Interface Aesthetics at the Dept. of Rhythmanalysis

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Interface aesthetics seem to push further into public consciousness with each passing month. Consumers are manic about multitouch and contemporary prototypes exploring gesture and performance have hinted at how we will be interacting with technology in the not-so-distant future. This considered, conversations about the desktop metaphor underlying personal computing or Aqua-style might seem archaic, irrelevant in light of emerging tangible media. This is, of course, not the case, and when excavating the idea of interface, one can dig back much further than screen-based interaction and find an extensive lineage of control panels and analog interfaces that prefigure the graphical user interface (GUI). An artist clearly invested in questioning the nature of interface and display is Kevin Hamilton, a researcher and educator based in Urbana, Illinois. Over the last several years Hamilton has been exploring the narrative potential of bare-bones interface and informational systems, quite notably through his ongoing Rhythmanalysis project.

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The Monitors

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For "Monitor," at New York's Claire Oliver, Brooklyn-based artist Noah Fischer produces a refreshingly rough-hewn body of sculptures that reflect the variegated meaning of his titular product. The monitor here operates at the threshold of objecthood, given both that "we gaze into its pixilated illusion, never directly at its shape and mass" and because the pace of technological development and consumption finds each new screen soon devolving into "e-waste." Boxy, beige monitors congregate in the aptly titled sculpture, Trash Pile, and are shown discarded on sidewalks in some of the black-and-white print-outs comprising wall sculpture Map Installation. Fischer finds a resurgence of Modernist aesthetics in subsequent generations of product design, most notably in those of Apple's laptops and iPhone. With their Judd-esque manufacture and seemingly infinite functions, they market a "sublime promise" all but removed from their production history, as well as from the "global trash cycle." In general, Fischer's sculptures ably marry the tenants of display and the realities of consumption. The crudely painted, triangular shelving of Family Portrait and New Codes could be the unwashed brethren of Steinbach's, the former topped with two wood shells of the new Mac PowerBook. An actual, grandfatherly PowerBook 180 has carved out a seat from one of them, while the translucent screens of an adjacent coterie handheld units glow from beneath. Perfect Lantern makes the reference explicit, as a strip of recessed lighting fills a wood PowerBook's translucent screen, and thus economically stages the condition of immateriality that gives the monitor its unstable nature. - Tyler Coburn

Image: Noah Fischer, Family Portrait, 2008

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Saddle-Stitched

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Way back before most people had even heard of new media art, one publication (a classy zine, really) was charting the rise of the field. Intelligent Agent was founded in 1996, still the early days of the net for all intensive purposes, by a smart German woman named Dr. Christiane Paul-- she'd later go on to become new media curator at the Whitney. Like many such DIY ventures, the publication has gone through a series of phase changes, from print to online, to hiatus, and back. Now edited by artist and media scholar Patrick Lichty, under Paul's guidance as publisher, the venerable magazine is available in both print and PDF formats. It continues to present the front wave of art and theory, and the most recent issue, which is built around the catalog for the "Social Fabrics" exhibition curated by Lichty and Susan Ryan, is no exception. While big fashion magazines produce their fattest ad-driven issues during the summer months, IA's latest free PDF will give readers a chance to see projects by a handful of forward-thinking artist/designers who not only design wearable art that marries textiles and technology, but also push fashion from the realm of pop culture into deeper social engagement. The resulting portfolios, interviews, and essays offer critical insight into the work and, in keeping with the fashion mag analogy, posit trend alerts for the future of media art. - Marisa Olson


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Mr. Roboto

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Machines have assisted people in creating images for centuries. From the camera obscura to the overhead and slide projectors to the photocopier, these mostly light-based tools have helped make light work of creating mimetic images. More recently, artists have started focusing on the machines themselves (this includes algorithmic software bots), letting them make the work, rather than simply assisting in the process. Of course, this all depends on how you define the work and the act of making it. Jürg Lehni has begun creating robotic spraypainting machines with names like Hector, Rita, or Viktor, anthropomorphic monikers that recall early fantasies -- or anxieties -- about the robots that would eventually replace human workers. The Swiss artist doesn't seem worried about losing his job. In fact, he's a master delegator, collaborating with (one might even say outsourcing to) others who help determine the form and content of the drawings that his machines will make. A show open July 9 - August 31 at the London ICA, entitled "A Recent History of Writing and Drawing," will display a variety of mechanical devices for art-making, centering around Viktor. Lehni has teamed-up with British graphic designer Alex Rich to program Viktor's mark-makings in such a way as to initiate a conversation about the role of technologies in expression, primarily by inviting the public to join workshops which allow them to participate in the drawings and to view demonstrations by other practitioners who'll use Viktor to make their own work. This overlapping melange of users gets to the heart of the project. As curator Emily King says, "Moving away from the blunt duality of man vs. machine, it is now possible to appreciate the particular qualities of various forms of mechanical and digital mark-making." This all begs the question of whether it's ...

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Psychoactive Wallpapers (2008) by Roglok

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Psychoactive Wallpapers (2008) by Roglok


"Welcome to my jazzy collection of Psychoactive Wallpapers. My aim in this project is to generate static and animated .gif images with a low filesize that provide interesting visual effects. I am inspired by the Structural Film movement of the 60's and 70's as well as stereographic 3d images and early webdesign."

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In Print

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Artists Olia Lialina and Dragan Espenschied have produced a body of work that focuses on the vernacular visual language of the web, one that revels in its gaps and imperfections. Works such as Olia's and Dragan's: Comparative History of Classic Animated GIFs and Glitter Graphics and Midnight explore the evolution of digital imagery in tandem with the changing conception of the web's ideal appearance. Currently exhibited in Montage: Unmonumental Online, Lialina's Some Universe (2002) engages one of the most classic and widely used digital images: stars.

