The Rencontres Internationales is an international festival now enjoying its 15th edition, in Madrid. But you don't have to fly to Spain to surf through its compelling exhibition, "Data Meanings." (Installed at Complejo El Aguila through May 14th.) While the RI's programs do boast a roster of over 150 respected artists and arts professionals, the festival is distinct in that it is less driven by the art market and more driven to critique practices (creative and professional) within the contemporary arts community. In particular, this year's events are designed to explore the relationship between "new cinema and contemporary art" and, unsurprisingly, new media is at the center of the debate. "Data Meanings" thus chimes in as an intellectually rigorous show presenting nine artists engaging with data sets of various sorts. Mindaugas Gapsevicius's Bookshelf (2006) places computer monitors on shelves as their screens flash text that visualizes network traffic. Shown adjacent to shelves containing real books, the installation questions the status of reading, the narrativity of protocol and data streams, the relative invisibility of data, the permanence of print versus the impermanence of digital archives, and the role of the human memory in retaining this information. Christophe Bruno describes his Dadameter (2002-2008) as "a satire about the recent transmutation of language into a global market ruled by Google et al." He's essentially created an elaborate system for analyzing text surveyed by Google and mapping its linguistic similarities to Dada forms; particularly the writings of Raymond Roussel. Dada geeks will appreciate the irony of conflating these rule-based systems. On an even more playful note, JODI's Composite Club (2007) exploits the point of view of "cameras" in Playstation games by triggering them with prerecorded videoclips while Ubermorgan's The Sound of Ebay (a 2008 Rhizome Commission) uses ...
Artist Bjorn Magnhildoen in Norwayweb creates a "carpet" made of numbers derived from Norwegian tax payer information. Accessing roughly 4 million databases via "web scraping", the "carpet" is immediately triggered upon each visit to the web site, forcing the visitor to become a participant in the collection and redistribution of "private" information. Magnhildoen comments, "While the police earlier put goal-oriented tasks to suspected individuals and groups, now the whole population will be surveilled."
Marc Garrett of Furtherfield wrote a fascinating review of the work last month where he discusses the piece within the context of widespread digital surveillance.
The symbolically powerful and emotional practice of New Zealand-born, London-based artist Nicholas Tayler has greatly impacted the British art scene. His work, once described as a 'mythical vision' of the world, explores the irrational dimensions of human experience. Presented by London's ICA, The Parallels Almanac is Tayler's latest online project. The piece takes the form of a pre-enlightenment almanac, equally comprised of both conjecture and established knowledge, in order to tell the Maori warrior tale "Kupe and the Whale". An uncanny and multi-layered universe to itself, the site is a complex network of film, photography, drawing, text, and audio accessed via charts. The user uncovers the storyline for "Kupe and the Whale" through navigation of the site's manifold areas, which present various items such as photographs of traditional ritual knives, audio commentary by Tayler, and textual definitions of terms like "global architectures". By pairing scientific methodology with speculative mysticism, The Parallels Almanac is a perceptive allegory for the present day search for the metaphysical in an anxious and confusing post- 9/11 world. - Miguel Amado