Artist Profile: Heather Phillipson

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The latest in a series of interviews with artists who have a significant body of work that makes use of or responds to network culture and digital technologies.

Heather Phillipson, immediately and for a short time balloons weapons too-tight clothing worries of all kinds (2014). Image courtesy the artist and Bunker259.

When I saw your recent solo exhibition, immediately and for a short time balloons weapons too-tight clothing worries of all kinds, at Bunker259, I curled up in an inflatable birthing pool to watch a video suspended from an engine hoist. The video depicted a series of domestic, public, and online spaces, with a voiceover from you. At one point, you leaned over the camera and appeared to give me a facial. I broke down in laughter because it suddenly became clear that I had become a participant. When you show Zero-Point Garbage Matte, you use a similar strategy: the viewer climbs up a ladder and looks down on the monitor to view the video, a position that is reflected in its content. Which idea comes first, the video or the physical participation of the viewer?

The video usually precedes its final sculptural form, but not always. With the video suite I'm working on at the moment, for example, I have a really clear idea of what will be going on around it. Regardless, I produce multiple "versions" of each installation, so the video ends up inhabiting quite different physical structures at different times. It's like a built-in contrariness mechanism—the capacity to change the context, and therefore the work, and my mind. But, in general, the one constant is how the viewer is con/figured in relation to the video. So, with immediately and for a short time balloons weapons too-tight clothing worries of all kinds, as you mention, the viewer is recumbent with the video overhead. The video deploys regular POV shots alongside dispassionate observations, and mixes interior monologue with direct address, so there are these shifting perspectives. You're the eye/I of the camera, or its eye is turned on you…positions get conflated. For me, the physical relationship between body and screen is crucial to this formulation, although the rationale might only be revealed sporadically. It's a bastardised literary device, that semblance of inhabitation and activation—one minute you're in first person then second person or third person, then slapped back into first.

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Scenes from the London 3D Printshow

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Matthew Plummer-Fernandez, Digital Natives (2012)

“The internet changed the world in the 1990s, the world is about to change again,” read much of the promotional literature for the recent 3D Printshow in London. The commercial exhibitors might have benefited from a far more modest tag line, but the art work exhibited, separate from the main trade section of the show, gave much new to think about regarding the the relationship between technology and craft.

 Frederik de Wilde, M1ne IIII (2012)

I was immediately intrigued by the two sculptural objects on display by Frederik de Wilde. The cobalt chrome models had been printed from data gathered from Belgian coal mines. They presented themselves as futuristic objects with a link to Europe's industrial heritage. The representations of the coal mines came to the 3D Printshow as seemingly abstract objects but, were actually formed by a much more political process. It had been a laborious process for de Wilde to get access to the data. He remarked that being granted permission to use a data source as an artist is almost an art form in itself. The Belgian government are protective over the information as the mines contain elements of interest to multinationals and other nations. De Wilde was not permitted in the work to reveal the location of the mines and had to abstract the forms so that interested parties could not gain commercial advantage. The custodians of the data had a large say in what the outcome of the piece would be. This is an intriguing collaborative process if it can be considered as such. The models of the coal mines had been stacked inside each other to create fragile vessels, that also further abstracted the context of the data. The production values of both objects were also noteworthy. I ...

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Frieze New York: The Art Outside the Tent

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Joshua Callaghan’s Two Dollar Umbrella (2011)

As far as art fairs go, Frieze New York was better than most: the booths were spacious, the tent well lit, and the amenities for visitors excellent. The quality of the work on view, too, was a vast improvement over the first round of fairs this past March; many of the participating galleries brought impressive pieces by both emerging and established artists.

Supplementing the art lining gallery booths inside were a host of works presented outdoors, organized by appointed curators: Frieze Projects, a series of site-specific commissions curated by Cecelia Alemani, and the Sculpture Park curated by Bard CCS director Tom Eccles—technically separate, though physically intermingling with the Frieze Projects commissions.

The Sculpture Park was largely composed of the sorts of dull, oversized abstraction typical of corporate plazas and civic commissions—inoffensive, vaguely industrial, often colourful (Katja Strunz, Gabriel Kuri) or shiny (Tomas Saraceno, Jeppe Hein.) In short: perfectly positioned to move swiftly from the fairgrounds at Randall’s Island to the backyard of some collector’s summer home. Indeed, each work was labelled not only with the artist’s name, title, and date, but also the gallery representing it—all of them participants in the fair—making it essentially an extension of select gallery booths.  

