Center Field | Alison Ruttan’s “The Four Year War at Gombe”

May 25, 2010 · Print This Article

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Our bi-weekly column, Center Field | Art in the Middle with Bad at Sports on Art21’s blog has its latest post with Claudin’e interview with Chicago based artist Alison Ruttan .  Check the teaser below and go read the entire article over on Art21’s site.

via art21

I’ve been reading with great interest some of the posts and friendly debates that have taken place recently on this site concerning the relationship between art and science. As I read, I thought about the many artists I know who enthusiastically draw upon research conducted in the “non-art” fields of science and the humanities. Indeed, a lot of artists today are assuming the role of researcher, not with the idea of superceding scientific modes of inquiry, but in order to supplement or embellish upon them in ways that only art can.

One artist who is particularly adept at bringing multiple fields of inquiry together is Alison Ruttan, a Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist and Adjunct Associate Professor  at the School of the Art Institute. Ruttan’s body of work revolves around the very basic — and yet infinitely complex — question of what makes us human. For the past several years, she has made a number of multi-disciplinary artworks that compare human and animal behavior. The types of questions Ruttan poses through her art are similar to those that are asked by an evolutionary biologist, for example, but Ruttan’s questions are open-ended and  intended, as she puts it, as “a conversation between the maker and the viewer.” As an artist, Ruttan seeks “a better understanding of the way biology guides our own actions.” At the same time, she asks us to consider the degree to which human beings are themselves held captive by the idea of the “primal impulse,” whether that impulse is for food, sex, or violent conflict.

Ruttan’s most recent project is titled The Four Year War at Gombe. In it, she uses human actors to restage the civil war that took place within a troop of chimpanzees living in the Gombe Stream Chimpanzee Reserve in western Tanzania.  This group of chimpanzees lived peacefully together for many years before violently separating into two distinct communities. Relying on Jane Goodall’s extensive research and documentation of this particular group of chimps, Ruttan asked her participants to loosely act out scenes that were depicted or otherwise described in Goodall’s book, Through a Window: My Thirty Years with the Chimpanzees of Gombe. Goodall’s observations led not only to the discovery that chimpanzees wage war on one another, but that they are also capable of long range-planning and strategic thinking. In turn, Ruttan’s investigations lead her to surmise that for chimpanzees, like us, “the bloodiest feuds and civil wars are always waged against those whom we have the closest ties to.”

I asked Alison Ruttan to tell us a bit more about her Four Year War project, and the role that research plays in her art-making practice.

Claudine Ise: The tribe of chimpanzees that inspired your project The Four Year War at Gombe was extensively documented by Jane Goodall. Can you tell us about Goodall’s work with this particular tribe? What happened to the chimpanzees over the course of Goodall’s research?

Alison Ruttan: Goodall began researching this particular chimpanzee troop in 1960. Her first ten years at Gombe in Tanzania were spent gaining the group’s trust and understanding the individual relationships within the group. During that time, Goodall wrote about familiar relationships — sex, affection and cooperation, social hierarchies and death in the community. Initially she had seen the chimps as almost pure, maybe nicer than human beings. By 1971, this perception began to change when the troop split into two communities and she and her staff witnessed chimps conducting outright warfare. The original group strategically hunted down and killed all the former members of their group. Goodall sadly recognized that like us, chimps also had a dark side.

Read the entire article here.




Tuesday’s Video Pick | Kota Ezawa

May 25, 2010 · Print This Article

I first saw artist Artist Kota Ezawa’s work at SFMOMA three years ago. The light boxes he was exhibiting, which portrayed scenes from pop culture, were also accompanied by an animated version of the Pamela Anderson Tommy Lee sex tape. This week’s Video Pick is  Ezawa’s latest animation where he asks, “What if The Beatles were The Dead Kennedys?”

(via nerdcore)




Oscar Award Winning Full Length Film “Logorama” Online

May 24, 2010 · Print This Article

As soon as Logorama won the 2010 Academy Award for Best Short Film, Animated multiple attempts were made to publicize it online in it’s entirety. Each one was quickly brought down with DMCA requests in short order. Now it seems either enough time has passed and no one cares or composer Marc Altshuler has clearance where others didnt but for the time being Logorama is availiable online in it’s full 16 minute length on his Vimeo account, so enjoy.

If you haven’t heard of Logorama it is basically the film Quentin Tarantino & Roland Emmerich would co-direct in the nightmares of a Trademark Attorney. A crude, violent, self aware, disaster  film that relishes using any and every Corporate Brand possible to make farce. Enjoy while it lasts.

In Mini News: The 2010 Turner Prize short list has been announced almost all of the artists nominated who are suposed to be “promoting public discussion of new developments in contemporary British art” are oddly just a few years shy of the 49 year old age cutoff? Weird choices this year it seems. Time to start the Culture World’s Office Pools.




