Will Brand
will.brand@gmail.com
Works in Fayetteville, North Carolina United States of America

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DISCUSSION

Tool Time: Cory Arcangel at The Whitney


For me the review wasn't about if the show was good or bad, it was about what it meant both for the new media art community and within the broader context of art, technology, and culture."

And this is where we disagree. I just... I mean, sites like Rhizome are where a lot of people get their first (or only) real interaction with new media art. For a lot of people who don't have an Eyebeam fellowship or aren't doctoral candidates in internetting or, you know, are just regular people basically, this is the extent of their exposure to this community. When Rhizome publishes a descriptive or lyrical or otherwise uncritical piece as its review, the impression is sent out that the new media art world largely likes this show. And that's simply not true. The overwhelming majority of people I've talked to think this show was terrible, and while that obviously doesn't mean you need to agree, I really do think it's a sentiment that needs respecting, one way or another.  
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It's probably clear by now that I think criticism needs to exert more force. That's a little bit self-interested: I'm better at expressing myself in arguments than I am when I'm just telling a story, so provoking a situation where I get to argue allows me to work things out. That said, I really think it's untenable to continue this doctrine of de gustibus aut bene, aut nihil where good shows get reviews that are free PR and mediocre shows get reviews that are free history lessons. We, as a class of writers, deserve more. Age aside, I've spent as much time in school as any artist. I've spent as much time honing my craft, spent as much time reading, spent as much time discussing and looking and making and put just as much of myself on the line as any artist. The idea that in so doing I've somehow accepted my own marginalization and voicelessness in the field I've worked so hard to be a part of - fuck that. I respect your ability to write, your ability to perceive, and your knowledge of art and art theory. None of those are in doubt. I just think that sending this sort of piece out under the banner of a review or giving it the name "criticism" sets us all back in a way I can't conscience.

I don't really have a problem with you; I have a problem with this as a piece of criticism, when it's clearly (you agree) uncritical. I just don't think that's right. In any case, what I'm looking for here is not blood, but allies.

DISCUSSION

Tool Time: Cory Arcangel at The Whitney


I didn't tell Jacob anything, other than what it seemed like to me. I never said anything was true other than my impression. In any case, if you're so uninterested in talking about art (the eyes deceive), he's free to respond himself. 

Actually, as for that - as for not being "interested in a protracted debate about the merits of 'Pro Tools.'" - uh, why not? Aren't you an art writer? Aren't you an art writer who writes mostly about New Media art, who works for a New Media organization? Isn't this, as Jacob said, "a huge moment for the world of art and technology"? I'm not going to tell you you have to be interested, just that, you know, if you were ever going to be interested in debating, this seems like the time. Elephant in the room and so on. All that de gustibus non disputandum est stuff is for politicians and in-laws; folks like you and me who get paid for having and expressing opinions operate on sorta different rules, and if we really believed in "matters of taste", we'd be in a different business. Anyway, if you can't defend the show, I agree that there's no point in making you try.

As for the strawman thing, there was a guide a few years ago to arguing with Tom Moody that described the strawman accusation as cheap to produce and costly to disassemble; I think that's spot-on. If you're not going to provide any evidence I created a strawman, I'm not going to provide any evidence that I did not (other than the mass of text above wherein there are no strawmen). 

Oh, and you're still so incredibly wrong about the size of bowling lanes that I doubt you've ever bowled.

DISCUSSION

Tool Time: Cory Arcangel at The Whitney


Also, just to head this off yet again, more direct reference to the bowling alley would not necessitate a more simplistic work of art; exactly the opposite. 60" lanes are a type of specialist spatial vocabulary that, like specialist vocabulary in writing, would allow for greater depth of expression. Their use would enable - indeed, compel - Arcangel to express more, to build ideas upon a stable foundation of accepted, intuitive knowledge rather than building a structure himself of oblique references and unfamiliar components. If your reasoning is correct, Arcangel could have done much more - could have collapsed some spaces, and then some - with more direct allusions. The less time we spend crafting tools and vocabulary, the more time we can spend creating something really interesting.

DISCUSSION

Tool Time: Cory Arcangel at The Whitney


Artists-as-Communicators:

-Firstly, you're assuming "my criteria" for good communication involves some sort of simplicity of message: "buy a car!" or "drugs are bad!", the messages of advertising and propaganda, are mostly differentiated from art and political discussion by simplicity, no? I don't see anywhere in my argument where this might be legitimately read. Clarity of expression in no way requires simplicity of expression, and that separation underlies most of our judgments of quality in writing, theater, etc. It's not impressive for me to say, for instance, "There is a dog." If there is a dog, I've spoken truly and clearly, but there's no art in it (if you'll pardon the term) because any number of speakers might have spoken similiarly. Rather, it's impressive when I take a complex thought and express it simply - there's a tranformation there that we intuitively value in our system of judgments for every form of expression, including art. I really don't see where you got that other idea from.

