September 29, 2011 · Print This Article
authors note: As I’m sitting down to write this a little over a week before my deadline for B@S, I’m sitting across from a younger student in a library amidst the Art and Art History Stacks. She is visibly frustrated at her reading, fidgeting often and being easily distracted by her frequently vibrating iPhone. Amidst deep sighs, eye rolls, and aggravated throat clearings, she lifts her book off the table just enough for me to read the spine: Postmodernism for Beginners. Perhaps all to obvious, I feel her pain.
Even though I’ve spoken, written, and thought about humor often in my own visual work, it is a research topic for me that I’ve felt particularly compelled to reconsider lately. This desire to continue to explore, or else rehash, previous considerations on this topic of critical inquiry have been spurred by a couple of recent inspirations and events that I hope will act as benchmarks for what will inevitably and unfortunately be too short of an essay (I’m writing in the future tense here, so you’ll have to bear with me). These events are as follows: a serious reading of an essay by Brad Troemel entitled Why No Serious? A Case for Idealism in and Era of Constant Irony, rewatching Sshtoorrty by Michael Snow while in the midst of reading Hegel, and recently finding things – in a very general sense – to not be very funny.
I’ll start with the last order of business. “Funny” is an illusive and nefarious trait of things. Saying that I’ve been struggling to find the funny in things – objects, scenarios, events, exchanges – is not to say that I haven’t been laughing. This might strike most as an emotional paradox, but I’ve unquestionably been given to guffaw and genuinely LOL on many a recent occasion. Lately, however, I have noticed that this laughter is not coming from a place of celebration, or from enjoyment of humor, but instead is driven by a recognition of the desperate state of authentic communication. In my mind, laughter, as a communicative gesture, has little to do with something being funny but more to do with a person’s display of empathy. A case study for this could be found in the comedic oeuvre of Louie CK. A recent episode (Eddie – season 2 , episode 9) of his FX show is almost a perfect example of this point in that although there are scenes throughout the show of more “typical funny” moments, the entire episode is dedicated to (SPOILER) an old friend taking Louie on a binger in order to tell him at the end of the evening that he is going to commit suicide. Louie, to his credit, attempts to convince his friend not to go through with his plans, but ultimately the episode ends with a knowledge that he was unsuccessful. Although I understand the potentially severe dark humor that Louie CK might be playing with at these margins, I’m fairly certain that the lack of funniness in this episode still invites laughter due to a shared desperation between this scenario – which I suspect to be a reenactment or semi-diaristic event – and the personal experience of the audience.
However, I wouldn’t classify the show as being tritely bittersweet, but instead would say that the humor of the show is attempting to move through or beyond the funny, and into an emotional territory rarely explored in traditional comedy: authentic empathy. Troemel’s essay attempts to address the lack of empathic exchanges through grounding the current sustained onslaught of irony through a critical lens of cultural history. His description of early Parisian Surrealist performances provide a backdrop for the contemporary mainstream joke paradigm and situates MTV – via Mark C. Miller and Robert McChensey – as the catalyst for the emptying out of irony as a critical device for Gen X’ers and the current Millennial generation. His argument that the commercial manipulation of youngsters perpetrated by MTV resulted in a development of radically harmful porous identities amongst those that proverbially “took the bait.” Even though I think there is an underlying subtextual irony presented by Troemel in writing such a treatise due to the frequent (and arguably unjust) allegation of trolling the netart community, his attempt to critically engage ironic tendencies within those that work in creative online environments does bear noteworthy merit:
Used as a coping mechanism for the anxiety caused by rapid cultural turn over, constant irony is the reclamation of hopelessness or lack of idealistic creativity spoken through the voice of detached coolness. Being constantly ironic is an effective deflection of one’s own porosity because it provides the illusion you were too cunning to have ever wanted anything more solidified.
It is precisely this hopeless and detached deflection that has contributed so much to the now dominant standard of humorless funny. As a result of constantly having to reconfigure ones own identity in relation to new standards and status-quo’s that necessitate a pastiche of subversion, artists and cultural workers of my generation suffer from a lack of self-criticality that is required to create an empathic response. Certainly this is partially due to the speed in which artists working online are expected to produce content, and that the minimal layover time between conception of an idea, its production, and eventual distribution, leave little opportunity for the emerging artists to devote to critical self-reflexivity.
