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.
Not too long ago I was asked to participate in the second issue of publication and exhibition platform Wave Int’l. This iteration will be hosted by Oakland exhibition space Important Projects opening this saturday (the 28th of May) with an accompanying online publication. I was very excited to be involved with this initiative started by Chicago based artists and organizers Brian Khek and Jasmine Lee along with the talented work of Andre and Evan Lenox, Ben Schumacher, and Hayley Silverman. Wave Int’l issue02 will include essays, objects, conversations, projections, and installations represented both in physical space as well in a downloadable pdf. When initially asked to participate, I knew that I had wanted to be able to contribute a piece for the publication that would address some ongoing questions I’ve been workshopping about the over-simplification of the term community. Specifically I’ve been wondering how the academic vernacular of “the community” has effected an emerging field of artists working on or around network technologies.
The best way that I knew how to approach these concerns – one of the most developed ways I have grown into over this past year – has been through an interview format. I decided – with Brian and Jasmine – that being able to talk with Hayley would be a good use of my inquisitiveness, and hopefully allow for both of us to get out into the open some shared anxieties about our burgeoning field and the milieu of unresolved circumstances that screen-space and digital frameworks pose to our respective practices. Our conversation (which I will provide excerpts of in a bit) did provide for some interesting insights, but in a strange way, it also served as a reinforcement of how dire these unresolved questions are for myself, and in a way showed me how my own practice still had much room for growth.
One such instance came when we started to critically examine what it meant to work within a community and how I had come to expect a certain sustainability that a community maintains as a result of shared interests:
Nicholas O’Brien: … I’m curious about how you engage your community or what community means to you since community is such a large part of my practice. In other words, being able to engage like-minded people, making work for them, or about them, or with them is very important for me.
Hayley Silverman: Community is complex and usually related to my terrestrial coordinates. I would often think of my community as being the people immediately within my surround and whom I share lived experiences with. When I look at artists work online I process it differently. They are indexed as information.
I sometimes think of community as a veil for a collective understanding. That there is a presumption that we do indeed know each other. The social translated online creates an intense circulation, one that, as I said earlier, magnifies certain personalities. The second self, or the other self produced virtually, seems to be a contemporary project of redesigning “the old man into the new man”- contributing to an obsession with the relevant – the contemporary. Artistic production, curation, and reception will always be dangerously entangled with the social.
NO’B: Do you think the web, as an interface for highlighting the social aspects of creative production, allow for more transparency for these communities to intermingle?
HS: The web helps facilitate modes of engagement that do open up a dynamic space (one that is interlinked) but my primary vehicle in the production of my work is felt reality.
NO’B: Can you elaborate on the term “felt reality.”
HS: I privilege empirical knowledge.
Although probably not originally intended, Hayley provided me with a great insight that I think I had up until now taken for granted: makers and artists working online each have very specific reasons for interfacing with the web as a site of production and distribution. My more critical readers will probably think that this admittance is a sign of naiveté on my part, but instead being able to allow for this realization to wash over me – to let it permeate some of the more immediate expectations I have from any given community – was (and continues to be) a powerful thing for my own sensibility to reconcile. I address this disparity later in my conversation with Hayley:
NO’B: I might want to move on to talk about the importance and relevance community plays within your work. Being able to engage like-minded people, making work for them, or about them, or with them is very important for me. What are some of your thoughts on how your peer group effects your work (particularly when you are often grouped together with artists that make work more directly interfacing with online technologies). On that note, I think one of the things I’d like to talk about is a concern I have about the limitations of any given community and how perhaps one of those limitations is revealed in the aesthetics generated through or around those associations.
HS: Communities form as the intermittent and transitory outcomes of coordinates whether that be through geography, gender, race, or a process of filtration. How do we align ourselves with particular subjects or movements? Is it to protect ourselves from the voluminous waves of information that wash over us? At some point we could use convention to narrow ourselves… It is as though identity is the condition of correct anticipation, given these restraints. I think the process of a thinker or maker is to invent places to explode to.
NO’B: Communities then can be mobile?
HS: Well it depends on how you define mobility. Jung’s writing on “herd psychology” speaks about the rootlessness of modern people that results from a disaster not only of primitive tribes but of modern man, in effect, causing a collective psychic injury. The herding of people into major megalopolises caused social and mental pathologies; thinking in large numbers would result in the rise of “mass psychology” also known as mass-mindness. This dependence on the externalization of culture (materialistic technology, commercial acquisitiveness) would enable the loss of spiritual culture. Within this ideology we have never stopped being mobile – it has become extended to another frontier – in this case, cyberspace.
