By Gene McHugh
Scratch the surface of Baltimore, an American city best known for high homicide rates and crab cakes, and you might get a whiff of the schizo, silly perversion that camp auteur John Waters famously captured in celluloid. A case in point is the music festival Whartscape, the Wham City art collective's freak-power counterpoint to the city of Baltimore's annual crafts 'n corndogs festival, Artscape.
In this, the festival's third year of operation, Whartscape has adopted a wider angle lens, expanding the lineup to 77 bands, playing over 4 days and nights, in legally secured venues. This expansion of the festival can most likely be seen as a result of the "Baltimore's got a cool scene" meme that has spread as far into the mainstream as Rolling Stone Magazine who declared that, indeed, Baltimore does the have the "Best Scene" (of 2008, anyway). Given the hype, it might seem tempting to enter into this "scene" with a skeptical eye, however, this year's Whartscape still felt like a somewhat unexploited, cozy family affair.
To give an example of how things basically go down: Baltimore singer and performer Lizz King impromptu danced while donning a shabby tiger mask during the Creepers set; the Creepers are a Baltimore band featuring Adam Endres from the Baltimore band Blood Baby and Blood Baby also features Kevin O'Meara from the Baltimore band Videohippos; the other member of the Creepers is Connor Kizer who is in the Baltimore band Santa Dads with Joshua Kelberman who's the brother of Baltimore comic artist Dina Kelberman, who worked at a Baltimore movie theatre with Victoria from the Baltimore band Beach House and went to college with, respectively, Dan Deacon and the visual artist Jimmy Joe Roche.
Joshua Kelberman from Santa ...
"When the power of love, overcomes the love of power, the world will know the peace." This prophecy by rock legend Jimi Hendrix could be the foreword to a manifesto on the use of music in the propagation of nationalism, but instead it's a point of inspiration for "The Sonic Self," an exhibition at the Chelsea Art Museum. Open through August 30, the show brings together a range of "participating artists from around the world with the main goal that their collaborative projects will bridge disparate audio-visual practices and expose their shared languages." In keeping with recent curatorial trends, "The Sonic Self" is part-exhibition and part-workshop, aiming to explore the relationship between sound and identity through installations, audio/visual performances, and participatory events in which collaborators work to innovate new devices for the creation of auditory autobiographies. While the relationship at stake seems most universally to be about "being heard," the selected artists are working with material ranging from live performances to field recordings to computer-generated sound to DJ samples. In the spirit of tracing "similarities and differences in the growing confluence of audio and visual experiences in contemporary complex and diverse global culture," the project will travel to St. Petersburg, Russia, and Chennai, India, following its New York debut. - Marisa Olson
Video: Philip Dadson and Don McGlashan in From Scratch's performance of "Drum/Sing."
It's been said that necessity is the mother of all invention. That is, that true innovators were often responding to a lack of materials in crafting their art. This seems particularly true in the field of filmic media, where art history offers us so many examples, ranging from the Soviet KINO school's use of rearranged bits of paper to fine-tune the practice of montage to Britain's early-80s Scratch Video movement. The latter is the subject of an exhibition at London's Seventeen Gallery, May 28th-June 28th. "SCRATCH" presents work by intimate colleagues George Barber, The Duvet Brothers, Goldbacher & Flitcroft, and Gorilla Tapes, each of whom participated in this movement that involved sourcing material directly from existing broadcasts and other moving images sources, and often reprocessing them with what were then the latest in video editing techniques and tools. While all of the these artists' work responds largely to the new creative possibilities afforded by the birth of the VCR, Seventeen points out that they took this work in two distinct directions: politics and aesthetics. (Not that the two are mutually exclusive!) The Duvet Brothers and Gorilla Tapes directly engaged the Thatcher/Reagan new world order of conservativism and the ongoing issues in Northern Ireland with an anti-establishment ethos that marked all of their works. Their peers in the show explored visual styles ranging from dreams to pop music videos, imbuing their sources with rhythm, pulse, and a new life. If you're in the area, come check-out this often under-recognized work whose copious imitators, in the last two decades, are a testament to its influence and staying power. - Marisa Olson
At least in principle, there seems to have been a wide embrace of the open source movement. The argument that things should be left open to improvement, and even personalization, by those with the know-how appeals to many of us. But where did the broader drive for "openness" come from? And what are its implications beyond technology? The "Disclosures" exhibition on view at London's Gasworks through May 18th looks at manifestations of open source methods in offline areas of cultural production. Curators Anna Colin and Mia Jankowicz describe these as "situations in which the viewer, reader, listener or internet user becomes emancipated through egalitarian participation, collaborative authorship, and/or the breaking down of hierarchical and social boundaries." Emancipation is, of course, a strong word, but it refers here to the freedom to participate in the social, economic, and production processes that inform our social reality. This is a utopia "Disclosures" both holds-up and critiques through the inclusion of work by artists and tactical media practitioners as well as cultural theorists and music producers. Projects include Declose, by Open Music Archive, a vinyl remix tool compositing copyright-expired breaks and samples from early jazz, blues, and folk recordings with new "copyleft beats" by invited musicians; John Barlow Gone Offshore, the newest chapter of Goldin+Senneby's effort to explore "the projects and mythologies of the invisible" in which fictional character John Barlow blogs his investigations into an offshore company known as Headless Limited; and Tsila Hassine and De Geuzen's web-based Image Tracer, a beautifully layered snapshot of the appearance, disappearance, and ranking of Google Image Search results that grows out of the collaborators' interest in "media images and the way their significance and presence fluctuates in the ecology of the world wide web." Not surprisingly, given its open source inspiration ...
