The metaphor of the brain as a database (or, if you prefer, the database as a brain) flatters and anthropomorphizes the machine more than it explains the mind. Gray matter doesn't seem to be organized in a way that makes the storage and retrieval of information easy; rather, the classification and categorization that characterize the database are pre-digital technologies invented to manage the ever-increasing amounts of information that civilization requires citizens to master. Cicero used a "memory palace" when delivering orations. As he spoke, he would imagine moving through a house where each room and object represented points he needed to make in his speech and the supporting evidence he needed to make them. The antithesis of such memory systems might be the dream, the mind's nightly refresher that reconfigures the day's events and data in disjointed, symbolic narratives. Both the memory palace and the dream are based on irrational elements: subjective experience, arbitrary connections, and word play. That the memory palace is created under the thinker's deliberate control only highlights the conscious mind's eagerness to do what the unconscious mind does automatically. Even as Cicero publicly performed the constructs of reason, his brain was circumventing them.
Last July, in a New York University faculty residence on West Houston Street where Picasso's sculpture and I.M. Pei's architecture face off in a courtyard invisible to Google Earth, Alexandre Singh delivered an installment of his Assembly Instructions Lectures, a series of talks illustrated by a pair of overhead projectors. After introducing his audience to Matteo Ricci, a sixteenth-century Jesuit missionary who taught the memory palace technique to Chinese officials to convince them of the superiority of Western (and by extension, Christian) thought, Singh launched into a detailed recounting of a dream he supposedly had, in which Ingvar Kamprad, founder and principle shareholder of Ikea, announced that the master floor plan implemented in every Ikea store around the world encodes a classification of all human knowledge. For instance, the arrangement of shoes, hangers, and sweaters in a display closet, as Singh demonstrated, represented the kingdoms and phyla of life on Earth. What's more, the Ikea system of Singh's dream world does not merely encode--it controls. If something changes in a store--say, a new couch model is introduced for the new season, or a passing child moves a prop coffee-table book around a fake living room--the fabric of reality is altered.
"Contact," the most recent exhibition by the group Art Business Consulting, featured a rocket ship built from computer hardware, with a trio of yuppies floating weightlessly on a video screen inside. The trappings and denizens of the office have figured in ABC's work since Mikhail Kosoplapov, Maxim Ilyukhin, and Natalia Struchkova formed the group in 2001, and as in "Contact," they have always been subject to some sort of disfigurement. Early on, ABC established a pseudo-corporate identity by showing up at art openings in expensive cars and nice suits, performing the role of Russia's nascent upper-middle class while their colleagues in the Moscow boheme were riding public transport in sweaters and jeans. To solidify that image, ABC made good on their name's promise of "business"--in 2004, they became dealers, selling the work of artists they liked at ABC Gallery. Change happens quickly in Moscow; now that the market has dwarfed institutional influence in Russia's art world, linking the words "art" and "business" doesn't feel as novel as it did in 2001, and Western-style corporate culture has lost the cachet of an exotic interloper. ABC's symbolic launch of the office into space in "Contact" came on the heels of the loss of their own office space; at the end of May, the arts complex where ABC Gallery was located shut down to make room for a new development. While Ilyukhin, Kosolapov, and Struchkova continue to work as artists, businesspeople, and consultants, the events of last summer seem to mark a turning point, a time for reflecting on the future of a project initiated to document social change now that those changes are entrenched.
For anyone who has found pleasure in the dancing, drinking, and melancholy of Mark Leckey’s collage films—or the witty lyrics of his bands, JackTooJack and the defunct donAteller—it was a surprise when the British press labeled his work esoteric and over-intellectualized following his receipt of the Turner Prize last year. Perhaps the work featured in the exhibition of nominees, Cinema in the Round, lost something in the translation from a performance to a gallery installation. Leckey’s staged lecture wove Felix the Cat, Philip Guston, and The Titanic into an idiosyncratic history of art and film. Mark Leckey in the Long Tail, a new talk that premiered at the Institute of Contemporary Art, London earlier this year, takes the same approach and extends his argument into the twenty-first century, using examples and props to visualize how an internet-based economy has changed distribution, demand, and creativity. Its U.S. premiere, organized by the Museum of Modern Art, will take place at the Abron Arts Center on Oct. 1, 2, and 3. - Brian Droitcour
In 1996, when my family got a modem and signed up for AOL, my hours of nightly screen time shifted from television to the computer. After leaving for college, I never had a television set in my home—at least not one that’s good for anything more than playing DVDs—and for me television has become a prop associated with certain locations: the ambient CNN in airports, or the numbing luxury at my parents’ house that allows me to surf an easily navigable set of discrete elements, rather than choosing what to view by picking keywords and clicking metonyms.
Antoine Catala feels roughly the same way about television, as I learned on a visit to his studio this summer, and “TV Show” his upcoming solo exhibition at 179 Canal, a new artist-run space in downtown New York, is about television’s slow demise—a phenomenon felt acutely this year as broadcast signals were converted to digital, befuddling one of television’s biggest audiences, the elderly. Catala’s comic-strip paintings of screen stills, which he dashed off quickly with glances at the television, underscore television’s identity as an industrial product, far slicker than anything one person can make alone and produced using templates. His translucent paintings on working television sets also highlight the conventions for arranging shots, as faces and settings of the broadcast form repetitious patterns around his overlaid additions. TV Blobs manipulate live feeds to make distorted, fluid three-dimensional graphics. Catala treats both the television set’s physical mass and the broadcast stream as readymade sculptural material, positioning both form and content as artifacts of the industrial age in a world that’s moving on to something else. “TV Show” opens tonight at 7:00pm.
“Quartet without Pyramid Scheme” does not, in fact, have anything to do with financial machinations, and the title of this experiment in sound installation and improvisation is a dry foil for how it actually unfolds at Brooklyn’s Diapason gallery over four Saturdays in September. Jordan Paul, the organizer of the project, began it September 5 with a pair of parallel installations in Diapason’s gallery and lounge spaces, both of which used the same set of samples—a water boiler, miked CD and DVD players, a malfunctioning audio cord—run through a MaxMSP patch that determined their placement and duration in each channel. A week later Reed Evan Rosenberg introduced some drama by adding the deep rumble of a laundromat to the array of household appliance sounds. But contrast was less a concern for Paul than a close fit as an ensemble, which is why he chose artists he had collaborated with before and requested they bring field recordings of ambient noise. While the work is declared a quartet from the start, it’s not until the last week that all four artists will be present in the gallery, which suggests an understanding of time as being as static as space is ordinarily perceived—an approach supported by the use of sounds connected to locations, and then shuffling and layering them to further mask any hints of the linear temporal movement. As the artists come to remix the samples in Diapason’s lounge each week, they retain equal shares in the quartet—unlike in a pyramid scheme—and rather than bringing a climax and collapse, the meeting of all four at the last session ought to turn out as a rearrangement of set elements, an improvisational structure that ...