Troemel’s concern with irony superseding idealism is stressed near the end of the essay when he claims that this porous process “does not [just] conceal idealism, but is a reactionary response to the compounding belief that political change of any kind is unfeasible.” Even though I agree that the political left is in serious danger of the hand-in-hand apathy that comes with the current status of irony, I would argue that the underlying problem with contemporary manifestations of irony is that its overuse has resulted in a lack public discourse concerning the formulating of new modes to convey sincerity and authenticity.
One domain that has offered a tremendous amount of personal reflexive space for myself has been a rekindled attraction to experimental/avant-garde cinema (I must give proper credit here to Phil Solomon for my re-found appreciation for cinema). While thoughts of humor had been milling around in my head for several weeks, I had the timely fortune of having a second viewing of renowned artists/filmmaker Michael Snow’s Sshtoorrty. This approximately 30 minute examination of a three minuet staged scene cut in half and superimposed on itself reveals hidden temporal and spatial considerations of an otherwise cliched melodramatic Farsi mise-en-scène. The repetition of the scene forces audiences to closely examine color, shape, composition, and movement that normally remains obfuscated through a seamless professionalism, or else completely removed from the conversation of traditional narrative cinema. What at first seems completely ironic and ill-purposed develops into a complex musing of form and cinematic space. Over time, the absurdity of this surfaced staging made to emulate authentic drama becomes apparent and a humor emerges precisely due to a kind of transparent reflexivity between Snow and his medium – a self-awareness that translates into an audiences ability to empathize and laugh.
Coincidentally, while in the midst of rediscovering gems of humor found within various formal and conceptual gestures in experimental cinema, I was also reading Hegel for the first time (this juxtaposition should be read as a kind of joke, i.e., “So, Michael Snow and Hegel walk into a bar…”). During my reading of Introductory Lectures on Aesthetics, I couldn’t help underline passages in Chapter 5 that directly discuss the ironic and sincere properties of art’s relationships to the history and development of Modern Philosophy:
… negativity which displays itself as irony is, then, on the one hand the futility of all this matter of fact… on the other hand, the reverse may happen, and the I may also find itself unsatisfied in its enjoyment of itself… so as in consequence to feel a craving for the solid and substantial, for determinate and essential interests. Out of this there arises misfortune and antinomy, in that subject desires to penetrate into truth… but yet is unable to abandon its isolation and retirement into itself, and to strip itself free of this unsatisfied abstract inwardness (of mind).
In this way, Hegel provides some philosophical context to both what Troemel is criticizing while also showing that aesthetics and the artists should – in one way or another – be involved in an outward reflexivity that Snow is approaching in Sshtoorrty. That is, if the artists or cultural producer limits themselves to ironic tendencies, then s/he will inevitably limit themselves to a aesthetic discourse and experience. They will develop a propriety for an “antinomian” funny; one that is inherently in contradiction, incapable of mixing in with greater society/culture, always at odds, and unable to function in an empathic humorous way.
In a sense, humor must rely on the utmost pursuit of an honest communication. Certainly we can apply the old comedy adage of humor needing space to be able to “tell it like it is,” but this cliché – which now is mired in its own irony – won’t suffice. Hegel himself equates the “eternal lamentations over the lack of profound feeling, artistic insight, and genius” as a result of the proliferation of a “half grotesque and half characterless” ironic “insincerity.” The grossness of those that operate solely in self-interest engender a cultural state which “affords no pleasure,” and as a result marginalize attempts at sincere communication. One could easily trace the rampant fear/paranoia that is generated by mass telecommunication to the prolonged repulsion of sincerity in online formats. A potential downfall of drawing this comparison, however, is that alternatives to the standard impersonal/ironic behavior might become less visible to those seeking profound exchanges.
In this way, I offer an alternative way in which humor can occupy a public dialog of communal reflexivity, criticality, and empathy: Wit. As one of my more favorite subtopics within the strata of humor, wit, as a communicative gesture, requires – if not outright demands – an attention to comic subtlety. Wit, in its most profound execution, requires two fundamental properties: timing (which is all but lost in this article), and an acute awareness of context – especially the context of self with others. A deep understanding of social-self, and a willingness to strip ones self of social convention, allows for wit to become a critical tool for creating conceptually and emotionally charged humor. For wit operates not just as an observation of a scenario, but as an act of interruption. This witty interjection is not meant directly to undermine the subject material of any specific conversation, but instead made to enhance an exchange by grounding it in an attentive reclamation of subjective experience into more “solid and substantive” realms of shared empathy.
