Marisa Olson
Since the beginning
Works in Brooklyn, New York United States of America

Marisa Olson is an artist, writer, and media theorist. Her interdisciplinary work has been exhibited at the Venice Biennale, Centre Pompidou, Tate(s) Modern + Liverpool, the Nam June Paik Art Center, British Film Institute, Sundance Film Festival, PERFORMA Biennial; commissioned and collected by the Whitney Museum, Museum of Modern Art, Houston Center for Photography, Experimental Television Center, and PS122; and reviewed in Artforum, Art21, the NY Times, Liberation, Folha de Sao Paolo, the Village Voice, and elsewhere.

Olson has served as Editor & Curator at Rhizome, the inaugural curator at Zero1, and Associate Director at SF Camerawork. She's contributed to many major journals & books and this year Cocom Press published Arte Postinternet, a Spanish translation of her texts on Postinternet Art, a movement she framed in 2006. In 2015 LINK Editions will publish a retrospective anthology of over a decade of her writings on contemporary art which have helped establish a vocabulary for the criticism of new media. Meanwhile, she has also curated programs at the Guggenheim, New Museum, SFMOMA, White Columns, Artists Space, and Bitforms Gallery. She has served on Advisory Boards for Ars Electronica, Transmediale, ISEA, the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences, Creative Capital, the Getty Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Kennedy Center, and the Tribeca Film Festival.

Olson studied Fine Art at Goldsmiths, History of Consciousness at UC Santa Cruz, and Rhetoric & Film Studies at UC Berkeley. She has recently been a visiting artist at Yale, SAIC, Oberlin, and VCU; a Visiting Critic at Brown; and Visiting Faculty at Bard College's Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts and Ox-Bow. She previously taught at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts' new media graduate program (ITP) and was Assistant Professor of New Media at SUNY-Purchase's School of Film & Media Studies. She was recently an Artist-in-Residence at Eyebeam & is currently Visiting Critic at RISD.

Image Search

To say that the internet is teeming with data or overflowing with information would be both an understatement and an almost unquantifiable fact, given the ever-shifting shape of the net. But even if the web's state of being is hard to pin down, artist Richard Wright is intrigued by the concrete ways it has contributed to the evolution of communication. In his upcoming exhibition, "How to Talk to Images," at London's HTTP Gallery, the artist presents new work resulting from his residency with HTTP founders that continues his exploration into the pictorial history of language. An established film and video artist, as well as a pedigreed new media practitioner and theorist, Wright's show makes a statement about the way that we use images to speak and our new habits of "searching" for, rather than truly seeing visual images. He's created a database of 50,000 random internet images in order to create two works that play with the communicative structure and users' expectations with regard to online searches. The Internet Speaks forces users to skip through the files one at a time, letting the material's statements come to the viewer, rather than allowing them to impose meaning. Meanwhile, The Mimeticon uses the same database but requires viewers to find images not by searching for keywords but by browsing by visual similarities. The latter is positioned as a Baroque search engine, invoking a time of decadent formal experimentation and mechanical development. The show runs July 4th-August 3rd and coincides with the release of a monograph on the artist's work as well as a poster featuring an essay by Wright, illustrated with typefaces marking the evolution of the western alphabet. While his thesis on searching versus seeing implies a new short-term memory on the ...


What's in a System?

The word "systems" is often used to describe the work of Jeanne van Heeswijki, and now the Netherlands-based artist has released a book by that title. In the ongoing interest of exploring the relationship between human and non-human systems, van Heeswijk's projects are worth a closer look. Often working site-specifically, on the basis of residencies, her modus operandi is to enter a community and invite its inhabitants to speak for themselves. This tactic has played-out in a number of ways ranging from inviting other artists to occupy her studio to inviting local schoolchildren to comment publicly on their harsh living environment. She describes this work as making "cultural models for public spaces," begging the question of what defines both these models and these spaces. A few of her projects have been "controversial," if only because these cultural models seems to call for sites of contestation, debate, and reconciliation. It's clear that the notion of an easy route does not compute in Heeswijk's approach to her practice, and -- usually working in collaboration with others -- she often eschews personal credit for the scenarios she concocts in order to place the emphasis on the intended beneficiaries of these designed encounters. But this lack of glory-seeking shouldn't be confused with a laissez-faire attitude. In truth, she belongs to a new generation of artists working to retool the relationship between art, activism, and public participation. It is the vocabulary of social codes and game-playing that regulates the artist's work and brings it into conversation with other network culture-based performances. Like many activist tomes, Heeswijk's new book functions much like a cookbook offering recipes for the assembly of such models. It is also partly a monograph on her previous work, which one can imagine does not lend itself to traditional ...


