Over the past year Brad Troemel and Jonathan Vingiano have been steadily collaborating together to create platforms of digital exchange and dialog through their development of various browser-exclusive projects. These co-authored works have garnered a fair amount of praise and success lately, due in part by a 2011 Rhizome Commission awarded in early July. When initially approaching works like Blind Mist, a work which at first appears to be just a constant steady stream of randomly generated images, one cannot help but be curious how Troemel and Vingiano view the ease of digital distribution as a conceptual launching point for their shared interests. As one gets an opportunity to interact with this stream, however, audiences find that they can effect the content of these cascading images by submitting URLs into a database which then acts as a resource for an image scraping algorithm (a piece of code that goes to each inputted website and pulls images from that site to store in an accompanying database). This code later randomly pulls images from this stack and show those pictures within the visible queue. This reference list can also be seen on the site, as both a reference guide to what has already been submitted, but also to show where the content of the stream is being gathered. The images that are output to the feed are then linked back to their original location, and as a result provide browsers an opportunity to explore content that they usually might not be exposed to.
This project acts as a kind of critique of the ways in which social media publishing, and micro-blogging initiatives like tumblr, have created environments of very limited, and “heavily pruned” as Vingiano puts it, representations of online content. As a result, these network tools engender a somewhat dishonest perspective of the web due to the way they often get used as taste-making engine. This skepticism is a an acknowledgment of what Eli Pariser calls the filter bubbles: ways in which algorithms shape web content delivery based upon browsing history, cookies from other sites, our IP address, and various other information gathered by social networking sites. What Troemel and Vingiano propose is that image sharing on the web shouldn’t be so well curated or predetermined. Instead, systems of sharing and browsing should foster a more horizontal curiosity acting against the emerging hierarchical corporate web.
Blind Mist then operates as a step in providing a digital commons for artists, creatives, and everyday users to surf a stream that hasn’t already been predigested for some specific means to an end. The randomization of the site then combats the normally predetermined selection process that occurs online as a result of an algorithm based on “likes” and “notes” or a person aiming to depict a curated version of their online persona. Either way, Blind Mist – and similarly Echo Parade (which is currently on pause for maintenance) – abstract and partially remove the ways in which images can be distributed online and reallocates that decision-making to a computer script acting as a “fluxus injection” (paraphrasing Troemel from our conversation).
Early on in my initiation of this interview, the duo thought that this conversation could serve as a good launching date for their newest project, Surfcave. This chrome-extension project serves as a point of departure from previous works in that instead of a “truncated participation [that occur in previous work], there is now a real time participation.” Surfcave’s feed is more rapid than its predecessor, as the content is generated by the images pulled from participating users cache. Every time an image is loaded onto a users personal computer, that image data is then transferred to Surfcave for display. As a result, one can imagine that this feed then creates a voyeuristic/exhibitionist relationship between those watching the stream, and those using the plug-in. The agency on the part of participants – which can be both willing and unknowing (as this work can be downloaded and put onto public/shared computers) – relies not on an input that randomly effects the output of a project (as in previous works), but instead on the deliberate activation of the plug-in to display all images that load within your daily browsing. Troemel and Vingiano hope is that this process will enable a kind of transparency within the user-community, as well as show more “honest” glimpses at browsing behaviors.
A danger that I suggest is that users could just as easily use this tool as they would use a blogging engine. However, the duo asserts that either way, be it super conscientious or completely oblivious, all methods still speak to the ways they wish to address browsing habits and then the subsequent exhibition of that traversal of the web: “On Facebook, or at least especially on there, the idea is that your constantly having engagement with the content, both for yourself and for the public. So the lines between you viewing something and your friends being aware that you know about it have been cut really short, and with Surfcave the idea is to make that line non-existent.”
I suggest at one point later on in our discussion that these collaborative works offer a specific response to the current observable shift in the ways we browse and that that political gesture seems to be of significance. Both artists agree that this reaction to the work is not without grounding, and that borrowing from political/anarchic practices of sousveillance are certainly applicable to the development of these works. Vingiano continues along this strand near the end of our conversation:
We’re at this juncture where the tools for creating stuff online… have become much more available to people like Brad and I… I learned how to create stuff like this on the Internet from the Internet, and was all self taught… I think creating these systems that explore things like privacy are inherently political when we live in a web that is dictated by Google and Facebook and all these people who are owning their users and owning their privacy.
As Troemel and Vingiano continue to probe this territory of the web with a somewhat prolific inquisitiveness, combined with a tinge of mischievousness, users and participants might be able to see new opportunities and channels to work around (or at the very least, just outside of) the territories of an otherwise corporate-dominated web. When our actions online are already hefted with the burden of an opted-into system of personal-piracy, Troemel and Vingiano create opportunities to redirect that compromise into platforms of creativity and candor.
