Hyperjunk: Netart out of the Past

April 12, 2011 · Print This Article

Linda Bengalis, Primary Structures 1975

While in New York a couple of weeks ago I had the great pleasure of hanging out with artist Michael Manning and visiting the New Museum’s Linda Bengalis exhibition. While navigating the show, I turned a corner to be faced by the above work, looked back to Michael and quipped, “Looks like netart.” Although Michael and I had a brief laugh about this while walking out, we lingered on the topic for a while longer and reflected on how we both felt that certain visual tendencies within the netart community were honestly located in a larger art historical context. I think we both (sorry Michael if I’m speaking for you) felt a sense of weighing the immediacy of network exchange/activity against the distance of history within our work, and attempting to navigate a synthesis between these two considerations is a daunting task for art produced and distributed online.

Since then I’ve given my joke a bit more thought and was reminded of the sentiments Michael and I shared when I read Karen Archey’s recent review of the Read/Write show at 319 Scholes. Specifically I was brought back to that conversation when I read:

I’d argue the worst end of the show looks like a bunch of poorly aestheticized inside jokes originating on the web… Herein lies the failure of this newer generation of internet art, emblematized by Read/Write: curating exhibitions or creating work based on social networking privileges the agitating and personal while occluding the conceptual and political, especially to an audience outside that social network. Further, the insularity of that network has bred likeminded aesthetics rather than a shared politics—while the most successful works reach outside this trajectory.

I can’t speak for all of the work at Read/Write or even the original work presented by jstchillin curators Parker Ito and Caitlin Denny, but while being present at the venue during the installation, I had very few moments of feeling as though the work shown was generated from an isolated locations of net-humor or facebook comment threads. I completely understand that this privilege skews my perspective of the work, and I don’t think I can reasonably expect critics and cultural commentators to always have this type of access to a community. In fact, I agree with Karen about net-based work being hindered by it’s narrow vernacular and at-times obscure methodology (although I think this opaqueness is mythologized more by the rest of the art-world then the makers themselves). However, I’m not convinced that this perceived exclusivity is limited to Read/Write. This being said, I’m also not willing to claim the entire art world is at fault. But since my conversation with Michael (and, truth be told, with many others), I’ve been attempting to draw aesthetic and ideological similarities between work/ideas/jokes in Read/Write and other recent (or distant) art histories that exist offline.

I must admit that the following pairings should not be taken as factual evidence for net-based practices consciously working within a larger scope of art history. But I do think these comparisons could help identify some visual frequencies that continue to resonate within contemporary screen-based practices. By giving this contemporary work some benefit of the doubt, I hope to bring the visual elements that exists between communities and generations into a conversation about the potential political and conceptual underpinnings that these works also share. This is not to say that the ideological concerns of contemporary art are still mired in the politics of a previous movement, politik, or fad. However, exposing shared conversations and conventions might help elevate and promote the work made by a new generation under heavy scrutiny.

Sara Ludy and Edward Hopper

One visual similarity that has peeked my interest as of late is between Sara Ludy‘s Projection Monitor project and the paintings of Edward Hopper. Ludy uses Second Life to photograph empty foyers, vacant windows, awkward textures plastered on obtuse geometry, and poorly modeled house plants. When viewing all these spaces together, or in their sequence of presentation, one observes a delicate investigation into the interior spaces of the virtual world and how alienating they can be. Hopper likewise utilizes the streets of Brooklyn and remote scenes by the beach as locations for a similar kind of isolated introspection that Ludy investigates. In some sense the artificiality of architecture and space flows through the pictorial plane of each artists work. With Ludy, the artificiality is a a inevitable characteristic of the infrastructure of SL whereas Hopper’s portrayed contrivances are of a failed American urban planning. This being said, when the remoteness of Ludy’s depictions rely on a absence of fellow users Hopper instead uses shrouded models and characters that face away from the easel as his chosen instrument for illustrating distance.

Brenna Murphy

Steina Valsulka

Coincidently on the same New York trip, I went to PS1 and had the pleasure of sitting in the small yet intimate Modern Women: Single Channel exhibition of women artists working in video between the 60s and the 90s. Although less than a dozen women are represented on the 20 some-odd TVs, I had the immense joy of re-watching videos that I had seen many years ago with somewhat fresh eyes. Combined with the lingering conversation from the Bengalis show still at the front of my mind, I couldn’t help but immediately link the meditative and hypnotic similarities between a recent work by Brenna Murphy and Steina Valsuka’s Violin Power from 1978.

