Giving Props

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Since the first time I saw Planningtorock (alias Janine Rostron) perform her arch, musical exhumation of vaudeville and glam, I've craved an opportunity to get a closer look at the singer's collection of masks, helmets, futuro-medieval costuming and props -- like the fake bone she periodically nibbles during "I Wanna Bite Ya." Such performance ephemera rarely enters the realm of public exhibition, though can be as aesthetically significant as anything specifically conceived for the white cube. All of which makes "Sonic Voices, Rocking Hard," opening August 30th at Netherlands Media Art Institute, a particularly welcome affair. Co-curated by multidisciplinary artist Nathalie Bruys, the show comprises works by a group of practitioners, including Jonas Ohlsson and Heidi Happy, who also straddle the boundary of music and image-making. Beyond Planningtorock's contribution -- a prop and video installation -- Guy Bar Amotz will display sculptural mash-ups of speakers and keyboards, Annika Ström will show The Missed Concert (2005), a series of interviews with "fans" explaining their absence from a recent performance, and Norweigian artist Kim Hiorthøy will exhibit some of his exquisite, graphite drawings, building upon past works that found DJs, break-dancers and downright fanciful figures mingling in quintessentially Scandinavian settings. On the musical end of the spectrum, "Sonic Voices, Rocking Hard" boasts listening posts throughout the gallery space; Björk, CocoRosie and The Knife will contribute music videos; and a handful of the participants will perform during the Uitmarkt cultural weekend (including the bewitching Ms. Rostron). - Tyler Coburn


Image: Heidi Happy, du da, ich da (Music Video), 2007

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Smoke Screen by Michael Bell-Smith (2007)

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Smoke Screen can be seen from dusk until 2am at Harvard Square in Cambridge, MA as a part of Lumen Eclipse's August showcase.

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Whartscape 2008

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By Gene McHugh

 

Scratch the surface of Baltimore, an American city best known for high homicide rates and crab cakes, and you might get a whiff of the schizo, silly perversion that camp auteur John Waters famously captured in celluloid. A case in point is the music festival Whartscape, the Wham City art collective's freak-power counterpoint to the city of Baltimore's annual crafts 'n corndogs festival, Artscape.

 

In this, the festival's third year of operation, Whartscape has adopted a wider angle lens, expanding the lineup to 77 bands, playing over 4 days and nights, in legally secured venues. This expansion of the festival can most likely be seen as a result of the "Baltimore's got a cool scene" meme that has spread as far into the mainstream as Rolling Stone Magazine who declared that, indeed, Baltimore does the have the "Best Scene" (of 2008, anyway). Given the hype, it might seem tempting to enter into this "scene" with a skeptical eye, however, this year's Whartscape still felt like a somewhat unexploited, cozy family affair.

 

 

Videohippos

 

To give an example of how things basically go down: Baltimore singer and performer Lizz King impromptu danced while donning a shabby tiger mask during the Creepers set; the Creepers are a Baltimore band featuring Adam Endres from the Baltimore band Blood Baby and Blood Baby also features Kevin O'Meara from the Baltimore band Videohippos; the other member of the Creepers is Connor Kizer who is in the Baltimore band Santa Dads with Joshua Kelberman who's the brother of Baltimore comic artist Dina Kelberman, who worked at a Baltimore movie theatre with Victoria from the Baltimore band Beach House and went to college with, respectively, Dan Deacon and the visual artist Jimmy Joe Roche.

 

 

Joshua Kelberman from Santa ...

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Raising the Bar in Singapore

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Every two years, the International Symposium on Electronic Art (ISEA) lands in a different world city, drawing thousands of new media scholars and artists together and engaging the local community. Two rounds ago, in 2004, ISEA started on a cruise ship that sailed (ok, partied) from Helsinki to Stockholm before delivering participants in Tallin, Estonia. In 2006 ISEA came to San Jose, California, where it both gelled and collided with the Silicon Valley scene, inaugurating the annual Zero1 festival. This year the events leapt across the Pacific to Singapore, a small country with a huge media culture. From July 25th-August 3rd, the "world's premier media arts event for the critical discussion and showcase of creative productions applying new technologies in interactive and digital media" will present a range of exhibitions and public programs on five official themes: Locating media, Wiki Wiki, Ludic Interfaces, Reality Jam, and Border Transmissions. The panels and keynotes within this theme--delivered by many of the biggest names in the field--consider the current state of new media production and reception, and cast an eye toward the role of Pacific Rim participants in driving this field. A cornerstone of the festival is the main exhibition, installed at the National Museum of Singapore and called simply "ISEA2008 Juried Exhibition." This year's show provides a glimpse into contemporary media art practices not only in the work selected, but in the process of it's organization. The exhibit includes sixteen artworks, many of which were made by international collaborative teams, that were curated via a competitive open call. The selected artists were invited to Singapore for residencies, where they began to flesh-out their ideas and work in new media, technology, and science labs on the campus of the National University of Singapore. The result is a collection of works ...

