Artist Profile: Artie Vierkant

Artie Vierkant, Image Objects 2011

You are continuing to explore your Image Objects series for your Rhizome commission, which seems to deal with new elements of the age-old difficulties with representation and the power of images. In your statement, you say you introduce distortion in an attempt to intentionally "not accurately represent the physical sculpture" which seems to imply that a photograph, straight out of the camera, will 'accurately represent' the physical sculpture. Do you think that this is true, or possible?  What do you think that your distortions introduce to the images?

The thinking behind Image Objects has always been that by introducing distortions (and layers of other imagery) into the images I can make the viewing experience on the Internet or through other mediated sources fundamentally different from viewing the objects in an installation setting. It also allows me to make a lot more pieces than I could otherwise. These all start as digital files, so ultimately it's rather arbitrary at what point I decide that a file I'm working on is ready to be physically produced—any one of these could easily have undergone more changes, had more or less layers, &c. So by having a piece produced physically and then splitting it into all of these different variations I have the opportunity to sort of go back into it and reshape it into all of the other shapes it could have been.

All of this does stem a bit from, yes, feeling that for the most part installation photographs very accurately represent what a physical sculpture looks like. When I see documentation of works before I visit the exhibition, usually the act of visiting does little more than produce a sense of deja vu. Even if not, install photos are usually an idealized version of the pieces that make them look closer to how the artist intended them to look.

The problem with this is that, really, it's so much easier and for the most part makes so much more sense now to just Photoshop or 3D-sculpt how you want your work to look rather than ever printing it or painting it or assembling it. That was part of the impetus behind Image Objects as well. If I'm going to be making a physical object that will be seen 99% of the time through another image I felt there should be something unique about both types of experiences. Otherwise, why have the physical object at all?

Across these distorted series, a certain 'style' appears to have developed - the use of certain recognizable Photoshop tools (the clone stamp, the healing brush)  and a general documentation that maintains most of the architecture and signs of the space that the objects occupy. Do you find yourself drawn to use these tools and maintain certain gestures in regards to creating inaccurate representation?

I think the set of tools I use to alter these images is going to continuously evolve, but this early batch I'd agree are highly recognizable. I'm kind of in love with the healing brush and clone stamp as general-purpose retouching tools for removing little blemishes or entire objects entirely. So those tools, as well as a number of others I basically learned from YouTube tutorials on retouching photos, seemed like a natural place to start. Of course instead of just warping the Image Objects into different realistic / believable shapes for most of them I ended up going for forms that were physically impossible.

The series is kind of expanding though, beyond the altered images. I recently posted, which instead of taking install images and splitting them into a number of variations takes the same images and commingles them with images from the Internet that share a similar composition or color palette. These are based on similar image search engines, so all of the resemblances are algorithmic rather than subjective, which means often the similar objects are interior design, clothing and other product photographs, and sometimes other artworks (one of AIDS-3D's Global DerivativesPortfolio pieces is nestled in there somewhere).

At first glance, the Cairns series has the appearance of a monument, but the name, Cairns, seems to signal something more. I used to often see cairns when hiking and heard them referred to as 'ducks' (which Wikipedia seems to substantiate) and there was a saying - 'two rocks do not make a duck' which was a reminder not to be confused between an incidental stacking and an intentional one. This seems fitting for your piece as I often see stacks of DVDs and videogames in cases 30 or 40 cases high in apartments and homes by televisions and DVD players. How do you hope for the Cairns to function? Is there a path you hope to lead us to, or is it perhaps simply a marker for those lost in the transition to Netflix?

The title Cairns was actually a suggestion given to me by Chris Coy, which seemed to fit perfectly with my thoughts around the sculptures. I was going to school and teaching at UC San Diego, and at the time all of the Blockbusters in the area were closing up and all of these really use-worn empty DVD cases were ending up in dumpsters throughout the city. I thought it was an interesting moment and a very physical sign that, at long last, our society doesn't really care so much anymore about physical objects as it does the content of the objects.

