Tyler Coburn is an artist and writer based in New York.
Johannesburg-based artist Marcus Neustetter explores the potential for communication and exchange across a variety of mediums, including digital photography, video and installation, giving particular consideration to how the limits or irregularities of a given medium can constitute new conceptual, aesthetic, and even social territory. This investigation finds its most formal treatment in Disruption (2007), a series of photographs taken with a damaged camera, and Afterimages (2005), in which Neustetter used sensitized paper and an ammonia fume development process to generate analog "scans" of light and space. On the social end of the spectrum is UrbaNET: Hillbrow/Dakar/Hillbrow (2006-7), an ambitious project conceived by Neustetter and frequent collaborator Stephen Hobbs endeavoring to produce a "comparative analysis" of Hillbrow, a depressed neighborhood of Johannesburg with a large population of Senegalese immigrants, and Senegal capital Dakar. In 2006, while preparing for a two-week residency in Dakar and their participation in the Dak'Art Biennale 'Off' Program, the artists asked Hillbrow-based Senegalese immigrants to draw memory maps of their home city, which they would use to navigate the capital during their stay. Over the course of the residency, the artists documented their journey in photographs and video and even visited friends and relatives of the mapmakers. For the 2007 exhibition of their project at University of Johannesburg, Neustetter and Hobbs conducted a twenty-person walk from the campus, in Auckland Park, to a Congolese nightclub in Hillbrow, where the project was discussed by art-goers, neighborhood residents and the mapmakers. Neustetter and Hobbs' project thus does not profess to establish any authoritative study of the respective cities it maps, but rather overlays remembrance, map-making, navigation and the documentary image to tell the specific tales of a group of immigrants and a broader story about home, migration and place. - Tyler Coburn
Image Credit: Ali Jaiteh, Memory ...
After a standout contribution to Postmasters' summer 2007 group show - which caused even tough cookie critic Roberta Smith to advise New York Times readers to "take notice" - Kenneth Tin-Kin Hung returns to the gallery this month with an accomplished solo turn, "Residential Erection," running through May 10th. Spanning the space's two rooms are the artist's recent video contributions to his brand of twenty-first century baroque, Residential Erection (2008) and Gas Zappers (2007), as well as digital prints and monumental pop-up displays, all deriving imagery from Residential Erection. While the pop-ups offer interesting translations of Hung's collage-heavy video practice into the sculptural realm, they ultimately feel secondary to the videos themselves, which interpolate political hubris and prop-like flatness with a greater level of sophistication, evoking theater sets, commercial advertisements, image search refuse and one-on-one combat video games. All of these references (and countless others) make a turn on Hung's digital stage, collectively giving a performance as critical of contemporary American politics as it is symptomatic of the artist as capitalist-schizophrenic par excellence. In one of the choicer scenes from Residential Erection, for example, an infantile Barack Obama suckles from the teat of mega-advocate Oprah Winfrey (in Virgin Mary attire), only to transform into a variation on Ali G's Borat, emblazoned with the logos of Verizon, UBS and a handful of his other corporate campaign sponsors. At another moment, a cadre of conservatives roll out the "Straight Talk Express," led by Republican cheerleader John McCain - replete with tutu - and proceed to erect a chain-link fence, hoard burritos and manufacture "Minutemen Salsa." Hung's garishly Pop take is thus no disguise for our nation's unsavory realities, but rather uses the aesthetics of mass-culture to dispel the sleek, rhetorical surface of American politics and tease out its dirty ...
