Simulation as Institutional Critique: Lawrence Lek's 'Unreal Estate'



Lawrence Lek, Unreal Estate (the Royal Academy is yours) (2015; video game still)

Wealth is monolithic: it refutes argument, pointed criticism, direct gaze. The architecture of today’s wealth is monolithic, as well: a crucial expression of modern oligarchies’ centralized power. Where the estate once served as a neat symbol of riches, our edifices are more diverse and inventive. They are built heavy and tall, as rebuff. They have to symbolize abstract figures, tens of billions of dollars on paper.

Artist Lawrence Lek offers us entry into the monolith in his work Unreal Estate. In it, we, the viewers, are the new billionaire owner of the Royal Academy of Arts in London.


A Scanner, Darkly: On Andrea Crespo's "polymorphoses"


Andrea Crespo, multi (sensorygates), (2015; detail)

In futurist Ray Kurzweil's early version of the flatbed scanner, angled mirrors feed the image of a document through a series of encoding CCDs. Similarly positioned mirrors are also used in the treatment of amputee victims; the image of an extant limb is projected onto the phantom limb, allowing the patient to engage with this limb's sensory map.

Constantly reflecting on this imagery, Andrea Crespo's recent solo show "polymorphoses" at Hester in New York evokes an environment of clinical intimacy in its aesthetic and conceptual coherence. Similar to an LED screen or scanner, the digital prints on the four poly voile curtains covering the windows are backlit by the sun. Positioned in front of these curtains, an EMDR light bar (used by cognitive therapists to treat post-traumatic stress disorder) replicates a scanner's mobile light in the sculpture polymist: echolalic transponder; its accompanying soundtrack abstracts the diegetic sound of this light's kinetics as low digital tones.

Andrea Crespo, "polymorphoses," exhibition view

A scanner's white light rhythmically appears, segmenting the film parabiosis: neurolibidinal induction complex 2.2: this work's primarily black tone makes its bluish-white figures recall the emerging effect of minimal boot-up images. The film's DeviantArt-sourced images of conjoined anime characters regularly converge, split, and merge again. At the same time, the visual economy of this style's figuration is combined with minimal diagrams of mitochondrial reproduction, suggestive of the biological processes within technology. Drawing a parallel between biological and technological encoding and multiplication, the film links the scanner's abstraction of materiality into a system of digital circulation and memetic engineering with the production of DNA. The film's conjoined figures are considered within the interfaces and hardware in which they are embedded: in the film, they are suggested in a chatroom, cycled through on a Gameboy screen, and presented on a twitchy flatscreen monitor.


Artist Profile: Lawrence Abu Hamdan


The latest in a series of interviews with artists who have a significant body of work that makes use of or responds to network culture and digital technologies.

Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Contra Diction (Speech Against Itself) (2015; courtesy the artist and Mor Charpentier, Paris; photo, Kunst Halle Sankt Gallen, Stefan Jäggi).

Your current solo exhibition "تقيه (Taqiyya)–The Right to Duplicity" in St. Gallen brings together recent works exploring the ways in which "enforced expression" is manifest in contemporary society. Contra Diction (Speech Against Itself) (2014) focuses on the (apparent) forced conversion of a group of Syrian Druze—a Levantine cultural minority who practice an esoteric religion which incorporates aspects of Islam but which is considered "heretical" by Islamic purists—by Jabhat al-Nusra. You cite the doctrine of Taqiyya—a feature of Islamic jurisprudence which you compare to the concept of diplomatic immunity—as underlying the apparent ease of the conversion: i.e. that the Druze were expressing Taqiyya as a means of resisting their conversion rather than cooperating with it. A number of your works explore this tension between verbal expression and "truth". Could you speak a bit about your views regarding such "sonic geographies" as contested spaces?

Contra Diction (Speech Against itself) focuses on the event you spoke about because it is a very fleeting moment where Taqiyya raises its head, and people start to make claims about whether this is Taqiyya or not. It’s not really in line with the work or what I’m interested in to make any claim that this was a forced conversion, or that this use of Taqiyya was a strategy in order to avoid converting by employing stealth, or to make a conversion that saves face. Taqiyya is very difficult to talk about because it’s essentially about the right to lie; because of its proximity to lying, it becomes very difficult to place or to make any direct assertions about. That is very interesting not because of its use in this event in particular, but as a way to take a legal right to speech like Taqiyya and have it stand shoulder to shoulder with more conventional ways in which speech is governed in society, like the right to silence and freedom of speech. I find that quite urgent—as can be seen in a number of my works—we’re living in a kind of "post freedom of speech" society.


