Posts for June 2008

Game(s) of War

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"Ideas improve. The meaning of words participates in the improvement. Plagiarism is necessary. Progress implies it. It embraces an author's phrase, makes use of his expressions, erases a false idea, and replaces it with the right idea."

So wrote Guy Debord, prominent member of the Situationist International and major instigator of the infamous Paris uprisings of May '68. In his most famous text The Society of the Spectacle, Debord articulates the belief that free trade of thoughts and ideas is not only acceptable, but necessary for the intellectual advancement of culture. He did not simply advocate plagiarism as a means of reference, but as an active way to critically engage and subvert dominant media images -- what he and his fellow Situationists referred to as 'détournement.' Put simply, détournement is the appropriation of these prevailing images for meanings in opposition to their original intent -- a strategy that has influenced generations of activists, academics, and artists. So when the estate of Guy Debord recently sent a 'cease and desist' letter to a group of American artists for copyright infringement, people familiar with Debord's oeuvre were rightly shocked. Beyond the obvious irony of the situation, this particular case has raised questions about the complexities of copyright, monetary compensation and the historical legacy of our anti-establishment icons.

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"Animal Mimicry and the Media of Reconnaissance"

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a lecture by Hanna Rose Shell

June 28th, 2008

8pm

This event, a talk and "stencil making exercise", examines the work of artist, naturalist and media innovator Abbott H. Thayer (1849-1921). Through an analysis of his work, the talk explores the mixed-media foundations of modern camouflage. Protective coloration in nature motivated Thayer's media experiments in science and illusion, concealment and revelation. In 1896, he first articulated his laws of "obliterative coloration" and "disruptive patterning," thereby initiating a debate among natural historians, psychologists, representational artists and militarists. Over the next fifteen years, Thayer attempted scientific proof of his laws through the production, dissemination, and demonstration of three-dimensional models and stencils. He incorporated media (including photographs, films, skins, textiles and paints) into interactive collages and installations as part of an effort to articulate a science and practice of protective concealment.

Hanna Rose Shell's talk is based on her book HIDE AND SEEK (Zone Books, forthcoming) that articulates how, why and to what effect camouflage emerged in the twentieth century. It was coined as a word and implemented as set of linked scientific theories, media practices and formulations of identity based on media interactivity and immersion into nature.

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Originally posted on machine project by markallen


Nan Hoover, 1931-2008

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American artist Nan Hoover passed away last week, in Berlin. She left behind a large body of work that has had a pioneering influence on the fields of performance, video, and photography. In a statement about her photos Hoover says, "I am a painter. Everything I do is seen through the eyes of a painter. I only use brushes from time to time." Buried between the lines of this message is an indication of Hoover's tight relationship to her materials--which varied to include not only new media, live performance and photographic media, but also drawing, installation, and perhaps most significantly, light. If there is one thing that cannot go unsaid about her work it's that Hoover owned the light. Indeed, it proved better, more searing, and more beautiful than paint in her many decades of practice, ultimately "shedding light" on the sublime beauty inherent in objects ranging from otherwise banal domestic interiors to majestic outdoor landscapes. In an art world which has, at various times, sought to polarize beauty and intellectual rigor, Hoover consistently proved that the two could live in harmony. An exhibition of her lens-based work just opened at Mannheim's Sebastian Fath Contemporary Art Gallery. The show was in the works before her passing, but is now a retrospective of sorts--a show developed in conversation with Hoover about what it meant to continue her signature first-person visual experiments in a world increasingly mediated by digital experience. A memorial will be held at Amsterdam's Montevideo Institute for Time-Based Art on June 20th. Meanwhile, an online condolence page has been established for the many who were touched by her work to stay in touch. - Marisa Olson


Image credit: Nan Hoover, "Moving Towards 13 degrees," video room installation, Galerie Ulrike BUschlinger Wiesbaden, 2000. Photo: Horst Ziegenfusz