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Getting Sand in the Art

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Has anyone noticed that it's summer in much of the world? Inspired by this deeply intellectual curatorial premise, a number of beach-based art invitations have been hitting our inboxes. The fiery purple and magenta gradient html invite for Glow Santa Monica reads, "Whether you get your brain waves translated onto a LED display or find yourself lost in a Neptunian lair of a surreal persuasion, please join us on July 19th to spend the night and greet the dawn with others so inclined as to believe our common spaces can be playful, inspiring, and thought-provoking, not just functional." If you are so inclined, and in the neighborhood, a visit to the Santa Monica beach, pier, and Palisades park from 7pm-7am, July 19-20 will put you in contact with installations by highly-regarded artists like Usman Haque and Shih Chieh Huang, and installations organized by such venerable orgs as Machine Project, VJ Culture, and the 18th Street Arts Center. The works slated for inclusion are colorful, interactive, luminescent (perhaps not surprisingly, given the promising title), and big...as in ambitious. There will also be all-night DJ sets and live performances. Now, you could throw on some swim trunks and flip flops to see work like this in a museum, but we're guessing it wouldn't be the same. - Marisa Olson


Image: Grant Davis, Video RIOT!

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When Sound Freezes Over

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The relationship between sound and image has long entertained comparative theorists and geeks in both literary and music circles. Of course, this relationship keeps evolving with new technologies, and couplings between audio and the visual continue to grow, particularly in the context of live performances. But how do these two dyads manifest themselves in still forms? This is the question raised by "Frozen," an exhibition organized by Norwegian artist and curator Marius Watz, who has led the field of generative art with his own work, his Generator.x blog, and events focused on the work of others. The show is up through July 26th at Amsterdam's Melkweg Mediaroom, Paradiso, in conjunction with the 5 days off MEDIA festival. Everything included in it is the result of an assignment, which seems in keeping with an exhibition that responds to generative practices and computer-programmed processes. Artists Andreas Nicolas Fischer & Benjamin Maus; Leander Herzo; Daniel Widrig & Shajay Booshan; and Marius Watz have created digital prints and "audio sculptures" that respond to audioworks by Freiband and Alexander Rishaug. The artists have used techniques such as rapid prototyping, CNC, and laser cutting to make objects that map and visualize sound, in "frozen" form. Of course, these works may purport to stop time--existing almost like a single frame in a film strip--but they are utterly-time based, with the concept of frozen motion entirely scripted by the concept of time, and a processing of the structural qualities (timbre, tempo, rhythm, etc) of sounds informing the logic and form of the ultimate objects. A nice Flickr set documents the results which demonstrate both the diversity of ways in which sound can be interpreted and the fact that beauty still lies in the ear of the beholder. - Marisa Olson


Image: Marius Watz, Sound memory (Oslo Rain Manifesto), 2008 ...

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Time to TRIP Out

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Despite their long lineages, the fields of locative media and psychogeography have only recently entered the art world. Every year there are increasingly more festivals and exhibitions devoted to the work of a growing number of artists who identify with these terms, but there has yet to be a substantial enough response on the part of art critics, academic journals, and others whose engagement is needed to help flesh-out the art historical trajectory and even genre conventions associated with locative media. Now a Manchester-based program called "Territories Reimagined International Practices" (conveniently abbreviated "TRIP") seeks to bring together artists, academics, and arts professionals under the umbrella of a three-day event (June 19-21) designed to present the best work in the field and generate more discourse around it. The gathering will feature a full-fledged conference, along with citywide performances, exhibitions, and interventions. Interestingly, the organizers have made precise efforts to wrestle differences between the few existing narratives currently swirling around this work, such as the seemingly contradictory aimlessness of the "psychogeographic drift" and the tightly-honed artist intervention. Like many subsets of new media art, those with a stake in this field have the double-edged challenge of speaking to the pronounced, shared qualities of its practitioners and also their diversity, which is indicative of a thriving field. Visit their blog for more details on the evolving program and use it to start your own psychogeographic bibliography. - Marisa Olson


Jane Samuels, "3.15pm, School House. Torches off. Cold, bright, quiet." (From the Abandoned Buildings Project), 2007