To do this effectively, and for full humorous effect, one must conceive of any and all social scenarios to be a potential moment for communal self-reflection. In this way, wit requires a devotion to the moment; an immersion in a discourse like none other, a commitment where an individual willing to powerfully invoke wit must “strip [themselves] free of unsatisfied abstract self-inwardness.” A result of this phenomenological embodiment of the moment, one can use wit as a tool against the demanding pace of online activity and situate themselves in a position of critical presentness. This ability to take ownership of the moment can simultaneously be used as a weapon against fighting ironic tendencies due to a new-found self-agency and self-awareness. The mitigation that wit provides against the pulverizing pace of the internet’s demanding creative production cycle not only allows for more temporal space for reflection, but also generates a public voice that stimulates reactive (read engaged but not reactionary) public discourse.
Even though I’m finding a lack of funny things – a problem, as I said, that motivated me to critically revisit humor – I want to emphasize that I’m not observing a climate of overwhelming heartlessness amongst my peers. The amount of empathy that is generated amongst the community that I find particular affinity towards – a vibrant pool of artists, activists, writers, and curators – is most likely the most visible aspect of the variable social networking channels available to these individuals today. However, I’d argue that the empathy and shared communal reflection that occurs within comment threads and group chats, needs to be more tangibly translated into the visual and conceptual work generated by this community. These efforts will hopefully bridge the gradual shrinking gap that still separates those working under the netart classification and the rest of the contemporary art world.
September 6, 2011 · Print This Article
Mark Amerika and I corresponded over the past several weeks while he has been jet-setting over the western hemisphere promoting and sharing ideas behind his recent University of Minnesota Press publication remixthebook. We discuss below, in a univocal, non-hierarchic, feedback looped way some of the tenants and relevancies of remix to post-studio/post-production art practices. I’m especially keen on the blurred lines of authorship that we have undergone as a result of wanting to continue the conversation Amerika puts forth in his writing. Our effort to synthesize voices in relation to our individual perspectives on remix act as a performance of identity that often gets manifested through the mechanisms of social media and networked culture. The repartee below offers a stream-of-consciousness glimpse into a perpetual state of curiosity and subversion of the self that remixthebook confronts, wrestles, and plays with.
This interview comes at a timely moment as well since I will be acting as this weeks micro-blogger-in-residence for the remixthebook twitter feed. I’ve also put some thoughts down about remix in relation to my own visual/creative practice for the publication’s blog.
Why is remix relevant for you right now? I mean, if we look at the history of remix, do we not see a diversity of methods that are employed across a wide range of practices and disciplines, everything from Cubist collage to Rauschenberg’s combines, to the cut-up technique of Brion Gysin and William Burroughs, to Situationist détournement, OULIPO styled proceduralism, appropriation, DJ/VJ culture, plunderphonics, codework, what Bourriaud refers to as “postproduction art,” and of course the whole mashup scene on the Internet and beyond? Do not all art methods at some point relate back to what you call remix? Isn’t it almost like asking what does it mean to dream? Because in a very real sense, navigating through remixthebook, which is both a print book AND a work of conceptual performance art AND a website composed primarily of other artists and writers sampling source material from your writing and postproducing it into new iterations of performance theory, the question you seem to be asking is what is NOT remix? And if EVERYTHING is remix, would it not be the job of the contemporary artist to take what media culture has made common, in this case the act of remixing our identities for us, and destroy it from within? Or is that reading into it too much? Perhaps it’s too romantic a notion, one that once again positions the artist as a cultural outsider and what we really need to do is to investigate how remix opens up The Total Work as a collaborative, ritualistic daily practice? What would a remix of the Gesamtkunstwerk look like? How would this collaborative ritual of remixing everyday life, something that de Certeau addresses in a slightly different way, be situated inside the history of the avant-garde? In remixthebook the idea of an artistic and literary avant-garde almost disappears since everyone is doing it which then challenges the 2.0 crowd to ask ourselves can a vanguard art scene even exist in social networking culture? Perhaps we need to look at the various contemporary approaches toward what Duchamp refers to as The Creative Act — but that you see as The Act of Remix — and put them in their proper cultural context? In this regard, maybe what you’re doing is turning theory into a social media art practice that has its roots in conceptualism but is really not that either because of the way you confuse or problematize this whole issue with the body? That part in the book about the legendary Bruce Lee, and his book Artist of Life, and his take on Gestalt Therapy? I guess you see him as remixologist too? Didn’t he Chop and Screw? That brings up another important question: which remixologists are influential for your own practice? Or is it even necessary for artists to address that question? I’m thinking here specifically of that passage in the book where you write about how “we don’t even need to be aware of our