Minority Report. Then John Underkoffler — Oblong co-founder and chief scientist, as well as the science adviser for Minority Report and Iron Man — talks in-studio with Josh. Fascination, awe, even an ounce of fear — you won't believe Josh's range of emotion.
A collection of examples where pop culture was clearly inspired by smaller creative activities on the web (with some people not necessarily happy about it). With online chatter regarding the performance by Rihanna on Saturday Night Live and it's adoption to the net-art 'Seapunk' style, it's worth knowing that the mixed reaction is not an isolated occasion. Marketers employ 'coolhunters' to look out for interesting small cultural developments to make their artist's seem 'fresh' and ahead of the game, an activity that has been happening since the early 1990s, which was a key subject in William Gibson's 2003 novel Pattern Recognition. It is now becoming more apparent in our more modern technological age — here are some of the better known examples:
Chiptune / Timbaland
Chiptunes, the lo-fi music associated with soundchips of old computers and gaming consoles, started to make their way into contemporary music with one piece eventually leading to a file for infringement, the Timberland-produced 'Do It' for Nelly Furtado:
Compare this to "Acidjazzed Evening" by Tempest/Damage
In August 2007, an action for infringement was filed in the District Court of Helsinki against Universal Music, Ltd alleging Nelly Furtado's song "Do It" infringed "Acid Jazz Evening". In January 2009, after a trial that included multiple expert and technical witnesses, a three judge panel unanimously dismissed the plaintiff's case.
On December 17, 2008, Abbott also testified as a witness of prosecution in the Helsinki court in Gallefoss' case against Universal Music Finland. The Finnish court reportedly threw out the case after ruling in only one aspects of the three claims (sampling, performance rights, producer rights), and the case remains in appellate court, as of January 2010.
On June 12, 2009, Mikko Välimäki, who is one of the legal counsels of Kernel Records, the owner of the sound recording rights, reported that the case had been filed in Florida. On June 7, 2011 the case of Kernel Records Oy v. Mosley ended with the court deciding that Kernel Records had failed to register for copyright in the USA.
Tumblr Fashion / Jeremy Scott
Jeremy Scott's Fall 2012 collection featured many references to the internet and 90's culture. In an article written by Emma Orlow for Refinery29, she explains her thoughts on the collection's connection to the many Tumblr blogs which document this style:
Jeremy says that his collection was inspired by the Internet, which is evident in his emoticon and mouse-clicker prints, but looking at the pieces was also a lot like looking at my Tumblr dashboard: girls with Kool Aid hair, bindis, and chain nose rings.
Still, I think there is something to be said about the “coincidence” of Jeremy calling upon the influences of his '90s Gwen Stefani-worshipping club days and today’s Tumblr girls who have been re-appropriating these very images of bindis, Unicorns on Acid, Lisa Frank, The Simpsons, and Kool-Aid hair on the Internet for years now.
I've blogged about Grace Miceli before, but Grace is a really rad artist who is inspired by Internet culture, and even has her own online art collective called Art Baby Gallery. A year ago, she posted a video on her Vimeo page called, "Alien Grooves 2," which features her friend sticking Lisa Frank stickers on her chest, quite similar to the Lisa Frank sticker bustier Jeremy Scott made this season. She seemed to agree, "It feels a little strange to see an older man commodify certain imagery, especially Lisa Frank's, which does have strong meanings for a girl who grew up in the nineties."
Davis was one of the few artists exploring and practising the technique of 'Datamoshing', a method which plays with video compression which creates distortions with forms and colour with the moving images. Then, in the lead-up to a forthcoming show with works employing this method, he started receiving emails:
'I woke up one morning in March to a flood of emails telling me to look at some video on YouTube. Seconds later saw I Kanye West strutting around in a field of digital glitches that looked exactly like my work. It fucked my show up...the very language I was using to critique pop content from the outside was now itself a mainstream cultural reference.'
The video in question was Kanye West's 'Welcome To Heartbreak' video:
Here is a video from the Creators Project interviewing the artist, which explores his work and discusses the Kanye West incident (as well as, ironically, showing a project where he was using footage from music videos featuring Rhianna and The Cranberries).
A Stroke of Genuis - Freelance Hellraiser / RCA
In 2001, a scene emerged experimenting with pop music, combining hyrbids of songs that become known as mashups or bootlegs. This scene was around before the internet with DJs making this kind of music, but with limited distribution.
The track, at one point, received a cease-and-desist letter from the company RCA (the label which manage both artists concerned). A 'legal' version of the track was brought about, but thanks to the complete forgetfulness of the effort, no online reference can be found of it.
However, the producer has gone on to better things - he eventually went on to remix a track for Aguilera, and work with Paul McCartney (wikipedia link). In the UK, the song was considered the song of the decade by the English newspaper The Guardian.
All the way in blissfully sunny Los Angeles during the throes of Hurricane Sandy, I watched with growing anxiety as friends and family rode out the storm. I found myself unsatisfied by personal accounts of empty supermarket shelves and mass media coverage of FEMA efforts and felt I needed better awareness of what was happening in empirical, but also meaningful terms. As it turns out, I wasn't alone — cue the Wind Project, from artists Fernanda Viégas and Martin Wattenberg. Wattenberg, trained as a mathematician, is also known for his work on number of classic digital art projects like the Shape of Song, The Apartment, and Whitney Artport's Idea Line,as well as Rhizome's StarryNight. Collaborating with Viégas since 2003, they have served as principles at the IBM Visual Communication Lab, where they initiated the "Many Eyes" project, a user-generated forum for uploading data and creating visualizations through conversation and collaboration, in the hopes of fostering a more social and democratic style of data analysis. Other past projects span from visualizations of Google Image discrepancies of fine art masterpieces to chat histories to baby names. Viégas and Wattenberg currently work with Google's "Big Picture" Data Group in Cambridge, MA and maintain their own practice as Flowing Media, Inc.
Their latest project is "a living portrait of the wind currents over the United States" using data pulled hourly from the National Digital Forecast Database. The Wind Project site saw a strong spike in visitors in the days leading up to Hurricane Sandy, as dumbfounded viewers watched the complex choreography of curling, comet-like wind lines circling the eastern seaboard. Though I'm not sure it did much to calm my nerves, the image from landfall — October 29th, 2012 — has become an instant visualization classic. I recently spoke with Viégas and Wattenberg over email about the project and its impact on our experience of Sandy:
Were you surprised by the reaction to the wind map in the days leading up to Hurricane Sandy? What do you think it is about that specific visualization that really captured people's awe but also sense of dread?
We were impressed, but not totally surprised: Hurricane Isaac was kind of a warm-up storm, and we saw a lot of interest then. One big difference was this time we were in the path of the storm. In fact, it's a minor miracle that our data center (that is, one old computer) in Massachusetts had power the entire time.
An accident of design is that, because the map doesn't show the ocean, the hurricane only gradually emerged as it made landfall, which might have made it seem all the more ominous!
As the project has gone on, you've added a gallery that includes stills from the map on particularly eventful days (October 30, 2012 being the most recent example). Do you have any interest in the way these images will live on beyond their live updates, as some kind of an archive?
Absolutely. To really appreciate the patterns, you have to see more than one day and understand the amazing diversity of the wind. That's why we launched with a gallery of historical examples. Another way to archive images is as prints, which are available on Point.B.
The map really felt like a discovery, even though it's populated with data that's been publicly available from the National Weather Service for years. I've found myself checking back in because I feel as though it allows me to see what's coming next, or see some kind of larger pattern I miss from more orthodox weather reports. Have you found others have similar experiences? I noticed your website cautions against using the map to fly a plane, sail a boat, or fight wildfires...
Yes, people definitely keep coming back, and many have written us about how they're using it see broader patterns. That disclaimer came out of actual exchanges with sailors, surfers, and firefighters. One recent email that made us smile let us know that it's being used to track butterfly migrations.
Wind Map on Oct 29, 2012
How did you two make decisions about how to aesthetically represent weather patterns in this project? One of the first things that draws you in is the graphic contrast of the black and white and how strangely lyrical the delicate lines depicting the wind patterns are. It's only just afterward you sort of start processing the actuality of the data being communicated.
Even though our method might at first seem obvious or simple, it took us a long time to get there. We tried many different methods, some extremely colorful. In the end, we felt it was important to represent movement with motion, and removing color emphasizes the texture and patterns of wind.
You are relative rarities in the way that you frame your data visualisation projects as an artistic practice - your artist statement reads that you "believe visualization to be an expressive medium that invites emotion." Do you consider that a major guiding principle in the way you choose subject matter, conceptualize or formally execute projects, whether independent or commercially commissioned?
Data artists are a small but growing group! We're always trying to push the boundaries of visualization can be, and we're mainly interested in data that has an emotional impact. Visualization is about meaning, not just facts.
Rhizome has always placed an emphasis on, and played a leading role in the preservation of born-digital works of art and culture. Since 2001, our archive, the ArtBase has grown to become one of the most comprehensive collections of its kind, and our preservation practices have inspired an emerging generation of archivists. Here at the end of 2012 however, we find ourselves on the precipice of a new moment. Our ambitions have grown, or mission expanded, and we need your help in order to accomplish our goals in 2013. Please consider making a donation to our Annual Community Fundraiser to help us realize our preservation efforts.
Recently, we were generously donated two machines (seen above) from 1993, that functioned as servers for a NYC based electronic bulletin board system (BBS) that many readers will be familiar with: The Thing. This BBS was one of the earliest online communities of artists, curators, and critics, and grew to become a forum for international discourse – all of this pre-dating the emergence of the World Wide Web. In 1994, when The Thing migrated to the web, much of the BBS material was left behind. As well – the material nature of the experience of using The Thing was forever changed – transitioning from a text-based or crude graphical interface, to the new interactive affordances of the web.
Rhizome is on a mission to rescue data from these machines, and others, that contains the sole remaining complete record of The Thing as a BBS. Our goal is to restore access to this data through a virtualization that will allow the public to interact with The Thing BBS. In order to accomplish this task, there are very real costs. This is Rhizome’s first forray into a project involving digital forensics, and with your support we can secure the crucial hardware required for this work.
In 2012, the scale of our web archiving efforts grew exponentially. In the past, works that were preserved in the ArtBase tended to be of relatively small scale – solitary works or projects. We are now archiving sites that are much larger in scope, including the legendary website of prominent collective, Paper Rad. In order to make large scale web archiving efforts a larger part of our everyday operations, we need the community's support in order to grow the Rhizome team.
The past year was a boon for expanding the ArtBase collection. This past summer, the prolific Rafael Rozendaal donated the entirety of his finished works produced to-date – consisting of 75 websites in all. In addition to this sizeable donation, we preserved over seventy works, just a few highlights of which including:
While our preservation efforts and accomplishments in 2012 have been no small feat, our goals for 2013 are ambitious to the extent that we can’t realize them without a bit of help. I hope that you will consider a donation today, so that Rhizome may continue to ensure the longevity of these important slices of history.
Abstract, one of three pieces in Hito Steyerl's solo exhibition at e-flux, shows the artist's visit to the deathplace of a friend. As an eyewitness plainly recounts the evening slaughter, he points out the remains of Andrea Wolf and some 40 other insurgents shot dead by the Turkish Army in Kurdistan. On the adjacent screen, Steyerl shoots the facades of German monuments with her phone. Doing so exposes the material cause for the killing (Turkey is a second market for German arms) and connects the languages of cinema with combat (the shot > countershot; an image becomes a target between crosshairs). As Steyerl acts as both editor and the woman with the movie camera (for her short discussion of Vertov, go here), the exhibit explores an area of overlapping influence between subject and object; aptly, one of her pieces is entitled Adorno's Grey.
Journalist and PKK revolutionary Andrea Wolf is an ever-present proof of synthesis in the show. In November, we see a young Wolf as a leader of a motorcycle gang (that includes Steyerl) in a Russ Meyer homage. In Steyerl's films, builds happen, not sequences: someone discusses the usage of Costa-Gavras' State of Siege as a training film for young terrorists. See them kidnap, plant bombs, and evade authorities; learn that the film was based on first-hand, real-life accounts of resistance behavior. These films of bad-assery first appear as templates to turn an internal sense of (in)justice into action. They grow into an entangled relationship of images and events that map the formation and remembrance of Wolf's conscience. We may not know her details, but we have a sense of her motivation.
Rather than a fixed object affecting a relative subject or vice versa, Adorno strongly believed in the intertwined nature of subject and object, and that any action or change took place in their relationship. In Adorno's Grey, holes in the wall are leftover from attempts to discover the mythologized color of Adorno's lecture hall in Frankfurt. This is the only work in the show that includes physical installation: the civilized surfaces, along with a timeline of world events and Adorno milestones, preface the voiceover and film. It's also the only work in which the artist doesn't appear, and it seems strangely at odds with Adorno's proposed fluidity and the layered coherence of Abstract and November. Those works privileged relationships over separation and celebrated an eidos of a life or work that, while formed through a series of discrete events, can finally only be viewed in summary.
