Present Tension

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Probing the uncertain grounds between information, misinformation and disinformation, the artworks collected for Hamburger Eyes' exhibit Psymulation: Reenactments of the Present posit a society haunted by the wartime logic of both PsyOps and BlackOps, in which fact and fiction have become increasingly indistinguishable, and power exerts itself through a thick fog of unknowing. The show explores such themes through a cluster of photos, videos, physical artifacts and audio works, at once menacing and absurd, including an interview about psychic spy techniques with a real-life retired US Army Major and, at the show's opening, a live performance of Metallica's "Enter Sandman" on tuba (referencing the use of that same song in Guantanamo interrogations). Elsewhere in the exhibit, Kent Lambert's masterful remixed-video series-- consisting of Security Anthem (2003), Hymn of Reckoning (2006), and the recent Sunset Coda (2006)-- provides a pitch-perfect nightmare fugue on our age of terrors (complete with a vocal solo by John Ashcroft), while Brendan Threadgill's Partially Reconstructed Fragment (SKU# 3059778) (2007) drags into the gallery a refinished but otherwise unrepaired fragment of an automobile-- allegedly detritus from a car bomb, but under the glowering menace of what the curators call the "conspiratorial imagination and sci-fi feedback" of our uncertain era, who can really know for sure? - Ed Halter

Image: Brendan Threadgill, Partially Reconstructed Fragment (SKU# 3059778), 2007

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Disruptive Media

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Wisconsin-based media artist Sabine Gruffat is kicking up quite a storm at Deadtech with her current installation, 24 Hour Riot, running through Tuesday, April 15th - an impressive fact, given the Chicago gallery's reputation for boundary-pushing fare. Gruffat has outfitted the space with a responsive array of electronic noise machines and televised riot scenes, such that a viewer's movement randomly triggers disturbances in the video and soundtrack. The effect is one of total dislocation, as our arbitrary influence on these broadcasts generates a palpable awareness of the existing gaps between politics, mass-media, and spectatorship. On this level, 24 Hour Riot continues Gruffat's extensive look at the various, mobile units of the culture industry and provisionally asks the question of how the reality of our contemporary, mediatized lifestyle may actually provide a groundwork for new modes of political engagement. As with Head Lines: Hybrid Film Trilogy (2007), in which the artist ran New York Times articles through semi-automated, recombinatory processes to produce skittery, 16mm animations, 24 Hour Riot suggests that any program of change must first arise from a greater understanding of the normativized codes of information dispersal, and of the means by which said codes may be subverted, erased, or reassembled. - Tyler Coburn

Sabine Gruffat, 24 Hour Riot, 2008

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Resonating Image

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The overlaps and incongruities between visual and aural engagement are the focus of "Finding Pictures in Search of Sounds," sound artist Stephen Vitiello's second solo exhibition with Museum 52, in London. For Boxed Gray (2008), Vitiello has applied a thick coat of silver paint to the walls of the gallery's front room and immersed it with a rapidly paced soundtrack of field recordings and electronics. Subtle Blue Gray (2008), in the back room, forms a conversational counterpoint: three blue lightbulbs flicker and pulse, enveloping the space in nocturnal hues, as four speakers embedded in the gallery walls generate faint, scratching sounds. Collectively, the two works find Vitiello continuing to develop visual analogues to his sound pieces, an inquiry that previously included him mining the sculptural properties of speakers and making graphite, ink and pigment drawings from LFO speaker vibrations. For "Night Chatter", his 2006 show with Museum 52, Vitiello even interwove Virginian ivy with speakers playing a recording of a conversation between Tony Blair and George Bush, processed to a point where the politicians' voices sounded like electronic bells (Hedera B,B,B (2006)). Considering Virginia's military significance for the United States government, Vitiello's piece had the strange effect of turning an element of the state's natural bounty into an agent for the cause: a position from which to surveille. In contrast, Boxed Gray and Blue Gray number among Vitiello's more abstract experiments, forgoing explicit critique for diffuser modes of engagement. Yet by focusing on the expressive and meditative registers of aesthetic experience, Vitiello's sophisticated understanding of the conditions of reception comes to the fore. - Tyler Coburn

