Artist Profile: Daniel Bejar

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"Get Lost! (Breuckelen)", site-specific intervention, photographic documentation, variable, 2009-ongoing

In your project Daniel Bejar/Destroyer (The Googlegänger) you re-stage pictures of yourself mimicking the the poses of Destroyer’s lead singer who shares your name and a similar likeness. Now your images appear confusingly side by side with those of the famous singer in some of the top Google Image Search results. In describing the project as a “search image intervention” can you say something more about the project’s concept? 

Well, the concept took some time to solidify after intercepting the initial fan mails, but it evolved out of ideas where I saw Google’s Image Search or even the web as a space that Daniel Bejar and I would share for the rest of our lives. There was also the idea that as an artist working in visual culture you would ideally like images of your works to appear somewhere near the top of search results, and with images of the other Daniel Bejar dominating the search results I saw this as a contested space.

This led to the idea of somehow trying to intervene in the search results, so I guess it was technically born out of an effort to alter search results, but conceptually for me the piece really questions the idea of the original and the copy, and if these questions could be applied to one’s identity, personal history, or even a biological name, inside the context of the internet. 

A lot of my work is inspired by Walter Benjamin, in particular his essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduciton” and his ideas of the mechanically reproducible image, so I wanted to apply some of these ideas towards the internet, new media and identity and try to blur or weaken the aura of images and identity through the multiplicity of bootleg images.

Additionally I saw Google’s Image Search as an archive, and as long as the images are “live” living in the network of Google’s servers they would be in the archive, and I liked the idea of producing a new search result and corrupting the archive and history ever so slightly.

Get Lost! (NYC) is another piece where you’re playfully changing images to affect the perception of a place. The New York City subway maps, signage, and route change notifications that you install subversively ask people to rethink the history of the city by disrupting everyday informational objects. What inspires you to reveal histories and re-frame the everyday?

I love history and the idea of time travel so I think I’m naturally drawn to origins and histories. I once read a quote about history that stated “history is written by the winners”, this quote really got under my skin and is one thing that inspires me to question and critique histories, in the hopes of revealing alternate realities or possibilities. In “Get Lost!” I saw a similar situation, where there was a history that was buried underneath the contemporary user-friendly maps and signage of the MTA that could be restored.

I wanted to utilize the historical residue of the city to create a rupture inside of the subway system, in turn restoring a history and place that was no more due to the acts of war and colonization.

I feel the everyday is the material and the site of my practice, whether that is a place, an object, or the internet, I view the everyday as a malleable material, just like paint, stone or video. Hegel said the most important part of art was “the discovery of interesting situations”, which I subscribe to, and I believe that by re-framing the “everyday” it’s possible to create situations where ruptures can be created, and open up alternate possibilities.

Throughout your practice you alternate between serious recontextualizations of history and humorous interpretations on social dynamics and values. How important is the role of humor in the concepts you explore and what do you think its value is for the viewer?

It’s a pretty important component to my practice, and I think it can work within some projects and ideas, like the "(The Googlegänger)" or “Get Lost!” but not necessarily with all pieces. As a tool I like that humor can add duality to a piece as well as an additional entrance point for a viewer. I also like that humor can operate in a similar fashion to a welcome mat for a piece, and behind that front door it can reveal something completely different, something critical.

As for it’s value I find that humor is something that sticks with viewers, and I think it’s also something that everyone can relate to on some level, everyone has laughed at some point (I hope), so it can function as a common denominator, and operate to make a work more accessible for the viewer. 

Deconstructing a historical object like the American flag to take history back to a metaphorical “blank slate” is an interesting tactic. Thinking more about your piece The Betsy Ross Trilogy, do you ever see yourself applying similar strategies to identities of countries outside of the United States or taking on larger international political issues in your work?

The timing was important for the “Betsy Ross Trilogy” as it explored returning to a blank slate within President George W. Bush’s presidency. The experience was closer to home for me and something I was witnessing, it had immediacy. I’m not sure that I could apply a similar strategy to another country with the same connection.

However, politics plays a critical role in my practice and geo-political issues are something I have been exploring more recently.