The latest iteration of Lialina and Espenschied's project Online Newspapers (2004-Ongoing), developed for the Madison Square Park Conservancy, follows this distinct direction. Shown on four outdoor video screens on the grounds of the Shake Shack, Online Newspapers: New York Edition is a series of scanned front pages of four New York daily newspapers. All have been rendered illegible by flashy animations and glitter graphics that evoke the look and feel of the early web. The papers imagine how websites for New York's major newspapers would look if designed not by the slick designers whose work dominates the web now but by the early users of the web who had a more homegrown aesthetic. By elevating these early styles and graphics, Online Newspapers suggests that the forward movement of the web does not necessarily amount to cultural improvement and that this assumption of progress is, in itself, an over-hyped and inaccurate piece of news. The exhibition will last from March 20 through April 27, with the works shown daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. - Dennis Knopf

Olia Lialina and Dragan Espenschied, Online Newspapers: New York Edition, 2008

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True Mirror at the 2008 Whitney Biennial

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In conjunction with the 2008 Whitney Biennial, creative workshop and independent press Dexter Sinister will use the Commander's Room at the 7th Regiment Armory as an outpost to release a myriad of often playful and absurd texts through various channels of distribution. Meant as a spoof of the official communiqués of the Whitney Biennial, the project is ironically entitled "True Mirror." A revolving group of artists, designers, and musicians were invited to participate, such as Jason Fulford, Walead Beshty, Rob Giampietro and Alex Waterman. One of the releases, Sans Comic by Cory Arcangel, presents the Biennial's press release entirely in the widely mocked font Comic Sans. A simple gesture, the act illuminates how easy it is to disrupt institutional authority with a detail as basic as a typeface. "True Mirror" will terminate its dispatches this week on March 23rd.

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"Design and the Elastic Mind" @ MoMA

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Adaptability has always been a distinctive feature of human intelligence, but as MoMA's new exhibition "Design and the Elastic Mind" claims, recent developments in science call for faster -- and, indeed, more elastic -- modes of social response. Beginning with a display on nanostructures and concluding with one about social and global networks, this ambitious exhibition examines the various scales on which our contemporary lives are led, and the way design can translate technological innovation into objects of everyday use. Aranda/Lasch's Rules of Six (2007), for example, foregrounds nanodesign's potential for self-assembly with a wall relief and images of nanostructures. Developed through simple rules and interactions, these structures offer provisional cases for the role such generative, modular organization may hold in the realms of architecture and design. On the human scale, Emili Padros for the emiliana design studio's NSS: Non-Stop Shoes (1999) is one of many projects to consider micro-solutions to energy conservation: high-top sneakers that store energy over their use to power lightbulbs and small, domestic appliances. Experiments on the social scale frequently focus on the interaction of individual users with a larger (often virtual) public, as with I Want You To Want Me (2007-ongoing), Jonathan Harris and Sep Kamvar's condensation of internet dating networks into an interactive, flatscreen display, and Fernanda Bertini Viegas, Martin Wattenberg and IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center's History Flow (2003), which visualizes user-generated revisions to Wikipedia topics. As Senior Curator Paola Antonelli points out in an essay accompanying the exhibition, the ability of virtual users to "break the temporal rhythms imposed by society in order to customize and personalize them" is one of the many ways that we are tackling technological novelty with a spirit of agency and play. - Tyler Coburn

Image: Fernanda Bertini Viegas, Martin Wattenberg and ...

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Fashion Forward

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The LilyPad Arduino


Demonstration of a shirt made with a mounted motion-responsive LilyPad


At first glance, it would seem that wearable computing and traditional craft operate in distinctly different realms of cultural production. However, Leah Buechley, a University of Colorado at Boulder PhD student working with the Craft Technology Group, bridges this gap by taking a homemade approach to the use of computation in clothing or jewelery. The LilyPad Arduino Kit allows for the construction of simple, but aesthetically innovative, computational jewelery made out of the environmentally responsive open source platform known as Arduino. According to Buechley's site, the LilyPad is "designed to empower novices to work with electronic textiles. Using the kit, you can build your own soft interactive clothing." Along with the necessary tools, the kit also includes a highly instructive tutorial that will provide those without a strong background in technology with the know-how to build their own arduino and apply it to their projects. Leah Buechley will lead a lesson on the LilyPad Arduino at Mediamatic's Designing Wearable Hybrids workshop from February 19-21 at Mediamatic, Amsterdam. - Gene McHugh

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Dress Codes

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In just a few days, some of the art world's most prominent scholars will descend upon Dallas, Texas for the annual conference of the College Art Association. Each year there are a number of intriguing exhibitions on in conjunction with the symposium, and the Leonardo Education Forum-sponsored exhibition, Social Fabrics, looks like a must-see. Curated by Susan E. Ryan and Patrick Lichty, the show's subtitle is "Wearable + Media + Interconnectivity" and the selected works demonstrate "convergences between individual expression and statement making, on the one hand, and the phenomenology of 'network society' on the other." If that sounds a bit brainy to you, consider that the exhibition is a tricked-out fashion show in which artists combine wearable art, locative media, sensor technology, and social commentary on life in a high tech society. As the curators point out, "Fashion and digital technology have been interdependent at least since the development of Jacquard's loom in the 1800's." But now digital code and dress codes have merged, allowing artists and their muses to express themselves in provocative new ways. - Marisa Olson

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