Astoria Scum River Bridge, 2010.
You define yourself as a "dude who is just trying to make things a little better." Each one of your works tries to improve the world, one funny step at a time. But they also include observations into the way in which society—and especially media and advertising—affect the way we see things. How do your works try to tamper with those viewpoints or comment on them? And can you talk a little about some key terms like subversiveness, pranks, humor, and dialogue in relation to this?
I'm interested in creating provocations that disrupt systems for good and/or fun. In particular, I'm hyper aware of the consumption narratives that shape our daily lives. Advertising literally works by telling you that you're not good enough, and all of media is shaped—directly or indirectly—around selling you stories framed by this intentionally soul-crushing lie so you'll consume more.
So a lot of what I do is prototype critical "solutions" for systems like these, exploring new answers outside of the usual channels. I've rarely seen real, important change come from inside a system; the system exists, first and foremost, to perpetuate itself. And many of the best solutions threaten the status quo of the system, so they're never realized because they will change how the system itself works.
I have the luxury of being outside those systems, so I can propose crazy, radical, preposterous, silly ideas. And not just propose them, but execute them and see what happens. Of course sometimes these interventions will be interpreted as threats, but that's how you move a conversation forward.
And, well, solutions are better when they're funny or clever or playful. Most people like jokes, in my experience.
You reflect ...
A number of your works deal quite complexly with preexisting texts, from the Talmud to Jorge Luis Borges. What are your textual sources and how do they shape your sense of narrative and the "backstory" in your art?
I started reading talmud legends at quite a young age. There's a long tradition of working with mythology, namely Greek and Roman mythology and the public's command of these stories is quite amazing. I'm not a scholar and my knowledge of these stories is not organized; I am interested in the fact that these legends are rooted in a dialectic tradition. Almost all of these stories written at a certain time in history and arise from a tradition of "What if?". Two scholars would sit and discuss a subject, and then take an extreme case study, the answer to which will take the form of a story. So the structure of the discussion is polemical but the answer is always a narrative, which is something so beautiful and rare. These stories are short, ten or fifteen lines long, and like all good mythology they include a lot of happening as well as a dark side and a certain level of "the impossible" in their relationship to reality. Like Zeus falling in love with Leda, coming down from the Olympus as a swan, making love to her and her then giving birth to an egg—and it all makes sense.
The world is comprised in the kind of fashion that it all makes sense. And it works that way in what I call Jewish mythology, too. I really love this structure of taking one coded text and deconstructing it as a way of studying it. Even though I worked with mythology in the past, I never thought I'd work ...
Your works show a very specific aesthetic sensibility that is in dialogue with 80s video games and computer-generated imagery that you achieve through animation. Could you please talk a little bit about your process, and especially what you look at and where your aesthetic influences come from?
I have two mentalities for producing work: passive and active.
The passive mentality usually comes about when I'm getting bored with the internet, late at night, and in need of something to entertain myself. I'll open up photoshop...
Conveyor Loop/Löpande Bandet, 2009.
Your work is incredibly research-based and covers a variety of themes spanning from the Swedish Public Dental Services in the 1930s to 1960s art in NYC. You refer to yourself as a private investigator of a kind: Where do you draw information from? What interests you in the way history echoes in the contemporary life and in the way we relate to history and time?
Information is everywhere, I try not to have any preconceived principles about what a good or viable source can be. But the search is never random or aimless, I'm always following some sort of a hunch. Obviously the internet—with its readiness, wide-ranging pathways and associative connection points—can provide not only fast news, but also very particular kinds of information (for example, access to people's unedited opinions, or documentation that would never end up in the newspaper or history books). But its aura of omniscience is very deceiving of course, and since the algorithm-governed search engines are increasingly streamlining the results to match our interests (or our predicted consumer needs), when looking for hard facts, or unpredictable information, it is necessary to broaden the scope. I often interview people for my research, which is one of my favorite things to do. I have also been digging around extensively in various historic archives. Even though I'm seemingly focusing on the past in some of my projects, the interest in specific histories and people has more to do with trying to sharpen the focus on the present. Only very specific histories become subject for my investigations, either if they are aiming their gaze toward the future, or if they can be directly traced from a current condition or behavior. At least at the moment, my interest has a ...
Red Hook is a new online journal that originates at the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College, NY. The new journal considers online readership on a number of levels, such as its self-reflexive discussions on what an online journal on curating could be, its consideration of other online platforms, and its relationship to the online image.
In his text for the journal, Ed Halter, visiting faculty at Bard's Electronic Arts Program (and Rhizome contributor) recalls the early days of Usenet, a collection of internet discussion boards, and focuses on alt.cult-movies, an active film discussion board. The essay looks into the character of Cosineve, an unknown writer who appeared on the discussion board, writing reviews under numerous online identities but in a consistent style. Cosineve's texts, about twenty in all, spanning between 1996 and 1999, are faux film reviews, the titles of which all used the word "fish," and—as Halter points out—may have referenced real movies.
Halter surveys a certain culture of online cult followings before it had permanent homes that "domesticated" these phenomena on dedicated (more or less so) websites:
I was not the only fan of Cosineve's work. Within days of Cosineve's first flurry of posts in October 1996, responses began to appear from other readers. Following up a review of Death Fish, one user asked "Does anyone else think this guy's actually way ahead of his time, and is spouting something that we, as mere mortals, just can't comprehend?" "He's definitely on the Cutting Edge (of something) and should be encouraged to continue," replied another. "He could be the next Tarantino, for all we know." A self-described "recent convert" suggested that "there should be a separate newsgroup for the fans of the fish to ...