NO’B: This injury is probably linked to how I’m skeptical of the overuse of the term ‘communities’ and how using that buzz term poses potential limitations. If we have constant mobility – or have a history of it – creative content would then suffer from a kind of transience. However, people latch onto momentary glimpses within that haze and form small niches around them. I fear these pockets of communication and exchange don’t lend themselves to further extension outside their immediate sphere. Do you see an inherent limitation within the establishment of these types of communities?
HS: I’m not sure that’s true. I do believe that people act as if history has ended. That nothing is connected to a lineage – which encourages people to behave not as historical actors but by living out their own demography.
My initial skepticism of the term community – which could be located in my own overuse of the term as a catch-all for a grouping of people that might only be working with similar technological approaches – was (and maybe still is) unfortunately contributing to misconceptions about net-based practices instead of undoing or realigning those expectations. In this way, I was finding ways in which the interview is not always a viable format, and was reminded of a quote from Guthrie Lonergan reacting to harsh criticisms that Bring Your Own Beamer events recently had undergone after mounted stateside exhibitions: “I think the real deal happens online for many.” I felt at that moment that what Guthrie was trying to express was that often times an exhibition or show (even ones with promising premisses and multiple iterations like BYOB) cannot possibly hope to resolve everything within their physical manifestation, and that artist find that the location where the dialog gets fleshed out the most is through shared networks of exchange and conversation (like message boards, comment thread, gchats, group blogs, etc.).
In this way, I felt that being able to re-evaluate my initial questions, and the intentions behind them, could still be an effective way for me to continue to foster my own creative practice. I hoped that doing so would also enable an exposure of my process with others. I decided while in the midst of editing the material for Wave Int’l to try and take these anxieties I was finding about my own sense of participation amongst the community of my peers and formulate them into new questions for Brian and Jasmine:
Jasmine Lee: I was thinking about how Wave Int’l is contextualized… within what “community” It’s difficult to locate, since it falls somewhere between an academic discourse, a critical discourse, and an artistic discourse.
Nicholas O’Brien: I think that these borderlands of discourse is something I struggle with, personally. Or not struggle, but feel anxiety about.
JL: There seems to be some understanding that those said discourses, or at least their titles, are somewhat arbitrary.
Brian Khek: Yeah, I feel our style of execution is something in an international context. Not representing any specific city, per say.
JL: Global, not international.
NO’B: That distinction seems important.
JL: It’s global in the sense that the discourse is united — our interests and what not — but we are still reconciling borders, names, nations, territories. Which is not far off from titles of “communities” or what/how individuals choose to align themselves with.
BK: Right. I feel like international assumes defined communities (i.e., nations).
JL: Yes, and those definitions are very important in distinguishing where the differences become similarities.
BK: Maybe that’s why the abbreviation in our name is more appropriate. I feel “int’l” plays with that.
JL: I think we’re… interested in illuminating, or hinting at distinctions; in structuring content, subject matter. The same way an abbreviation might.
BK: Maybe [the abbreviation of the name] recognizes those distinctions. I feel like the name is supposed to make you think of corporate identities but the abbreviation makes you question what it really means. It serves as an abstract to the familiar. I think it’s important or successful in that we get to talk about it so often.
JL: I guess that’s also what I meant by those distinctions of community/discourses being arbitrary.
Seeing how this distinction was important for the organizers of this project gave me more pause about the use of community – as Jasmine says – as an arbitrary grouping of persons. When I had initially decided that discussing community and shared experiences within a given material or environment, I had unintentionally accepted that the similarities within delivery of content would extend backwards into the original conceptualization of a project or work. To that end, I decided to explore an alternative route and was curious to see if acknowledging shared influences might be a location to discover how community and aesthetic are generated and supported:
NO’B: This kind of actually brings me to a question that I had early on in thinking about this project. In thinking about naming and drafting an identity, could you talk about some of your main non-art influences? For instance, how does “general web content” influence your practice?
My reason for asking is that I think when working online, in particular when working with a publication, there is an aesthetic that gets referenced both consciously and unconsciously.
JL: Well, to list off some recent influences off the top of our heads… Joseph Grigely‘s exhibition prosthetics, Katja Novitskova’s post internet survival guide, Kari Altmann’s r-u-in?s.
BK: With our exhibitions we try to extend the content/subjects in the publication and vice versa.
JL: We learned some really important things working with Joseph, in regards to protheses, which are not limited to general web content. In this way, it’s the careful consideration of all components of an idea as extensions of the thing itself, which is why we stress both the exhibition and it’s subsequent documentation. As well as the printed publication and the web publication.
BK: We try to make it clear that neither is the premier object of focus. We are as interested in presenting the physical works as we are a pdf or printed publication and I think we attempt to achieve a harmony between them to communicate something more faceted.
JL: Often times, digital work may be made to trump – replace – reconcile the matters of the physical, or material, or vice versa. We see all components as beneficial on the same plane, but I’m not sure if that is completely developed yet.