In terms of how I hope Cairns to function, I'd say I hope the effect is not dissimilar to walking into someone's home and seeing one of the stacks of cases you describe. And since the majority of the cases were found without cover art or discs inside, the sculptures could easily contain (or be) anyone's DVD collection.

In your write-up for the 'Real Proper' show at Preteen gallery you use the language of video torrents ('proper,' 'Recode/Re-encode') to contextualize your own approach to versioning your works. This would seem to tell us that you see your practice in a similar way - as a "race" to tag your work as your own original release and to avoid 'dupes' unless there's a reason 'for it to exist again.' Is Fingerprints (2011) and the 'tagging' of your work with the color flares an expression of these parallel trends? Is releasing and spreading your work across multiple websites an adoption of Scene distribution practices?

I find the parallel market that exists around free information sharing to be really fascinating (and, obviously, of practical use). Especially the various strictures that have evolved around labeling, authenticating, and ultimately controlling different types of media. What's interesting is that control of copies exists on both sides of the divide (both in the entertainment industry's practices and amongst file sharers).

On the industry side, to keep a film or series from leaking to the internet before its official release date, they give each pre-release copy a unique digital watermark. This way, if the film turns up on bittorrent they just cross-reference which watermark the file has and suddenly they know to never again send any documents to that particular reviewer or institution.

On the file sharer's side, though, there is also a relatively strict group-enforced methodology for marking / indexing this content. For instance if I'm the first person to put up the latest Human Centipede movie, but I don't get the formatting quite right, someone in the scene might take my file, fix it, and re-label it “PROPER.” If they just take the file and re-upload the same exact thing for their own glory, it will get marked as a “DUPE” (a comprehensive list of scene rules can be found here). So, the people actively engaged in this particular iconoclasm (some might say iconoclash) are themselves caught up in a similar process of indexing and defining the source, properties, and authenticity of very fluid / malleable media. These kinds of things make me wonder whether we can ever fully realize our project of open media access for all, since it seems like the major battle of the 21st century has turned to the ways in which we can establish digital scarcity.

These issues were in large part the inspiration behind the Fingerprints series, which is as much a set of videos and prints as it is a working method I'm exploiting at a broader level in my work. On the one level, the pieces within the series are blank white images with nothing but superimposed digital watermarks. When I screen a Fingerprints video for a particular venue or exhibition I make a new video explicitly for that occasion. The digital fingerprints, aestheticized as color flares or overlaid text, may look at first glance just the same as another Fingerprints video, but always the pattern, color, and movement of the marks are unique and able to be differentiated from other videos in the series. On top of this aestheticized layer there will also be more effective watermarks, embedded using more industry-standard software.

The impetus here isn't to go along with the established practice and make my work piracy-proof, or increase its scarcity, but instead to reduce these specific images to be almost nothing but indexical information.

Since starting this series, the process has also leaked out into most of my other works as well. I recently relaunched my website, and each image is now tagged in some way with the same color flares and fingerprints from this series. When I send images to a blog (like for this occasion, for Rhizome), exhibition, or publication, the watermarks will be different and thus traceable in some way.

In this sense the process becomes not dissimilar to the process major content distributors go through to mark their content (entire third party companies exist for only this purpose). The difference is that my intention is to use this as a tactic / exploit to increase the amount and diversity of my circulated images, instead of the standard implementation which is meant to limit circulation.





New York

How long have you been working creatively with technology? How did you start?

This is a difficult question as the term technology is so broad as to incorporate the use of one's hands, or language; but as far as computing technologies, I think I started by doodling in MSPaint and writing little short stories on my parents' Compaq.

Describe your experience with the tools you use. How did you start using them?