Less Lossy, More Glossy

What is one to do with all the world's magnetic tape, now doomed for dustbins and landfills as digital files push out the slinky black tendrils that preceded them in the family tree of recording media? Audio cassettes, VHS tapes, and those ancient vinyl records that came before them were the medium of choice for entire epochs of cultural production and, as such, have stored not only many of the world's most important creative moments, but also a large percentage of German artist Gregor Hildebrandt's personal nostalgia-fodder. Interestingly, it is preservationists and conservators who persist in using these materials to store works, and Hildebrandt's own practice certainly crosses similar territory by serving as a sort of memory repository. The artist uses old tapes to create portraits, sculptures, and other installations. His "magnetic tape on photocopy" pieces (such as Als würde ein Engel kommen (Cure), 2007) force a juxtaposition between two forms known for rendering low-fidelity or "lossy" copies, while creating a rupture, like a trickle of black blood, down the otherwise seamless faces of perished movie starlets and forgotten supermodels. For Schallplattensäule (2007), he built a tall stack of compression-molded vinyl records, a totem whose invisible icons are indistinguishable from the matter on which their aural likeness are encoded. Many of his works consist of cassette tapes, uncoiled and stretched out across canvas, with letters or shapes often cut out into negative space images seemingly volunteering for battle in a duel against "ancient" photography for the prize of best black and white image format. In Kassettenschallplatte (2003) Hildebrandt made the bold move of melting a cassette into the form of a vinyl record, and the result is a gloppy, rust-colored monument to the failure of media to cross-breed. Check out more of his work ...


Weaving Shades of Binary Grey

A number of artists have started using textiles and needlework to explore the relationship between computer culture and craft. Here on Rhizome, we've recently covered Ben Fino-Radin, Sabrina Gschwandtner, Cat Mazza, and Cody Trepte, among others employing "traditional media" in the service of a technological critique. Not to be left out of this group is Christy Matson, a Chicago-based artist who takes this investigation to even more self-reflexive heights. Matson's work may not look high tech, but it responds directly to media culture and is often made using a Jacquard Loom, a mechanical device that is important in the proto-history of computing. Many of the artist's projects involve building feedback loops between the sonic experiences of making and viewing her work. Recordings of the weaving process are algorithmically translated into binary yes/no, on/off, or true/false patterns and translated into images in the form of thread color choice, needle behavior, and other factors. The artist includes copper wires in these weavings to act as amplifiers or antennae for further sonic transmissions. See, for example, Movements, in which the viewer's hand is meant to rove as a sort of playhead on what is posited as a 4-channel audio installation. The same questions are raised in her work, Digital Synesthesia, which looks at similarities in the abilities (one might even say tendencies) of both the human brain and the computer to conflate sound and image. To her credit as a dedicated artist, these are issues Matson works to flesh out again and again, even exploiting the repetition of the line-by-line weaving process as an ironic take on the re-spinning of these narratives. When she explored synaesthesia in Soundw(e)ave (a piece whose title conveys her obvious love of word play), she wrote that "This transmutability ...


Putting the I in Imaginary

Reading Hayley Silverman's statements about her own work, it's evident that she recently attended a smartypants art school. Of her Free TV (2008) installation, in which a small mirror is angled into position on the floor and spray-painted with the eponymous phrase, she says "The mirror exemplifies the fallibility of showing the fixed image as a means of conveying self, and questions the immediate material construction of objects that frame what we perceive." Such Lacanian readings, and a consistent concern with critiquing the tropes of modernism, are peppered throughout the young artist's work which offers physical stand-ins for theories about the Symbolic and the Real. Seemingly left out of the infamous Lacanian triad, she invokes the concept of the Imaginary, but perhaps this is a triangulating force bequeathed by Silverman to her viewers. Her sculpture, The Everything is a Stonehenge-like assemblage using traditional stage prop materials (foam, wood frames, faux finishes) to offer a sort of pile-up of tombstones engraved with the names of digital file formats, operating systems, and programming languages. Theatrical appearances aside, Silverman says she intended to create something devoid of performativity, but rather--like its ancient representational forebears-- a structure that generates a monumentality seemingly predetermined by the eventual extinction of the systems it celebrates and the people who celebrate them. There is, in fact, a kind of sharply ironic morbidity in her work, which gives it a sort of human charm. In 11:11 (2008), Silverman (also a member of the net art group, Loshadka) seems to admit something that many contemporary internet artists working with readymade materials cannot. Pulling a found image (in this case, a tree whose trunk bears a knot resembling a human eye) from a phenomenologist's archive of found images, she says that the image "either amounts to ...