In recent years, the significance of artists' magazines has been cemented by the proliferation of exhibitions, panels, and monographic studies devoted to independent publishing endeavors. Not merely side projects or promotional vehicles, such magazines constituted, as art historian Gwen Allen argues in her 2011 book Artists Magazines: An Alternative Space for Art, a form of exhibition space in itself, a central site of postwar artistic experimentation.
The magazine was, in a sense, the ideal form for the “dematerialized” art practices taking hold in the 1960s and ‘70s, which were often rooted in language and typically exhibitable solely in the form of secondary documentation—textual descriptions, instructions, or scores; diagrams and maps; and photographs. At the moment when artists were vehemently challenging the authority of the institutions that mediated between their work and its audience, as well as the attendant commercial system that conferred value based on the saleability of the object, the form of the magazine offered a way to circumvent existing structures—to disseminate projects and ideas directly to an audience, and one that was, at least theoretically, broader than that of the museum or gallery, and more geographically dispersed.
Among the storied magazines of the ‘70s, Avalanche, founded by artist and curator Willoughby Sharp and filmmaker Liza Bear in 1968 (the first issue appeared in Fall 1970), is perhaps the most iconic in terms of capturing the ethos and character of the period’s artistic climate. The privileged editorial form of Avalanche was not the critical essay or review, but the artist interview and it often turned pages over to artists— including Gordon Matta-Clark, Hanne Darboven, and Richard Long —to design their own spreads. Likewise, its “Rumblings” section functioned as a form of pre-internet global art-world message board where artists could submit announcements of upcoming exhibitions, projects, and publications.
Ephemeral and inexpensive, Avalanche was, as Bear described, “a cross between a magazine, an artist book, and an exhibition space in print. Basically, it was devoted to avant-garde art, from the perspective of the artist.” Avalanche, and periodicals like it, were attempts to rethink the art magazine in terms of both form and content, conceived in response to mainstream publications like Artforum, which were dominated by the critic’s voice and implicitly bore the influence of curators and dealers. However, Avalanche was also a network, a decentralized mode of distributing art that aimed to shift the site of reception beyond institutional boundaries.
Avalanche had always been receptive to new media—the entire 9th issue, published in Spring 1974, was dedicated to the January 1974 Video Performance Exhibition at the SoHo alternative space 112 Greene Street—but the static nature of print obviously limited their ability to engage with it beyond publishing still images and discussions with practitioners. However, following the publication of Avalanche’s final issue in the summer of 1976, Bear and Sharp largely devoted themselves, both collaboratively and independently, to projects that engaged developing technologies in video and telecommunications—especiallytelevision.
In September 1977, Bear collaborated with artist Keith Sonnier, along with Sharp and several other artists, on Send/Receive Satellite Network, a two day project for which the artists set up a two-way satellite link between New York and San Francisco. Using a CTS satellite co-owned by NASA and the Canadian government, artists on either side of the country were able to collaborate in real time, with the resulting program broadcast to viewers on Manhattan Cable’s public access channel. The project unfolded in two phases, with the first considering the implications of satellite technology and the second a demonstration of its collaborative and artistic possibilities.
In the latter phase, the artist-participants—Margaret Fisher, Terry Fox, Brad Gibbs, Sharon Grace, Carl Loeffler, Richard Lowenberg, and Alan Scarritt in San Francisco, and Bear, Sharp, Sonnier, Richard Landry, Nancy Lewis, Richard Peck, Betty Sussler, Paul Shavelson, and Duff Schweninger in New York—probed the project’s unique conditions of production: Scarritt, for instance, created a feedback loop by pointing a video camera at the television set at the ground station in San Francisco and transmitted the video via the satellite to New York, while dancers Lewis and Fisher responded to each other’s movements from opposite sides of the country. Describing the questions informing Send/Receive, Sonnier and Bear wrote, “What are the implications of simultaneity? Of instant exposure and instant response?”
As Sonnier noted in an interview with Bomb magazine, one of the most significant aspects of Send/Receive was that it had happened at all: “The media is so completely politically controlled [that] the focus became less and less about making work as illustrating this huge propaganda tool. Acquiring that tool was the political thrust—making that tool culturally possible….Send/Receive was the culmination of a learning experience.” With Send/Receive, the artists not only explored the artistic uses of satellite technologies and the nature of telecommunications as a medium, but also began to articulate the political potential of artists’ use of them.
Following Send/Receive, Bear created a series of public access television programs, some with Sharp’s involvement, which aired regularly on Manhattan Cable from 1979 to 1991. Whereas Avalanche had directed itself implicitly against the mainstream art world and its institutions, the projects oriented around telecommunications were fundamentally concerned with the intermingling of governmental, corporate, and military interests that determined and regulated access to information on a global scale. Using television as a medium allowed them to intervene in this system from within, disrupting it by harnessing television’s potential to disseminate information and by detourning its visual and narrative tropes.
The Very Reverend Deacon b. Peachy: Part 1, 1982, excerpt, SERMON IN SHOES (Part of Communications Update, 10 March, 1982)
The first of these programs, the “Warc Report,” was a 10-week series produced by Bear and Sharp, along with Rolf Brand and John Howkins, that presented coverage and commentary on the 1979 General World Administrative Radio Conference in Geneva—a conference held at 20 year intervals in which delegates from member nations of the UN’s International Telecommunications Union met to negotiate issues concerning access to, and regulation of, telecommunications services and technologies. Though, as the producers of the “Warc Report” noted, the decisions made at the conference would impact every aspect of the development and direction of the telecommunications industry worldwide for the next two decades, it received virtually no mainstream media coverage; the “Warc Report” was explicitly designed to counter this “information moratorium.” Each of the ten episodes addressed a different aspect of the conference and the implications of its decisions, ranging from “What is WARC?” to “Military Uses & Foreign Policy,” combining live coverage of the conference with discussions about telecommunications issues more generally.
In her essay “Public Access: The Second Coming of Television?” published in the journal Radical Software in 1972, Ann Arlen argued that the public access cable channels that had recently been initiated in New York represented “a chance to change the course of the nation’s most promising and least fulfilled mass communications medium.” The significance of public access for Arlen was not only in its ostensible democratization of the medium, offering the possibility of a TV show to anyone willing to put in the effort, but, more importantly, that it represented “our first experience of an electronic mass medium through which people may talk to other people unmanipulated by media professionals”—a means of presenting events not as packaged “news,” but as information, communicated from person to person. The “Warc Report” was precisely such a program, filling a crucial gap in mainstream media coverage, but doing so in a manner antithetical to commercial news broadcasts. It was designed to present the viewing public with information as opposed to news, and to do so through the very medium that would be broadly impacted by the decisions made at WARC.
After the conclusion of the "Warc Report," Bear began producing "Communications Update," a weekly 28-minute show with segments created by artists, most of whom shared equipment through a video co-op. Like its predecessor, much of the first season was devoted to media politics and developments in telecommunications—segments included "Making Public Television Public," for which Vicky Gholson discussed censorship with professors from City College's Black Studies Department, and "VIEWDATA/APTDATA," which looked at recent computer networking projects. However, it also included more idiosyncratic material by artists that moved well beyond the expectations of television programming. In William Wegman's segment "Upstream at an Unusual Angle," for instance, the artist was filmed in fishing gear, interacting with amused passersby as he attempted to fish in the middle of a crowded—and waterless—public space.
Politics never disappeared from Communications Update, but in successive seasons, it was increasingly oriented toward commissioning and broadcasting artists’ projects on a wide range of issues rather than focusing solely on what Bear described as the “new world information order” and in 1983 the show was renamed Cast Iron TV to reflect this shift. In a statement that same year, Bear described the show as “play[ing] freely with media conventions, drama/documentary, comedy and satire. It hovers on the bounds of fact and fiction, rides the dramatic potential of fact, the narrative potential of reality, but also toys with theatrical illusion adroitly.”
Decidedly eclectic, the programs on Communications Update/Cast Iron TV ranged from experimental film and video works by local and international artists—the Croatian artists Sanja Ivekovic and Dalibor Martinis produced two features on video art in Zagreb—to segments that explicitly drew on television’s vernacular. One of the show’s recurring programs, the Very Reverend Deacon b. Preachy, produced by Milly Iatrou and Ronald Morgan, aped the format of late night televangelist shows, with satirical sermons insisting that their viewers send them no money. For Bear, providing artists with the opportunity to create the media—and giving audiences an alternative to commercial programming—was implicitly political, regardless of the nature of the programs themselves. As she stated in a 1983 article in The Independent, “We used the public channels because they were the only consistent media outlet that we had—a regular weekly outlet as opposed to sporadic exhibition of videos in alternative spaces. The aim was to provide artists an active role in the making of information, as opposed to being passive receivers of it.”
While these telecommunications-based projects can be seen as an extension of Avalanche into other media formats, opening up another avenue for artists to connect directly with their audiences, they might equally offer a new perspective on the magazine and its goals. emphasize the extent to which Bear and Sharp were interested in exploring, utilizing, and subverting mass media—not only circumventing the institutions of art, but intervening more generally in the structures that determined the form and content of what the public could see and hear.
We would like to take a brief moment to thank this month’s sponsors. These are the organizations and companies that keep us publishing, so be sure to check them out!
Guggenheim- The “Conversations with Contemporary Artists” series presents the opportunity to hear and meet artists such as Gabriel Orozco and R. H. Quaytman as they discuss themes in their work as well as current issues in the art world.
Asia Society Museum– Bound Unbound: Lin Tianmiao represents the artist’s first major solo exhibition in the United States
Artspace– Insider access to art from the best artists, museums, and galleries in the world
Art Miami– Miami’s premier anchor fair showcases the best in modern and contemporary art from more than 100 international art galleries.
Miami Project- A new contemporary and modern art fair consisting of presentations by 65 galleries from around the world.
Pacific Northwest College of Art– For over 100 years, PNCA has served as a creative hub for artists and designers with an educational philosophy that emphasizes individualized curricula, independent inquiry and cross-disciplinary exchange.
NYU Steinhardt-The M.A. in Studio Art program in Berlin, Germany provides artists, students of art, and current and prospective art teachers the opportunity to do high-level studio work over three intensive summers.
School of Art Institute of Chicago offers an MA program in Modern Art History, Theory, and Criticism as well as an MFA program in Film, Video, New Media, and Animation. Application deadlines: January 15 & 10, 2013.
American Apparel- Made in Downtown LA—vertically integrated manufacturer, distributor, and retailer of clothing
Mixed Greens- Currently on view are Christina Mazzalupo’s Prognosis: Doom paintings and Jonathan Feldschuh’s window installation Large Hadron Collider.
Pernod Absinthe - The Art & Absinthe Guide to Brooklyn – mobile interaction with the thriving arts community of Brooklyn, NY
Fountain Art Fair - Exhibition of avant garde artwork in Miami during Art Basel Miami Beach
School of Visual Arts- Graduate MFA programs including one in Critical Theory and the Arts, and another in Photography, Video and Related Media
Around the corner from stacks of baby shoes, counterfeit Gucci wallets, and spangled iPhone cases, I got burned copies of Jean Cocteau's Orpheus trilogy at an outdoor market in Mexico City.
A Sunday afternoon in Roma Norte, I was drinking coffee with new friends. The city was new to me and I had only arrived late the night before. We jumped in a cab and directed the driver to a market a little way outside the center of town.
Miguel said he was going to pick up a copy of Pigsty there. I was confused at first, assuming it had to be something other than the 1969 Italian film, but indeed that was the one he meant. Seemed an implausible feat to find a physical copy of any Passolini movie, let alone a more obscure selection, anywhere without paying for shipping and waiting at least a week. But I didn't say anything then.
"He's not going to find the Passolini film here," Manuel said, as we were wandering through Tepito's labyrinth of tents. It was mostly pirated goods: branded tennis shoes, video games, and handbags; but with some intention to the ordering of the inventory. Suppliers tended to specialize in certain items, one might carry only knock-offs of a single particular designer label, another sold only anime DVDs. Tepito sometimes functions as a wholesaler for vendors who operate smaller streetside sales. We walked through the section that was largely physical media for sale— Blue-ray, DVD, and CDs with covers varying from identical to the original to very handmade-looking inkjet prints. I was told that sometimes you could see vendors burning these disks in the back of the tents.