I always use whatever suits the project, which can mean watching a lot of YouTube tutorials. In the last year I've used a hot wire styrofoam cutter, CNC router, chemical solvents, 3D printer, all of Creative Suite, RFID tags, the contents of a dumpster, UV printing, MDF, projectors, Blender, C-41 color photosensitive paper, neutral pH glue, spray adhesive, my website's .htaccess file for blocking access to multiple countries at once, Apple Automator, black paint, my Facebook profile, my laptop, my phone, bittorrent, steganographic techniques, digital fingerprinting software, HTML/CSS/PHP, video screen recording software, javascript, Google, and a pen.

Usually I start using them out of necessity, or out of excitement that someone's produced a working crack.

Did you study art in school?

Yes – photography and conceptual poetics / uncreative writing.  With some history & sociology of science thrown in.

What traditional media do you use, if any? Do you think your work with traditional media relates to your work with technology?

See above? It all relates; even in the main Photoshop side bar we have 'burn' and 'dodge' tools which are lifted directly from darkroom processes. I don't think technologically there is such a thing as a clean break, but instead a continual series of minor advancements and reformatting.

Are you involved in other creative or social activities (i.e. music, writing, activism, community organizing)?

I write occasionally, though the last essay I released—the Image Object Post-Internet—was a while ago. I have something like 6 albums of electronic music I've made but at a certain point I split off from that to focus on visual (and other) work. I take part in a reading group and have volunteered work in the past for UbuWeb. Shortly I'm going to be announcing my first curatorial project, which will have a bit of an edge to it.

What do you do for a living? Do you think your job relates to your art practice in a significant way?

For the last two years I was teaching, but now that I've moved to New York I'm looking for a teaching position on the east coast. So that would definitely tie directly to my art practice. Other than that, my work is my work.

Who are your key artistic influences?

All of my Facebook friends.

Do you talk, email, or chat with other artists frequently? With anyone in particular? Have you met in real life?

I've been fortunate enough to meet a lot of people in real life. That said most of the action happens over gchat. I don't really want to name names, because I think I already have a habit of doing that. The links section of my new site can expose all of that, and it's a safe bet anyone I've mentioned publicly in the last year is someone I check in with regularly.

Have you collaborated with anyone in the art community on a project? With whom, and on what?

I collaborated with Brad Troemel on ASSEMBLY, the project that caused The Jogging to be deleted from Tumblr (and almost caused jstchillin's hosting service to delete that entire exhibition series for good). Right now he and I are also teaming up with Ben Schumacher to create a new show of Brad's work in November at Showroom MAMA in Rotterdam.

Do you actively study art history?

I wouldn't say it in those words, but I would say I actively pursue material (sometimes historical) that relates to my interests. And a decent percentage of the time that relates in some way to art.

Do you read art criticism, philosophy, or critical theory? If so, which authors inspire you?

Yes. Most recently I've devoted a lot of time to reading Kenneth Goldsmith's new book of essays, Uncreative Writing, which in my opinion is “required reading,” especially for Rhizome's interests. It's easy to forget that in addition to all of the GIFs and Photoshop renderings going on in visual art right now there are some terrifically interesting and complex things happening in writing and poetry, which often relate directly to visual practices.

I also like this group Tiqqun & the Invisible Committee—what I've been able to find in English of it, anyway—that I heard about through a blog post by Alex Galloway. A lot of things on e-flux (including staples like Boris Groys). Come to think of it a significant percentage of what Sternberg Press publishes from Berlin. Critical Art Ensemble.  Anything I can find on AAAARG that looks worthwhile.

Are there any issues around the production of, or the display/exhibition of new media art that you’re concerned about?

I've always hated how in most exhibition spaces it's absolutely impossible to make a display surface (screen or projection) and the computer supporting it blend in with the white cube. Monitors in exhibitions are usually absolutely terrible as every element of their design, branding, &c. holds certain connotations to visitors. Projections are easier but never bright enough. Since the point of the white cube is essentially to fake an idea of a blank slate or open field, this is either problematic or renders the white cube laughable. For some art, you're best off checking it out on YouTube.