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The Remote Control Frontier

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Artist Christy Gast's new year-long curatorial project exploits the charms of TV-programming in a remote location while drawing on the benefits of using the web for wider distribution. The Moab Video Project is one in which artists' videos are played weekly on MAC21, a public access channel in the small rural town of Moab, Utah. The videos are curated through an open call and are shown between infomercials, public service announcements, weather reports, and other community programs. They must also be less than five-minutes in length and comply with FCC regulations, so together this highly-localized audience and these ground rules provide a fair enough dose of contextual restrictions to add-up to a very interesting opportunity for artists. But those outside of Moab's broadcast range need not fret. Gast posts links to the artists' videos, online, so that we can all take viewing pleasure in the selected works. This month she's showing four videos (one per week) by artist Lydia Moyer. Each of these works explores tropes and mythologies of the American West, ranging from the visual strategies typically used to represent "lady gunfighters" to a narrative inspired by Dolly Parton's autobiographical tale about trying to grow ponies in the desert earth. If the Western movie genre is defined by a story's contestation around the frontier (a border between porch and desert, interior and exterior, city and country, reality and fantasy), then Moyer's Western narratives are a perfectly fitting selection for a project that straddles the frontier between online and offline or local and international broadcasting. - Marisa Olson


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Sean Dack at Daniel Reich

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"Ghost Hardware," Sean Dack's latest exhibition at New York's Daniel Reich Gallery, builds a visual language, in photography and sculpture, from the limits of technological legibility. Over a series of unique c-prints, thoughtfully hung throughout the gallery, Dack coats a panoply of sourced images with thick layers of digital interference: glitches that "tangle and halt the flow of information," but in so doing also provide the precondition for the exhibited art-objects. Formally, these images are beautiful, their striated lines of pixels at times staining underlying images in cyan and magenta; at others, reducing them to wholly abstract geometries. These techniques prove most effective when echoing the sourced images, as when Dack's pixels form postmodern building block analogues to the structural units of the unfinished, contemporary skyscrapers in Building (Hotel, Pyongyang) (2008) and CCTV #2 (2007). Yet on a broader level, Dack's choice of images risks belaboring his conceptual inquiry. Shots of isolated women, an airborne helicopter, unmarked CIA airplane and a missile test quickly move the exhibition into well-trodden, conspiracy theory terrain. One wonders whether Dack's Pop sensibility - most explicitly manifest in his rubber encasings of obsolete tape decks and CD changers, also on display - extends into the realm of his photographs' subject-matter and thus justifies the indulgence. Whether or not this is the case, the artist's formal investigation of the psychic life of digital technology would be far more interesting without its narrative props. - Tyler Coburn


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Ethereal Self - Harm van den Dorpel, 2008

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Originally posted on del.icio.us/lauren_cornell by lauren_cornell


Mind Games

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Clicking through Portland artist Tabor Robak's site Reality CPU feels like stumbling upon a scrambled memory bank of images captured sometime around 1993: a dream-arcade of faux vector graphics, neon color schemes, Uzi-blasting last action heroes and gratuitous drop-shadows. Though connected stylistically, and through semi-random branches of downplayed links, each page presents a micro-logic unto itself, miniature systems crafted from carefully chaotic layers of animated gifs. In his artist's statement, Robak refers to the structure of pages as "levels," and gaming provides an operative iconography for Reality CPU as a whole. Abstracted fighter-ships battle a wireframed boss in Master Computer; in Defcon, a green-screen interactive global wargames map declares "Game Over" after only one thermonuclear hit; 4x4 and Surprise Attack resemble fractured intros for old coin-ops. But there's more to Robak's design than a mere retrogaming vibe; metaphors for human consciousness are at play. The elegant pink-and-blue FTP illustrates a basic act of inter-entity communication, Spiritual Healing mimics a John Whitney-style computer mandala, and the coolly hypnotic, quasi-Kubrickian Life in Space combines four cinematic screens with looping monochrome overlay into an evocative, frozen moment. Robak writes that, as if moving through video game levels, the experience of each viewer will be singularly their own, due to "the limitations of the simple web technology being used to display many animations at once." The effect, he says, "is similar to an individual's unique perception of reality." - Ed Halter