One of the tents had a sign out front, "Cine de Arte." Inside a dozen densely packed shelves included classic art house fare like 400 Blows, Breathless,Paris Texas, and L'eclisse. Each with a cover made of ordinary printer paper inside a flimsy plastic sleeve.
I was happy to find Bresson's Four Nights of a Dreamer, one of my favorite films. There were loads of Criterion collection burns, an entire shelf devoted to Fassbinder and Herzog. Miguel couldn't find Pigsty, but there were other Passolini films there. Manuel discovered a copy of Jean Luc-Godard's King Lear, with Julie Delpy and Woody Allen. None of us had heard of that one before. It has been a while since I've discovered a film randomly just by my eyes falling upon it, and not through a series of Wikipedia and IMDB-mediated clicks.
Four Nights of a Dreamer is somewhat uncharacteristic of Bresson, lighter and wide-eyed—albeit based on Dostoevsky's short story— about a boy who meets a girl just as she attempts to kill herself. About seven years ago, I rented it from a video store in Chicago where I used to live. Visiting "Cine de Arte" in Tepito made me think of the place and googling later that night, to my surprise, I found it hasn't closed yet. It seems cruel to say, but at the same time inevitable, that just about any physical media film rental operation like a terminally ill patient; you could stop the bloodletting temporarily, or reduce it somehow, but the world is shifting much too rapidly to secure it as viable business model. The economy is already a harsh place for small businesses with their eyes constantly on the margin, and doubly so to those providing services we can do ourselves, not only more cheaply, but also in our own homes.
Halfway between my house and high school, I'd drop in the local video store on my walk back to pick up tapes from the narrow ghetto in the back where all the art, cult, foreign, and otherwise "independent" films were shelved. I burned through the irrefragable alienated teenage classics— Daises, Liquid Sky, Videodrome, Susperia, the rest of that lot. Most of those films I knew nothing about beforehand, and selected only for the cover. Sometimes the cover was what kept me from renting. For weeks, I fretted over the one film I most wanted to see but felt worried about — too embarrassed to take Mike Leigh's Naked home with me. What if my parents found it? Not for the name, but David Thewlis' wanton gaze through the legs of a faceless woman in fishnets on the cover. About ten years passed until I actually watched that one.
That store went out of business a few years ago, marking down everything — the leftover candy and microwave popcorn bags by the cash registers, even the shelves had tags. Each week prices on inventory increasingly slashed. And in the final days of the fire sale it was mainly those art films left. I picked up several for a few dollars each. Some I still have yet to watch.
Things that seem to be just hypothetical copyright possibilities are reality in the globe's farther reaches. A few summers back, I was advised to watch out for certain travel agencies in Hanoi. I often travel alone and generally book independently, but in this case, a number of nearby destinations are regulated as to make it quite difficult to arrange sightseeing without an intermediary. Anyway, the price usually worked out much better than even the cheapest guesthouses listed in Lonely Planet. The warning wasn't just to watch out for scams, but also the high count of tourist drowning deaths in Halong Bay due to improper safety inspections of the junk ships. Best to stick with a reputable agency.
Sinh Cafe was the place recommended to me by a number of people. Trouble was that due to complexities in the licensing of franchises, I wandered through the winding streets in Old Town passing dozens upon dozens of shops with signs that read "Sinh Cafe." A number of lax tourists even mistake the word "Sinh" as Vietnamese for travel (actually it's a nebulous word meaning several definitions of "life.")
I went to the "real" Sinh Cafe to book a few trips. But my tickets to Sapa said "Sinh Tourist." Hanoi won't register trade names of businesses started in Saigon. This means in a sea of Sinh Cafes, the actual Sinh Cafe — the one that has been around for twenty years — doesn't even go by its own name in town to distinguish itself apart from impostors. The owners also failed to register the URL first.
In Vietnam, I took a number of Elle magazine cutouts to dressmakers to replicate in finer fabrics and at lower cost. I bought counterfeit Tiffany's pendants in Bangkok the week before that (packaged in counterfeit robin's egg blue satchels and little blue boxes too.) What's going to happen when Tepito stands in Mexico have 3D printers? I don't expect in my lifetime to print fake Louboutins on demand, but maybe quite soon those Zaha Hadid plastic Melissa shoes could be made under a tent in the outskirts of a faraway city — quickly and cheaply.
Just as suddenly as the digital age dematerialized so many of our things, rapid prototyping seems promising to repopulate the world with objects again— different than what was lost, but things nevertheless. New momentos, new sentimental attachments. These products remind us of the physical and digital world difference, a difference as distinct as awake and asleep.
In Charles Stross' novel Rule 34— named after that rule— a character wakes up to a rogue 3D printer fabbing sex toys with a porn site URL carved on them. The screen of his computer is alight with spyware for the same site. We can tolerate the salacious popup windows, the offers for "herbal viagrax" in our inboxes because these are digital configurations, and we have the keystrokes and the tactics to evade them in the same fraction of as second as they come to bother us. But human beings must contend with physical objects. (For another example of how the syntax of on and offline may not translate, check out the Idiots of Ants comedy sketch, Facebook In Real Life.)
About the time people were talking about virtual reality, "virtually" was a regular colloquialism for "practically." Practically reality. Now that "practically" is becoming "actually," as the digital artifact untethers itself from digital realm exclusivity, and instead may communicate with us as a physical structures. But the products that come from the ether carry with them the logic of their native territory, as they transition from digital artifact to real world object. The online territory provides a unique mutability, a blend of fictions with reality. "Reality" seems incomplete a word to describe what happens online — similarly metaphors to "space" seems ill-proportioned and IRL-centric.
The Sinh Cafes scattered all over the center of Hanoi seem so much like a living metaphor for what is a way of life on the internet — the duplications, iterations, pirate editions, altered versions of existing things, false identities, network-dependant parallel lives and other machine-oriented mutabilities.
Adding additional— but not unexpected— complexity to contemporary manufacturing bewilderment there is Alibaba, the China-based import-export connection e-commerce site. It counts over 2.5 million storefronts, not just chintz and tat but wholesale for just about anything —construction materials, food stuffs, bicycle parts. Like SEO-scamming made physical, various keywords are thrown in to pick up potential traffic.
Zazzle is another seemingly endless e-commerce site. Users design existing merchandise with their own images and text. Zazzle retains all the prior art, resulting in a odd assortment of baby bibs and coffee cups and trucker hats emblazoned with whatever someone else had thought of — strange slogans, photos of an unknown person's father —and quite often turning up as unexpected Google image search results. It seems like the act of bots, but, writing for DIS magazine, Babak Radboy explained:
Most people on Zazzle are actual people, making products, one at a time, for themselves, as gifts or to make a modest buck. Trolling through Zazzler forums, one reads again and again the hard-learned lesson of techno-capitalism that a hundred terrible shirts invariably will make more money than ten good ones. Here arises a mutant breed of Zazzler—representing a tiny minority of its members but a disproportionately large number of products—marrying the production line and the bottom line with the command line and developing programs that to varying degrees automate their design process, producing tens of thousands of products with little or no human oversight or labor.
In the middle of writing this essay, I entered "junk ships" into Alibaba's search bar. This delivered a handful of 3D puzzles from Shenzhen. Other words brought about greater variety. "Cephalopod" even directed me to sellers of frozen octopus and cuttlefish.
There may be no reason for that "junk ship" 3D puzzle to ever exist. The product was likely born of reasons other than existing demand. In a boundless e-commerce matrix of key words stacked against everyday objects, untested products pop out with desirability yet to be determined.
The tables turn here, demand responds to supply. But it works. I found what I was looking for, although it was obscure. No one had to speculate whether someone might catch herself nostalgic for Halong Bay's junk ships and then see if some kind of memento existed to acquire after the fact. Alibaba has the potential to be as varied and specific as the world is.
Back in the States I watched the Orpheus series on my laptop. An ad for the company that burned these disks plays before I can access the menu. How funny to think I bought it not at an exclusive place for Wicker Park or Williamsburg cinephiles, but somewhere with mud on the ground, and the smell of smoke and meat from nearby food trucks grilling.
"After years of shameful illegal downloading, I finally decided to go legal," says a recent Yelp review for the Chicago video store I mentioned earlier. But as I recall, much of the inventory was bootleg, only quasi-legal long before people were streaming and downloading. Four Nights of a Dreamer was a terrible copy, an obscure print from Japan or somewhere. Films would show up badly dubbed, with wear and grain from PAL to NTSC translation.
Meanwhile now, there's an approximation of an art video store happening in a Mexico City outdoor market, a destination and community forming around the inkjet printed covers and burned copies of various titles. That wasn't the first time my friends had been to "Cine de Arte," and the other people making purchases there seemed to be regulars as well. The price to keep a tent in Tepito is far less than a stateside brick-and-mortar shop. The same kind of films that were last to go at a suburban video store fire sale are pirated and distributed just like any other blockbuster film. Maybe the owners themselves don't even care about the inventory, it's just that someone wants it at all.
This is the result of our recalibrated sense of scarcity. A new form of limitless capitalism with prices inching, virtually, toward nothing. Anything could exist, and may exist regardless of whether someone wants it. That means availability of pirate Cocteau films with ads for the replicating company and trucker hats with "World's Greatest Dad" printed above a random old man's face. That's why there are junk ship puzzles on Alibaba. Pieces of endless possibilities floating in the ether.
For over a decade, the kaledescopic RGB labyrinth that is paperrad.org has served as a beacon for the proliferacy of the collective known as Paper Rad. While their output spanned a spectrum of forms including comics, cartoons, music videos, installation, sculpture, performance, bands, records, and international tours, the web was in so many ways Paper Rad's substrate. In their work that extended beyond the computer screen, they spoke in the parlance of the amatuer web and personal computers. Paperrad.org was for roughly eight years the center of a flurry of activitry – serving to satiate the collective’s international fanbase. Today Rhizome is pleased to announce the launch of a full archive of paperrad.org, available in the ArtBase. Thanks to Rhizome's preservation efforts, paperrad.org will now live on beyond the lifespan of the collective itself.
In celebration of the launch of this archive, Rhizome is pleased to share with our members a special edition of The Download featuring Paper Rad's GIF PAK (2012). The GIF PAK is a collection of 24 great animated gifs from the site including background images, popular cartoon characters, and promotional materials for tours and gallery shows. This collection was curated by Paper Rad member, Jacob Ciocci.
In addition to the launch of these two features, last month, the New Museum’s First Look program launched a project produced in collaboration with Rhizome titled Welcome to My Homey Page: Seven Years of Paperrad.org, which presents a look at the chronological evolution of the landing page of paperrad.org from 2001-2008.
A collection of examples from the Prosthetic Knowledge Tumblr archive and around the web on experiments which take the familiar animated GIF format and take it out of its 2D origins.
This has been a good year for the Animated GIF— not only has it reached its 25th birthday, it has also become America's word of the year according to Oxford Dictionaries USA. It has been one of the internet's most creative canvases since it's availability, whether it has been employed in early homegrown HTML pages, to communities such as B3ta, YTMND, 4Chan and others. From it's continued popularity, some creatives have explored ways to take the animated GIF into new contexts. Here are a few examples:
An online creative project by Slava Balasanov that allows you to create a page and position animated GIFs but arrange them in 3D space:
Interactive Communal 3D Image Collage Platform
Gifpumper combines elements of a social media site, blogging platform and virtual world into a single tool for collaborative creation online. Users can create 3d pages composed of 2d media elements (text, images, video, music) by rotating and positioning them in the XYZ coordinate plane.
All changes are broadcast in real-time to anyone else viewing the page. Users can interact with one another by adding, deleting and moving elements. The resulting pages can also be used as a blog or a personal website with a custom url. Standard social-media features are present as well in the form of a 'like' button, recent activity feed and profile pages. At any given moment users can see 'active pages' on the main site indicating presence of others.
Here is a video from FADERTV interviewing the artist and this piece.
The project has been around for a year, with entries ranging from the creative to the absurd, yet successfully takes a Net Art staple and takes it to a creative and involving new area.
A WebGL and three.js online experiment from clicktorelease allows you to drag an animated GIF file into the browser window, which then displays the frames spacially. The piece is interactive, allowing you to view the GIF from various angles. Some GIF work better than others (mainly reminiscent of lenticular animated rulers from school days), but it does surprise how well certain GIFs 'break' from their 2D restrictions.
Fun experimental web project by akihiko taniguchi where you can place an animated GIF onto a 3D plinth in a virtual gallery room which you can move around with the keyboard. You will need the URL of the GIF to be able to view it here (you cannot upload a file, but there are plenty around Tumblr and the web to try out).
Some code put together by Jordi Ros to create a spinning GIF video wall, with accompanying music, all employing WebGL. There are two examples given (one is Napoleon Dynamite, the other, Gangnam Style) - note that they both currently only work on Google's Chrome web browser.