Coinciding with the 2008 German-Baltic Year of Culture, this weekend's "Migrating Reality" conference and exhibition, at GdK Berlin, brings together over thirty artists and theorists to discuss emerging issues in social and technological migration. Particular emphasis will be given to the Baltic nation of Lithuania, which has in the past fifteen years seen more than ten percent of its population emigrate, including a significant portion of its cultural sector. Rather than treat this as a negative trend, however, conference participants endeavor to show the possibilities for cultural and creative exchange, both in physical and virtual space, that such mobility may engender; among them, "temporary autonomous zones where socio-political actions occur without the interference of formal control mechanisms." Participating theorists and artists will offer a handful of studies, methods and objects typifying this newfound hybridity, from Kristoffer Gansing's reading of "Incidental Media Art" in 1960s Sweden as a foundation for future relations between machines and humans; Migrating Reality (2005-8), by Gediminas Kepalas, a two-channel video juxtaposing the 2003 demolition of Berlin's Palace of the Republic and the current reconstruction of The Royal Palace of Lithuania, in Vilnius; and Coolturistes' video Monica, or Thank You Very Much For Showing Interest In Me (2006), in which art critic and Emirates Airlines attendant Monika goes through a flight safety routine in half-time, to the anthem of the European Union. For these practitioners, Europe's emergent transnationalism enables new hubs of virtual-analog activity, where rereadings of the continent's past are integral to the project of twenty-first century community-building. - Tyler Coburn
Image: Coolturistes, Monica, or Thank You Very Much For Showing Interest In Me (video still), 2006
Since the 2006 cancellation of Manifesta 6, a biennial conceived as a temporary school in Cyprus, education has been at the forefront of the art world's attention. At a time when costly enrollment at a top-tier art school seems like the accepted route to a gainful career as a creative practitioner, artists and curators alike have begun assessing the standards of art education and mining critical alternatives, a process that culminated in unitednationsplaza's exhibition-as-school in Mexico City, this past month, as well as in the New Museum's yearlong "Night School," an "artist commission in the form of a temporary school" by Anton Vidokle, UNP member and co-organizer of Manifesta 6. Professing relatively less anti-institutional rhetoric and a bit more grassroots irreverence is The Philadelphia Institute for Advanced Study, an ongoing project by a handful of Philly artists and thinkers, including Brandon Joyce and Ramsey Arnaoot, offering seminars and symposia to members of their local community. Classes range from the pragmatic, including German and Spanish instruction, to the more specialized, in which interested pupils can help use Pure Date (pD) programming language towards constructing an audio-video sampling synthesizer, or contribute to Zusammenstoppeln, a group novel written using the Surrealist technique, "exquisite corpse." What complicates the Institute's seemingly benign agenda is its website, which adopts the mock tone and design of an elitist organization, calls artist residencies "Eric James Johnson Memorial Fellowships," and assigns equally buttoned-up appellations to its academic departments. While whimsy is evidently at the heart of it, the Institute's website makes an insightful point about the expectation for educational branding, in this day and age, and the performance of a certain elitism often accepted as necessary to lend credence to an organization, regardless of what it professes to teach. - Tyler Coburn
The third in a series of roundtable discussions at the New School co-organized by the Vera List Center for Art and Politics and Index for the Disappeared, "Agency + Surveillance" assesses the rhetoric of watching in a post-9/11 environment, partly by examining how a handful of engineers, artists, and activists have responded, in their own work, to the increasing state of national security. By inverting the top-down power structure conventionally associated with the act of surveillance, these practitioners are engaging in "sousveillance": a method of "watching the watchers," whereby visual and other data, habitually obscured from public knowledge, finally becomes apparent. Panelist Jenny Marketou's series Flying Spy Potatoes (2003-2004), for example, consists of digital recordings made in New York City public spaces declared to be high-risk targets for terrorist attacks, including Grand Central Station and the World Financial Center. The artist mounted a wireless camera and radio receiver on a helium balloon -- an innocent enough prop to make her infiltration a success. Urban pedestrians are provided with an interface for mapping and avoiding closed-circuit television cameras (CCTV) in iSee, a web-based application from the Institute for Applied Autonomy and member/panelist Tad Hirsch. Since its inception in 2001, the application has evolved to provide maps of several cities, a handheld counterpart, and other functions, such as the ability to correlate crime statistics with surveillance camera locations. These projects draw few, if any, boundaries between aesthetic, conceptual and pragmatic agendas, as if to suggest that a phenomenon like surveillance, which affects every aspect of our everyday lives, requires comparably broad-reaching counter-methods. "Agency + Surveillance" takes place on Monday, March 31st at 6:30 pm in Arnhold Hall. - Tyler Coburn
Image: Jenny Marketou, Flying Spy Potatoes