This last quote from Jasmine speaks very strongly with a concern of mine that I think other artists within the so-called netart community are also addressing through a movement back – or sideways – to more traditional frameworks and mediums. One of the best examples that I can come up with in recent memory could probably be observed in a group show entitled Rhododendron curated by Harm van den Dropel at W139 in Amsterdam. In this exhibition artists that have used the internet as a site for production and distribution in many early works have chosen to create objects using more traditional fine art materials (or have continued a practice that I am unfamiliar with from pre-net projects). This example is just one of many of the signifiers of a reversal of the potential “trumping” that digital contexts provide within the community that I aim to represent and be in dialog with.
Last month Mike Goldby and Jillian Kay Ross curated and organized the launch of a new virtual gallery project space called Barmecidal Projects with an inaugural showcase called FREE 4 ALL. The release of this project occurred in conjunction with an opening at Butcher Gallery in Toronto by projecting a virtual walk-through of a 3D rendered fictional space modeled after Mathew Marks Gallery in NYC.
Although Barmecidal Projects is not the first of it’s kind to present online works in this fashion (notable precursors include Chrystal Gallery curated and rendered by Timur Si-Qin, and An Immaterial Survey of our Peers curated by Lauren Christiansen and Brad Troemel), this recent exhibition reignited questions I’ve been mulling over regarding this model of presentation. I addressed some of these concerns with Goldby and Ross last week and will interweave our conversation into an ongoing debate I’ve been having with myself about the future and current potential of the virtual gallery space.
Although I had visited the project site and gone through the walk-through a handful of times, it was only after I read a critical response/review to FREE 4 ALL on it’s not about the art that made me decide to try to put some of the thoughts I was having about this work into a more solid frame of reference. I applaud moderators/authors Joanna Sheridan and Ginger Scott on their taking to task some of the technical aspects of the project by delving into the infrastructural short-comings that Barmecidal suffered as a result of appearing to do too much with too little (in ways of time, resources, rendering power, etc.) I do, however, disagree that these lacking elements influence my overall appreciation for what this project aims to explore.
In one particularly instance I thought it unfair to pit the efforts of Goldby and Ross against the virtual gallery tools developed by Google’s Art Project. Measuring the scope of each exhibition is in itself a gesture that undermines the fact that exhibitions like Barmecidal Projects can even be mounted through the limited DIY resources available to the artists represented. Galvanizing and organizing the work shown in FREE 4 ALL is a task all on it’s own, especially since a portion of the artists participating in the exhibition have never even attempted to work in 3D before or are forced to use unstable bootleg versions of animation software. Goldby and Ross expressed to me that some of the most exciting parts of putting together this exhibition came from the dialog generated between themselves and artists whose work they had to render.
G+R: we wanted a wide range
N O’B: i see
G+R: people who use the language of 3d rendering, people who use the language of net art, people who work exclusively IRL (offline)
we really enjoyed working with them
they gave us an idea or sketch and we produced a piece
N O’B: interesting
G+R: it was fun working with them because we would send them renders and they would tell us if they liked it etc.
but there’s also something to be said about the idea that we are “re-creating” their works
N O’B: so you guys facilitated the production of works
G+R: yeah, we facilitated their works
I cannot fault inata for not knowing how Goldby and Ross committed themselves to incorporating non-net-based artists into this exhibition, but I do take issue with neglecting to take into consideration how the decisions and outcomes that occurred as a result of the feedback between artists and organizers (a working methodology that good artists, curators, and cultural commentators engage with as often as they can) appear evident in the presentation of this exhibition. In this way, I felt as though this comparison made between Barmecidal and Google typifies how inata had missed the point of Barmecidal’s initial objective.
Through exhibiting these works in such a manner, Barmecidal Projects is attempting to make audience members “suspend certainty” in a way that calls into question the arbitrary distinction between what is considered real and virtual. If we allow ourselves to quickly let go of the visual gimmick of this show – albeit a somewhat difficult task given the deliberate direction and perspective of the camera angle in the video – then we can hold FREE 4 ALL to the same traditional success standards we would regard non-virtual galleries sites. Thus I think the show is successful by the standard that Ralph Rugoff has suggested in that it the works “engage in a dialogue with one another,” in way that allows for “artists [to] offer us their talent for making unexpected connections.”
Without that consideration, one can see that the concentration on craft and render quality found within the above mentioned review are evidence of an over-emphasis on technique as a way of not discussing the content and concept behind a singular piece or a group dynamic. To that end, one of the more interesting aspects of the project can be found between the discrepancies between the varying rendering engines and their native lighting environments. By exposing differing skills sets and aesthetic acumen, Goldby and Ross highlight a tension that spaces like Barmecidal Projects can very purposefully embody in way that a physical representation cannot. For instance, the stark contrast between Georgia Dickie‘s Fusilli with Rachel Milton‘s Malador should be observed as a bridging of a gap between the rhetorics that inform the production of works made on or around the web. The diversity of works, and their subsequent levels of rendered “believability,” point to the variety of perspectives and influences that shape the content of contemporary net-based artworks. In the instance above, we can see how minimalism and manga hold equal places of interest within the vernacular of the contemporary community represented within FREE 4 ALL.