In a recent project I traveled to the halfway point between the United States and Puerto Rico to document the “halfway point”, a site that lies 28 miles off the coast of the Bahamian island Mayaguana. I saw the site as a metaphor for the islands political status, and the image and coordinates were then uploaded and mapped into Google Earth where the “halfway point” can now be found. It’s very important to me that my practice critiques the political, and this project is a good example of this direction. 

You’ve created works about specific places, histories, and cultural phenomena across the country. Where did you grow up and how important is relocation and travel to the process of generating new projects?

I was born in the Bronx, but I grew up and went to school on the Gulf Coast of Florida. Travel and relocation are important as I think a lot of my work takes place in public spaces so place plays an important role for me. I’m very interested in site-specificity and the power of place whether it be a physical or digital space. Relocation and site-specificity can provide access to histories, stories, and to the residues that were left behind, and all of this material can be important in generating new projects.

But I think what plays a more important role in generating new projects is that relocation allows me to think of my practice in a mobile or nomadic sense, and allows the possibility to think outside of the studio and on a broader scale. The down side unfortunately, is the cost of travel.

 



Age?

34

Location? 

Brooklyn, NY

How long have you been working creatively with technology?  How did you start? 

I would say I started about ten years ago using the computer for editing illustration work, but around 2005 I started working with digital videos, and utilizing video editing software for my art practice.

Describe your experience with the tools you use.  How did you start using them?

I would say my experience with tools and materials varies depending on what each piece calls for, and a majority of the time they tend to be common everyday tools and materials that we’re all familiar with. As I’m frequently using a variety of tools and methods, the experience becomes a combination of self-education and on the job training with the new thing I’m trying to manipulate or intervene in. This results in the tools being utilized as a means to an end.

However, I would say the two tools I use on an everyday basis would be computers and cameras. I began using the computer to manipulate and proof images for my illustration work and this eventually has carried over into my art practice. Everyday I find the computer becoming more and more prevalent as a tool in my work. As for photography, my father gave me my first 35mm camera when I was in high school, and I’ve been shooting ever since. 

Where did you go to school? What did you study?

I did my BFA at Ringling College of Art & Design, Sarasota, FL and studied illustration, and my MFA at the State University of New York at New Paltz where I studied sculpture.

What traditional media do you use, if any?  Do you think your work with traditional media relates to your work with technology?

Not much, the media I utilize vary depending on what each piece calls for. I did recently cast my first bronze for a piece, which is as traditional as it gets, but I wouldn’t say the piece related to my work with technology. I have been thinking about making drawings lately…we’ll see.

Are you involved in other creative or social activities (i.e. music, writing, activism, community organizing)? 

Unfortunately between my art practice and job I'm afraid there's not much time left over for many other creative activities, although I plan on getting involved in curating, and adding some sort of curatorial component to my practice.

What do you do for a living?  Do you think your job relates to your art practice in a significant way? 

I’ve been freelance illustrating for magazines and newspapers for about ten years now. I would say a lot of my illustration work addresses political or social issues, which I think carries over into my art practice or vice versa.

Who are your key artistic influences? 

There are many but the Marcel Duchamp, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, and conceptual art from the 60’s stick out.

Have you collaborated with anyone in the art community on a project?  With whom, and on what? 

Not much, mostly generating themes for exhibitions with a few colleagues. Would like to collaborate more in the future.

Do you actively study art history?

Yes somewhat, you have to know the rules to break them.

Do you read art criticism, philosophy, or critical theory?  If so, which authors inspire you? 

Yes, Walter Benjamin, Jaqcues Derrida, and Guy Debord are a few favorites.

Are there any issues around the production of, or the display/exhibition of new media art that you are concerned about? 

There are a few presentation questions I’m working through right now, in particular with the "Daniel Bejar/Destroyer (The Googlegänger)" project. The piece brings up some specific questions in regards to the presentation of a web-based work within a formal context. For me the piece exists online in a web browser, but I feel something gets lost when presenting printed images that appear on the internet on a wall in the context of the “white cube”. Then again, it presents an opportunity for plurality and multiple modes of presentation, which I’m currently exploring.