Others read merely as oversized gimmicks. For Subodh Gupta’s Et Tu Duchamp? (2009–2010), the artist translated Duchamp’s famous moustachioed reproduction of the Mona Lisa, L.H.O.O.Q., into three dimensions, casting it as a large-scale bronze. The title of Gupta’s work suggests that his intent was to replicate Duchamp’s gesture of comically appropriating a canonical work—in the twenty-first century, Duchamp is as recognizable as Da Vinci—but Et Tu Duchamp? is less a subversive violation of a masterpiece than a self-aggrandizing, one-note gag. Likewise, Joshua Callaghan’s Two Dollar Umbrella (2011) presents the titular object amplified to monumental proportions; with its loose spokes pointing skyward like Laocoön’s outstretched arm, Callaghan’s pathetic umbrella has its own odd pathos—given the overcast skies during much of the fair’s run, discarded umbrellas littering the city’s street were a common sight—but elevating an everyday inconvenience to the status of mythic tragedy is neither new nor compelling.

Works that engaged the setting more directly fared somewhat better...

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Image of Democracy: Why I Want to Build Nine Freedom Towers in Tiananmen Square

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Introduction

 

Albert Speer, Model of Nuremberg Marching Grounds (1937); John Powers, Penn Station Counter-proposal, (2001)

What happened at 9/11 of course changed the scale of all this... It became an issue about fear, and our horror at looking, as I did, out of our windows onto the buildings that were burning. The horror we had in our hearts from this, allowed us... to give up basic freedoms. I’m not just talking about the ones the papers talk about all the time, our democratic and constitutional rights, but in the way we live, the way we block our streets.

—David Childs (Chief Architect of SOM’s Freedom Tower”), Building and Fear, 08:20 (2007)

I am a sculptor, my work is abstract and more often than not described as “post-minimalist.” Recently I was asked to contribute a work for a group show in Hong Kong. The curatorial frame of the show is “the ways objects produce space.” Rather than contribute a sculpture and hope for some sort of latter-day phenomenological experience between ‘object’ and ‘subject’ however, I suggested revisiting an urban design project that I had not worked on for over a decade. Eleven years ago I made a modest proposal to create a series of three massively flat and empty superblocks (two in New York and one in Washington DC). I last showed these proposals as three large architectural site models, just six months before September 11th attacks. Because my proposals seemed to foreshadow the 16 acre gap left in Manhattan’s grid, I was urged to revisit the project. I didn’t, not because I didn’t feel I might have something to contribute, but because I was struck dumb horror. I refused to speak publicly about the project, and although the original show of models had been based on a long essay on the subject of art and public space, I stopped writing for years. Anyone familiar with myblogwill understand that this is not my usual MO. But looking back I am now very glad I shut up. 

Most of what was said about architecture in the immediate wake of the attacks struck me as tone deaf, some of what was said by artists was unintentionally cruel.

That is not to say I didn’t take interest in the site and the conversation around it. I followed the competition to choose an master plan, and still feel Sir Norman Foster’s unapologetically hard edged kissing chisels were the best of the lot. Most of what I saw and heard however, reinforced the observation that had inspired my proposals in the first place: the widespread inability to know the difference between what can and cannot be changed when it comes to architecture. By wide spread, I mean architects, politicians, critics and loudmouths at parties. Even after Modernist architecture’s fall from grace, the expectation is that big challenges must be addressed by massive projects, and that symbolic meaning trumps straight talk (observe Libeskind vs Foster).

While I sympathized with architect’s desire to respond to the attacks, I did not understand their responses. Architecture isn’t a symbol (that was the hideous confusion the attackers made), it is an expression; a concrete expression of an idea, an ethic, a desire. Modernists plazas are often characterized as “fascist” — the idea being that they are symbolic projections of power. Architects seldom, if ever, discuss lawns, park benches, or flower arrangements as expressions of power. Looked at as concrete ethical expressions, rather than symbols, we can begin to see these things for what they are: impediments, barriers, place holders, and dividers.

