Talk of the Town

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Who could disagree that cities are systems? Certainly not anyone who's ever read an Italo Calvino novel, watched a German Expressionist film, tuned-in to the Jetsons, or witnessed any of the other myriad artifacts of the cultural casting of townships as machines. Of course, some of these machines are better-oiled than others, but as population, worldwide, continues to boom and buildings continue reaching for the stars, there is an increasing role for the artist-savant to intervene in divining the future of urban systems. This platform is the launching pad for the "On Cities" exhibition at Stockholm's Arkitekturmuseet (March 4-May 4, 2008), where four artists' projects push us toward "an understanding of architecture and the city as a dynamic system, consisting of social, economic, legal, political, cultural, geographical and physical layers." Oriana Eliçabe's Rebel Voices embraces hip-hop as a means of defining and asserting one's self within cities. The documentary slide project explores hip-hop as a global phenomenon before looking at its success as a means of local expression in various cities in Europe, the Middle East, and Latin America. Fernando Llanos traces regions on his bike, with his Videoman project, in which he cycles through existing communication channels to simultaneously record and project his immediate environment in a way that heightens awareness of the space by putting a frame around it. The Delhi-based consortium, Cybermohalla Hub draws parallels between "real" and "cyber" spaces by architecting a real neighborhood (the meaning of the word "mohalla" in both Hindi and Urdu) in the form of a cultural lab in which inhabitants can consider the shifting nature of online place-based identities. The members of the artist group flyingCity perceive a lack of landmark images for Seoul, Korea, and they've collaborated with local community groups to envision utopian ...

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Off the Grid, Into the Air

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On view at the Neuberger Museum of Art, through June 1st, is a group show entitled "Off the Grid," which presents the work of thirteen artists injecting a sense of ecological responsibility into a world increasingly polluted by an obsession with power, energy, and wireless communication. In this case, the concept of "the grid" takes on multiple meanings. While it initially invokes the act of unplugging from a communications network, it also means escaping the rigid conventions artists have traditionally followed in addressing environmental issues. This is to say nothing of the historical role of the grid, in modern art, in entrenching the perspectives and organizing principles of machine culture. Curators Jacqueline Shilkoff (of the Neuberger Museum) and Galen Joseph-Hunter, Tianna Kennedy, and Tom Roe (of free103point9) say that they sought to include "contemporary works which formally and/or conceptually challenge conventional and commercial infrastructures"--a wise idea, since it is commercial enterprise that has delivered us to the messy environmental quandary in which we now find ourselves. These works include Seth Weiner's Cryptographic Payphone (2008), which "employs a chaotic motion system to encrypt wireless data transmission, modeled upon the patented use of lava lamps to generate random numbers for the creation of cryptographic codes;" Nina Katchadourian's Ant Static (2003), a continued exploration of inter-species collaboration in which a mass-mob of ants are assigned the creative role of meditating on the levels of competition and technological conflict found in nature; and Cary Peppermint and Christine Nadir's (a.k.a. EcoArtTech)'s Environmental Risk Assessment Rover-AT (2008), a "solar-powered, all-terrain mobile station that collects real-time risk data relative to its GPS coordinates," thus reacting to and changing its environment by projecting videos (cued by a 14-tier threat level system) onto immediate surfaces. Also included in the show are ...