Annals of Curation: ‘Curated Computing’

May 24, 2010 · Print This Article

I’ve been following the ‘curation’ meme for awhile now, and find its latest iteration particularly fascinating. Whereas in the recent past, the term ‘curated’ has tended to crop up in marketing and shopping-related contexts (i.e. “to curate” = “to pick and choose,” “to select,” or at its most base, “to shop around so others don’t have to”), last week I noticed that the term is now being slung around by those on both sides of the iPad/Apple wars. In an article titled Curated Computing: What’s Next for Devices in a Post-iPad World, on ars technica, analyst Sarah Rotman Epps puts a new spin on what’s already become a tired (and annoyingly mis-applied) buzz-word, arguing,

There is something very significant about the iPad beyond how many units it will sell: it’s changing how we think about the PC. The iPad creates a use case for a device that doesn’t do everything your laptop does, targeted at a consumer that uses devices more for consumption than production. The iPad ushers in a new era of personal computing that we call “Curated Computing”—a mode of computing where choice is constrained to deliver less complex, more relevant experiences. Let me repeat that, because it’s the essence of the Curated Computing experience: less choice; more relevance.

Oof! The connotations of the word ‘curation’ just get worse and worse, don’t they? “Less choice; more relevance?” Here, the verb curation isn’t merely equated with shopping; it signifies exclusivity and an active process of kicking the riff-raff out of the so-called “walled garden” of Eden that Apple has created and actively cultivates (or polices, depending on your point of view). You can watch a YouTube video of Epps describing her “curated computing” concept in (slightly) further detail here; I think it’s pretty dumb myself, but you can judge for yourself whether the idea of ‘curating’ in this context provides a useful conceptual metaphor or just trendy b.s..

In The Death of the Open Web, NYT Magazine columnist Virginia Heffernan used the term ‘curation’ to drive a related train of thought. In yesterday’s Magazine, Heffernan describes the Web as “a teeming commercial city…where Malware and spam have turned living conditions in many quarters unsafe and unsanitary” and “bullies and hucksters roam the streets.” Before, she argues, there was no way that Web denizens could escape the rabble. The rise of the iPhone, the iPad and the ubiquitous app, however, are now allowing users to migrate into the online equivalent of a gated community in the ‘burbs. Heffernan goes so far as to liken it to “white flight.” She writes,

In spite of a growing consensus about the dangers of Web vertigo and the importance of curation, there were surprisingly few “walled gardens” online — like the one Facebook purports to (but does not really) represent.

But a kind of virtual redlining is now under way. The Webtropolis is being stratified. Even if, like most people, you still surf the Web on a desktop or laptop, you will have noticed pay walls, invitation-only clubs, subscription programs, privacy settings and other ways of creating tiers of access. All these things make spaces feel “safe” — not only from viruses, instability, unwanted light and sound, unrequested porn, sponsored links and pop-up ads, but also from crude design, wayward and unregistered commenters and the eccentric ­voices and images that make the Web constantly surprising, challenging and enlightening.

Heffernan’s analogies are powerful and persuasive, although I do think she’s romanticizing some of the cruddier aspects of internet citizenry a bit.  In any case, Hefferman’s use of  the term ‘curation’ in this context aligns curators with those snooty, front lawn-obsessed Homeowners Associations and NIMBY-types, if not with community policing.

And finally Eliot van Burskirk, in an article written for Wired last week, took a jab at Epps’ opportunistic deployment of what he describe as “a well-worn meme” while acknowledging that Epps is undoubtedly “on to something” in her use of the term curated. Van Burskirk, tongue loosely planted in cheek, goes Epps one better and dubs this “The Age of Curation.”

Curation is the positive flip side of Apple’s locked-down approach, decried as a major, negative development in computing by many observers, present company included. Who would have thought that in 2010, so many people would pay good money for a computer that only runs approved software?

It runs counter to the idea, prized by geeks, that computing equals freedom. If it were Microsoft doing this, we’d all be storming the Gates with torches and pitchforks.

Nonetheless, the Age of Curation (see? anyone can coin a catchphrase) began long before today’s conversation about curated computing. In this Age of Digital Excess (oops, there I go again), we’re surrounded by too much music, too much software, too many websites, too many feeds, too many people, too many of their opinions and so on.

Curation is already fundamental to the way in which we view the world these days, and the iPad is hardly the first technology to recognize this.

I don’t have a dog in the walled garden vs. the riff-raff, suburb vs. gritty city, the iPad vs. Freedom of All that Is Good and True argument. I’m more interested in the ways that the terms curator and curation, which once had such dusty connotations, are undergoing a semiotic rejuvenation of sorts. Its meanings are not confined to a single realm of experience anymore – the curator has finally broken free of the White Cube. Alas, the white cube seems only to lead out into a Walled Garden, but I guess you have to take what you can get.




Episode 247: ILSSA

May 23, 2010 · Print This Article

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This week: The third in the lecture series that was in conjunction with the Bad at Sports organized exhibition “Don’t Piss on Me and Tell Me it’s Raining”. Tom and Amanda talk to Bridget Elmer and Emily Larned of Impractical Labor in Service of the Speculative Arts.

Founded by two letterpress printers, Impractical Labor in Service of the Speculative Arts (ILSSA). ILSSA is a membership organization for those who make conceptual or experimental work with obsolete technology. Consisting of a Union and a Research Institute, ILSSA seeks to build community and create resources, promoting the creative re-use of discarded innovations and the values embedded within them. Since its inception in 2008, ILSSA has grown to over 100 members, including a social sculpture weaver, a clip art librarian, a blogger who posts in needlepoint, a designer/builder of vacuum tube electronics, and an heirloom farmer.

On this evening with the use of an overhead projector and a portable anachronistic sound system, the ILSSA co-operators will provide an overview of the organization, its activities and members, and the philosophy behind their collective interests.