Screen. Image. Text.

(0)

Tauba Auerbach, RGB Colorspace Atlas. (2011)

I once heard Leon Botstein, the President of Bard College, compare books to stairs. “They’ve invented the elevator,” he said, “but sometimes you still walk up.” There are countless discussions on the future of the book—they are picked up in magazine feature articles, in trade conferences, and in academic roundtables—and in all of these, the future of the printed word seems certain: in a generation or two, print will become obsolete. In this age of changing habits, if print is the stairs and screens the elevator, then what could the escalator be?

This moment in time, and the awareness of the possibilities electronic publishing grant, affect the manner in which we relate to texts in a way that is under constant scrutiny. But images prove to be a different problem. The separation between text and images has a long history. In fact, images have posed a challenge for publishers from the early days of print—be it the cost of printing them; the payments for illustrators, photographers, and designers; or simply contextualizing the images and their relation to the text—but they have become crucial to our understanding of texts. When the Illustrated London News, the world’s first illustrated weekly newspaper, began publishing in 1842, the relationship between the text and the engraved images in the paper was such a novelty that it took the weekly about a decade to stake a hold in that era’s news distribution channels. Once it did, it became one of the most widely circulated newspapers in Victorian Britain. The marriage of text and the engraved image marked a new level of fluency in communication via images, which does away with staples of early print day, even though the separation between image and text lasted for many decades later, and can still be traced today. (Think, for example, of the plate pages, where color images were glued onto the paper, so that the book or magazine would be printed in black and white, adding the color pages later in a way that saves money on printing, but also generates a wholly different relationship with images. These are often associated with encyclopedias, but a large number of artist’s monographs retained this design even after color printing became widely accessible, creating the odd text-image relationship where an artwork is described to the most minute detail, with a comment in parenthesis directing the reader to “color plate 3,” where the mentioned piece could be seen in glossy print.)

The generations to come of age in the days of digital publishing and reading on screens have a much more complicated relationship with images. The human eye-brain system is capable of reading a large number of high quality images in a matter of split seconds, and this, alongside the hand-eye coordination—think about the pleasure of a touch screen versus inky newspaper pages—is rapidly developing to mirror our changing habits of consuming information. So much so that the contemporary heightened sensitivity to the way we read images can lead to an ability to, at times, ignore the quality of the images when inserted into a text, the way our brain glides over a typo in the flow of reading. The way we read images online is only one thing these magazines deal with in the process of publishing, but it is surely an element that dictates a large portion of the reading experience of these publications.

 

READ ON »


White Box Testing

(0)

Addressing the American Association of Museums in 1941, Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, then curator at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, put forth a fundamental question: "What is an Art Museum for?" He proposes that the answer is contained in the term "curator," which implies that "the first and most essential function of such a Museum is to take care of ancient or unique works of art which are no longer in their original places or no longer used as originally intended, and are therefore in danger of destruction by neglect or otherwise." Significantly, Coomaraswamy's concept downplays one curatorial activity otherwise taken for granted today: "This care of works of art," he writes, "does not necessarily involve their exhibition" but if an institution does choose to exhibit works, "this is to be done with an educational purpose." Moreover, he adds, "it is unnecessary for Museums to exhibit the works of living artists, which are not in immanent danger of destruction."

Coomaraswamy's antediluvian pronouncements, predating both the development of the modern computer and the institutional embrace of contemporary art, nonetheless provide a way to think about the assumptions underlying the twelve essays in Christiane Paul's collection New Media in the White Cube and Beyond: Curatorial Models for Digital Art, recently published by UC Press. For even if Coomaraswamy's skepticism about the value of exhibiting living artists now strikes us as thoroughly outdated, his general concerns continue to inform the questions posed by Paul and her contributors. For new media, the problem of how to deal with artworks "no longer in their original places or no longer used as originally intended" remains salient -- albeit for technological rather than antiquarian reasons -- and all of Paul's essayists propose some version of what necessary "educational purpose" curators of new media must embrace.

