Running a Marathon

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Douglas Coupland, I Miss My Pre-Internet Brain (2013). Pigment on lacquered apple plywood 22" x 17". Courtesy of The Daniel Faria Gallery, Toronto.

With the Frieze Art Fair now in full swing, London is undeniably where the art world is at. For those not exhausted by art fairs and panel discussions about postinternet art, we encourage you to keep up the (pun intended) pace for the 89plus marathon at the Serpentine on Friday night and all day Saturday. Curated by Ben Vickers, notable vestment-wearing participant in yesterday's "Post-Net Aesthetics" panel organized by Rhizome at the ICA, and forming a part of Hans Ulrich Obrist and Simon Castet's long-term research project of the same name, the marathon focuses on concerns facing the generation born in or after 1989—those "Younger than Rihanna," as Harry Burke put it in an article for Rhizome—who have never known a world without Tim Berners-Lee's world wide web, or with the Berlin Wall.

A diverse range of performances, talks, screenings, and installations will consider the subjectivities that have emerged in this period in history and offer speculations about the future. Notable participants include Zaha Hadid, Brad Troemel, Jake Davis aka Topiary, Hito Steyerl, Smári McCarthy (Icelandic Modern Media Initiative), Douglas Coupland, Harry Burke, and Le1F.

For those not in London, the event will luckily be livestreamed via the 89plus Clubhouse, beginning at 2pm EST / 7pm GMT today.

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More Than A Feeling: An Interview with James Richards

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Filmmaker Hito Steyerl has described the aesthetically-coded power dynamics at play between the "poor" and the "rich" image that infiltrate all aspects of contemporary video production. Beyond the dialecticism of her argument, which encourages deeper engagement with "degraded" pictures and a sort of abstract suffering through circulation (at least in terms of pixels), there remains a wide spectrum of mediocre to fair digital images for artists and filmmakers to deal with, and a host of issues concerning the resolution of visual matter, both new and appropriated. Just as collage and photomontage were once essential techniques for tinkering Dadaists, today the manipulation of picture quality has become a distinct strategy. I spoke to Berlin-based artist James Richards (UK) about his particular practice of presenting still and moving images of all registers in the space of the gallery exhibition, and the point at which an image breaks down into a feeling.

KR: In 2012 you programmed a screening for the Serpentine Gallery Memory Marathon. Surface Tension had some incredible films in it, including Paul Wong's Bruise (1976), which records the skin-level effects, in real-time, of transferring 60 units of blood between friends. That program really seemed to develop a metaphor between skin and screen—a form of intimacy that visually explodes the technological concept of a "touch screen"—something that I think also comes through in the composition of your own work, including Rosebud (2013), which premiered at Artists Space in New York in January.

 

Stills from Kenneth Fletcher/Paul Wong, 60 Unit; Bruise (1976, Digitally Re-Mastered 2008). 5.25 min., stereo, colour, English, single-channel.

JR: The censored images in Rosebud were shot in a library in Tokyo. I came across them by accident while researching there in the spring of 2012. The books—monographs on Mapplethorpe, Tillmans, Man Ray—were being imported into Japan from Europe when they were stopped by customs officials. Local law in Japan forbids a library from having books with any images that might induce arousal in a viewer, so after negotiations with the director, it was agreed that customs workers would go through the shipment and sandpaper away the genitals from any contested images. As you say, the video somehow is focused on the violence of the action of sandpapering—the point where glossy black printer ink gives way to the scuffed and bruised paper stock underneath. There's something intense but also futile in these marks. The video is a study of rubbing against and along different surfaces: the meniscus of water over the print, the elderflower rubbed along a boy's body.

James Richards, Rosebud, 2013. HD Video, 12 minutes 57 seconds. Courtesy the artist; Cabinet, London; and Rodeo, Istanbul. installation view, "Frozen Lakes," Artists Space, New York.

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Hito Steyerl's 'How Not to be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Educational .MOV File'

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GIF extract form Hito Steyerl, How Not To Be Seen. A Fucking Didactic Educational .MOV File , 2013. HD video file, single screen, 14min.

How Not to be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Educational .MOV File is the title of Hito Steyerl's new work, included in the Venice Biennale exhibition Il Palazzo Enciclopedico. (It is installed at the far back corner of the Giardino delle Vergini behind the Arsenale; to reach it, Steyerl joked, one must swim two canals and climb a wall).

The video is partly inspired by the photo calibration targets in the California desert, which look like giant pixels in the ground. As described by the Center for Land Use Interpretation, these targets were used in the age of analog aerial photography to test the resolution of airborne cameras, like a kind of optometrist's chart for the ancestors of drones.

 

Three Tri-bar targets at Cuddeback Lak. Photo: CLUI.

Partly shot on location at one of these disused targets, How Not to be Seen begins as an instructional video informing viewers how to remain invisible in an age of image proliferation. Various possible strategies are outlined. One suggestion is to camouflage oneself (to demonstrate, Steyerl smears green paint on her face and is chroma-keyed into invisibility). Another suggested tactic is to be smaller than the size of a pixel. For this demonstration, several people appear on camera wearing pixel-like boxes on their heads. Wearing a box on one's head may seem unpleasant, but in Steyerl's video it seems quite fun, imbued with some of the techno-human spirit of Bauhaus theater costumes.

After these tactics are outlined, the film crew making this educational video also disappears. In their absence, happy low-resolution pixels take over the production. Digital rendering ghosts dance in the desert landscape as The Three ...