In this particular instance I find it hard not to draw a comparison between the ideological and structural components that the two makers have with one another. The technological experiments that Brenna and Steina explore are each very indicative of their time; they show attempts at grasping a current location in technological times through experimentation with “the new.” Even though Steina clearly has a technological (and virtuosic) advantage over Brenna, this limitation of gadgetry and lab facilities doesn’t dissuade the younger artist from experimenting with the available technology of her immediate surroundings (namely a webcam or consumer/prosumer camcorder and a simple non-linear editing program). In this way, Brenna’s piece exemplifies one of the most telling aspects of work made under the netart moniker: using available, often times consumer-based, technology to critique the defaults of visual culture that occur as a result of constant digital saturation. Through abstracting the self, both artist take on the role of engaging what they know to be biological – their bodies – and attempt to find an equilibrium of feedback between themselves and the appliances of their time.

Michelle Ceja and El Lissitzsky

Although Michelle Ceja and El Lissitzsky have very little in common when it comes to cultural and ideological creative production, the similarities between their aesthetic is unmistakable. Ceja’s work repeatedly draws from the visual vernacular of the early Russian avant-garde movements that later heavily influenced the Bauhus and De Stijil schools. Both Lissitzsky and Malevich provide ample visual cues for many net-artsits working with three-dimensional forms and installations. The angularity, stark color palette, and use of negative space that Supermatism artists employ reoccur in many instances of net-based visual works. Ceja just so happens to be the best example to illustrate this point, probably because her work is so visually refined. The relationship between these two histories is dubious, especially when considering the propagandist tendencies of Lissitzsky and his peers, but the correlation is too striking for me to avoid.

In preparation for this article, my research led me down a number of interesting tangents and speculations about the common visual tendencies cropping up outside of the domain of what is considered netart. I feel that some of the frustration, hesitation, and angst about work coming offline and into space comes from the constricting categorization that plagues netart as a term. The “post-undergrad” artists that Karen identifies might be struggling with the concept of migrating conversations between screen space and white cubes, but that doesn’t necessarily negate the conceptual frameworks that guide and support these contemporary practices. In a way, it’s hard to concretely say how one can “solve” this dilemma, or even if it’s something demanding explanation and deciphering. However, being able to make these historical connections might provide cultural commentators, art enthusiasts, and makers with some leverage and accessibility that can alleviate some of the current criticism.

Episode 3 of “Fielding Practice” Podcast Now Up on Art:21 Blog

April 12, 2011 · Print This Article


The latest episode of Fielding Practice, our monthly podcast for Art:21 blog, is now live! In this month’s leaner & meaner report from Chicago, Duncan MacKenzie, Dan Gunn and I talk copyright (inspired by Patrick Carious vs. Richard Prince and Gagosian Gallery, natch), discuss the impact of Chicago Imagists on younger generations of artists (re: the current Jim Nutt: Coming Into Character and Seeing Is A Kind of Thinking: a Jim Nutt Companion exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago), and spend a few moments plugging that which we have seen (or plan to see) in the Windy City this month. So click on over to Art:21 to access the podcast, and thanks so much for listening!

Episode 293: The New York Art Fairs 2011

April 11, 2011 · Print This Article

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This week: Amanda and Martin talk to artists and gallerists at differing 2011 NY art fairs. Breaking away from the megahub of the ARMORY, we visit exemplary booths at the Manhattan “satellite” shows, getting a feel for the variety within the ever growing gala.

With Volta’s one-artist-per-booth, we focus on Bradley Castellanos at MARX & ZAVATERRO with his ominous photomontages. Kimberly Johansson of Oakland’s Johansson Projects introduces us to Jennie OTTINGER and her lively novel-inspired pieces before a surprise by a mock art tour.

The SCOPE fair finds interviewing in a bodega cooler typical of the art installed by artist Andrew Ohanesian. At SPINELLO PROJECTS we meet with featured artist Barnaby Whitfield and Paul Bruno of DIRTY MAGAZINE. Bruce Livingstone and Peter Teodoric talk about the SAATCHI ONLINE project.

On the Hudson River’s panhandle barge, Tom Burtonwood of WHAT IT IS captures the boisterous atmosphere of the floating FOUNTAIN fair.


The party continues with Amanda speaking with Hudson of FEATURE INC. at INDEPENDENT fair’s second year after its’ upstart inauguration.

Martin Esteves can be found here… http://thelifeofstmartin.blogspot.com/

There you will also find his textual perceptions of the Armory.

Bad at Sports at MDW Fair, April 23-24, 2011 at The Geolofts

April 11, 2011 · Print This Article

Update: This just in — excerpts from the recordings taken during the MDW Fair will be broadcast on Episode 300 of the podcast!

