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.

Digital Art Under the Sun


For much of the world, and even for residents of America's other 49 states, California is more of a fantasy than a place. This fantasy stipulates in part that this West Coast territory is comprised mostly of balmy beaches swarming with beach bunnies, palm trees, and pina coladas. There are many flaws in this fantasy, but the idea that California is rich in resources is true. Among those to be celebrated are its artists and, in particular, the large number of brilliant new media practitioners employed by the University of California system. Talk about brain trusts! Curator Christiane Paul has tapped into this vast resource in organizing "Scalable Relations," a series of exhibitions featuring artists who are faculty members of the UC Digital Arts Research Network (DARnet). Ordinarily this kind of members-only context would have a sour ring to it, but the assignment to bring together such a large and diversely talented group of artists actually establishes the onus to make some deeper comment about what they do have in common: new media. There is a kind of challenge in the act of curating or criticizing new media art, which revolves around the question of the extent to which one should foreground technology. For some artists, the medium is, well, the message, while for others it's merely a tool to address the subject of technology. And of course, there's so much middle ground... This show include works that very diversely "illustrate the complexities and shifting contexts of today's information society." But the very fact that our society is an information society points to a scenario in which technology will sometimes be blatantly paramount, while at other times it will be transparent or embedded. Frankly, the very notion of what constitutes "high tech" is shifting so rapidly ...


Back To School


LA-based arts organization TELIC has been a key player in the West Coast new media scene for over half a decade, mounting significant exhibitions and public programs including both recognized mid-career artists and emerging risk-takers. Now they've taken their own risk of sorts, particularly in what is so turbulent a funding climate for nonprofit arts organizations, by going back to the drawing board to redefine the mandate of presenting media art. Their new "Public School" initiative draws on internet culture's ideals about non-hierarchical (or shall we say "rhizomatic"?) collaborative structures and open source input models to offer an offline transmission of ideas in the form of classes. There are no pop quizzes, report cards, or dress codes in this school, just student-defined curricula in which the public can get together to make art or talk about cultural issues. So far topics have ranged from 8-bit workshops to a Public Service Announcement-making social studies class enticingly titled, "Yo, Dick... Ad Feminem: When Ads Attack." In a true nod to the awesomely collaborative nature of the LA alternative art community, the Public School was recently invited by local allies Machine Project to hold classes at LACMA during their recent intervention-like funfest of public events. After putting out a call for classes to be taught inside a Richard Serra sculpture on the museum grounds, blog readers could vote on course proposals--as is the model for all of their offerings--that included a thoughtfully recursive workshop entitled, "For RICHARD SERRA: me, you and some other creative people in a small but open space learning from each other." You'd never know it from the title, but the class would involve Miranda July (the artist who co-created the arguably pedagogical participatory web project Learning to Love You More with Harrell Fletcher) teaching "a workshop ...


Reenacting Objects


In an essay hoisted upon every media studies student ever, Walter Benjamin argues that the mechanical reproduction of art works separates the viewer from the original object and therefore diminishes that object's "ritual value." Strangely enough, Stephanie Syjuco's work takes a different approach. She gives us all reproductions, all the time. From paper TV's to faux designer furniture, these readily-reproduced images and things comment on the importance of the originals in our daily lives and the cultural value we've built-up around the notion of originality. Her current solo exhibition at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, entitled "Stephanie Syjuco: Total Fabrications," is full of fake design objects pulled from circulation within the mainstream -- or culturally specific niches therein -- and recreated in a way that references their genesis as well as the contextual implications (or even clichés) of reproduction. In fact, Syjuco's work further delves into the processes of production itself, and it's ritualization. Her reconstructions comment on the origin of materials, their high and low statuses within culture, the technologies through which they operate, and their impacts on systems ranging from the environment to the visual vocabulary of the zeitgeist. This is highly manifest in her ongoing project, The Berlin Wall, in which she pulls what she calls "proxy chunks" of the famous wall out of spaces around the world. These are not souvenirs from the wall, but rather a different kind of facsimile, which Syjuco feels approximates the political and architectural situation of the wall and the promises offered in its deconstruction. The proxy chunks have embarked on their own roadshow, exhibiting in new cities under plaque-capped vitrines, so as to however-falsely invoke the aura of the wall and the hope its demolishedness represents. Her Towards a New Theory of Color Reading takes ...


Guys and Dolls


Image: Annika Larsson, Dolls, 2008 (Stills)

Swedish artist Annika Larsson has a way of keeping her subjects in check. The slow, close, eroticized way in which she hovers around the male characters in her videos susses out innuendo, narrative, and meaning from a space absent of dialogue. She'll often stage and shoot a very simple gesture or group activity and wring every drop of suggestion out of it as she can. Her use of the camera--and very frequently her positioning of her viewers before a large-scale, almost cinematic screen--instigates a reflection on the power relationships inherent in looking, showing, camera-wielding, and screen-gazing. The dom/sub shifts revolving around the photographic lens may by now be the stuff of art school mythologies, but Larsson always finds new ways to turn the tables on one's presuppositions about such things; adding to the conversation a discourse on form and perspectivalism--another old-fashioned notion worth reconsidering. Her new 47-minute video, Dolls, on view now at Paris' Cosmic Galerie, takes her signature style to an even more self-reflexive level by once again exploring men in their supposed territory and calling on the viewer to examine the layers of mediation at play in both the male actor's performance of his masculinity and their own deciphering of the scene. Taking place in a white cube-cum-sports court, the action revolves around men interpreting the futurist symbols painted on the walls and floor, which are meant to evoke not only a Fortunato Depero-inspired Peter Saville New Order cover (a pop art relic of paternal inheritance, the Freudians might say), but also the basic visual designs used to teach humanoid robots how to serve their masters. In this case, the five men in Dolls become servants to their master's whims, be it the serving of coffee ...


Putting Faith in the Internet


Depending upon the utopian or dystopian narratives to which you might subscribe, the internet is a bit like heaven or hell--with the pearly gates of cyberspace welcoming you to a world where you want for nothing or a fiery apocalyptic dungeon big enough to house all your nightmares. Either vision is intense and exactly the sort of stuff that religious iconography was once made of; yet the wide distribution of devotional messages broadcast on the web seems only to have cast a dim shadow upon the net art community. More recently, spiritualities new age and old school have been forceful fodder in contemporary art, while glossing over a true connection to the divine. Italian curator Domenico Quaranta suggests, "take Martin Kippenberger's crucified frog, for instance, or the cross submerged in the urine of Andres Serrano, or Maurizio Cattelan's Nona ora, or the Virgin Mary blackened with elephant dung by Chris Ofili, or Vanessa Beecroft's recent Madonnas. All of these works are undoubtedly imbued with their own form of 'sacredness,' yet they would hardly be hung in a church." Quaranta's exhibition, "For God's Sake," installed now at Nova Gorica, Solevenia's 9th annual Pixxelpoint festival, looks at the simultaneous increase in religion-themed work and the ever wider distribution of mass-mediated sermons and religious messages, through new technologies. The question is whether this amounts to an increase in religious devotion, or rather a diluted or muddied conflation of spiritual values in a time of mixed forms and mixed messages arriving in convergent media. As with ZKM's "Medium Religion" show, which we covered last week, Quaranta's show (and in particular his poignant curatorial statement), look at attitudinal shifts parallel to media developments. The long list of international media artists he's selected present us with mostly ...