A restoration of Paul Sharits' 1975 installation Shutter Interface, now on view at Greene Naftali Gallery in New York, will close this weekend, so get over to Chelsea while you can. Rarely screened during Sharits' lifetime, this project was recovered in a collaborative effort by Anthology Film Archives and Greene Naftali. A noted example of "expanded cinema," four 16mm films loop onto four separate screens, accompanied by four soundtracks played simultaneously. The resulting color and sound feed in and out, to a deliriously pulsating effect. A collection of Sharits' drawings and diagrams are on display in the second room, providing an overview of Sharits' research and interests.
A survey of Derek Jarman's early films opened earlier this month at the Dia space on West 22nd, comprising a significant portion of programming by X, the new initiative that will activate the space with exhibitions and conversations over the next year. Spanning a massive 3 floors, the show is easily one of the most elaborate installations of moving image work I've ever seen. Although Jarman’s works were originally filmed on Super 8, and, as such, not intended to be transferred to video and then blown up, the installation, with films projected large on video in multiple, open screening spaces, brought new meaning to the original works. I should note my visit to Dia came after a rather disheartening afternoon at the Armory Show, where the pitiful few booths actually screening video choose to exhibit the works in a corner, or in one case, in a corner near the floor.
In his recent discussion with Dara Birnbaum in this month's Artforum, Cory Arcangel asks, "Is there even such a thing as a bastardized medium today?" in reference to increased methods of distribution within the larger cultural realm. (Find an online excerpt from the interview here.) One could suggest that the intimacy of super 8 is compromised in the Jarman show, and, in that, it represents a "bastardization" of the medium. But the theatrical, immersive installation still invites a contemplative engagement with the work, especially the small room and sound system built for Imagining October (1984). I would argue that the installation adds another level to Jarman's films, and in an age of "bastardized mediums" we should consider how these translations can expand a work's reception, not diminish them.
While we're on the topic ...
The New Television Workshop at WGBH supported the creation and broadcast of experimental works by artists. One of their projects was the Music Image Workshop, which was primarily a project of Ron Hays, who used the Paik-Abe videosynthesizer to create elaborate visual scores set to music. It was funded by the Rockefeller Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts from 1972 through 1974. Hays worked closely with WGBH producer and director, David Atwood, to create both live broadcasts and finished works. Additionally, works by other artists were presented under the auspices of the Music Image Workshop.
John Latham's films Erth (1971), Britannica (1971), Talk, Mr. Bard (1968), Unedited Material from the Star (1960), and Speak (1968-69) are now on view at tank.tv. See below for a short excerpt from the curatorial statement.
The influence of John Latham (1921-2006), an artist whose work includes painting, performance and film to mention just a few, has extended far beyond the boundaries of the art world. Interested in theoretical physics, Latham developed an opposing cosmology which rejected the primacy of space and matter and favour of time and event. The body of work and concepts which developed out of this way of thinking still challenge the way we conceive of art as event and of the place of the artist within society. Notions of event can be seen as transversal to Latham's whole oeuvre. Indeed, a pioneer in the use of spray paint in the 1950's, Latham started spraying black dots on canvasses. For him, such a gesture and the resulting pictorial effect was similar to the structure and the functioning of the cosmos. "Least events" (the spray burst occurring in time) produce beings (the black dots) out of nothingness (the blank canvas).
His impact on conceptual art can be best appreciated in his opinions concerning language. For Latham, since language stems from objects, it is unable to grasp a reality based on events. According to Latham this results in the lack of a common conception of the world, which is itself responsible for the division of people. In his practice Latham attempted to transpose the unseizability of events through objects into art, thus coining the term "event structure".
The current exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, "The Third Mind: American Artists Contemplate Asia, 1860-1989" is in many ways a bold take on the "group show" genre. Not focused on a particular era, style or group of artists, Senior Curator for Asian Art Alexandra Munroe has instead created a sweeping show of over 110 artists around an idea as ethereal and subjective as cultural "contemplation." The show's thesis, that "vanguard artists consistently looked toward 'the East' to forge an independent artistic identity that would define the modern age -- and the modern mind -- through a new understanding of existence, nature, and consciousness" certainly seems timely in this era of rampant globalization, but it simultaneously opens the door to a host of debatable issues around cultural appropriation.