past influences … they reside in the body like second or third or fourth nature / something that enables us to play ourselves without having to think about it”? I also wonder how this book, if we can even call it a book, especially since so much of the content is created by others on the remixthebook.com website, situates itself between the “trickle-down” of high-art and the “bubbling-up” of low-art? Obviously this dichotomy cannot sustain itself any longer, but is there a location within that spectrum that you’ve decided to build an outpost in? You say that these influences from the bodies of work postproduced by others are IN you in a way you have no control over and that it’s really a matter of mirroring neurons which is an interesting use of neuroscience because I know that in your recent keynote at that big symposium in Rio de Janeiro you were trying to suggest that this relational agency that makes daily remix practice even possible, on a base creative level, or a biological level, also takes place in social networking culture too, and that we are just now learning how to show empathy or respond to the “actionary” agenda of the others we engage with while on the Internet, yes? Because this intersubjective jamming among the digital personae who play themselves on the Net is also a kind of social or emotionally engaged remix, right? And of course this intersubjective jamming is not limited strictly to the social networking protocols of the online junkies getting their next hypermediated fix, in fact — where is the Net in our everyday physical performance of self? How have we augmented ourselves to a point where the biological self can be irrelevant to establishing creative identity? The word you use is copoietic, which I think you sample from Bracha Ettinger, yes? You seem to be asking how we might consider the historical trajectory of various remix-related art practices themselves as source material to reinvent what it means to a social agent, but to do it as part of some ritualistic, boundary-blurring art/life practice where the social networker exhibits their performance art in the field of digital distribution, right? I guess a question all artists, those who identify as such and not, would be how does remix infiltrate your work? If we can assume that are creatively invested in acts of perpetual postproduction, then when does the ingenuity or initiation of a mix start and end? When does the metaphorical record change, the cross fader cut, the midi-controller nob turn, the splice interrupt, the click trigger? Can language even do this subject any justice? What other metaphors can be used to discuss remix that don’t rely on the rhetoric of the turntable or sound engineering console? Because in the book you suggest that we are always sampling from the Source Material Everywhere and yet this also then brings up the question about whether anything is outside the boundaries of being considered remix? Can we ever just wake up and consider ourselves off the remix grid? Especially given the fact that when the grid is encroaching upon biological realization, how does one unplug? Or is it a permanent condition that we’re wired to deal with as part of a this daily, ritualized practice, i.e. the so-called practice of everyday life? It’s as if we can never get away from it … for example, could not this dialogue we’re having right now also be a remix? The language is so fluid and malleable on the screen either one of us could be typing these words, no? Isn’t language, as the foundation of technological society, already a hack, a remix, a short-circuit of our biological selves into virtual experience? This makes me wonder: how do collaborations influence remix? And also, how can young artists continue to engage in radical transparency without forsaking their identity being consumed by mass culture? That may seem out of the blue, but if you think about it, given all of the data mining and how Google and Facebook now pretty much OWN our data which they would love to monetize without us even knowing it, I guess what you’re saying is it’s up to the remixologist to creatively intervene in their own identity construction and the best way to do that these days is to actively manipulate their data into a simultaneously and continuously shifting version of themselves? This would then be a kind of conceptual performance art project, yes? A post-studio, post-personae creative research practice? And a metafictional process too, right? Aren’t you suggesting that by manipulating the metadata that informs our online identity we need to convert the act of remix into a kind of auto-fictionalization process that morphs identity at will? But would that not do a disservice to any potentially genuine forms of communication? Two-wrongs make a right? Would physical, non-screen, remixes help mediate the tension of the over-performance of self as a shape-shifting fiction-in-the-making? Maybe we could read remixthebook as another one of your fictions? Like your novels? What’s the difference? Is it all part of the same remix of an impermanent state of being? But can we get back to network culture specifically? Because I’m curious, can we distinguish network culture as an aside or subset of (mass) culture? How is network culture providing the context for auto-remixology? How does identity get remixed through the variable contexts of network culture? How do we develop versions of ourselves – alpha, open/closed beta, release candidates, RTM, General Availability, sustained support, End-of-life (all terms borrowed from the software industry) – based on a combination of personal drama and creative meta-fiction? Are you suggesting that we can literally immerse ourselves in actionary (to sample Paul Miller’s phrase), practice-based art research that borrows from appropriation and remix and postproduction art and out of this immersion build a performance personae that has its ancestral roots in the lineage of canonized art history? And what about narrative? Or else furthering