Private Lives

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Sophie Calle, Unfinished, 2005

The New Normal, an exhibition currently on display at Artists Space, assembles works from thirteen practitioners, all of which were made after 2001 and are somehow representative of the emergent conditions of public and private life in America and beyond. Curator Michael Connor borrows his exhibition title from Dick Cheney's notorious post-9/11 speech, in which the vice president characterized the forthcoming encroachments on citizens' private lives as "the new normalcy." What makes Connor's exhibition truly revelatory, however, is the way it proposes this "rise of state and corporate surveillance" to be as definitive, in the shaping of the private sphere, as the willingness of millions of members of the populous to voluntarily make their private lives public, by means of online venues for personal blogging, image and video diaries, and social networks. This trend, if anything, indicates that for the twenty-first century public, "private information is not always something to fear." To the contrary, Connor argues that the power entailed in this type of public disclosure can be harnessed in the service of new forms of cultural production and new "tactics for political critique."



Sharif Waked, Chic Point, 2003

Support for this point can be found throughout the exhibition. Bangladesh-born, U.S.-based artist Hasan Elahi's 2002 airport interrogation by FBI agents, for example, prompted his developing Tracking Transience, a personal website monitoring his spending, calls and location, with photo documentation for support. Elahi's project serves a pragmatic end - as virtual alibi - but does so in a conceptually telling fashion: requiring the artist to internalize state power and subject his life to the degree of scrutiny the government reserves for suspected terrorists. In a similar vein, Palestinian artist Sharif Waked's single-channel video Chic Point (2003) shows a parade of men ...

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The Shadow of Right Now

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On June 4th, the second iteration of the 01SJ Biennial will open in San Jose, CA. One of the most compelling components of this major international new media event directed by venerable curator Steve Dietz will be an exhibition at the San Jose Museum of Art, entitled "Superlight." The show opens May 10th and appears to offer a very powerful message. Taking on such "light" topics as global climate change, terrorism, the history of colonialism, global outsourcing, pervasive war, inescapable poverty, failing educational systems, and failed relationships, the show encourages viewers to get serious about considering our future. The lineup of artists in the exhibition (including Cory Arcangel, Jim Campbell, Paul DeMarinis, Kota Ezawa, Amy Franceschini, Graham Harwood, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Shih Chieh Huang, Jennifer and Kevin McCoy, Eddo Stern, Marina Zurkow, and others) could very easily be assembled with no greater purpose than surveying the most significant new media art of this moment. Instead, Dietz pushes viewers (and perhaps the artists themselves) to think further ahead. His curatorial statement fleshes out the fundamental "collision" encapsulated by the notion of "innovation": A face-off between the present and the future, in which one makes proactive decisions about the changes they want to see and the tomorrow they want to craft. Those working in new media are arguably extremely well-positioned to make such articulations, as they are at home on this temporal precipice. Recognizing this scenario charges both artists and audiences with a new sense of responsibility. As Dietz says, "In this contemporary context, 'what's next?' the age-old question at the intersection of art and technology takes on a new urgency." The works he's selected for their address of the aforementioned weighty topics often use light as a medium, if not the real or conceptual sheen of the popular vernacular ...

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Blank Spots on a Map: State Secrecy and the Limits of the Visible

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For the next New Silent Series program at the New Museum, Blank Spots on a Map: State Secrecy and the Limits of the Visible, geographer and artist Trevor Paglen will explore the network of hidden budgets, state secrets, covert military bases, and disappeared people that military and intelligence insiders call the "black world." Over the course of his talk, Paglen will lead the discussion from "non-existent" Air Force and CIA installations in the Nevada desert to secret prisons in Afghanistan and to a collection of even more obscure "black sites" startlingly close to home. Using hundreds of images he has produced and collected over the course of his work, Paglen shows how the black world's internal contradictions give rise to a peculiar visual, aesthetic, and epistemological grammar with which to think about the contemporary moment.

BUY TICKETS
Friday May 9th, 7:30 PM
the New Museum, New York, NY
$8 general public, $6 Members (Rhizome and New Museum)

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kamau.org

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The website of Bay Area-based video and performance artist Kamau Amu Patton, whose work uses and often reassembles traditional African imagery and costume in order to explore the formation of modern mythology, African-American identity, and popular culture, is a new video in which one of Patton's characters ignites fireworks illuminating an alter-like pattern to the accompaniment of bells and a low frequency buzz. - Ceci Moss

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Doing It Ourselves

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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 ...

