Hyperjunk is a new column that I’m starting for BaS to serve as a supplement to the interview works I’ve been doing for the blog over the past 9 months. I’ve been very happy with how those projects have been received by both the netart community and artists working in other mediums that otherwise would not have a familiarity with the type of work that I’m interested in discussing and making. However, a limitation of the interviews that I’ve been feeling is that they have not allowed myself and others enough opportunity to pin-point how this kind of work is in discourse with contemporary art in general. I think there is occasionally an inherent defensiveness about contemporary digital work amongst it’s makers due to a feeling of marginality and a slight lack of critical discourse that wants to bridge the gap between this work and other mediums – something that I share and have acted upon with ill effects. In a way, Hyperjunk serves as an editorial column dedicated to working out/on the conceptual concerns of this emerging framework (and it’s increasing gradations and bifurcations with other mediums) in an attempt to strengthen the discourse for myself and others.
Lately, I have been asking myself how the interface of the screen influences the projects and products that exist within mediated space. In particular, I’m wondering how the periphery of the graphical user interface (ie, the devices we use for interaction in screen space) dictate presence and persona as well as guide action in digital realms. In a way, I’ve become curious with how the movements of the cursor across a digital frames have played such a heavy role in how we embody our activities onscreen.
Part of this question comes from the proliferation of touch based interfaces, and how tablet based computing is quickly making the cursor an obsolete part of the graphical user interface. Even if the cursor disappears from our everyday media-routines, the iconographic power, and – perhaps more importantly – it’s symbolic significance will permanently hold a place in the valhalla of digital culture.
The crux of this inquiry into the status of the cursor is coming from a place of wanting to understand our current relationship to screen aesthetics, especially since contemporary net-based artists are exploring how digital technology can recursively be in dialog with AFK space and work. Looking at the sculpture and installation based works of Kari Altmann and Ida Lehtonen precisely make me wonder how the affect of the screen and its interface are being reflected and digested through non-screen-based disciplines.
The cursor acts as both an object of recording motion/interaction as well as a placement holder for mediated screen identity/presence. These two modes – and their rare combination – imbue the cursor with so much cultural weight and familiarity. This inoculation has become so pervasive in computer literacy that it has infiltrated our non-screen culture as well. Some artists employ the visual power of the cursor and have gone about removing this icon from screen space in order to investigate its significance in other mediums and contexts.
Constant Dullaart, for instance, moves the cursor off-screen and onto the back of a RC floor-runner that chases and is chased around by spectators wanting to catch and/or avoid it’s erratic pointy motions. As a nod to the rich historical overlaps that lie between textiles and computer technology, Micah Schippa hand-weaves the cursor into a cloth, along with other familiar graphical user interface iconography in his Tools@Hand series. In a more humorous gesture, John Michael Boling positions the cursor as something more akin to pestilence in Lord of the Flies by having a flock of cursors float around and seemingly worship the Google logo. Chris Collins elevates – and satirizes – the mediated haptic experience of the cursor in his And So I Touched the Hand of God by likening the user experience of one (your cursor) to many (screen space, social space) to relationships between a disciple and the divine.
By simultaneously being both meditative and funny, Collins’ piece is able to bridge a gap between the cursor as icon, and cursor as experience of embodied device on and off-screen. The cursor can, and should be, thought of as our first information-age avatar. The simplicity of the cursor – and relative standardization between platforms/software – allows users to readily and easily transfer their persona into a spec on a screen.
The psychological and phenomenological relationship between user and cursor should be presented as a space for introspection within an ever increasing rapidly-moving environment. In some sense, the speed at which screen space clips makes it all the more easy for us to forego the otherwise dense transition from touch to interface to screen. This willingness is also in no small part due to how we have developed a digital culture that understands mediation of self through gadgetry (both hardware and software).
Several net-based artists have taken up this concern within their own work online, I think particularly since the cursor is rapidly approaching obsolescence. Ilia Ovechkin embraces the mediated tactility of the cursor to follow (and also trace) the movements of a teenager displaying his head-banging skills in his bedroom. Not only does Ovechkin’s Cursor act as a kind of symbolic intermediary between user and interface, but also between watcher and watched. In this sense, the cursor is a device for documentation and interaction; a reification of screen self through the movements of another device and another body.
