Identity Art: Alive and Flickr'ing

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Identity art long predates electronic art. Even among the avant garde, artists were using their work to sort out their personae long before we plugged-in machines to perform our computations. In many ways, this genre hit its heyday in the 1970s, after the emergence of video, and coasted through the '80s and '90s only to take on a stale whiff in the '00s, particularly after 9/11 and the Iraq War upped the ante for artists to look beyond themselves as subjects. So, if nothing else, it is incredibly bold for this year's EMAF (Electronic Media Arts Festival) to take up "Identity" as its theme. Running April 23-27 in Osnabrueck, Germany, the fest will present the work of a wide range of artists in over 300 installations, films, and videos, host two conferences, and act as a platform for a range of student projects by people apparently just learning about identity. All jesting aside, the festival's organizers have succeeded in arguing that a category of artistic practice previously kicked to the academic recycling bin is still alive and operating under new conditions. Afterall, it's no longer just Bruce Nauman and Cindy Sherman pointing cameras at themselves, but every person who maintains an account with social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace. And, of course, the question of digital reality (even digital indexicality) has taken well-cooked debates about the documentary status of reality TV and similar forms to a new level, when aimed at Second Life and machinima. In a statement signed by "The Festival Team," prospective attendees are asked, "How do digital technologies change all areas of private and public life?" Ralf Bendrath's lecture on "Digital Identity" will respond to this weighty inquiry by investigating "the forms and consequences of the increasing capture of private data ...

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Traces from Memory

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Johannesburg-based artist Marcus Neustetter explores the potential for communication and exchange across a variety of mediums, including digital photography, video and installation, giving particular consideration to how the limits or irregularities of a given medium can constitute new conceptual, aesthetic, and even social territory. This investigation finds its most formal treatment in Disruption (2007), a series of photographs taken with a damaged camera, and Afterimages (2005), in which Neustetter used sensitized paper and an ammonia fume development process to generate analog "scans" of light and space. On the social end of the spectrum is UrbaNET: Hillbrow/Dakar/Hillbrow (2006-7), an ambitious project conceived by Neustetter and frequent collaborator Stephen Hobbs endeavoring to produce a "comparative analysis" of Hillbrow, a depressed neighborhood of Johannesburg with a large population of Senegalese immigrants, and Senegal capital Dakar. In 2006, while preparing for a two-week residency in Dakar and their participation in the Dak'Art Biennale 'Off' Program, the artists asked Hillbrow-based Senegalese immigrants to draw memory maps of their home city, which they would use to navigate the capital during their stay. Over the course of the residency, the artists documented their journey in photographs and video and even visited friends and relatives of the mapmakers. For the 2007 exhibition of their project at University of Johannesburg, Neustetter and Hobbs conducted a twenty-person walk from the campus, in Auckland Park, to a Congolese nightclub in Hillbrow, where the project was discussed by art-goers, neighborhood residents and the mapmakers. Neustetter and Hobbs' project thus does not profess to establish any authoritative study of the respective cities it maps, but rather overlays remembrance, map-making, navigation and the documentary image to tell the specific tales of a group of immigrants and a broader story about home, migration and place. - Tyler Coburn

Image Credit: Ali Jaiteh, Memory ...

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One Avatar's Trash is Another's Treasure

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The world is full of junk. Why should Second Life be any exception? In fact, something about the technological impetus to always create new, more advanced gizmos and realities makes this online virtual space a perfect site for the consideration of trash. The New York-based German art collective eteam are doing that now, in their project Second Life Dumpster. The duo's work often revolves around land-use issues and other socio-spatial interventions, and in this case they purchased 4096 square meters of space in SL to start a plein-air dumpster. The artists visit freebee sites throughout the virtual world and bring the detritus back to their space, and also encourage other users to drop their garbage at the site. Snippets of chat sessions with other avatars posted to the Second Life Dumpster blog reveal the humorous social challenges of keeping such an operation running. The project received a 2008 Rhizome Commission and their original proposal was to carve out a new type of behavior on Second Life. The site's owners, Linden Labs, say that exploring the world (including crafting one's persona and visage), creating objects, and selling those objects are the primaries forms of activity there, but eteam wanted to ask what happens after self-actualization and the ultimate disposal or withering of the ephemera exchanged in this process. After all, virtual junk is still junk, and its weighty presence online is but a mere token of the refuse our high tech lifestyles generate in "first life." If you're in the real world city of Brooklyn, this weekend, you can visit Smack Mellon to see the artists' physical rebuilding of decaying Second Life objects. Otherwise, check them out online or even consider joining the cadre of dumpster divers now hanging out at Fearzom. - Marisa Olson

Image: eteam, Second ...