Discussions (281) Opportunities (10) Events (4) Jobs (0)

Rhizome Today: A critic, with opinions about postinternet art

Great post, Michael! What an exciting (if facebook-thread-dramatic!) couple weeks for Postinternet discussion. I appreciate your breakdown of these three (obviously not mutually exclusive) approaches. To my mind, the results of approach #1 have only had fickle results. i.e. Ed, I actually talked about Postinternet Art before I read the "internet aware" comment from Guthrie--I believe first on a Rhizome panel Michael was on at EAI--but then again, Guth & I used to gchat every day then, as we were just about to start Nasty Nets when I brought it up. But moreover, as I recently posted in an FB thread, I truly believe there was a zeitgeist around recognizing these ideas (and using whatever word or phrase to do so; not just postinternet) in 2005-2006, as expressed in writings and talks by Lev Manovich, Steve Dietz, Sarah Cook, Josephine Berry Slater, Jon Ippolito, myself & Guthrie, etc.. (Christiane Paul touched on this in her responses to Karen Archey's Ullens questionnaire.) I don't think it's productive to construct/dismantle/bash origin myths, if only because it's led to a rash of ad hominem attacks on a number of artists & writers lately, completely sacrificing the point of critical writing.

My own effort in talking about Postinternet, at least in those early instances, as on the panel, was to (a) expand Rhizome's mission--I was then Editor & Curator--to cover and support a wider variety of practices; and (b) just to describe my own work and how a project like my Monitor Tracings (totally "offline" drawings) could be contextualized as internet art, or art 'after' the internet (i.e. In the style of & made after I log-off.) I think Michael puts it *perfectly* when he says, "we should understand all our gestures, 'online' and 'offline,' as actions in a network that is mediated and administered by computers." Perhaps this is obvious, but I'd say this applies to all of waking life, not just art production+reception.

I've personally moved from discussing Postinternet Art as "art after the internet" toward discussing Postinternet as "the symptoms of network culture." I am less interested in discussing PI Art specifically/exclusively, now that people have brow-beaten and/or branded the term into something far different than what I originally meant, and much more interested in discussing the social affects around the production of postinternet conditions and their manifestations. And, meanwhile, I have said (particularly in the Ullens catalogue & also in an interview in the Art and the Internet book put out by Black Dog) that, to me, Postinternet is just a 'placeholder' term around which to convene in having conversations around the latter symptoms. (I've started working on spelling these out more explicitly in recent & forthcoming writing-- including the keynote lecture I just gave at Pratt's UPLOAD conference, entitled "Postinternet is Dead. Long Live Postinternet.")

Likes/Dislikes around the word, aside, I hope this very long-running conversation around art and the internet can continue to incorporate careful consideration of the affects of network culture, as networks themselves evolve.


Breaking the Ice

Hi, everyone! Wow, I've got to say, it's nice to see some familiar names here! Michael, Congratulations on your new job. As someone who held that same title (and various permutations of it) for several years, I know you are in for a heavy load and I also know that you are also more than up to the task.

Like most of the folks above, I too am a "forever member," from the days of the Rhizome Communications ascii RAW listserv and, later, fancy Dreamweaver/Flash "Splash Pages," to the present. Reena Jana and I were the first two paid writers (poached from Wired!), when Alex Galloway was running "content," which at that time meant programming and editorial--though Rhizome was declaratively non-editorial, so they just commissioned book & exhibition reviews, and some interviews from us that were fed into the RAW stream and included in the Digest as Features. Oy vey, I can still remember the cross-eyed weekly ritual of trying to untangle parallel conversations to reassemble them into a coherent thread for the Digest, when I was editing it--and the race to get it out by noon one day each week!!

I've seen Rhizome go through so many changes, and I've been a part of the back channel conversations on years of them, including huge ones that we decided not to go through with. I have to say that it's always hard to serve a membership-based organization, which is what Rhizome has always thought of itself as. But I can say that every change in content or form has been discussed critically, at length, and typically not without a degree of passion.

I am also biting my tongue because I *really* do not want to put words in any staff member's mouth (past or present), but I can say that I believe everyone who's ever worked there has taken their position as a labor of love, with users/reader/members/community (everyone has their favorite self-identification; semantics trolls please don't hate today!) in mind, and everyone has collaborated with the staff to bring a unique take on how best to serve you in the current creative and technological climate. For instance, I remember that my big objective coming in the door was wanting to change the mission statement to reflect not only net art and not only highly technological art, but also art that "reflects" on technology in a meaningful way. In fact, I think contemplating this change was very much a part of my conceptualizing Postinternet.

There is so much to say here, but I think I'd best sign off. This is not my soap box, and in some way, it feels weird to comment so much. I used to be a Superusing Megaposter, but as soon as I became Editor & Curator, I stepped back to focus on trying to facilitate and amplify other voices, which I do believe every Rhizome Editor has done in their own way.

I'll end with this, then. I'd be surprised if every reader, writer, or editor loved everything that ever appeared (structurally or content-wise) in their newspaper of choice. I'd be surprised if every curator or museumgoer loved every artwork shown (or every exhibition design decision) in their favorite museum. But it's the day we stop reading, stop going to look at art that disappoints me. It's the day Rhizome stops experimenting that scares me. And I wish them well on this new experiment.


