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
Indie gaming has been the hot topic in the videogame world in 2008, but even the most erudite and well-informed game bloggers have smashed into an impenetrable wall of critical stupefaction when attempting to grapple with the strange and unheralded wonder that is Fruit Mystery, a ultra-low-fi flash challenger created by something named Brett Graham. TIGSource proves speechless, Play This Thing! attempts an intelligent exegesis of its procedural rhetoric, but ends up saying it's a kind of game that "should be put in the dumpster and ignored after use, like disposable diapers," and a commentator at Rock Paper Shotgun simply asks, "What the utter fuck did I just play?" Set to the incisively irritating rhythms of the 80s' worst song, the garishly-colored Fruit Mystery enjoins you to feed a variety of badly-drawn edibles to zoo animals, represented by a marquee procession of stock photographs; each food-plus-animal combination elicits a unique edugame-style tidbit of rude, poorly-spelled nonsense. At the end of this cross-species gastronomic adventure, (spoiler alert!) you are assaulted by Zookeeper Steve. Thanks to his huge resume, which is posted to his site, one would be led to believe that Mr. Graham lives in Australia, where he works as a web designer. He also provides free advice for dog owners, does not like white rice, and may still live with his mum and dad. - Ed Halter
Image: Fruit Mystery (screengrab)
Those three words are the declaration of Manuel Buerger, a young German artist whose practice encompasses graphic design, fine art, theory, and music. Buerger did his graduate studies in Media Art under the direction of pioneering internet artist Olia Lialina and this reveals itself best in the humor Buerger directs at his projects that are often just as goofy as they are subtly, intelligently deconstructive of media culture and its conventions. His Master's thesis was an artist book-cum-manifesto on the cultural and economic imperative towards newness, with the figure of a UFO used to navigate the philosophy of novelty. Buerger followed this project with an A5 fanzine that was, in fact, a critical examination of the role of individuality in the Microsoft software platform. Designed in MS Word, I doc. you will! both celebrates and critiques the rigidity and dominance of this environment, pointing to the strict adherence to publishing protocols written into Word, despite the seeming emphasis on personalization within tools and templates. Predicated on a reading of Deleuze's theories on societies of control, Buerger argues, "The last 25 years have rapidly changed the means of computer aided self-portrayal. 'Individualization' is the product of this development--consumption stresses our uniqueness." That said, a number of Buerger's projects end up focusing on consumer culture, or the fine line between that culture and its production. While net-based experiments like his Nostril Karaoke leave us a bit speechless, his Designerz is a clever, gif-based trope-popping of the archetypal designer-holding-poster portrait, reflected in the style of a permanent zoom into a hall of mirrors. The artist is currently at work on a MIDI-album called "10/10," in which "the idea is to take ten ultra-cool midi-instruments (10 of 128) and dedicate a song to each instrument," and he's an active ...
Cat Mazza is a practitioner of what sociologist Betsy Greer has called "craftivism." She's used knitting and other needlecraft-related processes to address pertinent political issues. Her projects are particularly adept at effecting a tactical turning of the tables on issues; for instance, using hand-made (though often computer- or software-assisted) processes to address labor conditions. Her latest project is similarly successful at fighting fire with fire (or should we say "fiber"?), parodying a US government program--even using its own explicit instructions--to critique the ideas behind it. Stitch for Senate is a contemporary take on the historic practice of charitable knitting. During WWII, women and children supported the war effort by knitting clothing and protective gear for soldiers abroad. Following the US invasion of Iraq, Americans were encouraged to make similar efforts for soldiers stationed in Iraq and Aghanistan. However, as Mazza points out in a video on her site, this war is not as popular as WWII, consequently neither is the knitting initiative. On the fourth anniversary of the invasion, in order to spur more thought and dialogue about the war, Mazza launched Stitch for Senate which encourages users to download patterns and knit helmet liners not for combat troops but for every member of the US Senate (the legislative body that votes to declare war), giving them the responsibility of distributing the fuzzy armaments. Meanwhile, the website is a space for documentation of these efforts as well as posts by users about war-related discussions and acts of charity, patriotism, and activism within radius of their own local knitting circles. A few helmet liners won't unravel the war, but as with craft groups before them, projects like these do provide a safe platform for approaching (or stabbing a needle into) bigger issues. - Marisa Olson
