Reading Between the Lines

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Have you ever noticed that sometimes spam emails contain the most interesting images? In an effort to encrypt their messages, thus bypassing inbox filters, many spammers will convert their text to an image format, and the pixellated camouflage of these images is very often very beautiful. This junk mail camo finds its origin in what artist Elizabeth Duffy calls "analog mail." She and the team at Purgatory Pie Press sifted through their mail to collect envelopes containing security patterns, images of which they've subsequently published in a hand-made book called Enclosure Exposure: Data Protection Patterning. The piece is the newest in PPP's "InstaBook" subscription series of DIY, folded, single-sheet books. There's something about the automation, the serialization, and the repetition of these patterns and even this book itself that make the project intriguing. The patterns are an institutionalized veil between what is and isn't meant to be seen, and like visually-encrypted spam messages, the banality of their simple, mostly monochromatic, repeated lines and overlapping patterns adds up to something much more formally interesting. - Marisa Olson

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Mobile Media

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Net art and mail art have often been compared. Afterall, no matter how static a website may look, getting there, and seeing what you're meant to see is a process that relies on a series of messages being transmitted and received. For an artist like Lisi Raskin, mail (the "snail" or electronic variety) would be a ripe topic. The Brooklyn-based artist often creates installations and scenarios predicated on paranoia in relation to the government, so what better a topic than federally-controlled communication? (Don't forget that the U.S. government invented email for internal communication.) Officially, her practice is described as "a sublimation of childhood fears of and adult desires for nuclear apocalypse into a slightly twisted and highly physical recreation involving makeshift production and playfully dark fantasy." While Raskin's interest in fear is situated as "post cold war" it is rather timely in the era of orange alerts, and the question raised is of the degree to which the government produces and trades on fear. She's further interested in the history and fantasies associated with land use discourses, so for her residency at Bard College's Center for Curatorial Studies, the artist seeks to explore the impact of military facilities on the landscape of the American West. From April 15th-August 31st, Raskin's rolling in a super tricked-out van to tour the sites of nuclear tests and facilities, and responding site-specifically by making sculptures and drawings, sending transmissions, and mailing dispatches back to the gallery at Bard, where grad students are working in her "post office" to receive and display the mail. Entitled Mobile Observation (Transmitting and Receiving) Station, the project's game plan is an interesting inversion of the traditional model of the residency, and in some ways mirrors the partially-decentralized distribution of information enabled ...

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Access in Excess

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Standing out at this year's Whitney Biennial are Neighborhood Public Radio (a.k.a. NPR). Founded in 2004, in Oakland, California by artists Jon Brumit, Lee Montgomery, and Michael Trigilio, the group share both an acronym and a logo with National Public Radio, but their focus is on local communities and DIY broadcasts. The group takes the act of transmission into their own hands, but are quick to point out that they are not "pirate radio," as they don't steal a spot on your dial, they simply hop onto an empty airwave. Their intentionally unlicensed practice is a touchstone for discussion of corporation-controlled spaces, like the air around us, and the programmed homogenization of the radio. What NPR delivers to listeners is a low-budget (but relatively high production value) snapshot of the neighborhoods in which they are stationed. The group has traveled the world, one neighborhood at a time, engaging in dialogue with local inhabitants about pressing local issues, in addition to presenting artist's recordings, audio experiments, and performances. At the Biennial they are broadcasting in the museum, and on the air, from their temporary headquarters in an empty shoe store, a few doors down from the museum. Along with co-hosts Linda Arnejo, Whiz Biddlecombe, and Katina Papson, the founders will welcome a number of visiting artists to the program and invite locals to come in and chat about issues of importance to them. They will also receive and re-transmit broadcasts from other neighborhoods, who are participating in the program from afar and offering a point of contrast with New York's Upper East Side. NPR is influenced by the history of community radio broadcasts, as well as collective action groups and situationist collaboratives, but their focus is squarely on the present and the opportunities afforded by ...

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Sending Mixed Signals

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In February of 2009, the US will force a mandatory end to analog television broadcasts, in a regulated move towards digital upgrade. The shift will ultimately generate an enormous amount of e-waste when old monitors are discarded as useless. Portland-based artists, The Video Gentlemen, wonder, "What residue, ghost-images, or other artifacts will persist in the nooks and crannies of this technocultural turn-over?" They've organized an exhibition, in their city's New American Art Union, to anticipate the theme of the afterlife of "dead media." From March 19-April 27, "BYOTV" will be the preemptive channel for "a series of audio-visual works, presentations, performances, workshops, and panels that remix, retell, reimagine, rewire, and/or reclaim electromagnetic modes of cultural production." The gallery will beam with single-channel broadcasts by over forty artists, including Video Gentlemen collaborators Carl Diehl, Jesse England, and Mack McFarland; Amy Alexander, Craig Baldwin, and Nerve Theory; plus a special program curated by transmission arts organization Free103Point9, which includes 31 Down, The Dust Dive, Tianna Kennedy, LoVid, Todd Merrell, ben owen, and Tom Roe. (The entire program can be found here in PDF format.) Together, these artists' low wattage output will emanate from a variety of seemingly defunct sources, so that unlike a traditional exhibition, viewers don't see TVs passively displaying videos, but instead must play an active role in picking up the signals by bringing their own TV--hence the show's title. This reduction of telecommunication to such a small space and limited time forces viewers to get intimate with the medium, while considering its pending obsolescence. - Marisa Olson

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That's Bananas!