However, there are some technical aspects of the project that do have some interesting considerations to take into account. For instance, the walk-through loop creates an unintentional structural narrative as a result of the sequences visible beginning and end. In this way, viewers aware of this (knowledge that might not occur in the Butcher Gallery installation) can mistake that continuity as containing crescendoes and moments of rest. As a result, a viewer of the loop must would have to take into consideration that certain pieces are unintentionally prioritized over others.
Goldby and Ross admit that rendering limitations prevented a more dynamic viewing situation. Allowances for wandering and lingering around any given piece might prevent these hindrances, but I am still curious what this visual guidance/dictation does to the pieces included in this show. Although the camera view that we get roams the various rooms and objects in a relatively democratic way, the static-ness of that perspective speaks to some of the incumbered limitations contemporary artists are facing when deciding to work within and around screens. Whenever an artist choses to emulate three-dimensions, regardless if your medium is computer rendered imagery or 16mm film, one is still faced with the consequence of working with a singular image surface/plane.
This quandary plays itself out – even if only accidently – in the visual framework that Barmecidal Projects provides in their tour. One would think that browsing could be a guiding paradigm to try and tackle this problem, either through the inclusion of multiple screens or through multiple offered perspectives. In our conversation, the curators seemed to agree that a more interactive approach would help solve some of these constraints. They also stressed the fact that in future iterations there will be more emphasis made in making the theme more evident through specific selections of artists working in around similar content:
G+R: in the future
briefs and themes [like “FREE 4 ALL”] will be more directed
working with smaller groups on tighter themes and taking advantage of the immaterial space
N O’B: this was more like an inaugural show
sort of like a showcase
N O’B: i see
after the first show was finished
i started to really think about the idea of the space (mike)
as a showcase, using the space as a vessel worked
but when themes become tighter the space will become increasingly important
it’s exciting to have a mutable space
N O’B: rite
G+R: and also exterior space to the gallery as well
N O’B: like a whole building?
G+R: exactly, and it could be placed in any location
it becomes a lot to consider
In some ways these concerns that Goldby and Ross shared with me are recapitulations of some of the more poignant parts of the inata review, but instead of pointing to potential failure on that part of the orchestrators of this exhibition, I’m instead wanting to consider what alternatives and options might be available for future iterations of this gallery and others. In particular, the question regarding the decision to use familiar iconography found within a traditional gallery is an acute critique that also speaks to my own curiosity:
… there are monitors in the Barmecidal gallery that represent installations of video work. This is perplexing because they serve no utilitarian function besides standing in for recognizable objects. All the same, why adhere to this standard when the virtual model renders it completely unnecessary and when there are seemingly infinite alternative possibilities? Without having to adhere to the confines of physical space, and other annoyances like gravity, why do monitors have to stand in to separate the video work from any other media in this transitory space?
The one piece that actually comes quite close to challenging the austerity of the artificiality of the space is a very quiet piece by Lee Ormerod entitled Bulldog Clip #7. This piece uses an enlarged, almost Oldenburg-esque, bulldog clip to pinch and elevate the floor of the gallery is a gesture that shows the otherwise hidden mutability to the conventional white cube. Ormerod’s piece is almost like a wink to the viewer, reminding audience members that the strict standard geometry of a space meant to disappear is only a visual launching pad for a potential plethora of subversive statements. Work that immediately addresses and challenges what is considered the “standard” within a screen-only based gallery can be the segue into turning a conversation about technique into a discourse of aesthetic breakdown of technical expectations within computer rendered environments.
I’m convinced that the excitement Goldby and Ross expressed to me has been able to translate into a strong reaction to FREE 4 ALL that enthusiasts of net-based practices have been able to share with their non-net cohorts. This being said, I still think that the occasionally anecdotal and “so close of non-art” tight-rope walking has a long way to go before any kind of agreed upon model of presentation can be found. The proximity to “the real thing” needs to be more critically examined as not just a by-product of lack of government of gallery funding, but instead as a way of critically examining how the whole model of production and distribution of works online has forever changed the face of the gallery world (both visually and conceptually). Even though Barmecidal Projects is not the first of it’s kind, its wide exposure and current spotlight provide a telling example of how contemporary digital artwork can potentially be exhibited in a way that simultaneously uses and challenges the familiarity of the idealized white cube gallery system.
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.
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.
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.
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.