I: Double Zero

Soft Power: Jeff Koons, Puppy (1992); Tiananmen Square Olympic flower arrangement (2008)

For the show in Hong Kong I ended up showing recreations of my three original counter-proposals, and a fourth proposal that has been gestating for almost a decade, but has suddenly taken on new relevance. I proposed building nine “Freedom Towers” arranged in a tight grid formation and completely occupying the available open space of Tiananmen Square.

A decade after I proposed paving flat large portions of New York and DC, I want to “occupy” Tiananmen Square with a formation of Freedom Towers. These may seem like two very different projects and two very different political contexts, but in fact they are the same. In 2001 I was suggesting that we had lost an important variety of public space and that our cities and our republic were lessened by that loss. That in the 40 years since the civil rights and ant-war protests of the 1960s American authorities have altered the landscape of our cities –— through changes in the rules that concerning public assembly (a process Naomi Wolf calls “overpermiticisation”), but also through bricks and mortar construction. Our public space has been “developed” out of existence.

In the wake of the massive protests in Wisconsin, the “Arab Spring,” and the Occupy movement in New York (and everywhere else), it feels important to once again raise the question of public space as a built environment. Rather than continue to argue that we build a new kind of space here, I am suggesting that we imagine what it would mean if we exported our current development schemes to other countries; to imagine them as the work of foreign regimes. What if the National WWII Memorial, with its heroic Speerian colonnade, sunken plaza, and ground-covering fountain, had been built in Tahrir Square rather than midway between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument? How would we feel if Russian authorities were to announce the construction of a large Frank Gehry designed Guggenheim be built over, Bolotnaya Square, the site of last December’s ballot-rigging protests in Moscow?

To mashup SOM’s Freedom Tower and China’s Tiananmen Square may, at first glance seem arbitrary, but it isn’t. Both New York’s Ground Zero and Beijing’s “Zero Point” are symbolically loaded sites. non-mainland Chinese associate Tiananmen with the 1989 pro-democracy protests, but for the Chinese it was already a site loaded with meaning when protesters chose that space to take their stand. In his book Remaking Beijing, the author Wu Hung describes the formation of Chinese end of this symbolic East-West axis....

 

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Hidden Information: The Work of Jim Sanborn

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 Jim Sanborn's cryptographic sculptures, pieces on atomic energy, and large-scale projections might already seem familiar. Installed in front of the CIA headquarters, the ciphers in his sculpture Kryptos have puzzled many a code-cracker (three out of four of the coded sections have been solved), and he has been the subject of several museum shows. The artist answered a few questions we had on his work via email:     

There's often something hidden in plain sight in your work.  In public installations like Kryptos (at the CIA plaza) and A Comma, A in Houston, among others (I'm thinking also of the Covert Obsolescence andArcheotranscription pieces), it's letters/word/code.  How does written communication affect your work?  Is there a background story that drives these pieces?

Prior to the Kryptos commission my work documented hidden or invisible natural forces, Earth’s magnetic field etc. For the Kryptos piece and for the 20 years since, the hidden forces/content in text and language have taken over.

For most of my life both of my parents worked at the Library of Congress, My father as the Director of Exhibitions and my mother as a photo researcher, this privileged access to the historic record was tremendously enabling. The texts I chose for my public projects were heavily researched at the L.C. and in these works in particular the International, Classical, and Native American texts were used to encourage collaboration among cultures to fully decipher. Like Kryptos, the other public works are designed to exude their information slowly.

The “background story” is either above, or resides in the following: The Archeological record offers us a frustratingly fragmented view of the past. Though fragmentary, this archeoview is pregnant with secrets yet to be discovered and is thrilling in its potential. Secrecy is power even if it is just a little something kept from view, buried, so to speak, in the matrix of everyday life...

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5 Million Dollars 1 Terabyte (2011) - Manuel Palou

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5 Million Dollars 1 Terrabyte (2011) is a sculpture consisting of a 1 TB Black External Hard Drive containing $5,000,000 worth of illegally downloaded files. A full list of the files with clickable download links can be found here.