Image: Stephen Vitiello, Blue Gray, 2008

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Mapping Darfur

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Since Sudanese government soldiers and their proxy militia, the Janjaweed, commenced assaults on rebel forces and civilians of similar ethnic descent, in 2003, the crisis in Darfur has been at the forefront of international discussion and the subject of extensive political, humanitarian, and journalistic work. "Museum Mapping Initiative," a unique collaboration between Google and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, makes the history and details of the crisis available to a virtual community, allowing Google Earth users to navigate a map of the region amended with data provided by the U.S. State department, including locations of damaged and destroyed villages, internally displaced person (IDP) and refugee camps in Darfur and Chad, respectively, and zones accessible and inaccessible to humanitarian relief workers. Users navigating the terrain can read testimonies of civilians affected by the conflict, recorded by Amnesty researchers, and view photographs depicting aspects of regional life. Taking advantage of Google Earth's architecture, "Museum Mapping Initiative" also allows users to insert their own placemarks on locations in Darfur and Chad towards constructing specific tours, presentations and readings of the crisis. Through this intersection of interactive technology and progressive historiography, the events and stories surrounding this modern-day atrocity can finally be brought to greater light. - Tyler Coburn

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Tuning-In Intervention

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"As we walk the streets our bodies pierce magnetic fields." So begins artist Ricardo Miranda Zuniga's statement regarding his installation, "On Transmitting Ideology" at Philadelphia alternative art space, Vox Populi. This poetic preface underscores the ubiquity of radio waves, in our world, and the potential power of transmission. For while many of the powerful states and dictators Zuniga's work critiques use the airwaves as a means of broadcasting political dogma, the artist takes the space back in his own transmissions. For the show at Vox Populi, he will present an installation of wooden guns in which are embedded radios "broadcasting declarations on freedom and transformation in our society." The AK-47s and Uzis crafted by Zuniga take aim at the mass media and their role in disseminating ideology. This installation is accompanied by a screening of two new video works "that question the outcome of popular notions of freedom, liberty, and the power of capital." Both pieces touch on the political and personal struggles associated with immigration. Carreta Nagua, Siglo 21 (2007) is an animated narrative that also addresses aging and cultural and familial loss through the perspective of two aging TV superheroes, voiced by the artist's parents, and El Rito Apasionado (2007) "takes place in a hotel room where three Guevarrian Neo-Marxist Latino Terror Revolutionaries from Cuba, Nicaragua and Mexico gather to prepare an act against the history of U.S. intervention." Together, these projects exemplify Zuniga's forte for not only performing powerful interventions, but also interrogating the rhetoric of interventionist art and actions. "On Transmitting Ideology" will be open March 7-30. - Marisa Olson

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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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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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Arco 2.0 Vocento: Call for Proposals

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Is it true that the web 2.0 actually delivers on the grassroots, democratic potential of the web? Or does it merely transform extant ideals into more commercially viable mass platforms? The debate and discussion around the web 2.0 happening amongst internet communities, notably Trebor Scholz' Instituted for Distributed Creativity forum among many others, is active and replete with opinion and interpretation.

While web 2.0 has given way to the development of numerous platforms for the presentation and distribution of material online-- video, photo and personal information-- few meet the specific needs of artists. The Spanish initiative Vocento (in collaboration with Arco) will address this gap in their grant award for anyone--of any nationality--with the best proposal for fostering the "presence, exhibition, communication and management of art on the Internet." Selected proposal will be awarded with 15.000 euros to realize the project.

The winning proposal will be determined by an international jury including Joasia Krysa of KURATOR/UoP, UK and Santiago Ortiz, artist, moebio.com and a representative from Vocento.

The deadline for the proposals is coming up very soon: Jan 31st, 2008. Apply now!

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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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