Conference Report: NET.ART (SECOND EPOCH)

Hi, Josephine.

Thank you for these points of clarification. I actually tried to convey (and forgive me if I failed) that your presentation was unique in identifying multiple generations of networked artists, and I particularly liked the way you talked about artists working before the internet in ways that anticipated network culture.

You also made that great point (via Hal Foster) about the ways in which critics' work is influenced by what is/ was happening at the moment they entered the art world. I admire how you helped pioneer new media criticism and yet have continued to stay on the pulse of new work. This is what I had in mind when recalling your point about your relationship to a previous generation of net-dot-artists, versus the artists of the era Inclusiva was calling the "second epoch." I just really liked the way you fleshed out more than two epochs and I wanted to highlight your catalyzing role in the net-dot-art scene, in particular.

In my own presentation, my intent absolutely was not to dismiss any previous artists, movements, practices, etc. It was simply to flesh-out one niche of new media art practice. In fact, I really liked the pointed questions that the audience asked afterwards, because it helped us have a really meaningful discussion about the problematic relationship of pro surfer work to art historical discourse, and my calls to action revolved around getting those artists to participate in learning about their own pre-histories and writing historiographies that situate their own trajectories on their own terms.

So I don't think we're in disagreement. But I appreciate your call to fine-tune my articulation of these scenarios.


Go Ahead, Touch Her

Why are vocal remixes different than video? This is a very interesting distinction. Can you please say more about this and why one is ok and one isn't, beyond the rubric of industry standards? I think that remix and parody have the potential to be very useful and viable political tools. The best-known examples of such efforts would be the work of the Yes Men, but examples of parasitic media within the field abound. In your comments (i.e. "Here it seems the remix does imply ridicule") it seems as if you think that remixing automatically equals mockery but I don't agree and don't see that implied in the project. Laric's video simply shows us (or arguably amplifies) what's already there and gives both fans and critics a chance to say what they will. This is the pact that all artists make with their audience when they release their work into the world--that people will interpret it as they will, whether that means reading it a certain way, hearing it a certain way, or incorporating it into their lives in a certain way. This is how the popular preconscious works. I don't think it's fair to call this project a senseless derision of Carey, but I do still think that your vehement apprehension towards remixes says something interesting about the ways that certain corners of the cultural community (particularly academia) perceive the effects of these acts. I just think they need fleshing-out. There is a big difference between real violence towards women and perceived theoretical misdeeds towards a celebrity's highly-guarded public image. If this is the true issue, I think our energies are best directed toward prevention of the former rather than scandalizing the latter.


Go Ahead, Touch Her

Hi, Brittany.

I'm sorry that you found my article objectionable. I didn't intend to make the implications you suggest, but I believe your response cuts to the most interesting aspect of Laric's piece, which is the effect of remixing.

For those who care to review the lyrics to this song, they are here:

They include the refrain:

Touch my body
Put me on the floor
Wrestle me around
Play with me some more
Touch my body
Throw me on the bed

So, in fact, I do think that Carey's lyrics (and video) invite sexual fantasy, but my article doesn't say that she is asking to be violated, it says that she's asking to be remixed. Of course, the slippage between the two that you identify is what's so interesting.

In an interview with Laric, he told me that he noticed that the video takes-on an increased sexual tone when all but Carey is masked out. He was interested in how this first-person invitation to "touch my body" could be construed as an invitation to remix the visage of her body (and/or the voice emitted from it), particularly given (a) the implicit link to digital culture embodied by both the lyrics and video, and (b) the fact that the remix is now such an important part of the media ecology of pop culture.

In the last 25+ years of pop music, lining-up celebrity remixes and making singles remix-ready has been an important part of the production cycle, often preceding the release of the original recording. Almost all historical accounts of Madonna's rise to fame cite her relationship with DJs and openness to remixing as a key factor in her success. So while you may see the remix as a violent act, clearly those participating in this industry see it as an imperative.

Discussions of why a remix is or isn't violent are interesting, as they get to questions of the status of the digital reproduction. Are we remixing a person or "just" her image, and what's the difference when thinking about how a person's identity--particularly a famous person's identity--hinges upon their image? Carey's image was already manipulated before it came to us. In the interview with Laric, he pointed to a segment in the original video in which the shape of a cup becomes distorted as a result of distorting the footage to make the singer standing behind the cup appear slimmer. So this is already not her. If you listen closely, I believe there is also a question as to whether all of the voiced parts of the song are her, so the audio issue adds another layer to the phenomenological question of the brute force of the remix.

These issues of the import of the remix, the relationship to broader pop culture (rather than an insular art world), collective authorship, and the nature of Carey's invitation are what I hoped to address in this article.