the “progress-march” of the canon? In its written form, remixthebook is really about storytelling, yes? Is creating a narrative of remix – historically speaking – important for remixologists? How do we circumnavigate that linearity? Or is it not really about linearity at all but a kind of simultaneous and continuous fusion of the moments that were never meant to be but get documented as a formal trace left behind nonetheless and that we then are trained to read as narrative? How do we avoid the “old-trappings” of making contemporary art that looks too familiar as contemporary art? How do we borrow from art history without romanticizing it? This begs even more questions: how does time effect/affect a remix? How does space effect/affect a remix? What are the physical limitations of remix, if there are any? Or else how does a remixologist play between their activities and performances on or within the screen and in physical manifestations? You must have had this feeling of co-existing in different mediated and embodied spaces while performing your live VJ sets around the world, yes? But even so, ARE there boundaries and limitations to remix? What are some of the fundamental foundations for a successful remix? Do remixologists even need to be concerned with success per se and what would the criteria for a successful remix be? Who determines what does and doesn’t have value as a form of remix art? And finally, what does remix have to do with craft? Or even better, what does craft have to do with remix? And when did remix “come to you?” Or, as you suggest in META/DATA, your prior book of contemporary art theory, are we actually all born remixers?
The representation and exhibition of digital or computer based works in the gallery is no small task for today’s young contemporary curator/gallery manager. Without even considering the surmounting cost that it would take to show media work at the level of a major institution, the mere spatial concerns that these works present is reason enough to give one a headache. Some, like Barmecidal Projects (a project I’ve written on recently), have obviously taken to a purely digital approach of exhibiting online works not just for economic reasons but also to act as diametric counter points to the physical demand of the art world. But even as these projects become more appealing and gain notoriety for their alternative approach to showing young work spawned from the Internet, they still do not necessarily solve any problems for those that wish to bring this work into dialog with more “traditional” mediums (I should stress that I’m not being pejorative here, as I typically would). One cannot expect such demands to be met by these emerging projects and virtual spaces, but a co-operative, co-existing conversation between screen-objects and non-screen-objects still seems contentious and rife with frustration. This is especially the case as the vogue of the identified netartist is quickly passing as evidenced by makers moving rapidly offline and (back?) into object making.
This subject particularly peaked my interest through dealing with these issues in two shows I have recently helped curate or oragnize. Last month I worked with Bea Fremderman who runs Kunsthalle New down in Pilsen on a show called A Small Forest which consisted of work by four emerging artists all exploring delicate digital landscapes and the representation of the natural through the lens/influence of network technology. Although Fremderman and I already knew that we wanted to include Kate Steciw Water Rub/Protal floor piece in the show, but once we had begun our installation we saw that installing one spatial object amidst works either pushed back against the wall, or resting flat in print/projection, a fear developed that we might be misrepresenting or poorly portraying the work. Both of us knew how the selected works could maintain an intimacy that the framework of a personal computer provided, but when we brought these works into the space we were immediately confronted with how each work commanded a unique set of physical demands for installation and exhibition.
In this way, I started to question what incentive I had for bringing works off the screen or away from a network into a more static environment; one that situated the immediacy of the work to it’s physical representation, and not to it’s ability to be constantly accessibility/hyperlinked. These variable points of accessibility between the spectrum of virtual and physical presentation shouldn’t be viewed as judgements of a work, but instead could be used as a metric for finding effective strategies for installing media art. When formulating a show based around similar aesthetic and/or conceptual approaches the reality of the works in space immediately changed what I initially had seen as a direct conversation. Even the relocation of the works into separate media devices determined such a significant reconsideration of how the pieces worked together.
When asked what methods and philosophies Fremderman brings to her work with Kunsthalle New and the installation of work in that space she commented:
Artwork contains a series of components that allow an idea to be translated visually. These components are broken down into the root-content, which refers to the subject of a given image; and a sub-content, which can be the image frame, the space surrounding, or the manner in which the piece is shown in relation to other works. Apart from the indexical, serial display of photographs in a space – which serves to obliterate that sub-content in favor of the portrayed subject matter – the inclusion of sub-content (a frame) can significantly help define and develop the concept of the image, and thus develop a complete object…. This is the same for all work, digital media included. Not all work must consider an alternate platform for presentation, but it is important to recognize the vessels through which media work may be presented through and the conceptual implications of such a gesture.