Bad at Sports is setting up camp at the MDW Fair (pronounced Midway, like the airport) – come check us out over the weekend of April 23 and 24th! Richard, Duncan et al. will set up a casual recording booth area in the style of Storycorp‘s DIY reportage. Bring someone you want to interview – or someone who wants to interview you – and take 7 to 10 minutes to discuss your project your own way, in your own voice. The MDW Fair promises to be the Chicago art event of the season — check out all the details below:

The MDW Fair is a gathering of independent art initiatives, spaces, galleries and artist groups from the Chicago metropolitan area. Held April 23-24, 2011 at The Geolofts, 3636 S. Iron Street, Chicago and organized by Version 11 Festival, Threewalls, Roots and Culture and the Public Media Institute, the MDW Fair aims to highlight the “diversity, strength and vision of the people/places making it happen in the art ecology of our region” and is “a manifestation of the collective spirit behind the region’s most innovative visual cultural organizers, focusing on the breadth of work done here by artists and arts-facilitators alike.” The fair features for-profit, 501(c)3, and commercial and unincorporated galleries, independent curatorial projects and publishers and media groups in over 25,000 square feet of exhibition space that includes a 8,000 square foot sculpture garden with work by local artists.

X Marks Detroit

April 8, 2011 · Print This Article


We received an email from Carlie Dennis, the exhibitions assistant at MOCAD, containing a few corrections to the piece below concerning the number of visual artists represented in the Art X exhibition at MOCAD. The correct numbers have been noted in bold in the piece, and Dennis’ letter to Bad at Sports containing further clarifying details, etc.  follows the post in an effort to ensure the corrections are clear.  In addition, please note the following exhibition sponsorship information provided to us by MOCAD: The Art X Detroit: Kresge Arts Experience is sponsored by The Kresge Foundation, in partnership with the College for Creative Studies, Artserve Michigan, the University Cultural Center Association (UCCA) and the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD).

— Claudine Ise


It was in 1909 that Marienetti first recounts his fated car crash in the pages of Le Figero. He describes an evening where late-night mythologizing veers poetically into an early morning drive. Three “snorting machines” are caressed and brought to life, and he writes, “a great sweep of madness brought us sharply back to ourselves and drove us through the streets, steep and deep, like dried up torrents.” Torrents, indeed. Of course we know how this ends: one shiny, red roadster meets two cyclists, (“like two persuasive but contradictory arguments”), and crashes grill-first into a gutter filled with the muck of industrial runoff. Overcome by his encounter with the speed and power of mechanical ingenuity, Marienetti emerges from the factory sludge a Futurist—belligerently positioned towards a new era, first will and testament in hand.

Coincidentally, it was this same year that Henry Ford’s Model T made its debut at the Detroit Auto Show, and thusly set into motion the chain of events that would result in the creation of Motor City—a figment of Detroit’s identity that persists over a century later. Artists in Detroit are consumed by the context of the post-industrial, post-urban cityscape. Like Marienetti, they are influenced by the concrete motorways and roaring engines that have shaped the physical space, economy, and consciousness of the city for decades.

Henry Ford and his Model T

Art X Detroit, an exhibition featuring 19 17 of the 36 Kresge Fellowship recipients, opened April 6 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit. Wire Car Cruse, an event and subsequent video work, (titled “a dance for Diego,”) by Chido Johnson, deliberately mines the history and present of car culture in Detroit. The Woodward Dream Cruise, now in its 16th year, is an annual event, where more than 40,000 classic cars and roughly 1.5-million spectators assemble along the 16-mile stretch of Woodward Avenue to observe and tailgate, while restored antiques and custom muscle cars takeover the arterial. I will say, that from someone who is admittedly more of a public transportation enthusiast, this weekend-long spectacle does not disappoint. Beer, barbeque, and tricked-out mechanics?! Um, yes, please.

Johnson uses the performance of Dream Cruise as the foundation for his own event, which combines the ritual of the Detroit car cruise with the practice of creating wire cars, a pastime from Johnson’s childhood in Zambia and Zimbabwe. The performance articulates a hybrid cultural activity, which represents the artist’s own negations with subjectivity living between two cultures. Moreover, Johnson’s event cultivated a community of wire car enthusiasts, and in so doing, opened up this history of Detroiters and their cars to new audiences who may have been previously excluded from this specific cultural phenomenon.

The video documenting Wire Car Cruise is juxtaposed with a sculpture entitled, “me me me,” which is a self-portrait of the artist as a carved African statuette installed on a deconstructed cardboard box on the gallery floor. This work further accentuates the search for a sense of identity between cultural spaces—a literal unpacking of the artist as subject. What interests me most about the video, statuette, and their installation at floor level, is their child-scale. The overall impression of the work is a sense of playfulness that Johnson associates with the practice of making. The video work, “a dance for Diego,” takes as its title a sentiment from Diego Rivera who said that the city of Detroit is of makers and dreamers. Johnson’s work at its essence is about making, and reinvigorating this type of creative industry with a sense of joy and wonder.

