Send/Receive: Liza Bear and Willoughby Sharp After Avalanche

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Still from Send/Receive

In recent years, the significance of artists' magazines has been cemented by the proliferation of exhibitions, panels, and monographic studies devoted to independent publishing endeavors. Not merely side projects or promotional vehicles, such magazines constituted, as art historian Gwen Allen argues in her 2011 book Artists Magazines: An Alternative Space for Art, a form of exhibition space in itself, a central site of postwar artistic experimentation.

The magazine was, in a sense, the ideal form for the “dematerialized” art practices taking hold in the 1960s and ‘70s, which were often rooted in language and typically exhibitable solely in the form of secondary documentation—textual descriptions, instructions, or scores; diagrams and maps; and photographs. At the moment when artists were vehemently challenging the authority of the institutions that mediated between their work and its audience, as well as the attendant commercial system that conferred value based on the saleability of the object, the form of the magazine offered a way to circumvent existing structures—to disseminate projects and ideas directly to an audience, and one that was, at least theoretically, broader than that of the museum or gallery, and more geographically dispersed.

Among the storied magazines of the ‘70s, Avalanche, founded by artist and curator Willoughby Sharp and filmmaker Liza Bear in 1968 (the first issue appeared in Fall 1970), is perhaps the most iconic in terms of capturing the ethos and character of the period’s artistic climate. The privileged editorial form of Avalanche was not the critical essay or review, but the artist interview and it often turned pages over to artists— including Gordon Matta-Clark, Hanne Darboven, and Richard Long —to design their own spreads. Likewise, its “Rumblings” section functioned as a form of pre-internet global art-world message board where artists could submit announcements of upcoming exhibitions, projects, and publications.

Ephemeral and inexpensive, Avalanche was, as Bear described, “a cross between a magazine, an artist book, and an exhibition space in print. Basically, it was devoted to avant-garde art, from the perspective of the artist.” Avalanche, and periodicals like it, were attempts to rethink the art magazine in terms of both form and content, conceived in response to mainstream publications like Artforum, which were dominated by the critic’s voice and implicitly bore the influence of curators and dealers. However, Avalanche was also a network, a decentralized mode of distributing art that aimed to shift the site of reception beyond institutional boundaries...

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Remote Control

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Simon Denny, Those who don't change will be switched off, (2012)

A TV set burns fiercely. These are the last days of the British analog television broadcast.

I kid you not, the United Kingdom limps sorely behind on digital conversion. Luxembourg was first to the finish line, followed by most of Europe, the States, North Africa, Japan. The UK, a chain-smoking marathon runner, who might or might not have gout, has decided — to hell with the lot of you — to race dressed as Chewbacca.

As we drag ourselves sodden and bronchial through those final steps, a slow clap from the ICA gallery greets us. The exhibition 'Remote Control' (April 3, 2012 - 10 June 10, 2012) marks the end of the analog signal by uniting works that take TV and break it apart.

Artist David Hall set television ablaze in 1971. His TV Interruptions were broadcast during normal BBC scheduling in Scotland. No announcement, nor explanation. A tap in the top right-hand corner filled the screen up with water as if it were a cross-section of a sink, a man filmed out at the audience from inside the set, a television burned to cinders in an open field. Each short film held its own during broadcast with a cool irony. Yet the creation and destruction of illusions simultaneously undermined the tyranny of any box masquerading as a window into reality. Hall pioneered art in television and continues to work with the medium and concept. With it, and in opposition to it, for the artists in 'Remote Control' hold their enemy close.

            Still from David Hall, TV Interruptions (Tap piece) (1971)

Commercial broadcasting is the adversary in Television Delivers People (1973) by Richard Serra and Carlota Fay Schoolman. A six and a half minute credit roll tells us merrily that we are the end product of TV, delivered through broadcast to be consumed by advertisers. The medium itself emerges banal, or shrill; the mechanisms of corporate control form the malevolent baseline. Screened in the ICA alongside these works by Hall and Serra as well as Gerry Schum, are further exposés on television advertising from TVTV, misogyny from Joan Braderman, and violence from Marcel Odenbach. Sixteen CRT televisions line up neatly to show us how artists rankled with the system over the decades past. 

It doesn't sound very radical does it? The wit of the interruptions has already been dampened by their removal from the broadcast context. They confront an engaged, expectant audience, not their passive target. Can we understand quite how difficult it must have been to infiltrate the mainstay of the British broadcasting industry, the BBC, when there is such a multitude of platforms available today? Should an institution that holds the contemporary at its core not be addressing the hidden power lines of the mass media that immerse us now?

 

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She Was A Camera

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echocam, artvamp.com, 2000 

Maybe half of being a camgirl was talking about being a camgirl – not just turning a webcam on yourself and by extension your life, but documenting how your life changed from having turned a webcam on it. We were only doing this for a little while, from sometime in the late 1990's until about whenever mobile phone cameras became commonplace (let's say until the early 2000's.) Apple may also have had a hand in killing the camgirl, packaging webcams into the shells of our laptops. By extension our webcams were made less unusual, less intimate, and much less urgent. Though the golden years of camgirls were brief, they coincided with the rise of the web itself.

Screenshot, anacam.com, 2000

In 1997, a Minneapolis-based electronic pop musician named Ana Voog launched what she called “the internet's first 24/7 art/life cam,” which proved to also be its longest running...

 

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(Recent) History Class: Paul Ryan Interviews for Grey Room

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“Cybernetic Guerrilla Warfare Revisited: From Klein Worms to Relational Circuits” In an interview by Felicity D. Scott and Mark Wasiuta for the Summer 2011 issue of GreyRoom, artist and writer Paul Ryan talks about the time he spent working with Marshall McLuhan, the early days of video art, and his work.


“At that moment [1967] I thought of myself as a writer. I was holed up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan with my typewriter, trying to write, and I heard McLuhan on the raso saying, ‘of course, in this electronic age of computers, satellites, radio, and television, the writer is no longer somebody holed up in his garret pounding a typewriter!’ It stopped me cold. I had to find out what this guy was about.”


Ryan gives a fascinating account of video art in the 1960s, from the Howard Wise Gallery, to securing money from the New York State Council for the Arts for video art at a time when no such funding was readily available, and tells the story of meeting the heir to the IBM fortune who admired McLuhan and wanted to give him two Sony Portapaks that both ended in Ryan’s hands to “experiment” with.

 

Artist book based on the Triadic Tapes, 1976 (via the Smithsonian Archives of American Art)


Ryan wrote extensively about video art, cybernetics, and technology; his work was then featured in some seminal exhibitions, such as “TV as a Creative Medium” at the Howard Wise Gallery (1969) and “Primitivism in Twentieth Century Art” at MoMA (1984). (Here's a 1969 letter by Ryan to Howard Wise.) 

“I would avoid the term visual to describe video. You can see a bottle of perfume, but sight is not the sense it really affects. You can see video images but their effect is primarily kinesthetic or proprioceptive when you see yourself. Video is about perceiving events with the nervous system, not visualizing in a pictorial way.”

 

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