Should you want to make your own, the code is available at GitHub here
Could you tell me a little bit about the Google Street View pictures "Self Portrait with Dog" (2008) and "Self Portrait with Friends" (2012)?
They are part of an exploration around portraiture I began in 2000 designing desktop icons, programming cookies, and making google images generated drawings.
In either cases, it's me on the street in Milan being shot by the Google Car. The first one back in 2008, the second one in 2012.
In "Self-Portrait With Dog," I'm walking my dog and I choose that frame among others from the street view sequence (that you can still browse from the project's homepage) because of its composition. It is also a classic theme in portraiture and it has a link to a famous work by futurist painter Giacomo Balla: "Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash", 1912. Both explore the idea of time and space, with mine having strong ties with very urgent themes like public exposure, privacy and control.
In "Self-Portrait With Friends (i fannulloni)" I've been shot with two pals while lying around like slackers. "i fannulloni" — that is the wall writing on the left of the picture — means slackers. You might find an assonance with "I Vitelloni" by Federico Fellini. Even in this case, I chose this frame for its composition values and when shown in gray scale as it has to be, its "neo realistic" side pops up.
Naming these works "self portraits", and not "portraits made by Google" — like suggested by curator Pau Waelder — ironically plays with the idea that I had a direct control on the execution of the project, which I didn't; employing as a medium the corporation that actually took control and owns rights of the public space and its content.
They are probably the most simple projects I ever did so far and at the same time the most difficult ones. I think they come out so perfect because I didn't do almost anything. In my mind they are like pure thought.
Getting your picture taken by Google Street View twice was just luck? Or did you have an idea that they were photographing the neighborhood? What are your thoughts on Street View?
Yes yes, it was just luck. I had no control.
Street view is a great tool but the way it was implemented (imposed) was, in my opinion, at least questionable. They made private agreements with governments to scan the globe skipping any kind of people's feedback, people who happen to be the subjects, beside the public environment, of this pretty intrusive practice.
I would be interested to know if these agreements were "economic". This is an important step because in the end all the Street View material is copyrighted and private owned, resulting in contradiction with the subject matter, and of course, above all when you find yourself featured in it twice.
Apart from sniffing kinda private data broadcasted via wifi (I've no idea what the goal was or if this happened on purpose) they shouldn't had used unmarked cars to make their first rides through the cities. Of course we could say it's more a Gov's lack than their fault, but when dealing so evidently with personal privacy I think they should had been more careful.
In the end we all accepted it enthusiastically, emphasizing the common practice of being accomplices in an endless leak of personal privacy (Political profiling through Facebook) that doesn't match the same aim for a full transparency of the public administration.
After discovering myself on Street View the first time in 2008, I was telling everybody that as time passes and the Google car keeps crawling, we'd have disappeared from that spot and selfportraitwithdog.com would end in a different picture, with no me and no dog in it, except for a caption at the bottom of the screen recalling the old project.
What is happening instead, is that even if we are gone from that spot http://goo.gl/maps/6c6jE we are still there if you access the same section from the art project. And you can browse it of course.
So, it's like Google is keeping Street View layers from previous years, but it shows only the latest one except you have saved an old address, like mine pointing to "Self Portrait With Dog".
I think they are working on a Street View Time Machine to let people browse a selected area back in time. This will be of extreme help for historian and urbanists to name a few and gives an unpredictable depth and a final raison d’être to a contemporary apparatus.
Kitchen Table Coders Workshop, held at the New Museum
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This text has been written for the proceedings of the international conference "New Perspectives, New Technologies", organized by the Doctoral School Ca' Foscari - IUAV in Arts History and held in Venice and Pordenone, Italy in October 2011
The "portal" designed by Antenna Design to show net based art in the exhibition "Art Entertainment Network", Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, 2000. Courtesy Walker Art Center, Minneapolis.
In the late nineties and during the first decade of this century the term “new media art” became the established label for that broad range of artistic practices that includes works that are created, or in some way deal with, new media technologies. Providing a more detailed definition here would inevitably mean addressing topics beyond the scope of this paper, that I discussed extensively in my book Media, New Media, Postmedia (Quaranta 2010). By way of introduction to the issues discussed in this paper, we can summarize the main argument put forward in the book: that this label, and the practices it applies to, developed mostly in an enclosed social context, sometimes called the “new media art niche”, but that would be better described as an art world in its own right, with its own institutions, professionals, discussion platforms, audience, and economic model, and its own idea of what art is and should be; and that only in recent years has the practice managed to break out of this world, and get presented on the wider platform of contemporary art.
It was at this point in time, and mainly thanks to curators who were actively involved in the presentation of new media art in the contemporary art arena, that the debate about “curating new media (art)” took shape. This debate was triggered by the pioneering work of curators – from Steve Dietz to Jon Ippolito, Benjamin Weil and Christiane Paul – who at the turn of the millennium curated seminal new media art exhibitions for contemporary art museums; and it was – and still is –nurtured by CRUMB - “Curatorial Resource for Upstart Media Bliss” - a platform and mailing list founded by Beryl Graham and Sarah Cook in 2000 within the School of Arts, Design, Media and Culture at the University of Sunderland, UK. As early as 2001, CRUMB organized the first ever meeting of new media curators in the UK as part of BALTIC's pre-opening program – a seminar on Curating New Media held in May 2001.
In the context of this paper, our main reference texts will be CRUMB-related publications, from the proceedings of “Curating New Media” (2001) to Rethinking Curating. Art After New Media (2010), a recent book by Beryl Graham and Sarah Cook; and New Media in the White Cube and Beyond, a book edited by Christiane Paul in 2008. Instead of addressing the specific issues and curatorial models discussed in these publications, we will try to focus on the very foundations of “curating new media”, exploring questions like: does new media art require a specific curatorial model? Does this curatorial model follow the way artists working with new media currently present themselves on the contemporary art platform? How much could “new media art” benefit from a non-specialized approach? Are we curating “new media” or curating “art”?
Vuk Ćosić, History of Art for Airports, 1997. Web project, screenshot.
A medium based definition
“The lowest common denominator for defining new media art seems to be that it is computational and based on algorithms.” (Paul 2008: 3)
“[...] in this book, what is meant by the term new media art is, broadly, art that is made using electronic media technology and that displays any or all of the three behaviours of interactivity, connectivity and computability, in any combination.” (Graham, Cook 2010: 10)
Whatever one may think about new media art, when it comes to curating the definition becomes strictly technical and medium-based. New media art is the art that uses new media technologies as a medium – period. No further complexity is admitted. Beryl Graham and Sarah Cook, for example, in the continuation of the paragraph quoted, seem to be well aware of the sociological complexity of new media art, but willingly put this aside to focus instead on the art that displays “the three behaviours of interactivity, connectivity and computability”, wherever it is shown and whatever it has been labeled . This is no surprise, because – especially when it comes to museum departments – curating has always been medium-based. This model generally works, despite some criticism from curators, especially when the complexity of the medium in question doesn't allow oversimplification. In 2005, writing about video art, David A. Ross said: “Most often, at this point in time, video art is a term of convenience valued by museum conservators who have a professional need to devise proper storage and conservation standards for this specific medium, but even in this situation it is inadequate” (Gianelli, Beccaria 2005: 14 - 15). It is inadequate, Ross goes on, because video has become a ubiquitous medium, one that often makes its appearance in what would be better defined as “mixed media sculptural installations.” The same can also be said for other contemporary art forms such as performance and installation, but it applies to new media even more – a definition that, even in its strictly technical sense, applies to a wide range of forms and behaviors, from computer animation to robotics, from internet based art to biotechnologies.
Of course, both Paul and Graham / Cook – and, generally speaking, all good new media art curators – are fully aware of this complexity, and this awareness shapes their theoretical writing. It is exactly because of this that Graham and Cook, in their book, focus on behaviors rather than on specific forms and languages. At the same time, they are fully aware of new media art's resistance to the white cube and the specific kind of space it offers. As Christiane Paul puts it: “Traditional presentation spaces create exhibition models that are not particularly appropriate for new media art. The white cube creates a “sacred” space and a blank slate for contemplating objects. Most new media is inherently performative and contextual.” (Paul 2008: 56) Paul goes even further, arguing that new media art does not just resist the white cube, but even the kind of understanding provided by the contemporary art world: “New media could never be understood from a strictly art-historical perspective: the history of technology and media sciences plays an equally important role in this art's formation and reception. New media art requires media literacy.” (Paul 2008: 5).
Paul responds to this situation by painting a picture of a curator as less a caretaker of objects and more a mediator, interpreter or producer (Paul 2008: 65). But what does this mediation apply to? Paul implicitly responds to this question when she talks about the average museum / gallery audience, and their common criticisms of the new media art they encounter there. According to Paul, “the museum / gallery audience for new media art might be divided roughly into the following categories: the experts who are familiar with the art form; the fairly small group of those who claim a “natural” aversion to computers and technology and refuse to look at anything presented using them; a relatively young audience that is highly familiar with virtual worlds, interfaces and navigation paradigms but not necessarily accustomed to art that involves these aspects; and those who are open to and interested in the art but need assistance using it and navigating it.” (Paul 2008: 66, my italics). This paragraph already shows that, in most cases, what's at stake is differing levels of familiarity with technology among the audience. This is even more evident when Paul starts considering “recurring criticisms” against new media art – well summed up by the titles of the subsequent chapters: “it's all about technology” ; “it doesn't work”; “it belongs in a science museum”; “I work on a computer all day – I don't want to see art on it in my free time”; “I want to look at art – not interact with it” ; “where are the special effects?”
Paul concludes that “the intrinsic features of new media art ultimately protect it from being co-opted by the art establishment” (Paul 2008: 74). Yet, this argument can lead us to another, equally (or maybe even more) legitimate conclusion: that technology ultimately prevents new media art from being understood by the contemporary art audience.
Moving the focus
“The hype surrounding the technology driving new media art hasn't helped its long term engagement with the art world...” (Graham, Cook 2010: 39)
This is where a strictly medium-based definition obviously leads. If new media art is rooted in the active use of technology as a medium, there is no way to do without it; and if technology is the main obstacle between new media art and the art audience, all new media curating has to do is attenuate the impact of the technology, and make the art feel more “at home”, albeit artificially. Or, as Vuk Cosic puts it, talking about net-based art: “In my view, when you show online stuff in a gallery space, which is not online, you essentially put it in the wrong place. It's not at home. It's not where it is supposed to be. It's decontextualized; it's shown in a glass test-tube. So whatever you do is just an attempt to make it look more alive. You either move the test-tube or have some fancy lighting. And this is how it works for me.” (Cook, Graham, Martin 2002: 42).
An easy argument against this could be that technology won't be always new. We got used to TV monitors and projectors in galleries; we will get used to computers as well. The youngsters currently drawing their first pictures on an iPhone at the age of two will eventually grow up, and new media art will look more natural to them than it does to us. Yet this is only true up to a point. The hype surrounding the “new media” has not died down over the last two decades, quite the contrary: it burgeons any time a new gadget is launched on the market, reaching an even wider audience. And so far, the art world's resistance to new media art has not been greatly affected by the fact that everyone living in developed countries knows Google, and half of them have a Facebook account.
So, the questions at stake are: if technology is the problem, can curating allow the art audience to access new media art without technology, or at least reduce the impact of technology on the perception of the work? Can the curator become a mediator between art that tackles the social, political and cultural implications of technology, and the art audience, rather than between technology and the art audience, as in the model described by Paul and Graham / Cook? If this is possible, it can only happen, of course, outside of the strictly medium-based definition outlined before, and in the context of a definition that focuses more on new media art's critical engagement with new media and the information age, and on its ability to reach different audiences in different ways: not just the contemporary art audience, but also, on the one hand, the more specialized audience attending new media art events and, on the other, the “bored at work network”  that can be reached online.
In other words, if new media curating wants to better serve the practice it supports and the audiences it addresses, it has to shift its focus from the use of technology to other features that are intrinsic to new media art, but that have been sidestepped by the debate around new media curating so far. It has to be more about curating the art that deals with new media, and less about curating the actual new media themselves. Furthermore, it has to take advantage of the intrinsic variability of new media and the adaptability of artists capable of speaking different languages (something that should not be mistaken for conformism) in order to facilitate the presentation of their art to different audiences, and foster a better, broader understanding of their work.