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Putting the Hustle and Flow in Check

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Cars have turned our zen garden sandbox of a landscape into a systematically ravaged ant farm. The impetus to transport goods cheaply and "effectively" has brought roads and motorized vehicles that have wiped out communities, histories, and wide swathes of flora, fauna, and the atmosphere. Artists Ryan Griffis and Claude Willey have both concerned themselves with such disappearances, whether it is public space or atmospheric moisture that is evaporating in response to the encroachment of new technologies and the environmentally-corrupt corporations that wield them. This week they collaborated to open an exhibition of "cultural projects focusing on the problems of mobility and energy." Presented by Green Museum, an online environmental museum, "Conducting Mobility" includes internet-based works by Brian Collier, Free Soil, Amy Balkin/Kim Stringfellow/Tim Halbur/Greenaction/Pond, kanarinka, Michael Mandiberg, Laurie Palmer, Platform, Josephine Starrs/Leon Cmielewski. The show uses the United States' problems as a tip-off point, while also commenting on the extent to which we've exported our fuel-consumption patterns and other transportation-related disasters to other countries, citing India and China as key examples of foreign "ecosystems plundered by our unquenchable energy needs." The organizers point out an ironic, if very sad pattern in this model, which is that it's not only tourism, migration, and military conflict that keeps people "on the move," but environmental disasters themselves. Westerners have a way of simply moving campgrounds and keeping the eco-hating party rolling when things turn ugly in our own backyard. At this point, things are already so bad, that it can be easy to feel pessimistic about the future of our planet or what one might do to help. Griffis and Willey offer this show as a call to action, stating, "It falls to all of us as global citizens to redirect our governing institutions and ...

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Curvilinear Historiographs

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Norwegian-Serbian artists Synne Bull and Dragan Miletic (a.k.a. BULL.MILETIC) exemplify the modern fantasy of the nomadic artist, taking up shifting residences around the globe in conjunction with various residencies and exhibitions. This experience of constantly re-situating oneself in relationship to a new political geography plays out beautifully in their video works which are concerned with exploring "the relationship between physical and mental space.... to examine their immediate surroundings (architecture, objects, landscape, urbanity) as containers of emotions, memories, and political decisions." Their current solo installation in the salon of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Belgrade, is entitled Unfinished: Scars of the Past/ Face of the Future and in it the couple creates a romantic tension--a sort of "love rhombus"--between the eyes of the viewer, those of the artists, the perspective of the camera, and the visage of the space itself. Because they are interested in what gets visually and ideologically framed-out of the histories of city spaces, the artists tried to construct a sense of objectivity in developing a method that doesn't require them to peer through a lens in order to capture on film what they see as the tension between Belgrade's past and future, as manifest in the tension between monumental architecture and new improvised developments. This method is one which captures a 360-degree panorama, feeding each sliced point-of-view into a streaming loop, thus effecting a psychological and visual sense of continuity that places the construct of history on a more fluid continuum while likening both video-making and video-viewing to the process of "mental mapping." The piece will be on view through May 12th. - Marisa Olson

Image credit: Bull.Miletic, Unfinished: Scars of the Past/ Face of the Future, video installation detail, 2007

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Mapping Darfur

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Since Sudanese government soldiers and their proxy militia, the Janjaweed, commenced assaults on rebel forces and civilians of similar ethnic descent, in 2003, the crisis in Darfur has been at the forefront of international discussion and the subject of extensive political, humanitarian, and journalistic work. "Museum Mapping Initiative," a unique collaboration between Google and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, makes the history and details of the crisis available to a virtual community, allowing Google Earth users to navigate a map of the region amended with data provided by the U.S. State department, including locations of damaged and destroyed villages, internally displaced person (IDP) and refugee camps in Darfur and Chad, respectively, and zones accessible and inaccessible to humanitarian relief workers. Users navigating the terrain can read testimonies of civilians affected by the conflict, recorded by Amnesty researchers, and view photographs depicting aspects of regional life. Taking advantage of Google Earth's architecture, "Museum Mapping Initiative" also allows users to insert their own placemarks on locations in Darfur and Chad towards constructing specific tours, presentations and readings of the crisis. Through this intersection of interactive technology and progressive historiography, the events and stories surrounding this modern-day atrocity can finally be brought to greater light. - Tyler Coburn

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