A queasy blend of Phillip K. Dick and Paul Sharits, Randy Balma: Municipal Abortionist is the latest from art-game designer Mark Essen, a.k.a Messhof. Filled with strobing rainbow colors, overblown psychedelic explosions, giant bouncing baby-heads and a skull-pounding soundtrack of electronic noise beats, Randy Balma's audio-visual complexity reflects Messhof's experimental media background (a recent Bard grad, he studied filmmaking under the likes of Peggy Ahwesh and Les Leveque). But it also continues a strain of sadistically difficult yet tantalizingly ingenious game mechanics that has already made Essen's work notorious in indie gaming circles. For example, one level requires the player to drive a truck from one end of a straight-line highway to another. Easy, except for the fact that Balma is supposed to be "drugged up on drugs," thus the screen is constantly rotating and the games left-right controllers keep switching valences without warning. The more visually-minimal titles in the Messhof back catalog are even thornier. The abstracted Flywrench necessitates navigating a mere flapping line through neon-piped geometric environments using a maddeningly arbitrary array of button-combo protocols, while Punishment and its sequel Punishment: The Punishing are two seemingly simple platforms that become very difficult, very quickly. In his work, Essen combines the essence of old 2D arcade games-- misleadingly cute single-player titles that did everything they could to make you choke on that twenty-five cents-- with the viewer-challenging puzzle-logic of avant-garde cinema. He's currently working on a suite of new works that include a western-themed side-scroller, a bow-and-arrow shooter, and a stenography simulator, tentatively titled Stenography Hero. - Ed Halter
Image: Mark Essen/Messhof, Randy Balma: Municipal Abortionist, 2008
In his 1971 essay on post-Holocaust culture "In Bluebeard's Castle," George Steiner notes that in nineteenth-century Europe "an odd school of painting develops: pictures of London, Paris, or Berlin seen as colossal ruins, famous landmarks burnt, eviscerated, or located in weird emptiness among charred stumps and dead water." Comparing these visions to 20th century photographs of war-ravaged Warsaw and Dresden, he wonders "how strong a part of wish-fulfillment there was in these nineteenth-century intimations." Or self-criticism: Gustav Doré and Blanchard Jerrold's 1872 book London: A Pilgrimage depicts a dark metropolis teeming with the bodies of the poor, then ends with an eerily serene image of a future London, crumbling and overgrown like the remains of ancient Rome-- a urban memento mori. One recalls these European precedents while viewing the exhibit "AMERIKA: Back to the Future" at Postmasters Gallery in New York; the key to this tightly composed set of works lies in Jennifer and Kevin McCoy's Big Box (biosphere), a set of two miniature suburban landscapes. Each one depicts a typical American shopping mall, comprised of the facades of familiar chain stores and restaurants-- Chili's, Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, The Sports Authority and so on-- reconfigured into a circular structure that slowly rotates on a mechanical table (the exact order of the businesses taken directly from a specific mall in Nyack, New York). Tiny cameras feed live images to screens above, enlarging the scale models to strangely lifelike dimensions. In one part of the installation, the mall includes a mesh-wire dome at its center, overgrown with green moss and trees, with small plots of vegetables and flowers planted outside. In the other, the same structure, now hollow at its center, is burned and crumbling, surrounded by bloodstained human figures; letters have been torn off of logos ...
As a compact but cogent set of explorations on governmental secrecy, censorship and other forms of knowledge control, the exhibit "For Reasons of State" consequently doubles as a menagerie of information technologies: projects on display feature microfiche, voice mail, tape recording, 16mm educational film, printed books, photography, surveillance video, card catalogs, typewritten documents, and good old pencil and paper-- though, perhaps significantly, there's not a computer monitor in sight. Ben Rubin's Dark Source (2005) comes closest via perverse analogy: a bank of microfiche readers displaying copies of documents that appear to be nothing but hand-scrawled bars. During a 2002 security snafu, Rubin was able to acquire the software code for Diebold's controversial voting machines, but then blacked out each line--in accordance with corporate trade secret laws-- before exhibiting it. Rubin's self-imposed censorship mirrors Jenny Holzer's Redaction Paintings (2006) mounted nearby, comprised of enlargements of classified US government documents released via the Freedom of Information Act, still containing large swathes of darkness. Other pieces deal less with active suppression of facts than their effective loss through lack of proper indexing: Lin + Lam's Unidentified Vietnam (2003-Present) series recreates a sloppy card catalog from the Library of Congress's collection of hundreds of propaganda films produced with the help of the American government for use in South Vietnam, while Mark Lombardi's Neil Bush, Silverado, MDC, Walters and Good c. 1979-90 (2nd Version) (1996) serves as an example of the late artist's obsessive sketches of conspiracy-style flow charts linking together powerful individuals, government bodies and corporations in tightly-bounded nests of sometimes inscrutable interconnections. The more exhibited and obvious choices for the show's theme (Trevor Paglen's photos of "black sites," Julia Meltzer and David Thorne's oft-programmed video essay "It's not my memory of ...
Audio-visual performance duo Tali Hinkis and Kyle Lapidus, better known as LoVid, will be reading people's auras tonight at the Museum of Modern Art in New York-- or at least generating an electronic approximation. For their live work "Video Fingerprints," which premieres in the show, a select group of participants (including a few artists and curators familiar to Rhizome readers) will hold a quarter-inch plug in their bare hands, thereby generating natural electric currents which will be translated into analog video images corresponding to each person's unique body signal. The cords carrying these biofeedback signals have a touch of the handmade as well, crafted with homey cardboard and fabric coverings that mirror the chunky, multicolored video patterns created in their performances. "Video Fingerprints" is the latest in LoVid's growing body of elaborately low-tech projects based around the rough malleability of the electronic signal, updating the image processing practices of first-generation video artists like Stephen Beck and Skip Sweeney with a 21st century taste for noise, overload and disruption. In addition, LoVid will enact "Venus Mapped," a double video projection which Hinkis and Lapidus perform live A/V patching to create one image that follows a prerecorded "visual score" on the other. They'll also give a talk about their work, and screen a number of single-channel recordings produced over the last few years. - Ed Halter
LoVid, Venus Mapped, 2007
Replacing the white cube with an off-white browser frame, Harm van den Dorpel's Club Internet provides an ingenious, minimally-invasive strategy for the online presentation of a gallery-style group show. Eschewing the thumbnail and commentary of surfing clubs and art blogs, van den Dorpel offers instead a thin toolbar top-border that allows the reader to cycle through full pages by the 24 artists assembled for Club Internet's inaugural show, "First Selection," running until June 14. The exhibit itself has a zeitgeisty greatest-hits quality; some of the work on display by the likes of Paul Slocum, Guthrie Lonergan, Jodi and Oliver Laric will be already familiar to Rhizome readers. But the selection serves as an excellent showcase for Club Internet's full-screen format, as many of the works require the entire browser frame, and in some cases, their native domain name displayed for full effect, and none go deeper than a single page each. The disorientingly distended jpegs of Constant Dullart's blown up balloon and blown up explosion, or the similarly large-scale, low-res flash animation of Damon Zucconi's Form Over Communication (Do not go gentle into that good night), for example, would be difficult to translate to a bite-sized blog post--likewise Michael Guidetti's glorious full-page text-and-image jumbles. Similarly, works like Thomas Traum's walking and neon, Petra Cortright's . . ..~ <[-/=^=-]>~.. . ., and van den Dorpel's own Sleepwalker I live up to their quasi-cinematic potential when allowed to flourish in full frame. -- Ed Halter
Image is an excerpt from Harm Van Den Dorpel's Sleepwalker I, 2007.