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July 2: NYC poetry event with Kev, Bunny Rogers, and Brigid Mason

By Rhizome

Rhizome Presents: Internet as Poetry
+ Book launch for Cunny Poem Vol. 1
Issue Project Room
July 2, 8pm

On December 4, 2011, Bunny Rogers uploaded an image of a rose to cunny4.tumblr.com; six months later, she began to post short poems to it on a regular basis. She writes serially about desire and addiction and sex and being a woman. This year, she translated these poems to the printed page with a highly crafted 237-page clothbound book, Cunny Poem Vol. 1, which features artwork by Brigid Mason.

Five years ago, internet artist Kevin Bewersdorf took all of his images, music, and texts offline, changed his name to Kev, and published a new website featuring only an image of a flickering flame. Kev now writes poetry about the internet, inspired in part by his Taoist practice. He writes slowly, holding the ideas inside for long periods of time until they crystallize. 

This event marks Kev's first public reading of his poetry and the New York launch of Cunny Poem Vol. 1, via a presentation by Bunny and Brigid that will include sculpture, music, and poetry. 

Rhizome public programs receive major support from The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. Additional support is provided by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and the New York State Council on the Arts.

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Tom Moody 1 year, 4 months agoReply

Was re-reading this Bewersdorf photo essay from 2008: http://artfcity.com/2008/07/23/img-mgmt-stock-photography-watermarks-as-the-presence-of-god/
It's well written and wry but you never think for a moment that he actually believes watermarks on bad stock photos are signs of God.
Soon after, he "quit the internet," a gesture literally anyone can do, yet it is repeatedly invoked as an artistic act worthy of mention or coverage.
From Michael Connor's recent writing, it sounds as if, while the rest of creative humanity spent the last few years trying to puzzle out how to be productive artists without being slaves to a capitalist faux-sharing model, Bewersdorf wandered around the offline wasteland and had a sincere religious conversion, and now writes "Taoist poetry about the internet."
What if he had found Jesus? Would you have booked him for lay reading sermons about Christ's presence in cyberspace? I doubt it – but the Tao is cool. In the '70s we had the Tao of Physics and now we have the Tao of the Internet.
Zachary, on PostHang you described my tweets on this topic as "tendentious." The words aren't sugar-coated but in what way are they biased? Could not someone have legitimate concerns that Rhizome's fandom for Bewersdorf's early work is affecting its institutional judgment now? That would be tendentious, wouldn't it?

Zachary Kaplan 1 year, 4 months agoReply


I referred to your argument as 'tendentious' for two reasons:

1) The 'if he found Jesus' refrain — do you honestly believe that Kev having earnestly found Jesus would not have piqued any interest? I wish! I get that you were questioning the Taoism, but that just seemed like a less than convincing way to do so.

2) The "he 'quit the internet,' a gesture literally anyone can do" line — a classic "anyone [or, in this case, Rick Silva] can do that" response to art. And, per my understanding, he didn't just 'quit' the internet, but purposefully withered his presence. Either way, you dispensed with any specificity, interpreting the gesture in the most 1:1 manner.

Anyway, my criticism was in good faith, and I do appreciate your Kev 'heresy.' Tbh, I share some of your hesitation, particularly with regard to the one-word comment thread reception of MC's original article — criticality is always good. (But it's cool that people are excited! You should come tonight.)

Tom Moody 1 year, 4 months agoReply

If Bewersdorf had found Jesus, yes, it would have piqued many people's interest. The question is, would Rhizome be promoting a public reading? It's possible to make fun of the Tao of the Internet while at the same time asking if there are more acceptable religions for the doubtful premise of spiritualized computer art.
"Purposefully withering his presence" vs immediate takedown, does it matter? I was around when it was going on, it seemed like a rather high-handed and pretentious way to do something not very intriguing or radical, which is just give up. So what if it took three years? That's even more pompous, in a way.
Bewersdorf wrote a statement at the outset of the "pure kev" web takedown project, questioning his own motives as an emerging internet artist, I suppose, but implicitly ridiculing others who had staked out net presences (a little art, a little music, a little video, I recall him sneering), implying that they were victims, whereas the true shaman was going to just eradicate all his work, a step at a time. All this was couched in corporo-spiritual blather but that was my reading.
Gene McHugh wrote that the eradication was "highly focused" and "poetic" and it continues to thrive as folklore in the curatorial community.
Criticality is good, also tendentiousness, if the circumstances merit it.

Michael Connor 1 year, 4 months agoReply

I'm not particularly interested in the spiritual aspect of digital art, hence our recent emphasis on infrastructure and labor and materialism, mundane afrofuturism and internet realism…

It strikes me as patently ridiculous to disallow the possibility of "spiritualized computer art." Sure, that's a premise that has been used in lots of dubious ways, and maybe you don't buy Kev's version of it, which is fine. But that doesn't make the premise itself categorically doubtful. No aspect of our lives can really be considered outside of the digital, spirituality included.

I am interested in Kev's ideas, because he has spent the last five years thinking deeply about the internet while attempting to stake a position outside of this. I think others are interested in his thoughts on this, and his reasons for finding this untenable.

Tbh I have no real idea what Kev is going to do tonight, which is scary, but I certainly don't think that Rhizome should only stage events the outcome of which is known in advance.