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
The Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) is home to a very interesting set of new media artists--both faculty and students--and exhibitions like "sight.sound [interaction] 2.0" are securing the space as a breeding ground for new ideas. An annual exhibition curated by Jason Sloan and open through March 14, the show brings together local and international artists whose work--much as the title implies--explores audio/visual interactivity. "sight.sound" doesn't aspire to a much tighter curatorial theme than that, but this allows viewers to create associations of their own, ranging from labor commentary to the aesthetics of experimentation. For instance, Nashville-based collaborators [Fladry+Jones] and DJ Black Noise meditate on collage theory, as it has shifted from the era of expressionist film to the present, by offering a 30-minute remix of Fritz Lang's film, Metropolis. The original film comments on the relationship between workers and the ruling class in an increasingly mechanized society, and the artists' remix offers a contemporary take on this evolving narrative. Baltimore-based artist Colin Ford conducts an experiment in color psychology, asking visitors to identify the hues that represent business brands, such as "Starbucks Green" and "Verizon Red," and each subsequent visitor's selection is averaged with their predecessor's, which Ford believes turns corporate power on its head by allowing consumers to " alter the meaning that the brand holds." Local artists Dan Huyberts and Will Rosenthal bring play into the fold with their fun projects. Huyberts's Circuit Bent Video Sculpture Aural Vision 1 allows viewers to "watch" nature recordings on a television, using a photocell that triggers the screaming of a circuit-bent smoke detector. Rosenthal's Cideslide is an interactive video game inviting users to choose their own adventure in navigating what Rosenthal describes as a surreal "Lynchian" world by using ...
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
Online quarterly art journal Vague Terrain announced the release of its latest issue titled "Rise of the VJ" this week. Vague Terrain pairs academically-minded criticism and interviews with artist's projects and/or documentation. In the past, the non-profit publication has featured important and timely topics such as Minimalism, Generative Art, Locative Media, and Sample Culture. Their new issue takes stock of the contemporary field of VJing by showcasing a variety of artist's videos from the likes of Leeanee Berger, vjzoo, defasten, Kero and Neubau, among others, as long as well as substantial interviews with VJs Solu and Jaygo Bloom. Critics Ryan Stec, Michael Betancourt, and Tim Jaeger investigate the interactive angle of VJing while Lara Houston, Ziv Lazar, Xarene Eskander, and Ana Carvahlo situate VJing historically and socially. - Ceci Moss
In New York or any other busy urban nexus, it's all too easy to submit to the tyranny of rushing from one destination to another. How much more pleasant -- and artistically fruitful -- it can be to drift through one's environment, sampling its many sensory experiences at leisure. Last Saturday, at Manhattan's Eyebeam, a new media art party called MIXER offered many delights, from cerebral to bawdy, for those who took the time to explore and savor them. First launched in November last year, MIXER is the art-and-technology center's quarterly event featuring performances by acclaimed video and audio artists, as well as interactive installations inviting creative play by the attendees.
One highlight on Saturday was London-based VJ group D-Fuse's performance of "Latitude", an ambient cinematic exploration of everyday life in the rapidly developing Chinese cities of Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Chongqing. Inspired by the Situationists' notion of "la dérive" (drifting through cities in response to their emotional impacts), the piece wanders among all sorts of urban tableaux, from the mundane and intimate to the grandiose. Fragments of conversations, shots of crowds, and architectural forms such as the vein-like loops of a Shanghai overpass combine to create an evocative portrait of cities in growth.
In one stunning opening clip, we see a girl emerging onto her apartment balcony -- then the camera slowly (and vertiginously) pulls back in midair, gradually revealing the immense grids of her high-rise and the construction sites that make up her neighborhood. In another shot, kids perform a dance routine on a dull green field, their sheer numbers and the vivid blue-and-white colors of their uniforms forming a kaleidoscopic pop of energy. While many scenes of street life and urban architecture might recall U.S. cities, other footage is suffused with ...