The broad scope and variety of art forms covered under this broad thematic umbrella, from paintings of James McNeill Whistler and Mary Cassatt through multimedia works of Tehching Hsieh and Laurie Anderson, creates a compelling alternate to the usually mono-cultural narrative of Art History. For those of us interested particularly in time-based media, it also provides a compelling context through which to view issues such as duration, notation, communication systems, and networking that are so prevalent in time-based forms.
When the independent curator, publisher, writer and art dealer Willoughby Sharp died this past December at the age of 72, the art world lost an iconic figure. Active internationally in the art world since the early 60s, Sharp's name is most often associated with his role as the publisher and co-founder (with Liza Bear) of Avalanche magazine (1970-1976) and for his curation of the seminal art exhibition Earth Art (1969). Avalanche has become something of a cult classic in the art world. Consisting mostly of idiosyncratic editorials by Sharp and Bear and interviews with figures such as Joseph Beuys, Yvonne Rainer, Bruce Nauman, Lawrence Weiner and Vito Acconci, Avalanche helped define the art of an era while also redefining the role of the art magazine. The editors viewed Avalanche as an open space for artists and art, and this vision dictated the overall direction of the magazine. Sharp's seminal Earth Art, held at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York in 1969, was the first major exhibition of land-based sculptural work, and it included artists such as Walter de Maria, Robert Smithson, Hans Haacke, Robert Morris, Richard Long and Dennis Oppenheim (among others). It has also become somewhat mythologized as the exhibition where the young Gordon Matta-Clark, who lived in Ithaca, was hired by Sharp as an assistant and, thus, met the vanguard of the international art scene for the first time.
However, it should be noted that Sharp, himself, was also a performance artist, video artist, satellite artist and computer artist. In fact, his work at the nexus of art and technology is one of the most passionate chapters in his career, but has largely gone unnoticed. The art historian Frank Popper (who met and befriended Sharp in 1968) has offered one of the few accounts of this work in his book From Technological to Virtual Art. According to Popper, the introduction of television to American culture in the late 1940's had a tremendous effect on Sharp. "Almost instantly after DuMont television sets began to dominate living rooms and lives in 1948, television took control of Sharp, and he was transformed from just watching "Uncle Miltie" to being him," writes Popper.
"The technical computer specialists, on the other hand, have to become aware of the potential contribution of the artists, develop a respect for their pattern perceiving and pattern generating abilities, for their trained sensitivity to the exploration of novelty, their ability to select what is most significant; indeed—at their best—to make concrete the future before it happens, before we can define it, formalize it and verbalize it." - Leslie Mezei
Reproduction, appropriation, and automation are three major ongoing concerns within contemporary music and art. It’s strange then that relatively few people know about two mid-20th Century musical instruments that embodied all of these methods: the Chamberlin keyboard and its offshoot, the Mellotron, the first instruments built on taped samples of the sounds of others.
In Mellodrama: The Mellotron Documentary, filmmaker Dianna Dilworth takes measure of the many players in the story behind these unruly sound machines, whose very existence ultimately shaped much of popular music. The film is a study in the unpredictability of innovation, and how each extension of the same technology can conflict with the intentions of those that came before it.
The film profiles the creators as well as the instruments themselves, spotlighting their influence on later musical tools and approaches, as well as their overwhelming influence on a wave of pop stars, from the Beatles to 70s progressive rock bands. Mellodrama premiers February 16 at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival in Missoula, Montana.
Video: Woody Vasulka, Vocabulary, 1973
Video: Steina Vasulka, Warp, 2000
VASULKA.ORG is a tremendous resource for anyone interested in exploring the work of pioneering video and computer artists Steina and Woody Vasulka. The site not only contains an incredible selection of video clips and other documentation of the Vasulka's art work, but it is also host to the Vasulka Archive. Assembled from the personal collection of the Vasulkas and that of Peter Crown, David Dunn, Ralph Hocking, Sherry Miller, Phil Morton, Lynda Rodolitz, Jud Yalkut, and Gene Youngblood, this collection consists of over 27,000 pages of documents relevant to the history of video and electronic art.