I used to be a painter. I was never a really good painter, so the discontinuation of that part of practice some seven years ago was not a big loss. That being said, I am often reminded of how much I owe to my humble/clumsy painting beginnings. While still in my post-painting undergraduate studies, I would often frequent the Art Institute’s Abstract Expressionist rooms for comfort and solitude between classes or after an emotionally draining critique. I distinctly remember visiting a long, narrow room that existed upstairs in the pre-modern-wing building that housed only five or six paintings at a time. This room would often rotate works by Ad Reinhardt, Joan Mitchell, Mark Rothko, or Paul Kline. However, a permanent fixture in this space were always two massive, wall-sized paintings by Clyfford Still.
Both works – which are currently not on display – employed Still’s signature nocturnal black, but one was interspersed with scars and crevices of cream, red, and yellow; colors that now seem “out-of-the-tube” but were hand mixed by Still in the early 1950s. These two pieces were fantastic evidence of Still’s meticulous pallet knife work, and the dense murky black of 1951-1952 (almost none of Still’s work had titles) the heavy layering created a remarkable sombre darkness that would engulf a viewer, creating a void primed for personal exploration and meditation. I would sit on the bench that bisected the room longways feeling as if a white noise reverberated between these two pieces; a stoic frequency bounced between them that only a metaphysical shortwave radio could dial into. During ideal viewing sessions – times when the museum was near closing hours, or during particularly cold winter weekdays that deterred visitors – the power of sitting between these facing works would create the perfect mental vacuum to delve into deep contemplation. In those moments, I felt as if the subtlety of texture and composition that existed in these works acted as mirrors for the complexity and nuance of my own burgeoning artistic voice. That sense of belonging amidst those two works would bring me back countless times, and made me a life-long appreciator of Still’s oeuvre.
So, perhaps needless to say, it is with some bias that I came to the press preview of the Clyfford Still Museum in downtown Denver. The dense concrete cube, designed by Brad Cloepfil of Allied Works Architecture, is located just behind the iconic Hamilton Wing of the Denver Art Museum almost serving as an architectural antithesis to Daniel Liebeskind’s hyperactive bravado. The subdued practicality of the museum does a great service to the new home for 94% of Still’s life work, allowing for the fabled 300 days-a-year Front Range sun to filter through the perforated ceiling with the help of motorized shades and diffusing glass. During the press conference, Cloepfil discussed how he imagined the materials of the building being “compacted” into the earth to ground the museum in an act of homage to the organic palette found within the 2400+ pieces of the collection. The density of the concrete delicately avoids being cumbersome due to the airy quality of the nine galleries found on the second floor. Almost all elements of the building – from the low ceiling lobby, to the publicly available storage facilities – faithfully serve the ambition and sincerity of Still’s six decade career that started in the prairies of Alberta and ended at his isolated farm in central Maryland.
The galleries are delicately filled with key selections from the estate for the inaugural exhibition, and many works on view have had extremely limited public appearances until now. Although the initial galleries that you approach are a bit cluttered with early semi-figurative work from Southern Canada and Washington State, the care taken by adjunct curator David Anfam and museum director Dean Sobel with Still’s more iconic work truly accentuates their undeniable arresting prescience. I was fortunate enough to be led on a guided tour by Anfam of the various facilities that are housed in the museum complex, including a preservation center, a research library, and an interactive timeline. While on the tour, Anfam frequently emphasized how Still, unlike his contemporaries, always prioritized personal cerebral exploration over exhibition and public notoriety. Anfam also took many opportunities to dispel the misreading of Still’s work as masculine grandiosity, and instead argued that the colossal paintings that comprise a majority of his later output came instead from a sincere inward-looking sensitivity to the ways in which post-war America politics and culture were in a state of radical change.
In this way, the inaugural exhibition is incredibly successful – to rewrite the dominant narrative of American AbEx is no easy task, and the lasting impression of the museum that has followed me since my visit is that Still’s conscientiousness is evident in an unexpected and rare display. This is not to say that the museum leadership should reward themselves with single handedly changing the contemporary perspective of High Modernism, but the reward of the nearly seven year process it took between the gifting of the collection from Patricia Still to the completion of the museum is unfathomable. The immediate benefit of the museum’s opening is to finally allow for a more wide recognition for an artist – when compared to other giants in the American AbEx pantheon – whose work contains transcendent empathy for the world around him. This quality shines through in Still’s opus, providing a much needed counter to the otherwise stale or remote machismo that typically dominates Abstract Expressionism.
