All images: Screen captures from KCorea-INC.K
Is Ryan Trecartin a video artist? A “video-installation” artist? Reviewing “Any Ever,” the exhibition now on view at MoMA PS1, Roberta Smith grasped for precedent, naming Paul McCarthy, Matthew Barney and Pipilotti Rist. But, she admitted, the comparisons fell short. To find another artist who engages a plurality of art forms with simultaneous, equal intensity—all while rethinking what art is and how it touches its audience—you’d have to go back to Wagner. Video is an outcome of his process, but watching is not the only or best way to understand it. Trecartin says he starts each work by writing a script. Language—the primal, biological system of symbols—is the model and vehicle for art and commerce and every other manifestation of social activity. And the forms of all the aspects of Trecartin’s work—the camerawork, the editing, the music, the makeup, and the costumes, as well as Lizzie Fitch’s sets for the videos and “sets” for their viewing in “Any Ever”—are prefigured in the way he works with words.
To study Trecartin’s language, I read the script for K-CoreaINC.K (Section A), which is freely available thanks to ubuweb’s “Publishing the Unpublishable” series. Like any script, it starts with dramatis personae: Argentinian Korea, Hungary Korea, French Adaptation Korea, and so on. The litany of locales recalls the lyrics of a club hit (“Brazil, Morocco, London to Ibiza”: so sings J-Lo in “On the Floor”) or the “Paris, Milan, Moscow, Tokyo” you see on the front of designer boutiques. But only remotely. Countries aren’t named to evoke the exotic, but because geographic names, unlike human names, are tied to place and awkward in reuse. Slapped together, they don’t merge nicely. One plus one is two ones and the ozone emitted by their collision. Combos like these are a favorite device of Trecartin’s. So is the willful disregard for parts of speech. A character’s “first name” can be a noun or an adjective or one of each. Grammatical difference meets geographical difference as both are jettisoned. No setting is indicated—the list of characters is enough to locate the action in an unanchored imaginary.
On Friday, June 24, Rhizome is presenting new projects by Jeremy Bailey and Antoine Catala as part of the New Silent Series. This post elaborates some of the ideas around the event.
The future never comes looking like it used to. Science fiction's universal hallmark of technological advancement was the videophone. While you can buy a device as slick as a Gene Roddenberry prop, most people make video calls with the same thing they do a thousand other things with, using a streamlined version of the computer-camera-modem combo that Jennifer Ringley set up in her dorm room in 1996. Her site JenniCam (now archived) did not stream a live feed of her life. It updated still images— black-and-white, at first— every three minutes. Traffic leapt whenever word spread that Ringley was undressing, or having sex with her boyfriend. But JenniCam was never meant to be an illicit site. As Ringley explained, she was broadcasting everyday life, and in everyday life sex and nudity happen. Her webcam was like a piece of furniture, a mirror that blankly took in the image of the room it faced. It was connected to the line of the telephone, a device that philosopher Avital Ronnell has described as a superhumanizing prosthesis, a machine that empowers the ear and voice to operate across great distances. The webcam's mirror/telephone hybrid— as used by JenniCam and its lifecasting progeny, from Ustream.tv to Chatroulette— is a messy sort of videophone that captures a reflection at its physical location and disperses it to whatever channel that switches the packets.
Rosalind Krauss called video "the aesthetics of narcissism." Her 1976 essay of that name describes Vito Acconci's Centers (1971) as a reflection on art's indexical function: he looks in a television monitor as a mirror and points at himself. One of her other examples was Richard Serra's Boomerang (1974), which locks Nancy Holt in a prison of feedback. She speaks and listens to her own words in a "collapsed present." "[V]ideo's real medium," Krauss writes, "is a psychological situation, the very terms of which are to withdraw attention from an external object— an Other— and invest it in the Self." What do her words mean thirty years later, when video, thanks to webcams, has become part of everyday life as a telecom device? Marisa Olson's remake of Boomerang offers an easy starting point. The webpage juxtaposes a video of Olson listening to and repeating the text of Boomerang with a copy of the old video that she saved on her YouTube account. Serra's tightly constructed frame excludes everything but Holt's face and the audio apparatus. Olson (who did the tasks of both Serra and Holt: the tech set-up and the on-screen performance) lets her webcam show her studio; we can see a doorway, artworks, a bookshelf, the glare of sunlight on a framed print. For Olson, the real "frame" isn't the field of her webcam's lens but the window of the browser, which subsumes both the art-historical past and the webcam's collapsed present in the empty space of default whiteness. She's not only creating a reflection of her own image, but connecting it to an artifact of another place and time by echoing its call.
Live blog of the Seven on Seven conference May 14th.
“From Nethack to play-by-post forums on the WWW,” an Ars Technica blogger wrote in 2009, “the first thing that computer geeks do upon inventing a new medium is play Dungeons and Dragons with it.” With this half-joking riposte to conventional wisdom that new communications media are appropriated first by pornographers, the blogger introduced a roundup of instructions for adding dice rollers to Google Wave to make it a platform for turn-based role-playing games. Of course, links between computing and RPGs predate networked technology. Some of the earliest computer games were made by programmers who played D&D; and saw the connection between dice and digits. Another parallel might be drawn between the do-it-yourself culture around computing in the 1970s and the amateur storytelling demanded by RPGs. Even while computer use leaves less to the imagination today than it did thirty-five years ago, it still shares more characteristics with RPGs than older forms of entertainment do. The creator(s) of a novel, movie, or drama have combined details into a whole by the time it reaches an audience; those media come with spatial and temporal guidelines for consumption. But just as network connections are constant and pervasive, RPGs are open-ended, played with regularity and long-term commitment. Gaming (like, say, tweeting) doesn’t have the same distance between medium and audience as reading or film-going – there is a constant awareness of the self’s participation in a bigger system, and a feeling of contribution to it. RPGs, like internet use, move at the speed of life.
I think this affinity is what has prompted many artists to include allusions to RPGs in their works. Whether they adapt the forking structures or the surface details of fantasy and science fiction, whether those references are direct or oblique, references to the culture around RPGs can be shorthand for reality’s mediation by immaterial systems. Some examples: Brody Condon’s remakes of medieval paintings with game graphics, Eddo Stern’s animation of a gaming-forum flame war, Deb Sokolow’s choose-your-own-adventure drawings, the arcane protests of the Center for Tactical Magic, Sterling Crispin’s scrying devices, and the occult forms behind altar .gifs on dump.fm. These artists a have relationship to fantasy that’s distinctly different from ones who make monster portraits and fantastic battle scenes – a genre that’s also become more visible in contemporary art the last few years. (That trend, I’d say, comes because popular and critical approval for Peter Saul and Tim Burton has emboldened a younger generation of “outsider artists” who grew up with RPGs.) Indie fantasy art, like the illustrations in novels and gaming manuals, that inspire it, is about virtuosic draftsmanship and imagination. It showcases fine renderings of dragon scales and weaponry. The examples I listed above have rough edges where processes of imagination and play visibly collide with other frames of reference. Often, they achieve this by bringing technology to the foreground.