Conveyor Loop/Löpande Bandet, 2009.
Your work is incredibly research-based and covers a variety of themes spanning from the Swedish Public Dental Services in the 1930s to 1960s art in NYC. You refer to yourself as a private investigator of a kind: Where do you draw information from? What interests you in the way history echoes in the contemporary life and in the way we relate to history and time?
Information is everywhere, I try not to have any preconceived principles about what a good or viable source can be. But the search is never random or aimless, I'm always following some sort of a hunch. Obviously the internet—with its readiness, wide-ranging pathways and associative connection points—can provide not only fast news, but also very particular kinds of information (for example, access to people's unedited opinions, or documentation that would never end up in the newspaper or history books). But its aura of omniscience is very deceiving of course, and since the algorithm-governed search engines are increasingly streamlining the results to match our interests (or our predicted consumer needs), when looking for hard facts, or unpredictable information, it is necessary to broaden the scope. I often interview people for my research, which is one of my favorite things to do. I have also been digging around extensively in various historic archives. Even though I'm seemingly focusing on the past in some of my projects, the interest in specific histories and people has more to do with trying to sharpen the focus on the present. Only very specific histories become subject for my investigations, either if they are aiming their gaze toward the future, or if they can be directly traced from a current condition or behavior. At least at the moment, my interest has a ...
Red Hook is a new online journal that originates at the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College, NY. The new journal considers online readership on a number of levels, such as its self-reflexive discussions on what an online journal on curating could be, its consideration of other online platforms, and its relationship to the online image.
In his text for the journal, Ed Halter, visiting faculty at Bard's Electronic Arts Program (and Rhizome contributor) recalls the early days of Usenet, a collection of internet discussion boards, and focuses on alt.cult-movies, an active film discussion board. The essay looks into the character of Cosineve, an unknown writer who appeared on the discussion board, writing reviews under numerous online identities but in a consistent style. Cosineve's texts, about twenty in all, spanning between 1996 and 1999, are faux film reviews, the titles of which all used the word "fish," and—as Halter points out—may have referenced real movies.
Halter surveys a certain culture of online cult followings before it had permanent homes that "domesticated" these phenomena on dedicated (more or less so) websites:
I was not the only fan of Cosineve's work. Within days of Cosineve's first flurry of posts in October 1996, responses began to appear from other readers. Following up a review of Death Fish, one user asked "Does anyone else think this guy's actually way ahead of his time, and is spouting something that we, as mere mortals, just can't comprehend?" "He's definitely on the Cutting Edge (of something) and should be encouraged to continue," replied another. "He could be the next Tarantino, for all we know." A self-described "recent convert" suggested that "there should be a separate newsgroup for the fans of the fish to ...
The discipline of art history used to have a sound, the click and growl of the slide projector. It had a look, too, that was composed of darkened lecture halls and sometimes-blurry images of a unified size.
Kodak stopped manufacturing 35mm slide projectors in 2004, a decision in line with the company's current focus on digital photography. The website dedicated to Kodak slide projectors has been archived as a frozen version, current as of November 2004. Soon enough, that website would seem as old fashioned as the famous poster celebrating the invention of the carousel slide projector.
ABC's "Mad Men" credited Don Draper, the head copywriter at the ad firm the show focuses on, as the inventor of the term "the carousel," for Kodak's then-cutting edge technology. In the scene where he pitches the term to Kodak, he states, "The Greeks call it nostalgia. [...] It's a twinge in your heart, far more powerful than memory alone."
The fact that slide projectors are now becoming a technology on the verge of death invokes a new feeling of nostalgia. Slide projectors were commonly used for varied purposes, from the family slideshow through the business meeting display, and up to illustrated lectures. These devices were commonplace and their aesthetic, sound, and use bring up familiarity and a certain tradition.
In 2005, shortly after Kodak's announcement that it will no longer produce slide projectors, curator Darsie Alexander at the Baltimore Museum of Art organized the exhibition "Slideshow." Featuring nineteen works made between the 1960s and the early 2000s by artists such as Robert Smithson, Dennis Oppenheim, Ceal Floyer, and Dan Graham, "Slideshow" celebrated the medium itself. It was presented in a series of darkened rooms where the only light came from the slide projectors and the sound of the changing slides echoed throughout...
Detail of 16:9 II, 2011, LCD screen, Astonish 'Jasmine & Wild Berries,' glass, wood.
You have a very interesting relationship with objects and things. A slight touch, for example in Kicking Me When I'm Down of 2008, where a laundry drying rack is compiled from strip lights with white underclothes hanging from it, changes the meaning of what we see as an object—be it neon light, drying rack, or drying clothes—and how we perceive material, things, and art historical tradition (which is my way of saying Dan Flavin). Can you talk a little bit about the use of found objects, and whether or not you see your work as part of a growing discussion of the "thing" (or animism, or thingness, as it has been referred to as well) in the art context?
Aside from those drying rack pieces which were about strip lights coming from a design background to art and back to design, I don't really think about the history of objects in terms the art lexicon of used material—but rather something more in tune with its position outside of the artwork. I feel it's best to talk about the material in my work in terms of pre-fabricated or fabricated objects because sometimes I'll find something and use it but just as often I'll find something and have it remade slightly different, so it's slippery referring to things as a 'found object'. I think either way, made or re-made, it still comes to me at my studio as something new that I have to work out in the same way. And as long as the object operates in the way of a found object—has a previous social use or familiarity but is somewhat impersonal in its making—then ...
Wafaa Bilal, Domestic Tension (still), 2007
For the past ten months, Iraqi-born New York–based artist Wafaa Bilal has been documenting everything that happens behind him. A camera has been fastened to the back of his head that automatically takes a photograph every minute. The project, 3rd I, is an attempt to capture the mundane, to create an archive of the everyday we leave behind, and put it all online. Two months before 3rd I culminates and becomes an inanimate archive and a few days after Bilal changed the mounted camera he has been using for the project in favor of a new one, designed to match a plaster cast of his skull, we met to talk about it and some earlier works, and talk about ideas concerning the archive, online and offline space, and slowness.
When considering the extreme nature of some of Bilal's works, like Domestic Tension, where the artist lived in a gallery for the duration of the performance, allowing online viewers to direct a paintball gun at him, or Virtual Jihadi, where Bilal casts himself as a suicide bomber in an Al-Qaeda version of a videogame called "Quest for Saddam," it may induce viewers to discuss these in terms of spectacle. In fact, the spectacle here is part of the performance and should not be confused with the point of the performance. In conversation, Bilal—an artist who thinks about his work complexly and discusses it eloquently—talks about his recent work 3rd I, as well as past works, in terms of his dialogue with the history of art, with the public, and with his personal engagement with politics and history.
You talk about 3rd I in the context of ideas of "slowness." This term is becoming increasingly commonplace, especially among people who work with new media. But your idea of slowness includes an intense, long-term commitment too, that is political, physical, and emotional. Now that the project is nearing its one-year finishing line, do you talk about slowness differently?
You're right. In the last few years, a lot of people are trying to slow down technology, I think this nostalgic notion of technology or interactivity is disappearing. I don't know if it's a fatigue or if the medium exhausted itself because there was such a great promise for interactivity and I think artists found their limitation with it making it increasingly complicated. In terms of slowing things down, we are so overwhelmed with these images that we lost any still moment in personal space, so a lot of us are wishing, I don't know if it's possible, to slow things down and shield that personal space..