Electroboutique's presentation in the show "Holy Fire. Art of the Digital Age", Bruxelles, iMAL 2008. Image curtesy the author
“The professional tends to classify and to specialize, to accept uncritically the groundrules of the environment. The groundrules provided by the mass response of his colleagues serve as a pervasive environment of which he is contentedly unaware. The 'expert' is the man who stays put.” (McLuhan, Fiore 1967 (2001): 92)
But why has the debate around new media curating, that, as we said above, involves curators active in the field of contemporary art, and well aware of the problems that the art audience can experience when faced with technology, not yet got the point? It is probably just a case of them uncritically accepting the groundrules of this arena, namely the new media art world. Their ideal audience is probably still that described by Paul as “the experts who are familiar with the art form” - that is, the niche audience of new media art. They probably still place media literacy above art literacy, as a condition for understanding a piece of new media art.
Unfortunately, this approach does not fit in with their declared mission, that is to bring new media art to a broader audience and forge dialogue with other forms of contemporary art. Of course, this mission also includes increasing the audience's familiarity with technology as a medium for art, but it is not limited to that. We could go even further, and say that this is just the last stage of a long journey undertaken to show the contemporary art audience the extraordinary impact of media and technologies on the world we live in, and the importance of increasing our awareness of them for a better understanding of contemporary society – and – as a consequence, the topical nature of the art that engages with them critically, in terms of both medium and content.
This might lead us to conclude that there is no need for the specific figure of the “new media curator”: a contemporary art curator open to new languages and with a good level of media literacy can do an even better job, in terms of picking out what is relevant to a contemporary art audience, working with the artist to find a good way of “translating” the work for the white cube, and forging dialogue with other forms of contemporary art. Perhaps this will be the case in the future. At the present time, the cultural insularity of new media art and the existence of two different art worlds means that specialized curators are still necessary. But new media curating should be reframed, in terms of mediating between two art worlds and two different cultures, rather than mediating between the art audience and technology. It should be about bringing new media art to the art audience in a way that enables it to be accepted as art, and also obliges people to reconsider their preconceptions about what can be accepted as art. With or without technologies.
Oliver Laric, Kopienkritik, 2011. Installation, Skulpturhalle Basel. Image courtesy the artist
Follow the artists
“My interest in technology is in its relationship with culture and its effects on society, and in many cases that can be communicated in things other than code.” (O'Dwyer 2012: 7)
Artists are already showing curators the way along this path. At some point, the artists formerly known as new media artists started taking the problem of how to present their art in the white cube more seriously, and realized that sometimes, putting technology aside was not just a compromise with the market , or a way of watering down their works and making them more palatable to the masses, but the right thing to do. It was a process that took time, involved trial and error and ultimately accepting failure, and was eventually facilitated by the emergence of a new generation of artists who enjoyed both bits and atoms, and who didn't see “new” and “old” media in opposition, but as lines of inquiry that should be pursued together, and that can sometimes converge, sometimes diverge, and sometimes criss-cross. A complete, or at least representative, list of examples would go far beyond the scope of this short paper, so I will provide just two recent, random examples. Around the time I started writing this text, I received two press releases: the first announcing that Berlin-based artist Oliver Laric, in conjunction with The Collection and Usher Gallery in Lincoln, had just won the Contemporary Art Society's £60,000 “commission to collect” award; and the second announcing a new work by US born, Paris-based artist Evan Roth, currently on display at the Science Gallery in Dublin. Though the “new media artist” label would be problematic for both, it is hard to dispute the fact that the two artists in question originally attracted the interest of a community of “experts” with their (mostly net-based) early practice. Thanks to the CAS grant, Laric will now be able to create a new work of art for The Collection and Usher Gallery's permanent collection. According to the press release, the work “will employ the latest 3D scanning methods to scan all of the works in The Collection and Usher Gallery's collections – from classical sculpture to archeological finds – with the aim of eliminating historical and material hierarchies and reducing all the works to objects and forms. These scans will be made available to the public to view, download and use for free from the museum's website and other platforms, without copyright restrictions, and can be used for social media and academic research alike. Laric will use the scans himself to create a sculptural collage for the museum, for which the digital data will be combined, 3D printed and cast in acrylic plaster.”  The commission allows Laric to bring his ongoing project Versions, started in 2009 with a video essay and developed in subsequent years with other videos, sculptures, installations, to a new level. Versions looks at the issues around copyright, originality and repetition through history, up to the digital age. With the project for The Collection and Usher Gallery, he will give the gallery's audience the chance to learn and think about 3D scanning, digital manipulation, sharing, and the shifting relationship between the physical and the digital, all in the familiar form of a sculptural installation. The online audience, on the other hand, will be able to enjoy and interact with this amazing collection of digital material.
Evan Roth, Angry Birds All Levels, 2012. Ink on tracing paper, 188cm x 150cm. Installation view at the Science Gallery, Dublin, Ireland. Photo by Seb Lee-Delisle, image courtesy Evan Roth.
Angry Birds All Levels (2012) is the telling title of Evan Roth's last work, consisting of 300 sheets of tracing paper and black ink attached to the wall in a grid with small nails. According to the Science Gallery website, it is “a visualization of every finger swipe needed to complete the popular mobile game of the same name. The gestures are visualized on sheets of paper the same size as the iPhone the game was originally created for. Angry Birds is part of a larger series that Roth has been working on over the last year called Multi-Touch Paintings. These compositions are created by performing simple routine tasks on multi-touch handheld computing devices [ranging from unlocking the device to checking Twitter] with inked fingers. The series is a comment on computing and identity, but also creates an archive of this moment in history when we have started to manipulate pixels directly through gestures that we were unfamiliar with just over 5 years ago.”  Even if it is on show in a science museum, nobody would ever say it belongs there.
In both works, technology is part of the creative process and one of the issues at stake (but not the only one). In both cases, technology does not feature in the gallery, not out of convenience or for marketing reasons, but because this is what works best for the artwork itself.
In most cases, artists arrived at this point under their own steam, with little help from curators. Are new media curators ready to help them take the next step? If so, they should probably start by focusing on their art rather than their media.
 “Artworks showing these behaviors, but that may be from the wider fields of contemporary art or from life in technological times are included, however.” (Graham, Cook 2010: 10)
 As Paul explains: “If a museum visitor is unfamiliar with technology, it automatically becomes the focus of attention – an effect unintended by the artist.” (Paul 2008: 67)
 “Art that breaks with the conventions of contemplation and purely private engagement shocks the average museumgoer, disrupting the mind-set that art institutions so carefully cultivated.” (Paul 2008: 71)
 The “bored at work network” has been theorized by artist and researcher Jonah Peretti in the frame of the Contagious Media Project. Cf. http://contagiousmedia.org/.
 A take on the way new media art circulates in the art market was the exhibition Holy Fire. Art in the Digital Age I curated together with Yves Bernard for the iMAL Centre for Digital Cultures & Technologies in Bruxelles, Belgium (April 18 – 30, 2008). Cf. Bernard, Quaranta 2008.
 The press release is available in the News section of the website of the Contemporary Art Society: “Rising star Oliver Laric scoops Contemporary Art Society’s prestigious £60,000 Annual Award 2012 with The Collection and Usher Gallery, Lincoln”, November 20, 2012, http://www.contemporaryartsociety.org/news.
"Tell me about yourself, and you might mention where you're from, the music you prefer, perhaps a favorite writer or filmmaker or artist, possibly even the sports teams you root for. But I doubt you'll mention brands or products. That would seem shallow, right? There's just something illegitimate about openly admitting that brands and products can function as cultural material, relevant to identity and expression. It's as if we would prefer this weren't true..." — Rob Walker, Exhibition Essay, As Real As It Gets, 2012.
Journalist and author Rob Walker has a long history of projects that look at the intersection of designed objects and consumer behavior. Formerly of the Times Magazine "Consumed" column and currently found at Design Observer, Walker coined the term "murketing" in his 2008 book, Buying In: The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy and Who We Are, to describe the blurred strategy between marketing and entertainment used to sell products without the associations of an overt branding campaign. Walker's current project swings to the other side of the spectrum, examining brands so compelling they don't need physical manifestations: he has curated "As Real As It Gets" at New York's Apexart about imaginary brands and fictional products. I talked to Walker over email about some of the questions the exhibition raises about our complicated relationship with things.
The show, in many ways, seems like a continuation or synthesis of your own speculative design projects with your different tumbleblogs. The majority of your own practice exists exclusively in the virtual sphere, for example your recent Significant Objects project with Joshua Glenn, where thrift store detritus was listed on eBay along with fictive narratives of their history in order to demonstrate the subjectivity of value (and collected as a book earlier this year). In "As Real As It Gets," you bring these supposedly imagined objects into an actual space. What attracted you to this more traditional form of curating, and how do you see it as distinct from projects that live exclusively online or in publication?
The honest answer to the specific question of what attracted me to the physical-space scenario for this project is that Apexart offered to let me organize a show! So the process sort of worked in the opposite direction: What could I do with this space? I had this longstanding interest in imaginary brands and fictional products and various art and design work that touched on those notions, and that seemed like it would be a particularly good thing to deal with in this way.
But to get at what I think you're really asking about, I suppose it's a matter of figuring out what works best for a given project. Significant Objects is an interesting example. Back when that was just a vague and unnamed notion, I actually imagined it as a gallery thing — you'd see the objects, the stories would be printed out and displayed, and there would be a live auction. But outside of being a visitor, the art/gallery world is a total mystery to me. So I didn't do anything about it until I hooked up with Joshua Glenn. By then it seemed obvious the way to do it was online. Not to be a big cliche about this, but the tools are there and available to all and easy to use: Wordpress to publish the stories, eBay to serve as the sales mechanism. We didn't have to ask anybody to let us do it, we could just do it. So there's that.
On the other hand, as that project took off, it did have physical-world offshoots -- an event at Litquake in San Francisco, and more recently a book version collecting 100 stories from the project. But the book in particular was a different beast. It's tricky, because I've definitely had the experience of "you've seen this digital picture online, now here it is in a gallery, or a book," and it's actually disappointing. So everyone involved made an effort to avoid that. The book was published by Fantagraphics and designed by Jacob Covey, who did an amazing job of making this into something beautiful and lasting, something that needed to be a physical object.
So things can sort of overlap or go back and forth. Even my stuff on Tumblr really varies by project. Unconsumption, a group Tumblr I co-founded, is put together like a publication, with an audience very much in mind. I also have a thing called Google Image Search Results that's basically an offshoot of a piece I wrote for Design Observer. That could evolve into something else, maybe. But the point is that online/offline also overlaps with subjects I'm dealing with as a writer vs. these other creative projects, whatever you want to call them. Most of my personal Tumblrs are more like notebooks; I'm not thinking about the audience at all, I'm just collecting stuff I find interesting and sometimes patterns emerge from that, leading to something else -- an article, a project. The Hypothetical Development Organization can be traced back to something I wrote on my old blog, just saying "It would be cool if someone did X" (and then Ellen Susan and G.K. Darby said "yeah, us, let's do it!")
For this show, when I got that call from Apexart, I personally just thought it would be really cool to see all this work brought together in physical space, even though I'd seen images of a lot of it online. Of course we also added some more work through commissions, but even if we hadn't, to me it was definitely worth it not only to see these objects and images in person, but to see them together. Plus, we could add sound -- the audio work inspired by The Ladies' Paradise that Marc Weidenbaum's Disquiet Junto musicans created. So it's really an experience to be in that space. I hope!
Anyway it was a great experience to do something in this kind of setting and I'd love to do it again, but until the next opportunity comes along, I can bide my time on the Web.
It is easy to see the humor in in the show - both as sardonic commentary and uncanny or unheimlich physical manifestations of products from fictional worlds (Staple Design's iteration of H.G. Wells' Tono-Bungay is kind of like a high art Duff Beer can). However, it seems like an over-simplification to just read these objects as satire. Do you see this collected body of work as a heightened version of our present consumer culture brought to its most extreme (but logical!) conclusion? Or is there some room for serious advocacy and futurism in the work as well?
I think the uncanny point is the most important one to me. Interestingly one of the artists in the show, Shawn Wolfe, there's a book of his work called Uncanny. But the Tono-Bungay piece is a good one to focus on because Staple Design and I talked about this explicitly: We didn't want the result to read as satire or parody, we wanted it to look plausible, like the kind of thing a branding firm might really do for a real-world client. Only in the case the client is fictional, and in fact Tono-Bungay was invented by H.G. Wells as a kind of stand-in for untrustworthy products. So you have to really look closely to sort out what's going on.
So you mention Duff Beer, we have some stuff from The Simpsons in the show, and that stuff does read as parody — on the Krusty-O's box, there are worms in the cereal. So it's not plausible; at a glance, it's obviously satirical. The reason it's in the show is that when the Simpsons movie came out, they produced actual boxes of the stuff, put it in actual 7-11s, and people actually bought it. So it wasn't just a satire of consumer culture, it was an example of consumer culture. So that seemed like an interesting thing to include in the show.