The current showing at the museum provides a very faithful testament to a man incredibly in touch with his cultural surroundings; a figure of his era often overlooked but always lingering. Still was not only a contemporary of those more lauded, but was considered amongst that community to be one of the the most generous of teachers and mentors to those around him. Pollock is famously quoted for saying his work made “the rest of us look academic.” However, Still’s tremendous control over how his work could be shown prevented him from becoming a household name. In 1951 he severed ties from Betty Parsons Gallery and for the rest of his career was notorious known for respectfully declining invitations to participate in exhibitions. One famous account documented in the catalog of the museum is a short reply to Peggy Guggenheim to thank her for his representation at The Art of This Century Gallery and her efforts in championing American AbEx painters, but deciding to cease his relationship with the gallery.
This prolonged self-excommunication that spanned Still imposed upon his career is undeniably reflected in the commitment he put into his paintings. As a result the serene – at times overwhelming – spaces that are created within the paintings on display are so enveloping that the very act of removing one’s gaze from their aura is a reeling task. In short, the work chosen by the museum for its first outing is undoubtably mesmerizing and entrancing in their profound melancholia and enlightened earnestness. Where writers and critics of the past have judged these paintings as aloof, remote, and antagonistically abstract, I’d instead argue the opposite and claim that the empathy and humanity found within these paintings remains remarkably poignant, particularly in an artistic age so bereft with pastiche and indifference.
This week I am in New York City installing a show at 319 Scholes, a recently cited “go to” venue for all sorts of media-related arts including live audio/performance, digital interactive work, and netart. The show entitled Notes on a New Nature is a physical iteration of an ongoing research project that started several years ago with a lecture presented at The School of the Art Institute and has since had many manifestations in my own visual practice, as well as an ongoing image blogg and other literature/writing.
The above video is an introduction recited from the Front Range of Colorado concerning the central thoughts I’ve been developing with this research, as well as questions I continue to have regarding the depiction of landscape and nature amidst the proliferation of digital culture.
Participating artists in the show opening Thursday November 10th from 7-10pm include Duncan Alexander, Mark Beasley, Chris Collins, Petra Cortright, Theo Darst, Marjolijn Dijkman, Paul Flannery, Joe Hamilton, Jan Robert Leegte, Sara Ludy, Garrett Lynch, Michael Ray-Von, Sherwin Rivera Tibayan, Nicolas Sassoon, Rick Silva, Pascual Sisto, Kate Steciw, Wes W Wilson, and Krist Wood.
Also, join me for a virtual nature walk on 319 Scholes’ ustream, Friday November 11th @ 3PM EST around the gallery for a leaded discussion of the work and a Q+A.
It’s that time of year again and experimental media artists all around the globe are gearing up for GLI.TC/H 2011. The conference/symposium/exhibition/performance series is originally developed and organized by Nick Briz, Evan Meaney, Rosa Menkman, and Jon Satrom, all of whom joined me in a group chat last year for B@S. This year the activities and festivities have spread across the pond and will include unique tandem events in both Birmingham (UK) and Amsterdam. Below is a more detailed schedule of activities as well as some “bumpers” that act as trailers for what to expect this year.
Thinkers and artists; Makers and breakers converge to celebrate technological catastrophe. A glitch is a moment known to everyone, yet rarely celebrated. GLI.TC/H brings together those inspired, curious, and provoked by glitches and provides a platform to break things, share thoughts, and develop ideas.
GLI.TC/H 20111 will include works from over 100 participants from more than a dozen countries and will be taking place in virtual-space at http://gli.tc/h and in real-space:
THU: Nov 3 7pm – GLI.TC/H Gallery Opening @MBLABS
FRI: Nov 4 7pm – Real-time Performances/Executables/Events @ENEMY
SAT: Nov 5 11am – Lectures & Performances @theNIGHTINGALE
1pm – Workshops @theNIGHTINGALE
6pm – GLI.TC/H Screening Program @theNIGHTINGALE
8pm – Real-time Performances/Executalbes/Events @ENEMY
SUN: Nov 6 noon – Politics in/of Glitch [panel + open forum] @MBLABS
[Amsterdam, NL] NOV 11 – 12
[Birmingham, UK] NOV 19
by Clint Enns
by pixel noizz
BYOB is a series of one-night exhibitions in which artists explore the medium of projection using their own “beamers” (projectors). BYOB has taken place in more than 40 cities throughout the world. Originally conceived by artist Rafaël Rozendaal, BYOB Chicago brings together Chicago-based artists to create a collaborative happening of multiple, simultaneous video projections that fill the walls of the museum’s café, Puck’s at the MCA. BYOB Chicago is organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago in collaboration with Nicholas O’Brien and Brian Khek.
BYOB at the MCA also launches a new 3rd Tuesday series at the MCA called Internet Superheroes to feature art and technology work “who make the virtual world worth living.” All events, including tonight’s extravaganza, last from 6-7pm.