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This is Not a Game

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Among the random fringe benefits of the Beijing Olympics bonanza are not only a big international platform for the protest of China-related issues like human rights, Tibetan independence, or the responsibility of big trading nations to intervene in the Darfur scenario, but also a big international platform for the presentation of contemporary art. The games have brought an influx of attention and funding for "cultural projects," and thankfully for new media artists and their followers, Beijing's prestigious National Art Museum of China has used the windfall to present "Synthetic Times," one of the most impressive and widely-anticipated exhibitions of the last decade. Spread out over 48,000 interior square feet and another 22,000 square feet of outdoor space is an exhibition huge in stature and big in scope, presenting a survey of contemporary electronic art. The selected works imagine how the plastic arts have evolved into new forms of synthesis, with the advent of programming, physical computing, interactive media, and all kinds of fancy new lights, lasers, and whirlygigs now being put to varying conceptual and beautiful uses by those in the field. Singling-out just a few works here would almost be a disservice to the others, but if you care to peruse an ambitious sampling of great works and read critical essays on their work, by rock stars in the field of media theory, you're highly advised to surf the show's content-rich site. To the credit of the show's organizers (and also their collaborators MoMA, Eyebeam, and Parsons, who put on thoughtful events in New York as a precursor to the show's opening), this is not the kind of big-budget, low-impact show that these surveys often turn out to be. In fact, if anything it picks up and runs with the ball of ...

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01SJ Diary: Day 3

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Santana Row in San Jose is a kind of holy grail of large-scale property development, combining dining, shopping, and living space in a complex the size of several city blocks. Yesterday at lunchtime, it was bustling with row upon row of restaurant-goers sitting at tables on the sidewalk in the June sun. Imagine, if you can, Paris in the springtime with cheerful waitstaff and ample parking.


For the next few weeks, this terrestrial utopia will play host to RainDance, an outdoor installation by artist Paul DeMarinis. The piece, which somewhat resembles a shower facility, consists of five jets of water streaming downwards onto a raised walkway. Visitors walk under each stream while holding a plastic umbrella supplied by the attendant on duty. When the water hits the taut plastic, it creates a musical composition, generating different notes as the speed of water flow varies. Because the piece is inaudible until a visitor enters, it has a magical quality which was not lost on the shoppers and passersby who happened upon the piece.



Paul DeMarinis, RainDance, 2008

I left Santana Row for the Tech Museum of Innovation, where I saw 01SJ Global Youth Voices, an exhibition produced by Liz Slagus of Eyebeam. Inspired by 2007 Nobel prize-winner Muhammad Yunus' approach to micro-finance, the program had offered $500 grants to artists all over the world aged 11 to 21. Interactive artworks made by 12-year olds from the Nueve School in Hillsborough, CA sat alongside a video tour of Kibera, Africa's largest slum. "It's an impressive amount of work for twenty grand," Graham Harwood commented to me. It's true -- except according to a quick calculation ($500 x 17 artists), the actual figure was much less than 20. In the micro-finance model, even a small loan can change someone's life ...

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01SJ Diary: Day 1

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Editor's Note: Over the next few days, curator Michael Connor will report from the 01SJ Festival taking place this week in San Jose, CA.


When I arrived in San Jose yesterday for the opening of 01SJ, I couldn't help but feel that this would be a defining year for the biennial festival of "Art on the Edge." The festival was launched in 2006 alongside the itinerant ISEA conference, and I was eager to see how 01SJ would take shape without its more established partner. For 01SJ, based in the heart of Silicon Valley, building local audiences depends on presenting programs that resonate with the tech-savvy, while cultivating their interest in contemporary art.


Last night was the official opening of the Superlight exhibition at the San Jose Museum of Art, a central component of the 01SJ program. In his opening remarks at the exhibition, Artistic Director Steve Dietz addressed this challenge explicitly, reinforcing the point that the festival is bringing together the "so-called contemporary art world" with the "so-called new media art world." This relationship was played out in various ways through recent artworks that offer political and personal responses to a world riven by seemingly intractable problems.



Genevieve Grieves, Picturing the Old People, 2008

Talented newcomer Genevieve Grieves addresses the history of Indigenous representation in Australia in her piece Picturing the Old People. For this body of work, Grieves researched 19th-century photographs held in the collection of the State Library of Victoria. She identified particular motifs that ran through many of these photographs, such as romanticized images of the "noble savage" to the allure of the "exotic woman." She created five video portraits modeled after these archetypal motifs, in which the subjects occasionally come to life to enact their suppressed desires. In the video entitled Warrior, a man ...

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