In a way I think the show is less about consumer culture than it's about doing interesting things with the language and grammar of consumer culture, recognizing how powerful some of those tropes are and how we take them for granted and thus fail to take them seriously. So there's a lot in the show that looks familiar at first glance, but the more you look at it the more you realize something else is going on -- and that this isn't familiar at all, it's very strange. Or uncanny.
There is a fair amount of zombie media-looking stuff included - products designed to intentionally appear technologically outdated and, thus, looking like they have no place in functionally providing any service other than highlighting the failed utopianism of their design and, essentially, standing alone as branded commodities. What do these outdated and low-tech pieces say about the message of the show (whose exhibition design, its worth noting, is itself an anachronistic sort of 1960s elementary school general store chic, itself a product placement for Blu Dot)?
I think the answer here might vary depending on the piece. But maybe to follow up on the point above, I would say there's a lot in the show that's using design language and branding language to express ideas about people, human nature, faith in progress, and so on. And maybe doing so in a way that's more or less the opposite of how, for instance, retail environments work. The point of retail is really to make you stop thinking. And obviously something like Ryan Watkins-Hughes' "Shopdropping" cans, which he would insert into retail environments, that's there to interrupt that mindless process and jolt you into seeing: What is this? Someone could say that the intent there is to speak about consumerism, but I think it speaks about human behavior.
I'm not sure what to say about your description of the exhibition design! I can only say my goal there was that, particularly for some of the more product-y pieces, I wanted to avoid having everything on a traditional Art Gallery Pedestal; I was hoping the make the space feel both more accessible and maybe more chaotic and disconcerting. I had some contacts at Blu Dot and ran this idea by them — I thought it would be funny, just one more weird twist, to reach out to an actual company to loan us a few pieces for the display. I was actually really pleased with the stuff they suggested. And they had a sense of humor about the whole thing -- I mean, the line "product placement courtesy of Blu Dot" is something I thought would be an interesting bit for the viewer to consider, but I wasn't sure they'd go for it, and they totally got it. Anyway, I think the final look was different without being gimmicky. (I didn't want to make the space look like a bodega or a boutique, I've seen that done and that's great, but I wanted the context to be something that wasn't particularly recognizable.)
Having said all that, to go back to your first question, this was something that was incredibly stressful for me — figuring out how to arrange the objects and images. The Apexart folks were really helpful, but it was just something I'd never thought about before in any serious way, and it was quite a challenge. It's a lot harder than picking a cool theme on Tumblr.
Something is a little unsetting about the appearance of a 3D printer concurrent with all these branding and product design campaigns without a concrete physical form. While several of the campaigns cite professional, empirical evidence for their direction (more than one, interestingly, cite the writing of behavioral economist Dan Ariely) while the production system, the 3D Makerbot Replicator, a compact little desktop model made for casual "at home printing" is attempting to democratize a process that formerly required a high level of skill. What does this inversion of professionalization say about the current state of design?
So when I had the first meeting with the Apexart crew, somehow the subject of 3D printing came up randomly. It was something they were interested in and I knew a fair amount about MakerBot because of an article I'd written. Then when I was putting together my wish list of stuff to pursue for the show, and I was thinking about Shawn Wolfe's work, I remembered at that one point he'd created this plastic "toy" version of his RemoverInstaller™, the non-product non-sold by his imaginary not-brand BeatKit™. I looked up a picture of it to refresh my memory and it just looked like something that could be printed on a MakerBot machine. And, yes, that bringing that into the show could introduce another dimension to the whole idea. For one thing, we're producing a non-product, on site.
But also, if this whole show is about the intersection of imagination/fiction and brands/products, doesn't the rise of 3D printing actually have to be addressed somehow? Part of what the MakerBot people talk about is that, you know, you can use this thing to dream up your products and print them at home, instead of going to a big box store. There are various ways to respond to that notion, of course. But to push a little further in that direction: One of the events connected to the exhibition is a pair of MakerBot workshop sessions (one for kids, one all-ages) led by Liz Arum, who's in charge of their education outreach. This sort of opens up the whole concept of the show in a participatory way -- you (or your kids) can come dream up your own fictional object and get it printed in the gallery.
I appreciated your stab at an "exhibition trailer." Actually, I'd love to see those for more shows... But that leads to the question: do you have a brand strategy for the exhibition? If you did, what would it be?
We intend to target key influencers across critical demographics who can leverage their social networks to maximize —
Just kidding. The trailer, as you've deduced, is not something that I particularly planned. I didn't know what I was doing, both in the sense that I have no training in making videos, and was just using whatever the editing software is on a MacBook Pro, and also in the sense that I put it together and then asked: Well, what is this? It's certainly not a document of the show, and it's not really an ad. It seemed like a Kickstarter video that wasn't asking for money. And then I decided it was like a "book trailer," but for an art show. And yes, having reached that conclusion, I agree, I think others should do that for art shows, particularly people who actually know how to make videos. I think it could be an interesting and useful category.
To the branding question: We did at one point talk about maybe making locally run ads for the show, but that never went anywhere. The only branding tactic I can point to is the giveaway objects, which was one of my favorite things about this entire process. Apart from postcards and a brochure for the show, there are a number of things people can just take from the gallery: Ladies' Paradise balloons, Veladone-RX pens, FutureWorld business cards, and Tono-Bungay stickers. All promotional objects for things that don't exist. And each conceived in a way that I hope it has some kind of life of its own after the show is over.
Which reminds me of one last point about the physical-space vs. online-space issue, actually. When I got to New York the day of the opening (I live in Savannah) and saw everything in real life, in that room, I was really blown away — it was just so much cooler in person than I'd imagined. (And I had high hopes.) But the next thing I realized was: Oh, wow, so five weeks from now, this will be gone! Which is totally different from a Web site. The Significant Objects site will be in place for as long as Josh and I care to keep it up, but "As Real As It Gets" will end on December 22. Downside of doing something IRL, I guess: It's more ephemeral.
"As Real As It Gets," Apexart Through December 22, 2012 291 Church Street New York, NY 10013
Can you talk about your experience co-curating (with José Manuel Noceda) the Cuban Pavilion, Shared Creations, at the 11th Havana Biennial (2012)? What were your hopes for the mixed group of Cuban and international artists?
¿Puedes contarnos sobre tu experiencia en la co-curaduría (con José Manuel Noceda) en el Pabellón Cuba, Creaciones Compartidas, en la 11na Bienal de La Habana en el 2012? ¿Cuáles eran las expectativas para la mezcla de artistas cubanos e internacionales?
Working on the Biennial and learning alongside Noceda, Jorge Fernández and others was a very satisfying experience. My own art training was heavy on links to praxis; now, even when I'm involved in curatorial or theoretical work, it's hard for me to remove that filter. In contrast with other curatorial projects I've been involved with, on this occasion I was invited to be part of something that already had a structure and theme. Without the customary creative freedom, it became a learning experience, an apprenticeship. It’s also the first co-curation I've done, and the first curatorial project for which I wasn't myself producing something.
The Biennial is an international phenomenon. It's typical of such events that they increase relations between cultures, meaning artists come together who may have different ideologies and political and social discourses, but who are essentially motivated by similar tools and resources, from the market's most banal to the most spiritual of art. The mind constantly battles between a practical realism that trains its eyes on the external world and a search directed towards inner well-being, towards the idea of beauty and perfection. In all the big art events you find both states. In those moments, specific political relations are secondary.
Precisamente trabajar en la Bienal y aprender al lado de Noceda, Jorge Fernández y los demás, fue la experiencia más satisfactoria. Yo provengo de una formación en artes vinculada a la práctica, incluso aunque participe de una experiencia curatorial o teórica me es difícil distanciarme de ese filtro. A diferencia de otras curadurías que he realizado, en esta ocasión fui invitado a formar parte de algo que ya tenía una estructura y un tema; al no tener la acostumbrada libertad creativa, la experiencia devino aprendizaje. Por lo demás es la primera curaduría en dúo que realizo, y también es la primera curaduría en la que no tengo que hacer producción.
La Bienal es un fenómeno internacional. Es típico de la naturaleza de eventos de esta envergadura que se extiendan las relaciones entre una cultura y otra, esto implica la coexistencia de artistas que, aunque con diferentes ideologías y discursos políticos y sociales, están esencialmente motivados por herramientas y recursos similares, que oscilan desde lo más burdo del mercado hasta lo más espiritual del arte. La mente humana, constantemente, se disputa entre el materialismo más práctico que establece la mirada sobre un mundo exterior y una búsqueda dirigida hacia un bienestar interior, hacia la idea de belleza y perfección. En los grandes eventos que giran en torno al arte se encuentran concentrados ambos estados. En momentos como esos, las relaciones políticas particulares pasan a un segundo plano.
Your curatorial statement for that exhibition describes an attempt to find “communion between the works and the audience who moves from spectator to collaborator.” How does your own contribution, The Journey, a combination of video game code and existential reflections, use digital technology to blur of the lines of authorship and move towards a dialogical relationship with the spectator, particularly the broad international audience now in attendance?
Según tu opinión, como curador para esa muestra, describes un intento para “encontrar comunión entre las obras y el público que pasa de espectador a colaborador.” ¿Cómo tu propia contribución, The Journey, una combinación de códigos de video juegos y reflexiones existencialistas, usa la tecnología digital para hacer difusas las líneas de autor y moverse hacia una relación de diálogo con el espectador, particularmente la amplia audiencia internacional que ahora la aprecia?
The Journey is not a work that spectators can modify, play or manipulate; rather, it's a work that attempts to modify the spectator's perceptual point of view, through a basic concern: that of time. The Journey consists of a single image that is non-narrative and unchanging throughout the duration of the piece. It's less a passive projection of a machinima than an environment—ratherdreamworld-like, owing to the voice of the announcer and the music on the radio station, which I found on Liberty City. The work interacts with the spectator via two spaces: the real, which is where he hails from and believes he belongs, and the virtual, an apparently static image of one of the most transited bridges in the world andonecrossedundermuch stress; the path towards Manhattan, perhaps the most important artery for Western Civilization; empty, mute, and with a temporal compression of 24 hours into one. The spectator's mind lies between the two, observingboth sides and deciding which pill to swallow, the red or the blue. In this film, the character is time's movement itself and only needs from the observer her participation, her time; one second is enough. Observation itself is collaboration.
The Journey no es una obra donde el espectador pueda modificar, jugar, o manipular; más bien es una obra que intenta modificar el punto de vista de percepción en el espectador, a través de la fuente de sus preocupaciones: el tiempo. En la obra él solo puede encontrarse con una imagen que no cambia más allá del tiempo, que no cuenta nada, que no narra. En este caso no se trata solamente de una proyección pasiva de un machinima. Esta pieza es más un environment —yo diría que de una psicodelia minimal debido a la voz de la emisora y su música, que encontré en Liberty City—. La obra interactúa con el espectador desde dos espacios, el real, de donde proviene y a donde considera que pertenece, y el virtual, que representa el estado aparentemente inamovible de una imagen de uno de los puentes más transitados del mundo y, probablemente, el que con más estrés mental se recorre diariamente, el camino directo hacia Manhattan, quizás la arteria más importante para la civilización occidental; vacío, mudo, y con una compresión temporal de veinticuatro horas a una. En el centro queda la mente del espectador, observando a ambos lados y decidiendo cuál píldora tragarse, la roja o la azul. En esta película, el personaje es su transcurrir mismo y solo necesita del espectador su participación, su tiempo; con un segundo basta. Su observación misma es su colaboración.
The catalog accompanying 2010’s “The Tipof the Bullet: A Decade of Cuban Art,” at the Cuban Pavilion (which you curated) has received attention and earned several awards. Can you talk a little bit about that catalog, for a show highlighting primarily emerging Cuban artists (many of whom were still in school at the Higher Institute of Art [ISA] at the time) and how you intended for it to function separately from the exhibition itself?
El catálogo que acompaña a El extremo de la Bala: Una década de Arte Cubano en el 2010 en el Pabellón Cuba, muestra de la cual fuiste curador, ha llamado la atención y recibido numerosos premios. ¿Puedes referirte brevemente a ese catálogo, como una muestra que destaca artistas cubanos emergentes (muchos de los cuales aún estudiaban en el Instituto Superior de Arte por aquella época) y cómo esperabas que este funcionara separado de la muestra misma?
In early 2000, Cuba created sixteen art schools, although the majority of those are not operational today. It was a moment in which schools were being built to train teachers, nurses, social workers, and art instructors; it was natural that art schools too should be built. Fidel Castro's dream of an educated society was realized as a society of permanent cultural training and development, closed in a time-space bubble, like a cyclic redundancy error.