Chido Johnson, still from the wire car cruise performance, 2011.

Abigail Anne Newbold’s work, “Home Maker,” addresses the urban frontier as an expanse to be explored via bicycle and wagon. In the tradition of the pioneer settlement, the Airstream mobile trailer, and the popup house, this project is comprised of an intricate toolkit with which even the least adept outdoorsman can create a makeshift home. The foundation of the piece is a custom-made bicycle and covered wagon functioning like a rickshaw trailing behind. The accompanying toolkit is exhibited in an arrangement both in the wagon and on a gallery wall, which operates like a hybrid one-bike garage meets REI store display. The literal use of the tools is ambiguous; however, the rugged, weather-ready materials in hazard yellow and orange renders the objects explicitly for outdoor survival.

Abigail Anne Newbold, "Home Maker," 2011 Newbold Tools. (Photo Credit: Dave Lewinski). Newbold tent and wagon courtesy of the artist.

Perhaps this work is a statement on the changing nature of settlement and domesticity given the shifting housing market, or maybe Newbold is supplying tools, (such as a three-fingered pot holder, a bouquet of tent stakes, and wilted bow and quiver of arrows), to the urban ethnographer. Regardless, “Home Maker” is a response to a city in transition, where the untamed urban prairie is an opportunity to develop and implement re-imagined infrastructures for living for the coming century.

Photographer Corine Vermeulen is the spiritual offspring of Dorthea Lange and Buckminster Fuller. Her series, “Your Town Tomorrow, Detroit 2001-2011,” explores the identity of place through portraiture of the everyday Detroiter. Vermeulen’s imagery, through documentary, ventures beyond the sensation-hungry media snapshot of blighted landscape and broken home. In fact, Detroit as an urban, city-subject is barely recognizable. Her subjects are framed by a landscape that has an immediate, visual association with the southern rural rather than the rustbelt. Families and haphazard communities are depicted in the liminal spaces of Detroit—in front of ailing fences, amidst the tall grasses of overgrown urban lots, and on rebuilt bicycles. It is from this ambiguity of place that Vermeulen achieves the futuristic sensibility referenced in the title of the series.

Corine Vermeulen. "Ika and Malik," 2010.


Corine Vermeulen. "Oscar," 2010.

The artists refers to her portrait series as “memories of the future.” Like the work of Newbold, Vermeulen portrays a city in transition—its citizens picking up the broken detritus left in the wake of post-industrialzation to re-cultivate land, rebuild homes, and re-imagine communities. Her portraits contain the “new topographies of urban life,” and function as an alter-narration of what urban space can be, and indeed, may be, in the uncertain future of Detroit.

Other artists featured in Art X Detroit at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit are Shiva Ahmadi, Hartmut Austen, Lynne Avadenka, Kristin Beaver, Susan Goethel Campbell, Ed Fraga, Tyree Guyton, Rod Klingelhofer, Gordon Newton, Russ Orlando, Senghor Reid, Michael E. Smith, Gilda Snowden, Cedric Tai, and Sioux Trujillo. The exhibition will be on view April 6-24, 2011.

Sarah Margolis-Pineo is a curator and writer. She is currently the Jeanne and Ralph Graham Collections Fellow at the Cranbrook Art Museum.

Corrections from Carlie Dennis, PR Coordinator/Exhibitions Assistant at MOCAD:

There are a few clarifications that I would like to highlight regarding the Art X Detroit exhibition that is currently on view at MOCAD.  First, there are a total of 18 Visual Arts Fellows, 19 if one includes Eminent Artist award recipient Charles McGee.  Neither Charles McGee, nor Tyree Guyton (one of the 18 Visual Arts Fellows) have work in the exhibition on view at MOCAD, as they each have public installations elsewhere in the Midtown neighborhood.  Additionally, it is misleading to say that the exhibition features 19 of the 36 Fellowship recipients, as the other Fellows are in the Literary and Performing arts fields, and are therefore not included in the exhibition but are included in the week’s series of public programs and events.  This statement makes it appear as if the exhibition was curated, when in fact it is an artist-driven showcase and includes all of the Visual Arts Fellows (please click here to read a lengthier description of the context of the exhibition: http://mocadetroit.org/).  Finally, while MOCAD is the venue for this showcase, it is important that proper credit is given to those who produced, organized and funded the exhibition: The Art X Detroit: Kresge Arts Experience is sponsored by The Kresge Foundation, in partnership with the College for Creative Studies, Artserve Michigan, the University Cultural Center Association (UCCA) and the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD).”