Art in Your Pocket 4: Net Art and Abstraction for the Small Screen


"The Facets of Obama" created by Jonah Brucker­-Cohen using the Fracture application by James Alliban, 2011

The devices we carry with us can do much more than simply act as communication tools and entertainment appendages. They can also bring us into a growing world of artistic projects that could have never been imagined without their existence.

The recent boom in creative software for the iPhone and iPad now enables artists to remake existing web projects as iOS apps or use the physical world as a canvas for augmented reality, reimagining our physical surroundings through painting and rendering. In this article, the fourth one in a series that I've written over the past six years of reviews surveying art for the iPhone and iPad, I cover projects that both revive net art pieces that were once only possible on traditional computer systems or in browsers, as well as those that use the iPhone and iPad's sound and camera capabilities to their fullest.



Thicket:Classic (Hairy Circles mode), 2011, Interval Studios (aka Joshue Ott and Morgan Packard)

Beginning with abstraction and sound, two works examine methods of sound production through algorithmic composition. Thicket (2011) by Interval Studios (programmer and artist Joshue Ott and composer Morgan Packard) is an amalgam of abstract shapes and patterns that engage with touch-based interaction, visual stimulation, generative pattern creation, and mesmerizing sound transference. The original version of Thicket, or Thicket:Classic, feels like a musical masterpiece on the edge of a high precipice. As a user changes the orientation of their phone in four directions (up, down, right, left) the onscreen graphics shift to new modes.

Thicket 3.11 Video, Joshue Ott and Morgan Packard, Interval Studios.

My favorite mode in Thicket:Classic is "Hairy Circles," which features menacing yellow-orangish circles of tangled lines that correspond to each finger's touch and shift when dragged around, creating a machine-like beat that evokes an industrial assembly line. Ott explains, "Thicket uses a bunch of different algorithms—for both audio and visuals. The aesthetic came from repeated experimentation and rapid prototyping of modes. Sometimes we would start with the visuals, sometimes with the audio, but there was often a back and forth process of each of us adjusting our part until we both liked the results."


Interview: American Reflexxx


Signe Pierce and Alli Coates, American Reflexxx (2013)

Two years ago, performance artist Signe Pierce and videographer Alli Coates staged a public intervention on the Myrtle Beach strip in South Carolina, a popular tourist spot. Concealing her face with a featureless mirrored mask, Pierce wore a tight blue mini dress and performed exaggerated, gyrating movements while walking through the streets at night through throngs of revelers. Coates did not intervene, instead passively recording the ensuing scene even as the safety of her partner was threatened. Earlier this year, the artists released a 14-minute "chopped and screwed" edit of the video on YouTube to an outpouring of public reaction. In the following conversation, Pierce discusses the work with writer and artist Alexis Anais Avedisian, Rhizome's spring Editorial Fellow.

I want to commend you for making a brave work that construes many related topics within current cyberfeminist discourses. To start, I felt your mirrored mask brought up parallels to privacy, in the sense that cultivated, crafted, and projected representations of the self are now rendered as trackable, malleable, and intended for public consumption.  Feeling surveilled often intensifies our instinct to hide, yet every day we surrender our privacy to greater social, political, and economic forces. 

Identity concealment poses a threatening question: is someone anonymous, possibly preconceived to be inauthentic, worthy of privacy? By putting on the mask, and claiming privacy through self-concealment, did your difference make you "less than human" in the eyes of the mob? As the “mob mentality” and its panic about your identity infringed upon your human rights, do you think that their fear was subconsciously  related to a broader desire to be accessible and exposed on social media?


The Flash Artists who Cybersquatted the Whitney Biennial


Joel Ford for, as seen in 2015 on Chrome for Mac. Photo: Heloise Cullen.

One story of opens at the ElectronicOrphanage (EO) in Chinatown, Los Angeles. Founded in 2001 by artists Miltos Manetas and Mai Ueda, the now-defunct EO was once a small artist-run project space on Chung King Road, a pedestrian pathway dense with independent galleries and studios. Until its demise in 2004, the "Orphanage" remained a stark black cube, completely barren if not for a white screen where digital art was occasionally projected, typically when neighboring galleries hosted opening receptions over drinks. For the most part, the space was a kind of laboratory for a group of artists, curators, and critics with a shared interest in the computer and digital culture—the "Orphans." It was here, sometime in February 2002, that a plot to cybersquat the Whitney Biennial began to take shape. Or at least this is how Manetas, the project’s architect, remembers it.