That catalog came about in a moment whose generation the art world had not yet defined—a perverse mania of institutions, that need for definition—,in contrast withearlier decades of Cuban post-1959 art, often defined by their political and aesthetic tendencies. It seems humans only value what they can define, and our generation is turning out to be indefinable,since it is the result of many radical changes in the country, most spectacularly during the "Special Period" [1991-2010]; but our generation is also a product of the world of videogames, the internet and September 11.
Yet it is as if Cuban art history hadn't moved beyond 2000 and we—we alone—remain forever "emerging artists." As if our experience were insignificant and should be substituted by that of our predecessors. We needed a software to reveal to the collective conscious that cyclic redundancy error, the poor self-delusionthat ideological and aesthetic permanence can exist; because change alone is permanent. You can stop people, but a generation is unstoppable. Various kinds of software or viruses of this type appeared; that catalog is one of them, but I think at the same time it's singular, which gives it some importance.
The higher the level, the greater the error. The world needs a complete format of its culture. The internet helps in this respect: it helps dislodge from people’s consciousness the notion of discrete hegemonic cultural patterns, and reconstruct reality from a more holistic perspective.
Thanks to technology, and principally the internet, society doesn'tabsorb any absolute truth, but instead is bombarded by millions of truths collectively announcing that society's consciousness is but one piece of the trash sold to it and upon which it has grown too dependent. Whenwe begin to doubt these truths we begin to liberate ourselves from them. In the midst of this process cultural skepticism appears, a transitory phaseindicating change is happening within the generational consciousness. We're a skeptical generation, we're not interested in definitions; is there any other way to define us?
A principio del 2000, se crean en Cuba dieciséis escuelas de arte, aunque la mayoría no funcionan en la actualidad. Era un momento donde se construían escuelas de maestros emergentes, de enfermeros emergentes, de trabajadores sociales, de instructores de arte; era de esperar que se construyeran también escuelas de arte. El sueño de Fidel Castro de una sociedad culta, se concretó en una sociedad en permanente emergencia cultural, encerrada en un bucle de espacio-tiempo, como un error de redundancia cíclica. Ese catálogo surge en un momento en que la institución arte no había definido esta generación —perversa manía de las instituciones— a diferencia de las anteriores décadas del arte cubano post-revolucionario, que están muy bien delimitadas por patrones políticos y estéticos. Parece que el ser humano solo le otorga valor a aquello que puede definir, y nuestra generación se tornó indefinible por ser el producto último de cambios muy bruscos en las estructuras sociales de un país, que tuvieron su ebullición más alta en el período especial; pero nuestra generación también es producto del mundo de los videojuegos, de internet y del 11 de septiembre. Sin embargo, era como si la historia del arte cubano se hubiera detenido en el cambio de milenio y nosotros, solo nosotros, estaríamos emergiendo siempre. Como si nuestra experiencia fuera insignificante y debiéramos sustituirla por la experiencia de nuestros antecesores. Necesitábamos un software que sacara a la consciencia colectiva de ese error de redundancia cíclica, de ese pobre autoengaño de permanencia ideológica y estética; porque en el cambio mismo está la lógica de la permanencia. Se puede detener a las personas, pero una generación es indetenible. Creo que aparecieron varios software o virus de ese tipo, ese catálogo es solo uno más entre ellos, pero al mismo tiempo único en su tipo, otorgándole cierta importancia. Mientras más alto es el nivel, más grave es el error, el mundo necesita un formato completo de su cultura, internet ayuda a ello, a remover de la consciencia de las personas la idea fragmentada de patrones culturales hegemónicos, y a reconstruir toda la realidad desde un pensamiento holístico. Con la tecnología, fundamentalmente internet, la sociedad no absorbe una verdad absoluta, sino que es bombardeada por millones de verdades que le gritan que su conciencia no es más que una porción de la basura que le han estado contando y sobre la cual ha creado dependencia. Cuando la sociedad comienza a dudar de todas las verdades comienza a liberarse de ellas. En medio de ese proceso aparece el escepticismo a nivel cultural no psicológico; que no es más que un estado transitorio que muestra que se está produciendo un cambio en la consciencia generacional. Somos una generación escéptica, no nos interesan las definiciones; ¿existe otra marera de definirnos?
Your essay for that catalog talks about the role of information technology in conditioning this generation of Cuban artists in their aesthetic, political and social stances but also in their methods of expression. You call this a time of crisis, of “uncertainty, skepticism, myth and illusion.” How does this node linking contemporary Cuban society and virtual realities play a role in your own work? In a similar or different way than the younger artists featured in “The Tip of the Bullet?”
Tu ensayo para el catálogo habla sobre el papel de las tecnologías de la información como condicionantes de esta generación de artistas cubanos en sus posturas estéticas, políticas y sociales, pero también en sus métodos de expresión. Llamas a esto una época de crisis, de “incertidumbre, escepticismo, mito e ilusión.” ¿Cómo este nodo que relaciona a la sociedad cubana actual y las realidades virtuales, juegan un papel en tu propia obra? ¿Y en una manera similar o diferente, a los artistas más jóvenes presentados en El extremo de la Bala?
You’re quite right: it's all the same node. The same nodethat links contemporary Cuban art and virtual realities mediates between that work and my own. It's the samenode that mediates between other artists and their environment. It's a generational question. My work is just the reflection of my consciousness, which in turn is a refection of the collective consciousness of my generation, constitutinga kind of summa of historical consciousness; a collective memory in the form of chaos. The current generation of artists is just a handful of youth awakening from that insanity, or getting more comfortable with the luxury that comes with art: to continue dreaming.
Todo es lo mismo, ese nodo es el mismo que está entre la sociedad cubana actual y las realidades virtuales, el mismo que media en mi relación con el arte y con mi propia obra. También es el mismo que de igual manera media entre las relaciones de los demás artistas con su obra y su sociedad. Es un asunto generacional. Mi trabajo es solo el reflejo de mi consciencia, que a su vez es un reflejo de la consciencia colectiva de mi generación, que viene a ser la summa de toda la consciencia histórica; que es simplemente un recuerdo colectivo con forma de caos. Esta generación de artistas no es más que un puñado de jóvenes despertando de esa locura, o simplemente acomodándose al confort que vienen aparejados al arte, lo cual es seguir soñando.
The Journey (2011)
According to the calendar, 35.
35 según el calendario.
Physically, I live and work in Havana. In other ways I am anywhere.
Físicamente, vivo y trabajo en La Habana. Por lo demás estoy en cualquier lugar.
How long have you been working creatively with technology? How did you start?
¿Por cuánto tiempo has estado trabajando creativamente con la tecnología? ¿Cómo comenzaste?
For about 8 or 9 years. I always took seriously the notion that leisure is important for artists; the idea that the mind is most creative when it relaxes. There was a time when my art practice and my gaming were competing for my time and I had to choose between the two. So I kept on playing and justified it by turning it into art. I think it's the most beautiful justification I've come up with.
Unos ocho o nueve años. Siempre me tomé en serio eso de que para el artista es muy importante estar ocioso, cuando la mente cesa de preocuparse deviene su momento más creativo. Hubo un tiempo en que me competía hacer arte con el hecho de jugar videojuegos, me vi obligado a decidir por una de las dos prácticas. Así que seguí jugando y justifiqué el hecho de jugar, haciendo arte con ello mismo. Creo que ha sido la justificación más bella que me he inventado.
Describe your experience with the tools you use. How did you start using them?
Describe tu experiencia con las herramientas que empleas. ¿Cómo comenzaste a usarlas?
The term videogame is being called into questionby the very evolution of the medium. How then to define my experience with the related tools? Their expansion into automaticallygenerated interactive systems, simulators, software for physical and mental rehabilitation, programs for military training, educational programs—all of the same nature as video games—makestheir definition imprecise. I also can't even be sure, in my own practice, whether I'm making art, studying, playing, doing politics or simplywasting time, or whether I'm experiencing other zones of perceptual reality, a zone of consciousness built upon what we perceive and which we grant the category of the real.
I began using the tools the same way almost all Cuban children did at the time: pestering my mother to rent me an Atari from someone in the neighborhood. After studying art a symbiosis happened. Now I continue with my computer and my experience is that of someone from the digital age, but my mother thinks I've never grown up and I'm still playing an Atari.
El término videojuego está siendo cuestionado por la evolución misma de esa manifestación, ¿cómo puedo entonces definir mi experiencia con ellos? Su propia expansión en sistemas automatizados interactivos, simuladores, software para rehabilitación física y mental, programas para entrenamiento militar, programas educativos —todos de la misma naturaleza que los videojuegos—, hacen que su definición sea imprecisa. Por otra parte, en el hecho mismo de mi experiencia no puedo definir si estoy haciendo arte, estudiando, jugando, haciendo política o simplemente perdiendo el tiempo, ocioso, o si estoy experimentando otras zonas de la realidad perceptiva, esa que se construye en la consciencia a partir de lo que percibimos y le otorgamos categoría de real. Comencé a usar estas herramientas como casi todo niño cubano de ese entonces, martirizando a su madre para que le alquilara un ATARI en el barrio. Luego de los estudios de arte se produjo una simbiosis. Ahora sigo con el ordenador y mi experiencia es la de alguien en la Era de la electrónica, pero mi madre considera que nunca he madurado y que aun sigo jugando con un ATARI.
Where did you go to school? What did you study?
¿A qué escuela asististe? ¿Qué estudiaste?
I went to a beautiful ruin of an art school that used to exist—it's no longer the same—in Trinidad, a town I recommend to anyone visiting Cuba. A school that, givenits conditions at the time, could well have been a rural school somewhere in Africa—according anyway to [art critic Gerardo] Mosquera, as he described in it his first and only visit in '98. I was just beginning my first year of studio and I still dreamed of painting like Rembrandt and so on. But I had the chance to go to a magisterial talk on the work of Felix Gonzalez-Torres. Imagine, I never recuperated from the shock; it forever would mark my experience of art.
A una demacrada y preciosa escuela de arte que había antes —digo que había porque ya no es la misma— en Trinidad, un pueblo que le recomiendo a todos los que visiten Cuba. Un colegio, que debido a las condiciones en que nos encontrábamos, parecía —según Mosquera— una escuelita rural de alguna zona de África, como lo definió a raíz de su primera y hasta ahora única visita en el ‘98. Yo estaba apenas comenzando mi primer año de estudio y aun soñaba pintar como Rembrandt y cosas así. Pero tuve la oportunidad de asistir a su conferencia magistral sobre la obra de Felix Gonzáles-Torres. Imagínese, no me recuperé jamás de ese choque, marcó para siempre mi experiencia con el arte.
What traditional media do you use, if any? Do you think your work with traditional media relates to your work with technology?
¿Qué medios tradicionales empleas, si es que lo haces? ¿Crees que tu trabajo con los medios tradicionales se relaciona con tu trabajo con la tecnología?
They're both resources that I use for making an idea into an object, phenomenon, fact or experience. Art is an attempt to express the inexpressible; to define it is to limit it. When youset out to study something it becomes isolated and closed in on a concept and direct experience is lost. In this century it's increasinglyhard to find artists defined by a single medium, apart from those who do it for reasons related to the market. I'm not committed to a specific medium or genre, I'm rather interested in working with cultural, conceptual, scopic, social, political concepts, all linked to the act of living in a context in which there is limited training in perception.
Tanto lo uno como lo otro son recursos que utilizo para que una idea encarne en un objeto, fenómeno, hecho o experiencia. El arte es un intento de expresar lo inexpresable, definirlo no es más que limitarlo. Qué se hace con todo lo que se pretende estudiar, se aísla y se encierra en un concepto y eso produce que se pierda la experiencia directa. Cada vez es más difícil en este siglo encontrar artistas definidos por un medio específico, aparte de los que lo hacen por cuestiones relativas al mercado. Yo no estoy comprometido con medios o géneros específicos, más bien estoy relacionado a procesos culturales, conceptuales, escópicos, sociales, políticos; vinculados todos con la acción de vivir en un contexto con un limitado entrenamiento de percepción.
Are you involved in other creative or social activities (i.e. music, writing, activism, community organizing)?
¿Estás relacionado con otras actividades creativas o sociales? Por ejemplo, música, escritura, activismo u organizaciones sociales.
Some writing, I still can’t find a way into poetry, at least in its strict written structure. Eventually, work on an electronic music project (Rezak), with the idea of exploring the adjacent zones between sonorous and visual universes.
Algo de escritura, todavía la poesía me excluye, al menos en su estructura tradicional escrita. Eventualmente trabajo con un proyecto de música electrónica (Rezak), con la idea de explorar zonas colindantes entre el universo sonoro y el mundo de la visualidad.
What do you do for a living or what occupations have you held previously? Do you think this work relates to your art practice in a significant way?