I might be that because the dominating “sub-content” of media work – it’s technology of presentation – that I’ve struggled to find balanced ways to present online work within galleries. The presence of a projection amidst non-projected objects always presents a spatial problem due to the fact that projection not only operates on a flat surface, but also provides spatial awareness due to it’s throw. Thus, the “sub-content” of a projected piece starts to take president over the actual image-content/subject matter of a work. This is particularly the case with work typically shown online since the framing of a work is not only technological but also social. When the net already presents an alternative platform for showing and sharing creative content, media curators must understand how to re-situate the framing of this work to best suit content delivery. I noticed a hesitation in myself to rely on other non-media objects to galvanize a show for the purpose of spatial continuity since I had confidence that projection, screens, and computer based artworks could maintain that togetherness through a shared media-frame.
Through these recent experiments in installation tactics, I found that there is an unexpected reliability and expectancy for physicality to substantiate a work – or else to give any ephemerality of a medium some sense of belonging within the gallery. A common strategy that I’ve recently seen is to turn projection into more of an object has occurred in Eija-Liisa Ahtila‘s multi-screen installation of her work The House at the Art Institute of Chicago as well as a recent show curated by Scott Wolniak at Andrew Rafacz. In these instances, it appears as though the projected image cannot sustain enough attention and must be presented on a apparatus akin to a billboard in order to convince an audience of it’s uniqueness. Perhaps through creative pseudo-site-specific installations of video screens and projected surfaces, the willingness to view the work as a unique object is more obtainable.
My own willingness to surmount the novelty of technological pieces within a gallery is perhaps giving my audience to much benefit of the doubt. Although I am quite willing to allow for a media-only show to “stand-up” against those that contain no such work of that kind, curators and organizers from other backgrounds might not be as eager to mount a show exclusively comprised of media/screen artworks. This might also have to do with an unrelenting faith I have in the work that I want to show, and the dialogs I hope to create between works when presenting them in group exhibitions. For me, the power of the works have already surpassed a limitation of the framework in which they originate. I often don’t think of them as media work at all, or even work dependent on specific technology, but instead I consider them an amalgamation of ideas or concepts wrapped into visual casings. Installation obviously radically changes my perception of a work since the materiality of that presentation plays an equal role in any given works effectiveness.
After working on A Small Forest I encountered similar spatial/installation concerns when working with Mike Ruiz and Adan De Le Garza for the mounting of a show at The Future Gallery in Berlin entitled Youth Culture. We quickly found that the media heavy show that Adan and I had put together could potentially turn into a stale cubicle of moving images without proper consideration paid to non-digital works acting as counters (or stabilizers) to works displayed on digital devices. The sensitivity of this scenario was also crucial since the thematic structure of the show happened to incur similar aesthetic approaches that when paired in close spatial proximity to each other seemed dangerously visually redundant (i.e., works with faces/people, works with abstract geometry, etc.). The immediate concern was that if all the work existed within too obvious a framing then nothing would extend beyond the initial reception of a leaned or projected image against a flat wall/surface. We agreed that a sculptural object would interrupt the fear of a static show comprised of only wall-hanging objects, but whether projection and digital presentation necessitate the same sculptural balance for me was partial evidence of how media still exists in a state of unease within a gallery/fine-art context (even in spaces like The Future Gallery that specialize in showing media art).
After several trial and errors we found a layout that worked well, giving non-media work space to breath, as well as utilizing the floor space of the gallery. However, almost a week after the opening, I’m still curious how my expectations of media installation within a space are being informed by the apparatus’ that are currently available. Perhaps this whole series of problems has something to do with the increasing readiness of smaller/DIY/apartment venues to have access and/or acquire equipment necessary to show media based work. Since so many younger artists are working between screen environments and physical spaces the integration and incorporation of media-objects into a show will not only become necessary but it will undoubtably become less cumbersome for curators. But what is at stake here is not just an acceptance that media-objects will become so common place in both museum and gallery contexts but rather that within this transition period (if one can call it that, since so many galleries already have media specific shows) an attempt at reconciling how media-objects not only serve as surfaces but also as spaces needs to become a more open conversation.