Duncan Malashock‘s recent performance pieces record cursor movements within a very specific area or pattern (akin to Bruce Nauman’s Walking pieces). After multiplying and repeating these movements/phrases into a type of rhythmic round, the compounded performance becomes a hypnotic and slightly claustrophobic display. In Malashock’s Sarabande – a type of dance performed in triple metre – three cursors roam across the screen, independent of user guidance and control. The disembodied cursor starts to take on a new role, one that forces the viewer to reflect how the interface might contain inherent properties and stipulations that otherwise get ignored or taken for granted.
Malashock’s work plays with different types of cursor experience; in some pieces we get to engage the cursor directly, using it for its instinctive interactivity, and in others we have to observe the cursor go about it’s movements without having the ability to effect placement or result. We can imagine that these two types of engagement with our digital hand lead to two types of user experience: alienation or identification.
This juxtaposition and synthesis of these two states of interaction happen within Portrait of a Youngman by Shunya Hagiwara. In this piece we are able to control and participate with the objects on screen, but we also are subjected to a kind of cursor theft as the objects move through a specific frame of interactivity. This limitation of participation is similar to Malashock’s recorded performances in that they show how the constraints of the interface dictate engagement and expression within the screen. The inherent hindrance of the cursor, and our reliance upon its mechanism and behavior, highlights our growing frustration and desire to move away or beyond this framework of interactivity into more intuitive hardware (i.e. wetware).
Rafaël Rozendaal also investigates this dichotomy of user experience through single-serving-site pieces that have variable amounts of interactivity and control. Although the mouse plays an essential role within many – if not most – works in Rozendaal’s oeuvre, two works in particular, annoyingcursor.com and outinthewind.com, exemplify the two distinct ways that the cursor can be employed as a phenomenological tool. The irritation in annoyingcursor.com (which you can imagine is self evident by the title of the work alone) reprograms the cursor to no longer abide by the typical utility that we normally expect. In doing so, Rozendaal reinforces our reliance upon the limitation of interface, and perhaps unintentionally points to our ever-growing movement away from the established hardware used for screen interaction.
Through the simple and playfully poetic outinthewind.com, Rozendaal counters our frustration in annoyingcursor.com with a much more sentimental view of how we embody screen space. In this work the pixels of our cursor are blown off by randomized gusts from unseen digital gales. An almost immediate reaction I have with this work is to make sudden movements of impatience in order to regain my cursor’s form, but this on further it’s deterioration, and eventually renders the cursor into scattered slowly-fading dots in a void. Once the cursor has disintegrated completely, viewers are forced to either navigate away from the work, refresh the page, or close the browser altogether. The sense of loss within this work that occurs when we fully adsorb our absence of a graphical self on-screen. In doing so we recognize the level of investment we’ve made in the interface as a representation of personal belonging and dependancy.
Our demanding agency over digital interfaces crumbles when we realize that the series of interactions we have on-screen are based on computational situations that are occasionally beyond our control. This type of interactivity is not only unpredictable, but it is also so far removed from our everyday understanding of technology that our only way of digesting this process of translation is through a series of complex and subtle abstractions of self. As a result, the plug-and-play expectations of our hardware and software have gradually turned us into disembodied or estranged users. We are now faced with the difficulty of having to combat and understand the contradictory burden of the simultaneous frustration (when things don’t work right, for reason we don’t understand) and profound attachment (feeling loss when graphic representations of self disappear or are stunted) amidst being inundated with a whole new set of problems that touch screen hardware has already started to bring.
Editors note: The translation of our text follows the initial dialog
I asked artist and designer Nicolas Sassoon to participate in a model swap with me in order to investigate and explore some of his working methods and artistic practices. While exchanging the images below (and the accompanying model files) over the past several weeks, I also posed questions about the background, influences, and potential questions Sassoon’s practice poses to both netart and architecture cultures.
NS: I’m sending you a Sketchup model based from a USGS DEM file. The USGS DEM standard is a geospatial file format developed by the United States Geological Survey for storing a raster-based digital elevation model. A simple way to put it would be to say that a 2D image is used as a source of data for a 3D model. A dark zone on the image means a high area on the map, a bright zone means a low area. It is something comparable to a topographic map.