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The Gallery (2008) by Christopher Baker

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This is a new video of the developing project The Gallery by artist Christopher Baker. The Gallery is a collection of over 2000 solo online video testimonials shown simultaneously on a 40 x 10 foot screen. See below for the artist's concept behind the work.

Right now each video represents a lone, solitary actor speaking from a private space (homes, bedrooms, etc) into the world- the typical "video log". Ultimately, I'm interested in the way that contemporary technologies successfully produce a multiplicity of speakers...but fail to produce listeners. So the democratic power of technology seems fall short in this way. It's fine if everyone has a voice- there is power in that idea- but who is listening?

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One World, Many Cultures

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The Beall Center for Art & Technology, at the University of California-Irvine, has recently commissioned an ambitious installation entitled, in a thousand drops... refracted glances. The work was created by Aleksandra Dulic, Martin Gotfrit, and Kenneth Newby, members of the Computational Poetics Research Group, a collective of artists, engineers, and scholars based at Vancouver's Simon Fraser University. The premise of their work is that by creating new tool sets and scenarios for "interdisciplinary computational media performance," they can "enable creative and performing artists to enter into new collaborative relationships with encoded systems." The installation's title comes from a passage German philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762-1814) penned in 'The Destination of Man" which speaks to the life force that flows from nature through our bodies, bonding humans to each other, as it helps us self-actualize. "In a thousand drops... refracted glances" features multiple audio channels and digital collage (a la David Hockney's "joiner" photocollages). The space is strung with over a hundred monitors, hung like a mobile. The fragmented images displayed on each screen, when viewed from the right angle, form a "complete" picture. These images are pulled from a database in response to sensor data about viewers' presence and movement. The "big picture" in this work is really the artists' narrative about diversity. The question of the completeness versus fragmentedness of individuals' identities has long amused existentialists, but the query has been given new life in a world of high tech engagement. To this discussion, the artists wanted to bring a consideration of diversity and its vitality to a healthy culture, arguing that the diversity represented in the compartmentalized images seen on their screens reflects the diversity found in nature and humanity. The corresponding audio installation seeks, literally, to bring viewers into 'harmony' with what might otherwise look ...

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Reflections on the Future

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Footprints Into the Future, a group exhibition running through February 25th at Venice's Palazzo delle Arti Napoli, poses an interesting question. Curated by PAN's Julia Draganovic and Tseng Fangling of the Kaohsiung Fine Arts Museum-Taiwan, the show assumes that an artist's desire is to innovate, or to find a singularly unique form of expression. The challenge addressed is that of developing "a form of creative innovation that takes into account the cultural heritage, tradition, and all that contributes to the making up of a people's identity." In other words, how can one reflect and acknowledge the past, while focusing on treading into the future? This is, ultimately, a media change question: One must understand the forms of expression that have come before in order to adapt to new ones. Appropriately, the show is the third in PAN's exhibition cycle devoted to the theme of "Challenges" and, for this installment, the curators have selected twelve Taiwanese artists. The group draws on the aesthetics and rituals of their primarily Buddhist and Taoist culture in order to create "a fully contemporary language." Among the included projects are interactive installations by Hsiao Sheng-chien and Lu Mu-jen, and mangas drawn by Hung Tunglu and positioned in lightboxes among traditional spiritual symbols. Lin Shu-min's "Inner Force" is a playful meditation on the concept of "mindfulness." Two viewers face each other and see lotus-shaped projections of their monitored brain waves on the floor. The viewer who is most relaxed yields the most flowers. Projects like these distinguish the question of respectful innovation from classically unanswerable Buddhist "koans." They make clear that artists, of all people, are capable of finding beautiful new ways of inviting history to repeat itself. - Marisa Olson



Image: Hung Tunglu, Padmasambhava, 2002

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Parallel Universe

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The symbolically powerful and emotional practice of New Zealand-born, London-based artist Nicholas Tayler has greatly impacted the British art scene. His work, once described as a 'mythical vision' of the world, explores the irrational dimensions of human experience. Presented by London's ICA, The Parallels Almanac is Tayler's latest online project. The piece takes the form of a pre-enlightenment almanac, equally comprised of both conjecture and established knowledge, in order to tell the Maori warrior tale "Kupe and the Whale". An uncanny and multi-layered universe to itself, the site is a complex network of film, photography, drawing, text, and audio accessed via charts. The user uncovers the storyline for "Kupe and the Whale" through navigation of the site's manifold areas, which present various items such as photographs of traditional ritual knives, audio commentary by Tayler, and textual definitions of terms like "global architectures". By pairing scientific methodology with speculative mysticism, The Parallels Almanac is a perceptive allegory for the present day search for the metaphysical in an anxious and confusing post- 9/11 world. - Miguel Amado

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