from Abstract, Hito Steyerl, 2012
Abstract, one of three pieces in Hito Steyerl's solo exhibition at e-flux, shows the artist's visit to the deathplace of a friend. As an eyewitness plainly recounts the evening slaughter, he points out the remains of Andrea Wolf and some 40 other insurgents shot dead by the Turkish Army in Kurdistan. On the adjacent screen, Steyerl shoots the facades of German monuments with her phone. Doing so exposes the material origin for the killing (Turkey is a second market for German arms) and connects the languages of cinema with combat (the shot > countershot; an image becomes a target between crosshairs). As Steyerl acts as both editor and the woman with the movie camera (for her short discussion of Vertov, go here), the exhibit explores an area of overlapping influence between subject and object; aptly, one of her pieces is entitled Adorno's Grey.
Journalist and PKK revolutionary Andrea Wolf is an ever-present proof of synthesis in the show. In November, we see a young Wolf as a leader of a motorcycle gang (that includes Steyerl) in a Russ Meyer homage. In Steyerl's films, builds happen, not sequences: someone discusses the usage of Costa-Gavras' State of Siege as a training film for young terrorists. See them kidnap, plant bombs, and evade authorities; learn that the film was based on first-hand, real-life accounts of resistance behavior. These films of bad-assery first appear as templates to turn an internal sense of (in)justice into action. They grow into an entangled relationship of images and events that map the formation and remembrance of Wolf's conscience. We may not know her details, but we have a sense of her motivation...
Untitled, photograph, 2006
Turner Road, photographs with sound, 2008
Untitled, MS Gate which swings side to side and breaks the walls, 2009
Shilpa Gupta's work sometimes takes place outside of or leaves the gallery, and ranges from photographs and objects to websites and interactive video. I spoke with the Mumbai-based artist over email:
Your pieces often weaponize subjects, drawing awareness to an underlying violence or militarization of mundane acts and objects (e.g., the tedium of house guards in Mumbai, a child with multiple arms making a gun with their fingers, a mechanical swinging gate). Could you expand on what you consider to be the political in the everyday?
What I am referring to are the embedded and often invisible structures that steer the way we think in daily life. Example: while we read newspapers and watch the 9 pm national news, it slips off our mind that the images we are seeing could be filtered in certain ways to generate certain opinions. Example: on the Untitled, MS Gate which swings from left to right and breaks the wall, there is an undefined form which, while much smaller in size, is far deeper than the rest of the gate. This could be an undefined geographical territory or it could be a hole in a brain of a housewife, both of which may have a desire to be free.
Christopher Baker, Murmur Study, Installation View, Audi Open Space Pavilion, Frankfurt, 2011
photo: KMS Team
In Hello World! or: How I learned to stop listening and love the noise, you compiled 5,000 online diaries and showed them on one enormous wall. Along with their accompanying audio, they all play at once; you can occasionally hear one voice above the others as the sound rises and falls. How many of the individual clips did you watch? How were they selected? Are you familiar with the people in any way (via previous knowledge, web stalking, etc.)? Do any of them know that they're in this artwork?
My original motivation was to create an experience that addressed the contrast between our greatest hopes for new communication technologies and what they actually deliver. After spending time with an earlier iteration (which was essentially 5000 randomly selected videos), I decided that I really wanted to capture the optimism and excitement of new users as they spoke directly with their audience. To that end, I generated a set of search keywords that included phrases like "my first video blog" or "my first vlog" (among others), then downloaded about 30,000 of the resulting videos. In the end I decided to choose videos that had little to no post-production (i.e. graphics, titles, edits, etc), featured a typical webcam head and shoulders shot, and were recorded in a personal or private space, like a bedroom, home, car or bathroom. Since I downloaded about 1500 hours of video, I wasn't able to watch each video from start to finish. I scanned each video and evaluated them for their visual quality and background scene as much as their spoken content. Since the videos were found via a public search, I had no connection with any of ...
Still from Art21 Telethon, May 2012
There's performance: immediate, rehearsed and present; then there's television: distant, canned, and broadcast. One offspring of their coupling is the telethon. 'Telethon' became a recognized portmanteau of 'television' and 'marathon' with Jerry Lewis' aid in the 1950s. His telethons for the Muscular Dystrophy Association ran and ran: there'd be a song, a celebrity, a mail carrier, a joke, banter and filler. The marathon viewing sessions kept attention on the cause at hand by providing various entertainment in service of one goal: to raise awareness and funds for the organization. The camera was always on: in order to look away, the viewer had to hit the clicker to change the view (or turn off the box). Inside, the telethon continued.
Recently, Art21 held their own artist-led telethon. Hosted by Ronnie Bass, who had explored the format in 2007 in order to raise funds for his Performa TV piece, the event came to be after the NEA cut funding to the PBS art documentary program. Artists replaced entertainers to create some nine hours of durational broadcast performance streaming from Algus Greenspon Gallery to the Art21 site. It was telethon to its core, making up what it lacked in big-production finesse with performative sincerity, intimacy, and palpable camaraderie.
The telethon as a fundraiser makes less viable sense today: crowd-funding options are less time-consuming and presentation-intensive. What remains is its value as a style: the telethon as an experience that fills time with performance, and an endurance event in service of an objective.
Shu Lea Cheang, Brandon, Bigdoll interface, 1998
In 1998, the Guggenheim Museum launched its first web-based art commission, Shu Lea Cheang's Brandon. Over the course of a year, the collaborative, dynamic piece would look at the complexity of gender, sexuality, and identity through the life and death of Brandon Teena/Teena Brandon, a Nebraska youth who was raped and murdered after his biological sex as a woman came to light in 1993.
Oft-cited in new media art history as one of the first widely recognized pieces of net art, the Brandon site has been offline for the last year or so; the Guggenheim plans to restore the work in the very near future.
I spoke to the artist about Brandon, 14 years after its launch:
YH: How did you first come to conceptualize Brandon? What were the circumstances for its commission?
SLC: Brandon was conceived at a time that I moved from actual space to cyber/virtual, claiming myself a cyber-nomad. It was around the mid-90s, and there was high hope for a super-highway, for a virtual world where race/gender does not matter any more. (I think it was the ad copy of MCI communications?). Meanwhile, two articles came out at Village Voice, one about Brandon Teena's rape/murder case by Donna Minkowitz and the other Julian Dibbell's A Rape in Cyberspace. I had been experimenting with boundary crossing between the actual (state/nation) and virtual (anonymous/avatars), which needed to take up a durational performative format.
By 1995, I wrote out a proposal which was to be a one-year web narrative project following my feature film Fresh Kill (1994). At the time, I guess it was unusual to conceive a durational web work, to be unfolded by episodes, by staged virtual performance 'events' supported by actual space installation. At the time, David Ross was the director of the Whitney Museum. He had the vision to expand the museum into cyberspace. Curator John Hanhardt (who has exhibited three of my major works: color schemes (a solo show in 1990), Those Fluttering Objects of Desire (1993, Whitney Biennial), and Fresh Kill (1995, Whitney Biennial)) took up the curation of Brandon. By 1998, Hanhardt had moved to the Guggenheim Museum and took Brandon with him. At the Guggenheim, Matthew Drutt, Associate Curator for Research, helped realize the curatorial admist the Guggenheim's venture into the virtual museum with Asymptote Architects...