Andrew Norman Wilson and I had a chance to flesh out some of the strategies that he employes in a webinar video conference that spanned several weeks of intensive workshopping on ideas circulating around digital/virtual labor, how to stabilize and exist in permanent transience, and how to make actual the metaphoric states that usually occur in online environments. Through our conversation and networking session, we highlighted some key issues concerning how one works within network space can reveal variable points of access and distribution to creative cultural practices.
Andrew Norman Wilson performs in a playful yet poignant role discussing labor hierarchies within digital-corporate entities like Google and virtual assistant service providers like Get Friday. By choosing to activate the occasionally troubled arenas of distributed labor, crowd sourcing, and prefabricated aesthetic experiences that can be found within airport lobbies and stock footage, Andrew Norman Wilson creates dense narratives about how one can exist in an perpetually compromised and privileged location of Western Civilization while maintaining criticality and self-awareness. The subversion of pond5 as a platform for default and/or corporate aesthetic experience are used in videos such as Global Countdown to illustrate both their pervasiveness in our visual language but the absurdity of their absolute abstraction.
In recent work, Andrew Normam Wilson has been exploring the creation of more deliberate performative spaces and installation environments for maximal leisure. The documentation for these spaces has developed into a series of videos called Flow Spot, and show Andrew Normam Wilson employing the products and services of these imitation spas as a way “acknowledging our complicity in commercial products cycles” as a segue to talk about our unwillingness to be critical about the transience of labor. During our workshop, we discuss how the space that we traverse and occupy, both online and off, no longer belongs to the once “civic openness” of a pervious area, but instead have become dominated and sustained by an unsustainable “middle class culture, characterized by increasing mobility, mass consumption, and mass recreation.”
Please join us in the above webinar networking session for more details, and for the full text of our conversation click here.
I have been creating content for the Bad at Sports blog for over a year now and I thought that taking an opportunity to take stock of this fact and reflect on the correspondences I’ve developed over that period of time. Because of the speed and immediacy that newer technologies force upon makers and thinkers, artists and art writers get few chances to be able to take in all of the threads and ideas that circulate in their work. Obviously making work – be it writing or visual production – has it’s own self-reflexiveness, and developing a healthy practice of finding what works and what doesn’t can satiate a desire for digestion and personal evaluation. But then again, I think exposing those methods – the ways in which one identifies with their work and their habits – can provide outlets and insights that the outwardly publication of work does not always permit.
Before even delving into particular moments that I want to reflect on, I want to take a moment to thank all of the people that have shared their work, practice, thoughts, and support for this column and my efforts. The interviews and conversations I’ve been conducting over this past year have given me an amazing amount of inspiration and I feel very lucky to be able to share these dialogs with others, as well as be able to represent a community that I share a deep affinity to. To put it more simply, this column has always had the intention of championing the work of others, and for this I am eternally grateful.
To that end, thinking about how I can better serve and represent those I want to reach is perhaps a good starting place, since I have had to recently rediscover what it is that I hope to accomplish in this publication series. At the heart of these posts is a desire to create a dialog between makers loosely working around the moniker of “new media art.” Because of the variable formats and disciplines that are nested inside that place-holder term, I thought being able to relate or tie practices underneath that umbrella might help my own understanding of this arena of creativity as well as share that exploration with a contemporary art audience.
As a result, I’ve found that talking with artists within their craft/medium is an apropos way to get an understanding of the formal elements of an artist’s practice, as well as gain access to the conceptual underpinning of why they have chosen the formats they have. This essential crux of my inquiry into what constitutes new media work, and how artists both identify and abstain from that labeling, is of particular interest to me since I have always wanted to maintain an expansive idea of what constitutes new media work (an undertaking that I explored early on in my “art writing” career). As the term “new media” goes more and more out of fashion (at least in regards to describing work made in + around the net), I’m again posed with a question of what it is that I hope to be accomplishing with my column as well as the question of what directions do I pursue as my work develops and responds to the shifting cultural attitudes of my colleagues and peers.
One major alteration in the vernacular of art made on and around the internet has been the emergence, and subsequent resistance, to the term netart. It’s rise in popularity has been an interesting and challenging dilemma for academics and artists alike in that the term privileges the net as the primary (i.e., best) interface for distribution of work as well as acknowledges how that interface of dissemination is an essential tool for critical exploration of self and society. The conundrum about this labeling is that the usual suspect associated with this type of work have increasingly moved further away from the infrastructure of digital-screen based technology and more into the space of the traditional gallery. The question of how to identify works influenced by the aesthetics and behaviors of network technology has been of increasing concern since the lines between digital and physical presentation of work have begun to fold into each other (or at least become more apparent). In other words, how can a maker’s practice be deemed netart if the work no longer is intended to exist and be distributed on the net?