READ ON »


Still Hitting Nerves

(3)

neuralsmall.jpg

Italian new media magazine, Neural, has just celebrated their fifteenth anniversary. The publication was among the earliest tech-savvy page-turners and still has an appreciation for the importance of paper. In fact, to mark this special birthday, they've collaborated with S.W.A.M.P. (Doug Easterly and Matt Kenyon) for "a collective micro printing action." Subscribers will receive a limited edition piece of paper and envelope designed to commemorate the death toll in Iraq. They are then encouraged to send a letter or illustration to the White House, who are obliged by law to archive their mail, so that the stationary can act as "a Trojan horse slipping the unwanted and unacknowledged civilian body count data into official governmental archives." This is one of many exercises by S.W.A.M.P. in performatively exploring the machinery of control in post-industrial society. But (paper-cut possibilities aside) this project seems slightly less painful than their Improvised Empathetic Device (2005), which drove a blood-drawing needle into the flesh of wearers of their custom armband each time new wireless data was received regarding a rise in the war's death toll. While Neural's editorial direction is marked by broad coverage of the very diverse field of new media practice, hacktivism and tactical media are among their strong suits, so their collaboration with S.W.A.M.P. makes perfect sense. Another of their boldest strengths is their coverage of sound art and experiments in electronic music. Each issue is chockablock with CD reviews and engaging interviews, like the current issue's chat with Negativland. Neural may have an old school appreciation for the ancient medium of paper, but all this good pulp can also be found online, along with their archives and fresh feeds. - Marisa Olson

Image: Neural, Issue 31

Link »

MORE »


Digital Art Under the Sun

(0)

Sack_ConversationMap3.jpg

For much of the world, and even for residents of America's other 49 states, California is more of a fantasy than a place. This fantasy stipulates in part that this West Coast territory is comprised mostly of balmy beaches swarming with beach bunnies, palm trees, and pina coladas. There are many flaws in this fantasy, but the idea that California is rich in resources is true. Among those to be celebrated are its artists and, in particular, the large number of brilliant new media practitioners employed by the University of California system. Talk about brain trusts! Curator Christiane Paul has tapped into this vast resource in organizing "Scalable Relations," a series of exhibitions featuring artists who are faculty members of the UC Digital Arts Research Network (DARnet). Ordinarily this kind of members-only context would have a sour ring to it, but the assignment to bring together such a large and diversely talented group of artists actually establishes the onus to make some deeper comment about what they do have in common: new media. There is a kind of challenge in the act of curating or criticizing new media art, which revolves around the question of the extent to which one should foreground technology. For some artists, the medium is, well, the message, while for others it's merely a tool to address the subject of technology. And of course, there's so much middle ground... This show include works that very diversely "illustrate the complexities and shifting contexts of today's information society." But the very fact that our society is an information society points to a scenario in which technology will sometimes be blatantly paramount, while at other times it will be transparent or embedded. Frankly, the very notion of what constitutes "high tech" is shifting so rapidly ...

MORE »


A Big New Space for New Media

(0)

small.jpg

As of today, the U.S. will have a bold new venue for new media art and performance: EMPAC. Short for Experimental Media & Performing Arts Center, the Troy, NY-based facility embodies state-of-the-artness and its affiliation with the highly regarded research university, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, ensures that the installations, performances, and concerts presented there will always be ahead of the technological curve. The space, itself, is a masterpiece. The 220,000-square foot building, designed by Grimshaw, includes a 1200-seat concert hall with an adjustable fabric ceiling; a 400-seat theater with a 70-foot fly tower; two black-box studio spaces with tunable, tilting wall tiles; and acoustically isolated artist/researcher work spaces. Within these walls, and under the direction of Johannes Goebel (who helped found ZKM) and curators Kathleen Forde, Hélène Lesterlin, and Micah Silver, visitors will experience work that emphasizes immersion, interactivity, and time-based media. For the next three weekends, EMPAC will present a major festival full of provocative performances and installations by The Wooster Group, dumb type, Workspace Unlimited, Verdensteatret, Vox Vocal Ensemble and International Contemporary Ensemble, Per Tengstrand, Madlib, Cecil Taylor, Pauline Oliveros, Richard Siegal/The Bakery, Robert Normandeau, Fieldwork, Gamelan Galak Tika + Ensemble Robot, and others. This unveiling has been several years in the making but reservations are going fast, so you won't want to wait to get your tickets and get over to Troy. - Marisa Olson

Link »

MORE »