Into the Unknown

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Alongside the Whitney and Venice biennials and certain other surveys of contemporary art, the Carnegie International has not always received its adequate share of attention. Which perhaps accounts, in part, for curator Douglas Fogle's controversial decision to name this year's edition -- the first time in the International's 112-year history. "Life on Mars," lifted from the eponymous David Bowie song, provides a thematic foundation for Fogle's group of forty artists from seventeen countries, all of whom "emphasize the modest over the monumental, and the hand-made over the machine-made" to convey "the poetic wonder in the everyday world." The question about the possibility of life on Mars thus operates as a metaphor for a state of alienation characteristic of contemporary existence, which many of the International's artists endeavor to highlight and explore. This question is ultimately a constructive one, Fogle contends, suggesting that the hopes, fantasies, and other signs we project into the unknown could yield responses - that connections can be made. While the practices of many of the artists in the show, including those of Phil Collins, Cao Fei and Apichatpong Weerasethakul, examine the various ties binding communities, it is the International's website that potentially offers the most interesting place to address the exhibition's topic. Beyond establishing pages on MySpace, Facebook, YouTube and Flickr, the International has introduced a section to its homepage, "Signals," devoted entirely to the reflections and ruminations of online visitors. The majority of the posts, to date, were written by people associated with the exhibition, but as the International runs through January 2009, the forum aspires to attract a broader contributor base. If "Life on Mars" truly considers our relationship to unknowns - both great and everyday - then what better venue for inquiry and discussion than the virtual cosmos? - Tyler Coburn ...

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Academically Qualified

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Since the 2006 cancellation of Manifesta 6, a biennial conceived as a temporary school in Cyprus, education has been at the forefront of the art world's attention. At a time when costly enrollment at a top-tier art school seems like the accepted route to a gainful career as a creative practitioner, artists and curators alike have begun assessing the standards of art education and mining critical alternatives, a process that culminated in unitednationsplaza's exhibition-as-school in Mexico City, this past month, as well as in the New Museum's yearlong "Night School," an "artist commission in the form of a temporary school" by Anton Vidokle, UNP member and co-organizer of Manifesta 6. Professing relatively less anti-institutional rhetoric and a bit more grassroots irreverence is The Philadelphia Institute for Advanced Study, an ongoing project by a handful of Philly artists and thinkers, including Brandon Joyce and Ramsey Arnaoot, offering seminars and symposia to members of their local community. Classes range from the pragmatic, including German and Spanish instruction, to the more specialized, in which interested pupils can help use Pure Date (pD) programming language towards constructing an audio-video sampling synthesizer, or contribute to Zusammenstoppeln, a group novel written using the Surrealist technique, "exquisite corpse." What complicates the Institute's seemingly benign agenda is its website, which adopts the mock tone and design of an elitist organization, calls artist residencies "Eric James Johnson Memorial Fellowships," and assigns equally buttoned-up appellations to its academic departments. While whimsy is evidently at the heart of it, the Institute's website makes an insightful point about the expectation for educational branding, in this day and age, and the performance of a certain elitism often accepted as necessary to lend credence to an organization, regardless of what it professes to teach. - Tyler Coburn

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Gary Gygax (1938-2008)

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Gaming visionary Gary Gygax, co-creator of the Dungeons and Dragons universe, passed away on Tuesday, March 4th, 2008. He was 69. Gygax is credited as the father of role-playing games (RPGs), but D&D's influence has permeated almost every genre of gaming since it was first published in 1974. Perhaps what's most remarkable about the game is that, in its basic form, D&D is only a set of rules and suggestions. The creative aspects of the game are left in the hands of the players. With only a few multi-sided dice, a pencil, and some graph paper, D&D players devise fantastic worlds, develop complex characters, and engage in dynamic group experiences. The imaginative agency provided by the game and its participatory nature may be its greatest contribution to the foundations of contemporary game design. Video games have been particularly inspired by D&D, as many of the designers and coders behind some of the most important titles in video game history grew up rolling a 20-sided die. It's hard to imagine the existence of Richard Allen Garriott's Ultima series, Hironobu Sakaguchi and Yoshitaka Amano's Final Fantasy series, or Blizzard's World of Warcraft without the game play mechanics established in D&D. Even the internet itself owes a little bit to Gygax. From late-70's MUDs to the massively multiplayer online games of today, the development of networked, D&D influenced RPGs has both paralleled and pushed the development of the web towards creativity and collaboration. Artists such as Brody Condon have translated the form of role-playing to the gallery. For Untitled War (2004), Condon invited twelve warriors to fight until their "death" at the Los Angeles space Machine Project. The taxing two hour long performance, accompanied by the music of the Winks ...

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Digital Artists Handbook

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Sponsored by the digital arts organization folly and the Arts Council England, the Digital Artists Handbook is a free practical guide to the field. Specifically aimed toward artists working with Open Source Software, the creators hope to "bridge the gap between new users and the platforms and resources that are available, but not always very accessible." The site hosts articles on a wide variety of topics related to the bits and bytes of digital art practice, including project management tips, open content guides, instructions for digital video, digital graphics, and sound tools, hardware development strategies, etc. The entries are authored by leading curators, artists, programmers, activists, and arts administrators, such as developer and artist Jon Phillips, activist and academic Florian Cramer, curator Olga Goriunova, musician and programmer Thor Magnusson, and many others. Compiled from August 2007 through January 2008, the material included in the guide is up to date.

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Arco 2.0 Vocento: Call for Proposals

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Is it true that the web 2.0 actually delivers on the grassroots, democratic potential of the web? Or does it merely transform extant ideals into more commercially viable mass platforms? The debate and discussion around the web 2.0 happening amongst internet communities, notably Trebor Scholz' Instituted for Distributed Creativity forum among many others, is active and replete with opinion and interpretation.

While web 2.0 has given way to the development of numerous platforms for the presentation and distribution of material online-- video, photo and personal information-- few meet the specific needs of artists. The Spanish initiative Vocento (in collaboration with Arco) will address this gap in their grant award for anyone--of any nationality--with the best proposal for fostering the "presence, exhibition, communication and management of art on the Internet." Selected proposal will be awarded with 15.000 euros to realize the project.

The winning proposal will be determined by an international jury including Joasia Krysa of KURATOR/UoP, UK and Santiago Ortiz, artist, moebio.com and a representative from Vocento.

The deadline for the proposals is coming up very soon: Jan 31st, 2008. Apply now!

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