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Out of Office AutoReply

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Things aren't always as they appear in automated communication. Cory Arcangel humorously showed us this when he posted instructions for rapidly saving $500 by adding a "Sent by my iPhone" signature to one's GMail account. A similar effect is achieved in Permanent Vacation, wherein two computers enter a logjam of endlessly bouncing auto-replies announcing that each user is away. Viewers watch as the self-generated feedback loop leads to the piling-up of messages in the respective computers' inboxes. The actual message is, in fact, never seen, but a "ding" is heard each time the index of repeated subject lines becomes longer. The work is actually a four-part series that has been showing throughout Europe since last Fall, most recently at Salzburg's Ropac Gallery. Each time it's been exhibited, the computers and their attached monitors or projectors change slightly. Originally, used computers were purchased online and the original owners' names were the names on the inboxes. In the last incarnation, brand new Macs were purchased and placed atop shiny new IKEA tables--perhaps the most convincing "workstation" of the four. Asked whether this evolution in materials was a comment on media change, the master of using defunct hardware replied, "remember, new computers become old computers very very quick, so in the end, they will all look similar." The joy of Permanent Vacation lies partly in its subtle tugging at fears about the "ghost in the machine" or artificial intelligence--the idea that these computers are somehow complicit in this tete-�-tete. Nonetheless, it also implies a kind of human glitch or failure on the part of two subjects to successfully communicate. In science fiction terms, Arcangel has created what might be called a "stasis field"--a space and time characterized by an almost blissful lack of progress. (This would be ...

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Go With the Flow

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Fluxus is an art-historical movement that shares much in common with new media and is among our field's forebears. Its trajectory reads much like new media's: A network of experimental artists, scattered across the world, dissatisfied with the market's stagnant influence on art, concerned with art's ability to address the present moment, and intrigued by the interplay between concept and medium banded together to collaborate, creatively challenge each other, and co-theorize their niche. The word "fluxus" refers to "flow" and the idea of a fluidity between various media, as we now see in the ever-expanding field of new media art. Fluxus emerged in the 1960s and thrived through the late-1970s. Today, scholars and critics split hairs as to whether the movement is still in play, while its legacy continues to blossom--as in the current exhibition at New York's Maya Stendhal Gallery. "From Fluxus to Media Art," open through April 26, traces the DIY aesthetic embraced by members of the international Fluxus movement, and presents work whose signifying moments occur at the interstices of performance, film, literature, and electronic media. The show traces the movement's relationship to Dada and surrealism and its influence upon pop art, but has a stated interest in considering the path Fluxus paved for media art. Included is work by Jonas Mekas, George Maciunas, George Brecht, Andy Warhol, Nam June Paik, Shigeko Kubota, and Studio IMC. Many of the seminal projects and important pieces of ephemera on view make a trademark critique of authorship, while also paying homage to peers and collaborators within the movement. In the interest of knowing the history of the present, you're encouraged to see this exhibition. - Marisa Olson


Image: Nam June Paik, Majestic, 1975 reset 1996

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Gary Gygax (1938-2008)

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Gaming visionary Gary Gygax, co-creator of the Dungeons and Dragons universe, passed away on Tuesday, March 4th, 2008. He was 69. Gygax is credited as the father of role-playing games (RPGs), but D&D's influence has permeated almost every genre of gaming since it was first published in 1974. Perhaps what's most remarkable about the game is that, in its basic form, D&D is only a set of rules and suggestions. The creative aspects of the game are left in the hands of the players. With only a few multi-sided dice, a pencil, and some graph paper, D&D players devise fantastic worlds, develop complex characters, and engage in dynamic group experiences. The imaginative agency provided by the game and its participatory nature may be its greatest contribution to the foundations of contemporary game design. Video games have been particularly inspired by D&D, as many of the designers and coders behind some of the most important titles in video game history grew up rolling a 20-sided die. It's hard to imagine the existence of Richard Allen Garriott's Ultima series, Hironobu Sakaguchi and Yoshitaka Amano's Final Fantasy series, or Blizzard's World of Warcraft without the game play mechanics established in D&D. Even the internet itself owes a little bit to Gygax. From late-70's MUDs to the massively multiplayer online games of today, the development of networked, D&D influenced RPGs has both paralleled and pushed the development of the web towards creativity and collaboration. Artists such as Brody Condon have translated the form of role-playing to the gallery. For Untitled War (2004), Condon invited twelve warriors to fight until their "death" at the Los Angeles space Machine Project. The taxing two hour long performance, accompanied by the music of the Winks ...