 

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W139 Amsterdam: TruEYE surView

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W139 Amsterdam: TruEYE surView with Yngve Holen and Anne de Vries, curated by Katja Novitskova

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Review: Oliver Laric's Kopienkritik at Skulpturhalle Basel

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Kopienkritik, German artist Oliver Laric's summer solo project at the Skulpturhalle Basel, waxes upon the politics of the reproduction of images while drawing upon the Swiss museum's collection of plaster cast copies of sculptures from classical antiquity. Laric collaborated with the museum's staff to reinstall and arrange their collection of casts, interspersing his own sculptures and video works shown on monitors and projectors throughout the museum. That Kopienkritik largely comprises works of art not created by but rearranged by Laric calls into question the functionality of the artist as not a maker of things, but a producer of ideas.

Kopienkritik (“copy criticism”) is the process of analyzing copies of classic sculptures —typically Roman reproductions of lost Greek versions — to arrive at a greater understanding of the originals. Within the art history community, the practice is seen as a last-ditch way to study ancient Greek sculpture — and one bearing many discontents. For example, ancient Greek sculptor Polykleitos, active in the 5th and early 4th century BCE, made major contributions to sculptural practice with his “invention” of contrapposto, but as his works are all lost they may only be studied and understood through lesser-quality Roman copies. To illustrate this principle, Laric grouped sculptures together similar in appearance and posture, creating visible aesthetic lineages between each work. These groupings are put into a theoretical framework by Laric's essay-video Versions, projected onto two similar plaster casts in the Skulpturhalle installation, the video attempting to fast forward discussions surrounding the authenticity and proliferation of images to an internet-sensitive context...

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Homebrew Electronics: A Studio Visit with Pete Edwards of Casperelectronics

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Pete playing his homemade synth

I met with artist, musician, educator and circuit-bending guru Pete Edwards last week, as he was preparing for his exhibition “Specter Flux” at Long Island City’s Flux Factory, where he is currently an artist in residence. The show opens on June 30th and will run until July 3rd. Since 2000, Pete has sold his handmade electronic instruments through his company Casperelectronics, and performed with his creations under the same name. Over the span of his career, he’s created unique and special instruments out of a variety of unusual items, such as a Jack-In-The-Box Toy, an Amazing Ally doll, megaphones, and a BarbieKaraoke Machine. His work on Casio SK-1s and Speak&Spells; have been an inspiration for many in the world of circuit-bending, and no doubt his output has helped popularize these objects as ideal for these sorts of projects.

Circuit-bent Barbie Karaoke by Casperelectronics

More recently, Pete has begun incorporating plastic orbs into his practice, producing them as standalone interactive, color-mixing lights or as components to his machines. These orbs will be central to his installation at Flux Factory, and he showed me a few of them during my visit, as well as a nifty analog synth he built from scratch. Both will be used in “Specter Flux”.

Pete mentioned that he enjoys the mesmerizing quality of the orbs, and the fact that they immediately captivate an audience, regardless of context. Each orb is individually tuned to respond to volume and tone, so that viewers must play with them in order to gauge their sensitivity. The orbs were installed in an elevator at the Tang Museum last year, and Pete recalled, with delight, that despite the seeming privacy of the elevator, that the sounds of visitors clapping, singing and yelling at the orbs travelled throughout the building.

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Terminal Convention Takes Flight

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Exterior of the Cork International Airport (Credit: Mike Hannon Media)

What is an airport? There are few buildings as strictly controlled, commercially exploited and emotionally embedded in the contemporary word. Junctions of humanity, they are sites of equal boredom and threat. Airports are dynamic spaces, with flows of people and capital yet they are as susceptible to the effects of socio-economic and political changes as they are to extreme weather changes. Filled with ubiquitous surveillance, continual identification and suspicion, what happens when they loose this function and just become buildings again?

Terminal Convention was a contemporary exhibition and symposium housed in the decommissioned terminal building of Cork International Airport in the Republic of Ireland. The old terminal stands in the shadow of its new, bright, open and airy, off-the-shelf 21st century airport successor, and the decommissioned terminal has remained a virtually untouched unknown wonderland for international artists to transform.

What is striking about this particular airport ex-terminal is its friendly persona, at times more akin to a bizarre extended living room than an airport, with its fireplaces and fish tanks in the baggage reclaim area. Striped of its function and control, the space is deadened and immobile without the continuous hums and flows of international travel. The description ‘decommissioned’ implies something more than simply the staff moving out and locking the door – the building has been stripped of all its symbolic authority. The new freedom to roam, unchecked, through the once tightly controlled spaces provides a small thrill, the ‘no entry’ signs remain in place, but are now rendered obsolete.

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