Michael Connor 1 year, 4 months agoReply

In summary, I think it's OK for Kev to think about Taoism and the internet, even though I'm not interested in that in particular. But I am interested in his gesture of radical semi-refusal and its limits, and where he will go next.

Tom Moody 1 year, 4 months agoReply

The US founders didn't say you couldn't practice religion but they wisely kept it out of government. I feel the same way about religion in art, and on tech sites. Of course it's interesting – see Erik Davis's Techgnosis, etc. The question is when does interest cross over into practice.
Many of us are also interested in radical semi-refusal of the internet, especially as the Net becomes a more hostile and manipulative place. I'm not likely to follow the example of an artist who specializes in ironic religious fictions, then suddenly tells me it's sincere. Better to keep casting about for other models (alternative social media communities, dark nets, dial-up undergrounds, etc).

Twitter 1 year, 4 months agoReply

Just following up with this, I found a video of Kevin's performance on Youtube. Audio quality was not great, so I made an effort to transcribe it:


The transcription is hosted on Rap Genius. You are invited to sign in with Twitter and post an annotation, if you can shed some light on Kevin's performance, or help puzzle out some of the muffled words.

Additionally, many of his poems are accompanied by physical gestures, such as the "threading silk" movement or the "recycling bin" section. It might be worthwhile to make gifs from some of these moments to illuminate the text, as I have done with the threading silk movement.

In all I hope this transcription helps us continue to think critically about this crucial topic.

Tom Moody 1 year, 4 months agoReply

Regarding Michael Connor's statement "I certainly don't think that Rhizome should only stage events the outcome of which is known in advance": In theory you want to take risks but there is a tendency these days to presume that an artist is successful because he/she has been honored by being picked for something – with no attention paid to the aftermath. The (admittedly scanty) reports I had on the Bewersdorf reading were that the spirituality was either contrived or sort of a mishmash of oppositional postures of the Other: "a bit of tai chi, a bit of yoga, techno-chakras, and some Native American allusions – if anything, the focus is aboriginal, non-western practices, with a Western reverence for a purer, pre-modern past," one correspondent wrote.

Michael, Zachary, how do you feel, after the event?

The questioning-his-own-motives statement of Kevin's I mentioned above came about a year before he quit the web; it's in his Rhizome interview with Gene McHugh in 2008: http://rhizome.org/editorial/2008/sep/3/interview-with-kevin-bewersdorf/
Am quoting it at length below. It's a hash of Koons- and Warhol-like thoughts on branding and commercialism, with slight confusion as to tone (are brands a great artwork or absurd vanity?), applied to the internet of 2008. It comes across as kind of snotty to anyone who has been working to find a way to be an artist and have an individual point of view and not be a dupe of the system. Bewersdorf doesn't mention anyone in particular who is being a "brand that offers it all" so it's assumed to be his own self-loathing raised to a universal principle. To follow this soon after with a removal of all these brands (who cares? if they were ironic to begin with) invites a response of "well, good riddance."
This was an excellent opportunity for a critical takedown. Instead Rhizome created (and continues to promote) a legend of an artist who quit the web for spiritual reasons.

Here is Bewersdorf's statement about branding, from 2008, in response to McHugh's question about why Bewersdorf's signature appeared in so many works:

"There is something I have noticed about a lot of artists these days, especially net artists: they want to do everything. At one time artists were content with specialization, like in making only stained glass windows or etchings all day long. [This hasn't been the case since at least the '70s –TM] Now it is more common for artists to want to tackle all the forms of expression that the net can carry – the still image, the moving image, music, writing, design, and so on. Many net artists may not be willing to admit it, but what they are really trying to do is to build an empire, to be a brand that offers it all. There is an absurdity to that. Having your own website is like building an unnecessary shrine to yourself. We can try to deny this by convincing ourselves that what we are doing is somehow a selfless gift, but the web has not asked us for these gifts. The web would go on without us. As net artists, we are pushing ourselves unsolicited on an already saturated marketplace. So I use my signature and various logos to point out the absurdity of this vanity, the struggle to give of yourself without becoming consumed with yourself.

"The signature also makes my marketing tactics very obvious and shows that I accept myself as nothing more than a product to be marketed. Whether a net artist brands themself with a sparse list of links on a humble white field or with loud layers of noise and color or with contrived logos in a bland grid, they are constructing their own web persona for all to see. They are branding their self corporation. I think this self branding can be done with functionless art intentions rather than functioning business intentions. All the marketing materials are just shouted into the roaring whirlpool of the web where they swirl around in the great database with everyone else's personal information empires. I think these persona empires are the great artworks of our time, and they inspire me to keep building my own brand."

Michael Connor 1 year, 4 months agoReply

Hi Tom,

I feel really good about the event. I'm not really ready to write about it, but I feel like I have to say something…

You used the word "ironic," which means saying one thing while meaning another. But Kev often said one thing while *also* meaning the opposite, which is something different. You call it confusion, I call it an interest in paradox.

I wrote of the spiritual dimension of Kev's work that "Taoism is as much an aspect of contemporary culture as it an ancient philosophy, translated and refracted as it is through the Transcendentalists and the 60s counterculture and numerous scholars. Thus, Kev, who has always played the role of the quintessential American, does so even in his seemingly un-American disavowal of the consumer internet." In other words, a "mishmash" sounds about right.