"Orphans" at the ElectronicOrphanage, Chinatown, LA (2001-2004). Source.

According to Manetas, the idea transpired from his exchange with art critic and fellow Orphan, Peter Lunenfeld. Less than a month away, the Whitney's 2002 Biennial was the focal point of their conversation, in particular the museum's heightened curatorial interest in emerging internet art forms. This seemingly ordinary chat eventually segued into an ambitious plan: to stage a net art show as an online foil to the 2002 Whitney Biennial. In time, the project developed into a full-on counter-exhibition, which would be hosted on the website and installed IRL as a physical intervention, where a fleet of twenty-three U-Haul trucks, projecting artworks from the website, would blockade the Whitney Museum during the private opening reception of the Biennial.


Collectible After All: Christiane Paul on net art at the Whitney Museum


The Whitney Museum artport has been an important institutional presence in net art and new media since its launch in 2002. Created and curated by Christiane Paul, artport features online commissions as well as documentation of new media artworks from the museum's exhibitions and collections. This year, artport as a whole was made an official part of the Whitney Museum collection; to mark this occasion, participating artist Marisa Olson interviewed Paul about the program's history and evolution over thirteen years.

 Douglas Davis, image from The World's First Collaborative Sentence (1994).

Collections like artport are a rare and valuable window onto a field of practice that, in some senses, was borne out of not being taken seriously. From mid-80s Eastern European game crackers to late-90s net artists, the first people working online were often isolated, by default or design, and were certainly marginalized by the art world, where few curators knew of their existence and fewer took them seriously, advocated for them, or worked to theorize and articulate the art historical precedents and currents flowing through the work. Help me fast-forward to the beginning of this century at one of the most important international art museums. Many of the US museums that funded new media projects did so with dot-com infusions that dried-up after 2000. Artport officially launched in 2001; the same year, you curated a section devoted to net art in the Whitney Biennial. What was the behind-the-scenes sequence of events that led to artport's founding?

I think artport's inception was emblematic of a wave of interest in net art in the US around the turn of the century and in the early 2000s. This more committed involvement with the art form interestingly coincided with or came shortly after the dot com bubble, which inflated from 1997–2000, had its climax on March 10, 2000 when NASDAQ peaked, and burst pretty much the next day. Net art, however, remained a very active practice and started appearing on the radar of more US art institutions. To some extent, their interest may have been sparked by European exhibitions that had begun to respond to the effects of the web on artistic practice earlier on. In 1997, Documenta X had already included web projects (that year the Documenta website was also famously "stolen"—that is, copied and archived—by Vuk Cosic in the project Documenta: done) and Net Condition, which took place at ZKM in 1999/2000, further acknowledged the importance of art on the web.

US museums increasingly began to take notice. Steve Dietz, who had started the Walker Art Center's New Media Initiatives early on, in 1996, was curating the online art Gallery 9 and digital art study collection. Jon Ippolito, in his role as Associate Curator of Media Arts at the Guggenheim, was commissioning net art in the early 2000s and in 2002, Benjamin Weil, with Joseph Rosa, unveiled a new version of SFMOMA's E-space, which had been created in 2000. This was the institutional netscape in which I created artport in 2001, since I felt that the Whitney, which had for the first time included net art in its 2000 Biennial, also needed a portal to online art. The original artport was much more of a satellite site and less integrated into than it is now. Artist Yael Kanarek redesigned the site not too long after its initial launch and created version 1.1. Artport in its early days was sponsored by a backend storage company in New Jersey, which was then bought by HP, so HP appeared as the official sponsor. I think it is notable that sponsorship at that point did not come from a new tech company but a brand name that presumably wanted to appear more cutting edge.


Why (and how) our museum started collecting Vines


The 2015-16 English premiere league season kicks off on Saturday, and the National Football Museum will be collecting fan-made archives throughout the season using Webrecorder Beta. To suggest fan-made football Vines for the NFM archives during the forthcoming season, use the hashtag #footyvinesnfm.

Vines shown in this article are embedded directly from the Webrecorder Beta platform, and are not yet viewable on all browsers. Links to the original Vines are included in the captions, and the archived Vines can be seen in context in NFM's Webrecorder collection.

The National Football Museum, Manchester, UK.

The National Football Museum (NFM) holds the world's greatest collection of football (soccer) artefacts, with 140,000 objects in its holdings. As well as shirts, balls, photographs, paintings, and trophies, much of the history of association football in England has been captured within commercial media—typically print and broadcast, but sometimes more imaginative things like these "Goal Action Replay" flipbooks which were produced for the Daily Mirror newspaper back in 1972.