Image: Tabor Robak, Surprise Attack

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On Continuous City: A Conversation with Marianne Weems

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Marianne Weems is the artistic director of New York-based multimedia theater group the Builders Association. Their productions often tackle contemporary issues related to technology, such as "post visual forms" of surveillance in Super Vision or the impact of globalization on identity and language in Alladeen. They are currently developing their newest project, Continuous City. The play examines contemporary experiences of location in relationship to the rise of megacities and a distributed sense of selfhood. One unique component of the production is a fictional social networking site named "Zubu" which will collect testimonials and footage from inhabitants in each city in which Continuous City is staged. In conjunction with their week-long residency, Weems, along with fellow collaborators, will give a free public talk on Continuous City at the Kitchen in New York City on Saturday June 21st at 5pm.

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Two Fantastic Voyages

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This month, Eyebeam will present the loosely travel-related work of two of their recent Artists in Residence-cum-tourists. The two artists could not have come from more different places, with Joseph DeLappe hailing from Reno, Nevada, and Taeyoon Choi visiting from Seoul, Korea. Both have created performative projects revolving around the interjection of semi-automated foreign characters into social spaces. Choi's Camerautomata Charlie: Image Digesting Robotic Duck is an electro-mechanical bird that quacks its way into touristy public spaces, like New York's Central Park, to take (and defecate-out) snapshots of those it is more or less imitating. The duck's primary ingredients are a hacked digital camera, a printer, and a vacuum cleaner. Needless to say, it comes with its own flock. The Eyebeam show, entitled "Tourists and Travelers," will exhibit digital photos, drawings, and video documentation of the winged wonder in action. On a more serious note, DeLappe's The Salt Satyagraha Online is a Second Life-based re-creation of Ghandi's epic 240-mile salt march, an important act of civil disobedience against the British Government which ultimately drew new international media attention to the Indian independence movement. DeLappe's project entailed his creation of a Ghandi avatar in SL, who took the walk again, automatically propelled by DeLappe's walking of the path in real life, on a treadmill stationed at Eyebeam. Despite its online basis, this live endurance-based re-presentation of Ghandi's protest brings a compelling sense of physical reality to an archived public memory. For the show, DeLappe will present other physical objects, including documentation, artifacts, and new works derived from the project. Most significant among these is a large-scale cardboard replica of Ghandi, designed to be the same height as Michelangelo's Statue of David--a touristic art icon if ever there was one! The exhibition will ...

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Web TV

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Public exhibition of single-channel video typically falls under two models: theatrical screening and gallery installation, each with particular benefits and limitations. In theatrical screenings, a relatively captive audience becomes engaged with the rhythms of the work over a predetermined length of time; individual titles in a program can speak to one another in a linear fashion. The cinematic format allows for potentially deeper engagement, but poses pragmatic limits: too many short videos in an extremely long program suffer. Gallery installation lends itself best to shorter pieces, loops and environmental works, and suggests the medium's relationship to the gallery Ur-forms of painting and sculpture, as well as to the architectural space of the white box. Why + Wherefore's online exhibit This One Goes Up To 11 provides yet another way to program video--something like a DVD compilation gone immaterial. Four curators--Summer Guthery, Hanne Mugaas, Lumi Tan and Nicholas Weist--chose ten videos each for the show around the easily malleable theme of "pop and media culture." Hosted by Vimeo, the forty titles range in length from twelve seconds to twenty-four minutes, with a combined runtime of three hours and forty-seven minutes. Alphabetically arranged on a long horizontal window, the lineup functions more like a mere database of options than a conscious progression. With so many choices of widely varying length and quality, user control precipitates a hot-or-not brutality: the best works--Guthrie Lonergan's Artist Looking at Camera, Bad Beuys Entertainment's Champion #4, or Tricia Baga's Season One, to name only a few--will run satisfyingly to completion, while certain others will be impatiently click-and-dragged to their ends. Video needs better attention paid to temporal rhythms and the experience of spectatorship; while an ambitious experiment, Why + Wherefore's attempt collapses into curatorial shovelware. - Ed Halter


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