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Montreal-based artist Cesar Saez has an interesting labor of love. He wants to launch a Geostationary Banana Over Texas. For three years, he's been researching the technology to do so and he's now ready to begin fabrication. All that stands between him and his dream is a fundraising goal of $1.5 million. Once launched, Texans will look up to see a banana that appears to be one-tenth the size of the moon. The 1000-foot, fruit-like assemblage will be composed of bamboo and balsa wood and will run on hot air, much like a blimp. Saez says he wants to think about space as a "canvas for expression" and to explore "territory as sovereign within the social context of today's global society." The territory of which he speaks is not simply Texas air space, it's the space for technological research into aeronautics currently "monopolized by wealthy governments and large corporations." In some ways, the artist likens himself to a cowboy, defiantly sending a rather phallic foreign object (bananas don't grow in Texas) into an orbital pattern above a state marked by a legacy of corporate pollution. Though Saez admits that the banana, itself, is simply and "oddity with a sense of humor," he's hoping that this intentionally "unthreatening intervention" can appear like a message in the sky to inspire community growth. In many ways, Saez's banana is just an arbitrary symbol for something much bigger than itself. His development process is one that has involved far-ranging and ground-breaking collaboration between artists, researchers, and locals. He hopes that the next step, after this major DIY feat is accomplished, will be regional community members stepping up to create their own DIY communication networks, allowing them to evade profit structures in "monitoring forest fires, the weather ...

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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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AV Festival 08

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The sixth annual installment of AV Festival, the UK's largest international festival of electronic arts, explores the theme of broadcast in the work of a handful of sound artists, filmmakers and musicians. As color television this year celebrates its 80th anniversary, and China rings in fifty years of television services, broadcasting has clearly passed its period of technological novelty, while nonetheless remaining a fundamental conduit for many of the electronic arts. Departing from this assumption, the festival's program divides time between seminal moments in the history of broadcasting and contemporary practices that endeavor to push its communicative properties. Teesside actor Mark Benton, for example, will helm a re-enactment of Orson Welles' infamous 1938 War of the Worlds recording. The original, broadcast in the run-up to World War II, elicited mass-confusion and paranoia in its listeners, with many mistaking H.G. Wells' fictional account of an alien invasion for an actual Nazi invasion. The populous' susceptibility to the content of radio broadcasting may have changed in the seventy years since, but its sensitivity to globalized terror certainly has not. Among the contemporary projects will be Whispering in the Leaves, a sixteen-speaker installation by acclaimed sound technician and Cabaret Voltaire founding member Chris Watson. Appropriately housed in Sunderland's Winter Gardens, Watson's piece comprises recordings of a Costa Rican rainforest: a "dawn and dusk choruses of a myriad [sic] voices," he describes, "mostly unseen, but heard far and wide through the dense dark greens of the tree canopy." Watson's work mimics the jungle's elision of visibility, offering instead a soundscape so rich with affective resonances as to practically induce synesthesia. Like many of festival's other projects, Whispering in the Leaves elegantly and assuredly channels the transformative- at times, all-consuming - power of audio broadcast. - Tyler Coburn


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Let's Do the Time Warp

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Time travel has long been a popular plot convention in science fiction and has, since at least the early 1700s, been a locus for societies' most utopian ideals regarding technology. Nonetheless, the ability to construct a working time machine has eluded countless inventors. But this week, New York-based artist Jamie O'Shea built what may amount to just that. As the world was waking up to a New Year, Tuesday, O'Shea was entering a 'time machine' of his own design. At midnight on January 1, 2008, he 'shut the door to a room with a slow clock, delayed news media, and artificial day and night cycles.' The idea is to trick his mind and body into slowing down, experiencing 36-hour days, rather than 24-hour ones. He's made use of fellow Eyebeam residents' tools in doing so, with Geraldine Juarez's Hexaclock counting two minutes for every three, and Jamie Wilkinson's Internet Delay Pedal doling out web-feeds in slower motion. O'Shea will emerge from this 'temporal deprivation chamber' on January 19th (our time) a week behind us. Given the demonstrated relativity of time--or of temporal perception, it seems accurate to describe the artist's construction as a working time machine. Skeptics or otherwise curious readers can peek in on O'Shea, via a live webcam at his site. The big question, in representations of time travel, tends to be that of how the traveler will influence the future. This query remains unanswerable except to say that our present is now O'Shea's future and he's sending us messages via a witty blog. Meanwhile, he pleas with readers, 'Time travel is boring. Please send anything to keep me company.' Consider this your opportunity to communicate with the past. - Marisa Olson

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