Artist Profile: Jennifer Chan

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The latest in a series of interviews with artists who have developed a significant body of work engaged (in its process, or in the issues it raises) with technology. See the full list of Artist Profiles here.

Jennifer Chan. Tralier for the exhibition "Young Money" (Future Gallery, 2012).

I remember when I first saw the videos you were making in 2012 while you were at Syracuse, and I recall feeling as though you were imitating a "bro net art aesthetic" as a way to critique it. For example, the trailer for your exhibition "Young Money" (above) includes a shot of you holding cash, a rotating pizza, and a floating rendering of a bong. But now, ironically, that has actually become your signature style and when I see others making videos in that vein, I think they are copying you. How do you feel your video style came to be, and now that you've been immersed in it for some years, why do you use the formal elements that you do?

I want to defensively say "I wasn't copying art bros; they're copying me!" but I really don't think there is any originality after the internet and in some sense we subconsciously or directly retain emotional and aesthetic affects of everything we see. I wasn't thinking it was particularly "bro-ey" style that informed works like Young Money...Before I discovered "postinternet" art I was watching a lot of amateur YouTube videomakers like Wendy Vainity, Epic Mealtime, and random videos of boys performing pranks and dares, so there were some definite influences from vloggers and pro-am producers. I noticed that people actually enjoyed performing "bro" ironically, and I wanted to channel that parodic pleasure. It can't and won't be about youth and fantasy forever though. I'm currently working on a 15-minute video about equality that bastardizes film and documentary tropes...

Bad videomaking seemed sincere, effortless and convenient for the net. My older videos were inspired by fan culture on YouTube and could be lumped in with screen-recorded videos, unboxings, and reviews made by young videogamers. A direct aesthetic influence was my friend Daniel Waldman who made videos for fun with Windows Movie Maker and posted every one of them on YouTube without caring whether people thought it was art or not. 

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Notes on Being Net Artist

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18 years of being net artist were 18 years of

        explaining difference in between net art and web art
        explaining difference in between net.art and net art
        removing the dot from net.artist
        being called media artist
        being mixed up with the austrian artist Lia
        being called cyberfeminist


        getting to know that i'm in a show from vanity search
        getting requests to send screenshots in 300 DPI
        refusing to show the work offline
        refusing to show the work without address bar
        rejecting Internet Explorer (and later Safari)

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Successful Apps Fill Gaps

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Jon Nash and Michael Petruzzo, Slight 1.0 (2014), screenshot of iOS app.

A smartphone app feels special when, upon first being opened, one has no clue what one is supposed to be doing with it. If life is a series of bricks or whatever, then a successful app can be a kind of mortar, filling gaps that you never knew were there (thats where the title of this essay came from). I don't mean *invented* gaps, or *fake* gaps, the type that boring Menlo Park chads cook up after one too many rails, apps with such a specific purpose that they end up sitting in the back of your phone somewhere, sad and utterly useless. I'm talking about apps that come out of the gate with no purpose, or a purpose so open-ended that the original creators could never have dreamed how it would end up being used. This is DUH but twitter: you write text! and look at all this malarkey we have to deal with now! Sad Twitter, Weird Twitter, Talking Tower Bridge Twitter, Commuter Express 437 Updates Twitter, Will Smith's Kid's Twitter, JEFF BAIJ TWITTER!

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Shu Lea Cheang on Brandon

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Shu Lea Cheang, Brandon, Bigdoll interface, 1998

In 1998, the Guggenheim Museum launched its first web-based art commission, Shu Lea Cheang's Brandon. Over the course of a year, the collaborative, dynamic piece would look at the complexity of gender, sexuality, and identity through the life and death of Brandon Teena/Teena Brandon, a Nebraska youth who was raped and murdered after his biological sex as a woman came to light in 1993.

Oft-cited in new media art history as one of the first widely recognized pieces of net art, the Brandon site has been offline for the last year or so; the Guggenheim plans to restore the work in the very near future.

I spoke to the artist about Brandon, 14 years after its launch: 


YH: How did you first come to conceptualize Brandon? What were the circumstances for its commission?

SLC: Brandon was conceived at a time that I moved from actual space to cyber/virtual, claiming myself a cyber-nomad. It was around the mid-90s, and there was high hope for a super-highway, for a virtual world where race/gender does not matter any more. (I think it was the ad copy of MCI communications?). Meanwhile, two articles came out at Village Voice, one about Brandon Teena's rape/murder case by Donna Minkowitz and the other Julian Dibbell's A Rape in Cyberspace. I had been experimenting with boundary crossing between the actual (state/nation) and virtual (anonymous/avatars), which needed to take up a durational performative format.

By 1995, I wrote out a proposal which was to be a one-year web narrative project following my feature film Fresh Kill (1994). At the time, I guess it was unusual to conceive a durational web work, to be unfolded by episodes, by staged virtual performance 'events' supported by actual space installation. At the time, David Ross was the director of the Whitney Museum. He had the vision to expand the museum into cyberspace. Curator John Hanhardt (who has exhibited three of my major works: color schemes (a solo show in 1990), Those Fluttering Objects of Desire (1993, Whitney Biennial), and Fresh Kill (1995, Whitney Biennial)) took up the curation of Brandon. By 1998, Hanhardt had moved to the Guggenheim Museum and took Brandon with him. At the Guggenheim, Matthew Drutt, Associate Curator for Research, helped realize the curatorial admist the Guggenheim's venture into the virtual museum with Asymptote Architects...

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Jim Punk: exq=.s.te =n.c&de/s

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Jim Punk is prolific and anonymous. 

His website is encased largely in a cryptic vernacular predominately of his own design: A laptop is rendered in ‘Oldskool’ ASCII style illustration graphics with the ‘keyboard’ displaying letters and symbols (such as “&” or “n”) arranged in no particular order—as if Punk had button smashed his keyboard and left the results to exist as is.  There are no direct title links, or any kind of straightforward archive list of projects, instead it’s these arranged letters and symbols that when painstakingly, individually clicked on, lead the viewer down into a further maze of Punk’s own glitchy, early net art based work. 

&é'(-è_çà)#+           

azertyuiop^$¨£           

qsdfghjklmù%*µ!§          

<>wxcvbn,?;.:/~"{@ 

It’s this jumbled arrangement of symbols and navigation confusion that has come to define Punk’s work over the years.  Responding to blog comments, tweets and even emails with this seemingly incomprehensible employment of language, Punk avoids a certain communicative regularity; rejecting the comprehensibility and clarity that often lends itself to distinct individual recognition.  Instead, Punk’s non-linear, schizophrenic performance draws attention to the form language and communication take, all the while disrupting standardized information flow and producing an irregularity in the way we expect to approach and access content.

Punk's latest user generated project, exq=.s.te =n.c&de/s, is a glitched out Twitter feed that anyone can post to. Utilizing a customized keyboard, comprised solely of unicode symbols, users can easily create and tweet glitchy status updates.  With currently more than 600 tweets, Punk’s project works within the hyper consumptive pace of Twitter and utilizes it as an alternative platform for ...

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