¿Qué haces para vivir o qué ocupaciones previas has tenido? ¿Crees que se relacionan con tu práctica artística de un modo significativo?
I don't create to live, I live to create. The nature of what I do is life itself, I don't need more. Everything is related. I can only say: some things, like art, I do out of love, others just for money.
Yo no hago para vivir, yo vivo para hacer. La naturaleza misma de lo que hago es el hecho de vivir, no necesito más. Todo está relacionado. Yo solo puedo decirle que algunas cosas como el arte las hago por amor, otras simplemente por dinero.
Who are your key artistic influences?
¿Cuáles son tus influencias artísticas fundamentales?
I never like getting thatquestion, because it leads me towards an endless series of potential answers I always end up abandoning. There's no difference for me between seeing a movie, going to the theater, reading a book, playing a video game and the daily experience of life; from all of those come an infinity of influences. I can answer more precisely quoting Whitman: "These are really the thoughts of all men, in all ages and lands, they are not original with me."
Esta es una pregunta que no me gusta que me hagan, me conduce a un pensamiento interminable, que siempre debo abandonar. Para mí no hay diferencia entre ver una película, ir al teatro, leer un libro, jugar un videojuego y la experiencia diaria de la vida; de todo ello provienen infinitud de influencias. Puedo responderle con más exactitud citando a Whitman: Estos son realmente los pensamientos de todos los hombres, en todas las edades y tierras, no son originales míos.
Have you collaborated with anyone in the art community on a project? With whom, and on what?
¿Has colaborado con alguien en la comunidad artística en un proyecto? ¿Con quién y en qué?
Everything I do is a collaboration, though because of geopolitical circumstances the structure of the collaboration can be a bit limited; still, one can't corral the intangible. That structure might be called love. Every moveI make is motivated by it; when it’s done, the whole universe has collaborated in it.
I've coauthored work with other artists, especially NaivyPérez. I'm currently collaborating with the artist María Magdalena Campos-Pons, whom I consider a godmother more than a mentor, for her generous efforts to support emerging Cuban art.
Collaboration is of course also essential incurating, and in that sense I've worked with artists whom I admire such as Vuk Cosic, Olia Lialina, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer; in the exhibition Un mundo feliz [A Happy World] and in the context of the 10th Havana Biennial (2009).
I'm currently working with Liz Munsell—of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston—on curating a show called Cuban Virtualities, proposed for fall 2013 at Tufts University; I may myself be in Boston at that point studying towards a Masters in 2013 at the Museum School.
Colaborar es todo lo que hago, aunque por circunstancias geopolíticas la estructura de esa colaboración se ve limitada, pero no se puede contener lo intangible. Cada gesto que realizo está motivado por el amor, al hacerlo, el universo entero colabora en su realización. Tengo obras en coautoría con otros artistas, especialmente con Naivy Pérez. Actualmente colaboro con la artista María Magdalena Campos-Pons, a quien más que mentora, considero madrina, en su generosa iniciativa de potenciar arte cubano contemporáneo emergente. El propio hecho de hacer curadurías me ubica en un punto en el que la colaboración es esencial, en ese sentido he trabajado con artistas que admiro, como Vuk Cosic, Olia Lialina, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer; en la exhibición Un mundo feliz, en el marco de la Décima Bienal de La Habana (2009). Actualmente trabajo en coautoría con Liz Munsell –del MFA de Boston–, en una curaduría titulada Cuban Virtualities, que debe realizarse en el otoño del 2013 para la Tufts University también en Boston, ciudad con la que estaré muy ligado, ya que, posiblemente, comience estudios de maestría en la SMFA.
Do you actively study art history?
¿Estudias activamente la historia del arte?
If by studying you mean reading books and essays and histories of art, Hauser, Gombrich, Greenberg, Danto, encyclopedias, internet, seeing documentaries, movies… then no, I don't. These activities become a part of daily life, like sex, eating, drinking, etc.Reading and writing are, like making art, forms of sharing. As long as the history of art continues to be seen as a tale, there will be people who need to study it.
Si por estudiar se entiende leer libros y ensayos de historia de arte, Hauser, Gombrich, Greenberg, Danto, enciclopedias, internet, ver documentales, películas... entonces no la estudio. Estas actividades devienen parte de la vida diaria, como tener sexo, alimentarse, embriagarse, etc. Yo participo de una experiencia de la cual escribir y leer, así como hacer arte, son algunas formas de compartir. Mientras la historia del arte se siga viendo como un relato, habrá quien necesite seguirla estudiando.
Do you read art criticism, philosophy, or critical theory? If so, which authors inspire you?
¿Lees crítica de arte, filosofía o teoría crítica? Si es así, ¿qué autores te inspiran?
Well, I've gotten a lot of pleasure reading certain authors. If you asked me for a list of favorites, right now I'd say Voltaire, Borges, Hesse, Mann, Eco, Benjamin, Barthes, Virilio, Baudrillard, Danto, Foster, Pessoa, Khayyam, Leonard Cohen, Krishnamurti...
Bueno, he sentido mucho placer leyendo algunos autores. Si me pides un "top", ahora diría que Voltaire, Borges, Hesse, Mann, Virilio, Benjamin, Baudrillard, Danto, Foster, Pessoa, Khayyam, Leonard Cohen, Krishnamurti...
Are there any issues around the production of, or the display/exhibition of new media art that you are concerned about?
¿Existe algún tema relacionado con la producción o exhibición de los nuevos medios artísticos que te preocupe?
There's a real explosion of such work these days and I think there are some who have become snobs about it. People tend to confuse an artwork with its effects and visual spectacle. I also see a lot of nostalgia for modernity and people who wish to reduce artistic practices to limited interests tied to politics, the market or specific genres; but none of that really concerns me. Since the King has always needed entertainment, in all societies one finds buffoons.
Considero que existe una efervescencia en estos momentos y se ve mucho snob por ahí. Se tiende a confundir obra de arte con efectos y espectáculos visuales. También veo que hay mucha nostalgia por la modernidad y hay quienes intentan reducir las prácticas artísticas a intereses limitados relacionados con la política, el mercado o géneros específicos; pero nada de eso me preocupa. Debido a que el Rey siempre ha necesitado diversión, en todas las sociedades han existido bufones.
When visionary engineer J.C.R Licklider published Man-Computer Symbiosis in 1960 — a paper outlining how man’s intellectual productivity can, and should be significantly increased when partnered with a computer — the creative problems of contemporary artists were perhaps furthest from his mind. But during the 1960s, a digital fever struck the art world. Large numbers of enthused European and North American artists, curators, and theorists focussed their attention on the creative potential of computing. Software, systems, and concepts were tried and tested, and a decade’s worth of activity culminated in two landmark exhibitions: Jasia Reichardt’s Cybernetic Serendipity at London’s ICA and Jack Burnham's Software: Information Technology at New York’s Jewish Museum.
Two artists with retrospectives currently showing in the UK caught that initial wave of innovation: German born and New York-based Manfred Mohr, and British born, and still UK-based Ernest Edmonds.
Originally a painter with Constructivist sympathies, Edmonds turned to computer-aided algorithmic painting in 1968. Light Logic, his career-long retrospective at Site Gallery Sheffield, UK, combined early ‘70s works and original punch cards with a new motion sensitive installation and later video pieces. Edmonds’ essential project is an investigation into the variant formal possibilities of a two-dimensional square. In each work the internal bounds of that shape are divided into sectors made visible by the distribution of colour, or the placement of a line. This is a process facilitated by programs designed to filter through combinatorial permutations, defined by Edmonds, until a suitable variation is found and then rendered by hand. A collection of numbered ink drawings from 1974 and 1975 capture the result of this procedure in the exhibition’s only monochrome (black and white) works.
Shaping Forms, Ernest Edmonds, 2007
The late ‘80s saw Edmonds move from canvas and paper to video. Here the algorithmic process unfolds in real time. What we see are the formal results of a continuous stream of values produced by a program running calculations Edmonds designed. Shaping Forms (2007) is a collection of three videos that brings Edmunds’ data-centric concerns back into the environs of colour-field painting and Abstract Expressionism. Each of these works focuses on a distribution of color separating the screen into two sections divided by one or two vertical lines. The works resemble quantised, or snapped to grid, interpretations of Barnet Newman’s Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue series. Shaping Space (2012) is a two-screen installation that runs through squared permutations in response to the movement of bodies within the gallery space. It is an affecting and immersive work that absorbs viewers and bathes the gallery in washes of deep red and amber.
Shaping Space, Ernest Edmonds, 2012
Mohr’s engagement with computing and generative processes began with nocturnal usage of the automated drawing machines (or plotters) of Paris’ Meteorological Institute in 1969. Teaching himself the programming language FORTRAN IV Mohr set about creating algorithms that would result in a series of values the machines would render as forms. The results are delightfully complex images containing an internal logic and symmetry that is both mystifying and simultaneously intuitive, like complex contrapuntal music. In that sense looking at Mohr’s plotter drawings is similar to listening to Bach’s masterful variations on a single theme in the Musical Offering.
One and Zero installation view
One and Zero at Carroll/Fletcher gallery in London presented works from Mohr’s early plotter drawings to recent video pieces, providing a compelling insight into the development of his singular art. The basement galleries presented an array of early plotter works like P-18 ‘Random Walk’ (1969), a cat’s cradle of zigzagging lines against a black background, and P-36g ‘White Noise’ (1971), a series of small angular forms arranged like a hieroglyphic alphabet. The most startlingly piece in this space is a 16mm film titled Cubic Limit (1973-74). In 1972, Mohr decided to focus his investigation on one geometrical form and chose the cube. Cubic Limit is an animation of a three-dimensional cube that is rotated, multiplied, divided, and abstracted for four minutes. There is something luminously supernatural about the film, capturing, as it does, a digital process transferred to an analogue broadcast medium. Whereas digital film often flattens what it depicts, celluloid has a tendency to round out, or materialise objects it projects. Watching the film unfold within the darkened gallery space there are moments when the cube seems to hover as physical matter in air.
Cubic Limit, Manfred Mohr, 1974-74
In 2002 Mohr begun to use color in his works. The ground floor provides an overview of this development from the five canvases P-709-B5 (2002), to LCD monitors showing slow-mo exploded views of cubes in pieces like P-1411c (2010) and P-777f (2004). A set of lacquered steel wall-based sculptures are also displayed, and both P522d (1997) and P-511J (1996) are angular distortions of a cube that bare an affinity to what graffiti artists reach for in ambitious abstracts and burners.
If Light Logic, and One and Zero revealed man-computer symbiosis for early practitioners was a process of delegated number crunching, at the Harris Museum in Preston, UK, artists including Mark Amerika, Sophie Calle, Korean Lee Yongbaek, and Japanese multimedia artist Takahiko Limura revealed a more irreverent, ludic, and improvisatory contemporary relationship to digital technology. The curatorial process behind Digital Aesthetic 3 – the third and final in a series of exhibitions the museum organized in collaboration with the University of Central Lancashire, UK – began with the premise, or rather the truism, that digital technologies have become a ubiquitous, essential, and inescapable feature of modern life in the developed world. From this point of departure both established and emerging international artists who engaged with the digital were invited to take part.
A I U E O NN, Takahiko Limura, 1993/2012
Amerika’s offering The Museum of Glitch Aesthetics (2012) made use of the museum’s traditional mahogany frame and vitrine environment by placing small LCD video screens of glitched, stuttering footage and framed still images, similarly treated, amongst its permanent displays. Amerika’s project sought to represent the life and works of a fictional artist named “the artist 2.0”. These interruptions to the museum’s narrative functioned like instances of noise within a fixed system, an attempt to glitch the collection. Other artists dealt with visual distortions. Limura’s A I U E O NN (1993/2012) used multiple screens to display warped variations of his head pronouncing one of the Japanese vowels, whilst Mary Lucier's North Dakota Mandalas (2004) used processed film footage of four geographical locations to create a psychedelic installation of kaleidoscopic landscapes. On balance the artists within Digital Aesthetic 3 showed a playful engagement with the digital, and it was left to art-sleuth Sophie Calle to turn in a darker mediation on voyeurism with Unfinished (2005) a video work made from ATM security photographs and stolen surveillance tapes.
Loosely book-ending a historical narrative of digital art, Light Logic, One and Zero, and Digital Aesthetic 3 showed that artists’ relationships with computers has evolved from delegated arithmetical tasks to today’s collaborative engagement with software, apparatus, and the ever presence of digital media.
This informational video from 2001, recently unearthed in the archives, is a nostalgic reminder of Rhizome's roots. Though the VHS format is near obsolete, our history will never be, and we maintain the same international and community-driven spirit today as seen in this video.
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