-Secondly, the whole idea behind this line of arguing is classist, because it assumes I'm going to run from the bourgeoisie as I would from a roach. Advertisers are okay people, and advertising is an okay field. 

-Lastly, I don't think you get to use "propagandists and advertisers" in a pejorative tone, when a comment ago you were trying to prove me wrong with Warhol. Only one of those can work.

Beat the Champ: 
I'll treat this a little more in depth, because you made me feel bad. Your argument, as I understand it, was that the scale was important as a tool used to collapse museum, game room, and bowling alley. As I understand it, that's nonsense, for the following reasons:

-The precise scale is off: you say "The scale of the Beat the Champ installation enlarges videos games to the size of bowling lanes", but it simply doesn't. Tenpin bowling lanes are 60-60.25" wide, and Cory's screens are perhaps double that. If Cory really wanted to invoke the bowling alley, he would have made the screens 60" wide, and if he had done so those measurements alone would indeed immediately bring to mind a bowling alley (I think this could be accomplished Fred Sandbeck style, actually, since they're very precise and familiar measurements). Further, my game room as a kid was not a hundred feet square. The scale of the room at the Whitney makes it impossible for me to conceive of it as a game room.

-The lighting is off: the dim lighting only implies the game room after more strongly implying the nightclub, theater, etc.; game room is way down the list. I didn't even have a dimly-lit game room, actually, I played in the living room; I don't think I'm alone in this. If Cory was aiming for that feel, this is an exceptionally indirect way of getting there. He could have put some stacks of video games in the corner and maybe replaced the bench with a couch, and gotten a lot closer. Also, dim lighting is the exact opposite of the bowling alley, and makes it difficult for me to imagine the space as a bowling alley.
-Shoes: I don't wear street shoes in a bowling alley (where they're replaced) or in a game room (where I'm barefoot). That's pretty much universal: every bowling alley in the country makes you wear bowling shoes, and every game room I've been in has had some sort of informal shoes-off policy. If I had been told to take off my shoes, I would have felt more like I was in a bowling alley or game room, and I would become aware of the museum atmosphere which, without needing an explicit rule, encourages me to keep my shoes on. If what you're saying about Cory's intentions were true, I think there would have been something about shoes in the piece; it's simply too obvious an aspect of bowling alleys and basements for him to leave out, and would have been very effective. 

-Participation: In both bowling and video game bowling, I am in control of the ball. I am not, one notices, watching others endlessly while standing still. It is impossible for me to conceive of being in a game room or being in a bowling alley when I am not in physical or virtual control of a bowling ball. This was fixed a room away, with the golf game; if Cory had wanted to, he could easily have fixed it in Beat the Champ.

-Failure: Hey, remember this? Remember how it's obviously a central part of the work? Where does this fit into your explanation?
You say artists do things for a reason, but you ignore the implications of that: if Cory Arcangel wanted to imply the bowling alley, the room could be well-lit and the lanes could be 60" wide. If he wanted to imply the game room, he could have given everybody controllers, as in the golf game a room away. Granted, these aren't the only ways to express these situations, but I think they're some of the most effective, and it requires some convoluted reasoning to decide Cory was aiming for that expression which he made most difficult for himself. In short: my explanation of the work as bigness for bigness's sake makes it banal; your explanation of the work as collapsing the bowling alley, game room, and museum makes it terribly executed. And, further, even if he had collapsed those spaces, I still don't think that would have been interesting.

Supercut:
You've still not demonstrated: how Duchamp has anything to do with Seinfeld; how Duchamp has more to do with Seinfeld than predecessors in theater and literature; how Cory Arcangel expresses either of these. I understand your reading would do a good job of fitting into the general reading of the show as a whole (Art Leading the People), but I don't think it's plausible and I've said so. 

Good art:
I don't have a problem with your criteria. I think they're good ones. That said, the idea that anything that provokes a reaction is good art is one of the oldest, most meaningless, and most banal arguments in contemporary art. It has never once forwarded a dialogue, never once contributed to the production of new knowledge, and never once won an argument. I'm not even going to deal with that.

Lastly, I understand that things worth saying are not always easy to say; this is why their expression is worthwhile. I understand, too, that there are things that can only truly be said in objects, in actions, or in installations, things that can only be expressed in writing as pale simulacra; that understanding is necessary to valuing art at all. Difficult things, though, difficult slippery frustrating unwritable things, can still be expressed badly. "Pro Tools" has proven that.

DISCUSSION

Tool Time: Cory Arcangel at The Whitney


Yeaaaaaah. You got me. Rereading that, it's nonsense and I was trying too hard to have a "but": demonstration of two views as a signifier of balance and fairness of judgment, etc. etc.. They did look good, though.