The ambient noise of common machines and the unexpected sounds that come from familiar objects have been a part of music for some time, but over the last fifteen years French artist Céleste Boursier-Mougenot has been joining the two, using instruments and objects to construct complex, apparently self-sufficient systems that play music without any beginnings, endings, or performers. Videodrones (2001) isolates and amplifies the hum that all video signals make when hooked into audio systems. From Here to Ear (1999) now showing at the Barbican in London, is an aviary that resonates when its finches alight on electric guitars. In Harmonichaos, which was on view at Paula Cooper Gallery until this weekend, Boursier-Mougenot affixes the grooves of harmonicas to the mouths of vacuum cleaners, and the staggered grid of thirteen pairs produces an undulating, reedy drone.
The set-up of Harmonichaos could only be the product of a playful mind, even though its appearance deflects suggestions of human involvement. Both the vacuums and harmonicas have an assembly-line sameness, and while they perform according to design, their functions have been diverted away from the needs for clean homes and entertaining song that they were intended to meet. As a viewer and listener, you're made to feel like a confused outsider: a system of switches modulates the intensity of the air flow, as well as the sound emanating from the vacuum cleaners, but it's nearly impossible to identify the source of these fluctuations. False clues are sent by a randomized blinking of bulbs on the vacuums' bodies. As usual, Boursier-Mougenot brings a sense of humor to his work, from the irony of the hokey harmonica becoming eerie when forced to drone (like the accordion in the music of Pauline Oliveros) to the punning title. He finds both harmony and chaos in ...
Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Grey upset the purpose of portraiture--rather than preserving the memory of its subject in his best light, the painting of the title grew gradually uglier to record Grey's sins, even as he kept the beauty that facilitated his sinning--but left intact art's status as an attribute of rich, leisured living. The arch moral tale is invoked twice in "Virtuoso Illusion: Cross-Dressing and the New Media Avant-Garde," an exhibition currently on view at MIT's List Visual Arts Center. Michelle Handelman's hour-long, four-channel video Dorian, 2009, loosely retells Wilde's novel with club kids standing in for opium eaters. In her ghoulishly lit self-portrait Dorian Grey, Manon appears messily caked in makeup, wearing a baggy gray suit, like the corporate conscience of a hedonist spirit. Both of these works introduce to drag a story about beauty, representation, and pleasure, and the anxieties that attend them. This suggests there's more to "Virtuoso Illusion" than an exercise in gender studies; as exhibition curator Michael Rush writes, "[i]n each major historical advancement of experimental art, cross dressing has been present as a strategy that has expanded the possibilities of the perception-bending intentions of artists (as opposed to merely gender-bending)."
Google's mission "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful" centers around faith in the power of the keyword to unlock its bottomless treasure chest and put the right answer in one window. Years have passed since the company's ranking algorithm outpaced the approach of human navigators filing information into channels -- an approach that Yahoo has been trying to keep alive by farming the digital labor to users themselves. But even as search algorithms make dinosaurs of the Dewey decimal and other brain-powered systems, it might be worth considering the benefits of staying open to a plurality of variously scaled methods.
These issues converge in Danny Snelson's work as a writer, editor, and archivist. His titles increasingly overlap in the internet's library without walls--an environment that often embodies the Foucauldian idea that "one never archives without editorial frames and 'writerly' narratives (or designs)," as Snelson put it in an email. As an archivist, he has made substantial efforts to preserve endangered cultural artifacts -- making them universally accessible and useful, you might say -- on behalf of PennSound, an audio archive specializing in recorded poetry, and UbuWeb, where, at the suggestion of founder Kenneth Goldsmith, he scanned out-of-print titles and reformatted them as PDFs for free distribution via the site's /ubu channel. The PennSounds and UbuWebs of the internet undertake preservation projects that small presses and recording labels can't touch due to financial reasons, thus ensuring that experimental work will continue to reach audiences in years to come. Distribution networks like these matter in an environment where the internet (for those without access to academic libraries, at least) is often the first and last stop for research -- a realization that impelled Goldsmith to formulate a radical ontology in the title of his 2005 essay, "If it doesn't exist on the internet, it doesn't exist."
Brian Droitcour is a writer, curator, and Russian-to-English translator. From 2002 to 2007 he lived in Moscow, where he covered art for The Moscow Times and Artchronika, a Russian monthly magazine. In 2008 he moved to New York, where he started working for Rhizome, first as curatorial fellow, then as staff writer. As a translator he's worked on several exhibition catalogues and art anthologies.
Jon Rafman's Google Street Views and the accompanying essay he wrote for Art Fag City's IMG MGMT series are sure to get several well-deserved mentions in end-of-the-year lists. Tom Moody on Google Street Views: "Jon Rafman's gathering of images from Google Street Views isn't really collecting at all but solid, groundbreaking journalism. Obviously untold hours were spent perusing this recent-but-everyday tool for images in very specific, focused categories. Photos that look like art photos, photos of mishaps, photos showing the success and failure of Google's face-blurring software, photos that show class issues in a supposedly 'universal' product (the down and out are more likely to be photographed unsympathetically than the up and in). As much as one hates to see more attention paid to the monopoly that aspires to put the happy face on Big Brother, this is worthwhile, thoughtful research." Kool-Aid Man in Second Life is a distorted twin to Google Street Views, another set of screen captures singling out accidental beauty and quirks of surveillance, only this time in a fantasy world that lets Rafman personify his searching gaze in a pitcher of fruit drink.
кремль.рф (kremlin.rf) won't go live until early next year, but the Russian presidential administration's new Cyrillic URL already made waves last month, when Russia became the first country to register top-level ...
The stage at St. Petersburg's Sergey Kuryokhin Modern Art Center was set for a blast of live electronic music, with seating for ten performers, each station equipped with samplers, laptops, and electric guitars. As the audience arrived the musicians tinkered with the controls; one stood near a huge glass jug, adjusting wires submerged in its murky liquid. But when the appointed time for the concert's start arrived, the performers retreated to the wings, and recorded music came up and continued for the next twenty minutes. It seemed almost like a wry comment on the detachment of the physical presence of the performer from the source of sound in electronic music. But in fact it was an unannounced presentation of past issues of Tellus, the 1980s journal of experimental sound produced by Harvestworks, selected by director Carol Parkinson. As it faded, the musicians took their places, at last, to perform Third Eye Orchestra, a piece written and conducted by Hans Tammen. It was a controlled improvisation, where Tammen lifted numbered cards indicating which of the score's instructions should be read at that moment. The musicians, all local recruits, visibly relished both the spontaneity and the monstrously loud sound that only an ensemble of many amplified electronic instruments can produce.
The Harvestworks evening was part of the program of the third edition of Cyberfest, an annual festival conceived and organized by Anna Frants, a New York-based artist and gallerist, Marina Koldobskaya, director of the St. Petersburg branch of Russia's National Center for Contemporary Art.