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War Games

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"I suggest that game studies should...turn not to a theory of realism in gaming as mere realistic representation, but define realist games as those games that reflect critically on the minutia of everyday life, replete as it is with struggle, personal drama, and injustice."- Alex Galloway

In his book Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture, Galloway tackles the notion of "realism" in video games. By distinguishing between representational and social realism in contemporary game culture, he illuminates how militaristic, political and social norms are both reinforced and challenged. For his current project, with the programming collective Radical Software Group ("RSG"), Galloway and his collaborators (Carolyn Kane, Adam Parrish, Daniel Perlin, DJ /rupture and Matt Shadetek, and Mushon Zer-Aviv) address realism in war games by creating their own- based on "The Game of War" designed by French theorist, activist, and iconoclast Guy Debord. Debord attempted to realistically represent the basic rules and relationships of war through a simple board game known as "Kriegspiel", a variant on chess in which a third party, either human or computer, acts as a referee and mediates the movement of the opposing forces. The game's end is often indeterminate and subject to the personality of those who are playing, which, given the current war in Iraq, certainly seems realistic and gives credence to Debord's assertion that, "with [some] reservations, we may say that this game accurately portrays all the factors at work in real war." RSG translated Debord's set of rules from French into Java, and has released it as an online war game called "Kriegspiel". Debord, as a man who's probably best known for his book The Society of the Spectacle, which closely examined the use of the mass media as a political tool, the fascination and reenactment of the war ...

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Flat Earth (2007) by Thomson & Craighead

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Image: Earth from Space, Apollo 17, 1972


After hearing rumors concerning the existence of secret NASA photographs of the Earth as seen from outer space, the writer and future digital-utopianist Stewart Brand fought to have these images released to the public. The hope behind Brand's 1966 campaign was that these "blue marble" photographs of the whole Earth would for the first time tangibly allow the planet to appear small, conceptually graspable and very much alone in the wilderness of space. Forty years later, the London-based new media artists, Thomson & Craighead, created the video Flat Earth (2007), a visualization of Earth that refers to a different perceptual moment.


Image: Thomson & Craighead, Flat Earth, 2007


Commissioned for Animate Projects in 2007, their project is not an unveiling of the spheric, "blue marble" image of the Earth as viewed from outer space but, rather, an attempt to describe the "flat" Earth as viewed from the membrane of the Internet. Blog entries and flickr photos interact with freely available satellite imagery to give a re-shaped conception of what space and distances between people effectively means in a networked world. The video begins in the tract housing of the American suburbs where we hear a performance of an actual blog entry from the angsty, young dancer, "teenangel." A few seconds later, we zoom into the sky above San Francisco as the bemused "patriot2000" informs us that he just read a translation of one of his blog posts into German and he's now curious to learn German. We travel across the globe to Zimbabwe, Iran, and Europe. It's a great seven minutes and it gets at something amazing about the Internet: if, according to Walter Benjamin, the technologies at the beginning of the 20th century allowed for perceptual reproduction to "keep pace with ...