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Hito Steyerl at e-flux

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from Abstract, Hito Steyerl, 2012

Abstract, one of three pieces in Hito Steyerl's solo exhibition at e-flux, shows the artist's visit to the deathplace of a friend. As an eyewitness plainly recounts the evening slaughter, he points out the remains of Andrea Wolf and some 40 other insurgents shot dead by the Turkish Army in Kurdistan. On the adjacent screen, Steyerl shoots the facades of German monuments with her phone. Doing so exposes the material origin for the killing (Turkey is a second market for German arms) and connects the languages of cinema with combat (the shot > countershot; an image becomes a target between crosshairs). As Steyerl acts as both editor and the woman with the movie camera (for her short discussion of Vertov, go here), the exhibit explores an area of overlapping influence between subject and object; aptly, one of her pieces is entitled Adorno's Grey.  

Journalist and PKK revolutionary Andrea Wolf is an ever-present proof of synthesis in the show. In November, we see a young Wolf as a leader of a motorcycle gang (that includes Steyerl) in a Russ Meyer homage. In Steyerl's films, builds happen, not sequences: someone discusses the usage of Costa-Gavras' State of Siege as a training film for young terrorists. See them kidnap, plant bombs, and evade authorities; learn that the film was based on first-hand, real-life accounts of resistance behavior. These films of bad-assery first appear as templates to turn an internal sense of (in)justice into action. They grow into an entangled relationship of images and events that map the formation and remembrance of Wolf's conscience. We may not know her details, but we have a sense of her motivation...

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GIFABILITY

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Last winter, Dan Harmon, who was then the executive producer of the television sitcom Community, shared that he tried, “many times a season” to put star Alison Brie “in a situation, wardrobe-wise, that I know is going to end up as an animated GIF file!”[1] Those GIFs, which circulate on Tumblr and other social media networks that traffic in images, are frame-capture GIFs. Unlike other GIF types, frame-capture GIFs plainly collect and endlessly repeat a single pop cultural moment from movies, TV shows, sporting events, political occasions, newscasts, cartoons, or even video games. As GIFs are silent, text is used to share dialogue or help shepherd the meaning of a GIF. Frame-grab GIFs are low-quality, incessantly mobile things, they can be awkwardly cropped and their focus is always obviously legible. Somewhat counter to this are what Daniel Rourke has termed art GIFs,[2] which, while also frequently sourced from movies or television, contain higher resolutions and have a self-consciously highbrow pretention, usually focusing on subtler, “artistic” moments.

A frame-grab GIF

Writing in the early 1990s, Susan Stewart observed that “with the advent of film, interpretation has been replaced by watching … Here we see the increasing historical tendency toward the self-sufficient machine, the sign that generates all consequent signs, the Frankenstein and the thinking computer that have the capacity to erase their authors and, even more significantly, to erase the labor of their authors.”[3] Stewart's diagnosis of the filmic watching-state returns, in a modified form, with the frame-grab GIF. These GIFs are in some sense the ultimate in self-sufficiency, not merely in the eternal return of their endless loop, but also within what Rourke has called the co-ordination of “their own realm of correspondence.”[4]

The quality of the frame-grab GIF is important. Borrowing insights from Hito Steyerl’s analysis of the poor image, the creation and distribution of frame-grab GIFs “enables the user’s active participation in the creation and distribution of content, it also drafts them into production. Users become editors, critics, translators, and (co)authors of poor images.”[5] Perhaps due to their quality and size, frame-grab GIFs have necessarily abstracted authorship. They are deployed in variable contexts, as reactions, illustrations, or expressions. Art GIFs, on the other hand, are circulated to be admired. Their authorship is also more consistently policed, as their authors demand credit for their work.

 

An example of what Daniel Rourke terms an "art GIF" (via)

While Stewart’s description of “the sign that generates all consequent signs” is one that erases authorship, the vernacular of frame-grab GIFs does something different. Instead of completely erasing authorship, the creation of frame-grab GIFs rearranges its tenets. Generally centered on a performer, framing the actor/actress in a context removed from the narrative flow of their source media. With their behavior on display, they carry a kind of performative authorial focus within the GIF. While the GIF is not by them, it is of them...

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Recommended Reading: The Spam of the Earth: Withdrawal from Representation by Hito Steyerl

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Image spam might tell us a lot about “ideal” humans, but not by showing actual humans: quite the contrary. The models in image spam are photochopped replicas, too improved to be true. A reserve army of digitally enhanced creatures who resemble the minor demons and angels of mystic speculation, luring, pushing and blackmailing people into the profane rapture of consumption.

Image spam is addressed to people who do not look like those in the ads: they neither are skinny nor have recession-proof degrees. They are those whose organic substance is far from perfect from a neoliberal point of view. People who might open their inboxes every day waiting for a miracle, or just a tiny sign, a rainbow at the other end of permanent crisis and hardship. Image spam is addressed to the vast majority of humankind, but it does not show them. It does not represent those who are considered expendable and superfluous—just like spam itself; it speaks to them.

The image of humanity articulated in image spam thus has actually nothing to do with it. On the contrary, it is an accurate portrayal of what humanity is actually not. It is a negative image...

— The Spam of the Earth: Withdrawal from Representation by Hito Steyerl (e-Flux #32)

 

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Lovely Andrea (2007) - Hito Steyerl

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Lovely Andrea (2007) J/D 2007, DVD 30min. Director: Hito Steyerl, Editor: Stefan Landorf, Protagonist / Assistant: Asagi Ageha

The director goes on a search for a bondage picture, taken of her 20 years ago in Tokyo.

via UbuWeb

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