This question has caused many to grasp at new terminologies to specify a practice developed utilizing the social networking capabilities of the net as a means of showing and sharing pieces that no longer rely on the materiality of the net. But these new labels – be it Post-Internet Art or Internet Aware Art – and the desire to classify and comprehend an emerging avant-garde of makers working within and through screen technology speaks to the fact that the term netart was never a very effective grouping for the work that I’ve been attempting to represent in the past year. To paraphrase and site Domenico Quaranta, a emerging sentiment amongst this community is that there is no longer a need for the “net” prefix when examining this art.
Through talking with others, I’ve been surprised to find that the net often times plays a very little visible role in the way that artists conceive of a work. Looking back on the conversations I’ve conducted, I realize that there are very few instances of talking specifically about how the net has inspired content as well as generated and avenue of showing/sharing work. Perhaps that unspoken understanding between myself and artists shows a missed opportunity to critically investigate the significance of the net as a site for exhibition and distribution. This is particularly interesting when I’ve gone to great lengths to try to faithfully represent a makers practice through their medium of production.
Perhaps my unintentional avoidance of talking about “why the net is important right now” is rooted in a concern that talking in this way could potentially cheapen the work that I want to highlight. If I were to focus on merely the technological aspects of a work than I would be taking time away from talking about the actual content of a given maker’s practice. I think that artists rarely get a chance to converse outside of their normal peer group about concerns within their field of research. In order to flesh out some of those reservations, I’ve wanted to provide younger/emerging makers a platform for shared skepticism and intrigue. Through discussion of content, intent, influences, and purpose a dialog about the shape of contemporary digital image-making becomes more lucid for myself and hopefully for my peers.
There have been particular moments where I felt that these conversation gained some traction against the slippery vernacular surrounding online social art practices. The conversation I’ve recently been occupied with revolves around what constitutes a community and how these groupings support and nurture each other. Looking back at a conversation I had with the Dump.fm crew, I can see a desire in my peers at wanting to spark conversation about the effectiveness of communities, and to challenge what it means to work within a constant collaborative recursive system. Interestingly enough, creating systems, networks, and locations for artists to rapidly turn over and surf through content has enabled the constant real-time conversation engine that Jon Rafman talks about in our conversation in Second Life. This development of platforms is also what motivates Jason Rohrer and Mez Breeze, who like Ryder Ripps and Scott Ostler authored environments for others to share, play, and experiment. That collective desire to effect, circumvent, and/or question traditional art context was also a driving force for the organizers of the Gli.tc/h conference held in Chicago last October.
These intersections of motivations to create works and communities is a quality that artists share online precisely as a result of being immersed in a network sensibility. I don’t believe that these similarities can solely be located to these artists “being good at the internet,” and instead think that other influences ought to be considered. More recently I’ve seen how these memes and emerging signifiers can be traced and examined through a lens of media history. Seeing how iterations of early network communities (like BBS’s and list-serv’s of the late 80s and early 90s) influence makers has been a way to highlight common interests and histories (although I think I need to do a better job of making that more clear). One of the benefits of that investigation is to create links between what otherwise would be perceived as very separate practices (like between Dump.FM and Mezangelle for example). The create bridges and segues, albeit through my own specific sense of media history and contemporary art, is based in an effort to accentuate how artists working in similar fields might never consider themselves in close proximity to one another, but in actuality have much in common.
In retrospect, I’m surprised by what now seems like obvious similarities and overlapping interests between the artists featured over the past year. Regardless whether artist are developing unique platforms for exchange or employing preexisting commercial crowd-based content databases both vectors of self-examination are providing critical outlets for an expanded perspective of contemporary digital image-making. To see how these threads naturally surface, reoccur, and go in and out of focus is for me one of the most powerful parts of these conversations.
By being able to reflect in this public way, I acknowledge I’m leaving myself susceptible to criticism for using Bad at Sports as a platform to file personal for semi-diaristic purposes. However, I want to instead highlight the amazing opportunity I have been given, and to emphasize the generosity that this blog has offered me both artistically and academically. I just hope I can faithfully uphold the ethic of sharing and discourse that my work stands for, and that others have graciously offered to me, into all future publications and endeavors.