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Found, Not Lost

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Recent art projects employing locative media and "radical cartogoraphy" have helped us consider the ways in which maps, city plans, and roads function as vehicles for ideology. They are technologies, in their own way: systems designed to facilitate the transmission of messages, the flow of goods and services, and the formation of real-life social networks. The School of Missing Studies (SMS) has formed their own "network for experimental study of cities marked by or currently undergoing abrupt transition." The group is led by Katherine Carl and Srdjan Jovanovic Weiss, two artists and academics currently based in the United States, but working primarily in Eastern Europe, along with a large group of active collaborators. Their projects tend to linger, going through new iterations as they move nomadically from venue to venue, taking on a site-specific element as they are shaped by the perspectives of local participants. For their Manhattan Shadow Project, a group of citydwellers with diverse backgrounds gathered with architects, artists, and writers from New York and Belgrade to create "a database of occurrences of Manhattan shadows--physical, metaphorical, and digital." Their explorations delved into the tools that have been used to draw lines in cities--from stenographic chalk borders to skyscrapers' ghostly silhouettes--and the social implications of these new forms of organization and building. Perhaps SMS's best-known project, the Lost Highway Expedition is a resuscitation of the unfinished 'Highway of Brotherhood and Unity' in the former Yugoslavia, a throughway constructed by volunteers of the republic, in the 1960s, to connect its major cities and cultures: Ljubljana, Zagreb, Beograd, and Skopje. SMS moved through these towns and other smaller ones along the way, working to initiate new art projects, ideas, and cross-cultural collaboration. The fruits of this work have been presented in shows, symposia, and a publication entitled Europe Lost and ...

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Crafting for a Cause

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Reacting to rampant industrialization and increased division of labor at the end of the 19th century, a group of artists, designers and architects founded what would become known as the Arts and Crafts Movement. William Morris, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and others denounced the machinations of industrialized production in favor of the more romantic and socially responsible ideal of the craftsman. Although predominantly an aesthetic impulse, the ethos behind the Arts and Crafts Movement has inspired more overtly political and ecological movements in recent history. For example, in the 1960s and 70s, the suburbanization of the United States prompted increased interest in "back to the land" movements. The Foxfire community looked to the mountain culture of the Appalachians as keys to more sustainable and community oriented lifestyles, and the Whole Earth Catalog both advocated and provided tools for ecological and socially responsible living. In recent times, against the backdrop of globalization, unprecedented corporate control, and war, an interest in grassroots craft-based movements has emerged in full force. Shedding their predecessor's suspicion of technology, today's crafters realize the political benefit of the immediate access and increased connectivity afforded by new technologies. The New School for General Studies in New York City will examine the strategies of a new generation of craftsmen in the upcoming talk "Crafting Protest". Scheduled for Saturday January 26, panelists will discuss the "role of craft in forming national identities, especially in times of political turmoil or war; notions of patriotism; feminism and the domestic sphere; and economic models that circumvent conventional market models." Moderated by art historian Julia Bryan-Wilson, participants include Sabrina Gschwandtner, artist and founder of KnitKnit, a periodical that celebrates the convergence of craft and contemporary art, and Cat Mazza, whose software KnitPro was developed in opposition to sweatshop labor practices. Artist and Designer ...

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War, A-Z

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The Dictionary of War project takes as its impetus the refrain of philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, "At least, when we create concepts, we are doing something." Whether read as a statement of looming powerlessness or a celebration of the power of theory, the argument makes a fittingly anxious backdrop for the collaborative Dictionary of War, which gathers scientists, artists, theorists, and activists to create an alphabetical index of "key concepts that either play a significant role in current discussions of war, have so far been neglected, or have yet to be created." These include terms like "Stance", in which filmmaker Khalo Matabane compares what it means to take a stance in combat and to take a stance as an artist; "Disappeared", in which Sylvere Lotringer considers what truly happens to disappeared soldiers, and the fact that, despite periods of invisibility, "the war is never over"; or "Pleasure", in which Avi Mograbi explores the perceptions of ex-soldiers regarding their military experiences and the often unspoken "pleasure of controlling other people with the tips of your fingers." The project began in 2006 as not only a publication, but more importantly a public forum in which to discuss the terms at hand, and a website that functions as platform for the presentation of entries and video archives. In the last two years, sessions have been held in Frankfurt, Munich, Graz, and Berlin to discuss and debate the lexicon of conflict. This year, the project moves further east, to Novi Sad, a thriving creative center which has become an important point of congregation for artists and activists. On January 25th and 26th, the new media center, Kuda will play host to the newest iteration of the project, which features contributions by a range of impressive participants, including Hans Bernhard, Galit Eilat, Geert ...

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