Proof against the claim of declining handyman skills in younger generations of Americans, this weekend's Maker Faire will turn over the Bay Area's San Mateo Fairgrounds to the unusual inventions of the country's amateur artisans, do-it-yourself tinkerers and precocious tech-heads. Already in its third year (the first, held in San Mateo in 2006, drew 20,000 people, and the 2007 Austin edition 45,000), the fair has shown a continuing desire on the part of the populous to not only concoct innovative, low-fi alternatives to mass-produced commodities, but to also make the skills acquired through such production available to the broader community. To this end, MAKE and CRAFT magazines, published by the fair's organizers, offer in-depth instructions for building everything from the practical (an in-car camcorder mount) to the far-fetched (a PVC air cannon). The fair itself will follow suit, particularly in the realm of engineering. Highlights include an amateur radio demonstration, offering details on radios, antennas, local repeaters and FCC practicalities; the cerviScope, a portable colposcope, specifically designed for low-resource settings in the developing world, that detects HPV lesions on the cervix towards preventing cancer in women; CUBIT, created by Stefan Hechenberger and Addie Wagenknecht, which "depart[s] from the mouse pointer paradigm" by employing an open-source, multi-touch platform for computing; and Compubeaver, a taxidermy beaver retrofit as a cover for your desktop computer. - Tyler Coburn
The spirit of D-I-Y is one widely embraced by activists. Not to bracket the importance of collective social action, the idea of "doing it yourself" conjures a sense of taking responsibility for a scenario, and productively taking matters into one's own hands. For this reason, cookbooks, toolboxes, and user manuals are common formal metaphors in tactical media projects focused on mirroring extant tools and techniques to effect change. A new exhibition at Vancouver's Western Front gallery (whose mission is "promoting the role of the artist in determining the cultural ecology"), entitled "Kits for an Encounter" explores the medium of the the kit. Typically portable, efficient, and therefore easily deployable, these are a hybrid between political first aid kits and situationist magic hats. Each of the nine artists present a different take on the kit, ranging from MacGyveresque problem-solving to the fantastical creation of utopian encounters. Azra Aksamija's Nomadic Mosque comments on both the borders of religious communities, and the portability of spiritual identity. The piece "unfolds from a fashionable women's semi-formal [outfit] into a minimal mosque which the artist-architect spatio-temporally demarcates as a prayer rug for two, head covering, compass, and prayer beads." Judi Werthein's Brinco is a tennis shoe "equipped with a flashlight, compass, [and] painkillers to enable those illegally crossing the US-Mexico border." The sneaky sneakers will be sold at boutiques with profits going towards distribution of the "cross trainers" to border crossers. Vahida Ramujkic's Assimil is a textbook "whose exercises and lesson plans 'teach' non-European Union citizens how to properly enter and assimilate into the EU." Each of these works, and additional projects by Steven Brekelmans, Limor Fried, Max Goldfarb, Janice Kerbel, Lize Mogel, and Noam Toran comment on personal space, skill and empowerment, and the deeper import of seemingly small ...
Pioneering internet artist Olia Lialina has written about the fact that most of the web's sites and contents are built by amateurs--those people who put the "user" in "user generated" or who, before the days of web 2.0, took it upon themselves to create what Cory Arcangel calls "dirt style" websites that seem to holler, "Welcome to my homepage!" But as curator Ralph Rugoff points out, "an aesthetic of amateurism has long served as a means for deflating models of academic and market-driven art," harkening back to "conceptual artists and earlier... modernist vanguards." This week, San Francisco's CCA Wattis Institute will open Rugoff's group exhibition, "Amateurs." Up through August 9th, the show includes a long list (Johanna Billing, Jennifer Bornstein, Andrea Bowers, Phil Collins, Jeremy Deller, Harrell Fletcher, Josh Greene, Cameron Jamie, Alan Kane, Long March Project, Yoshua Okon, Michele O'Marah, Hirsch Perlman, Jim Shaw, Simon Starling, Javier Téllez, Jeffrey Vallance, and Eric Wesley) of artists "embracing amateurism as a means for questioning basic assumptions about authorship, expertise, the relationship between artist and audience, and the contingency of cultural values." Formerly director of the Wattis Institute (which has close ties to CCA's curatorial practice program) and currently director of London's Hayward Gallery, Rugoff is known for writing articles and organizing exhibits that comment heavily on the nature of contemporary art practice, and his statement for this show raises questions about the increasingly professionalized nature of the art world, and the resulting assignment of, or prohibition upon, authority. In this case, the artists present work that tends to follow two tracks--either inserting themselves into a position as an amateur (i.e. amateur anthropologists) or inserting themselves into amateurish subcultures, from DIY craft groups to amateur film clubs. The hope is that both types ...
Bearing a deceptively straightforward name, The Thursday Club at Goldsmiths College, University of London plays host to a wide range of technologist-artists for its recently-announced Summer Season; in upcoming weeks, the Club's guests will explore such diverse topics as narrative interactivity, biofeedback, coded textiles and "strategic walking." On April 17, Rachel Beth Egenhoefer presents works in progress from her ongoing art-melds of knitting and coding, including a knit zoetrope and knitting with the Wii. Writers Kate Pullinger and Chris Joseph talk about their "networked book" Flight Paths on April 24; a novel to be based partially on strange-but-true occurrences of immigrant airline stowaways tragically plummeting to earth, Flight Paths is currently crowdsourcing research and ideas in its online forum. May 8th brings two artists who use medical technologies to esthetic ends: Camille Baker, whose MINDTouch combines biofeedback and mobile phones to create live performances, and Marilene Oliver, who creates artworks with MRI and CT scanning data. Future clubbers include E:vent organizers Colm Lally and Verina Gfader, artist/writer Richard Colson, and "live coders" Alex McLean and Dave Griffiths. - Ed Halter
Image Credit: Rachel Beth Egenhoefer, Detail of Knit Zoetrope (Work in Progress)