What’s interesting about this format is that it has been used to record the entire territory of the United States, which is downloadable online through an infinite number of maps at this address. Today I downloaded one of these maps. I picked a letter in the alphabetical list and went for a map called BLUEFIELDS. The name sounded very promising and romantic…
NO’B: When looking at the abundance of the UGSG DEM files that are all available, does “data” as a source material play into the work, or are you more interested in how these elevation maps represent a kind of de-contextualized space that you have been creating in your other work. In looking at the “Geodes” series for example, there seems to be a Buckminster Fuller influence that infiltrates your work. I’m wondering if there is a connection for you between the modular architecture that he constructed and designed and the ready-made landscapes that are provided by these UGSG DEM files?
These maps represent an interesting base to work with, they correspond to existing spaces, but they potentially become subject to a lot of modifications, just like a 3D model of a geodesic dome. The architecture of Buckminster Fuller will inevitably be re-used and altered when translated to a 3D environment. I’m interested by this sense of freedom and the romanticism involved in the making of 3D models. When I use a 3D program like Sketchup, I see it as a vector of fantasy, a platform to manifest any kind of utopic project.
I want to go back to the idea of modularity that has come across in the last model you sent me. Does the malleability and flexibility of these 3D environments inspire your process, or has your work always contained a element of repetition and combination?
I’ve always been excited to insert elements of repetition and combination into architectures, landscapes, human environments in general. When I started drawing architectural shapes, I realized that copy/ pasting a building was very easy. Any kind of architectural fantasy is stimulated in a 3D environment. It’s something scary and exciting at the same time, but I think it’s also something that we have a lot to learn from.
You’ve mentioned how observing and searching play a large role in the work. Are there areas of study and observance that you participate in that haven’t manifested in your work yet?
I like to observe how technology is integrated in my environment. That includes architecture, landscape, domestic interiors, industrial areas, etc. Most of these fields have already manifested in my work as digital drawings or animations, which is a starting point. A lot of my work is driven by the possibility of being translated physically.
In these sketches, and your other work, there seems to be a great demand for order and symmetry. Is this just a stylistic undertaking, or is there some other concern, like say form an architectural perspective?
When I draw architectural shapes, I find it exciting to think of a house as an abstract geometrical shape. Looking at architecture from its beginnings until today, it is something that really stands out to me.
I think I’m also interested in how the translation of the fantastic structures and landscapes you’ve made here are starting to manifest themselves in real space. Can you talk a little bit about how you are planning on realizing these virtual works into physical objects?
There is something very romantic about the potential of technology integrated in our daily environment and I would like to explore more that potential. I want to address domestic spaces and daily areas where we use technology. My work generally takes the shape of a building, a landscape or an object; these are 3 elements I’m working a lot with when it comes to physical objects.
As this exchange has developed, I’ve noticed a reintroduction of “natural” elements to counter, or otherwise balance, the geometry of the architecture. Do you view architecture and landscape as having separate or competing aesthetic concerns? Or are they more intertwined?
I think architecture is always meant to create a relationship with landscape; an articulation to a natural or artificial environment. I integrated elements of nature because I wanted to give a more specific context to that 3D model. Now it could be land art in an artificial forest, the ruin of a building, a housing project…
Do you think the copy/paste mentality you’ve mentioned before has permeated artistic expression in non-net based practices? If this is the case, what do you think we can, as you say, “learn from?”
Copying/pasting a building is one of many changes that computer technology have brought in the process of making architecture. Today most architectural projects are promoted through animated walk-throughs, 3D panoramic views, CNC scale models, etc. I feel like this has also influenced a lot the process of conceptualizing architecture. I don’t think for example that the buildings of Zaha Hadid would have been the same without computers. Every technological revolution brings new aesthetics; 3D environment has a huge seductive energy, it has the potential of making dreams visible. What we can learn from that probably resides in the possibility to define what part technology plays in our dreams and what part we actually play in these dreams.
You say that the work has an inherent drive for physical translation, do you think that there might be certain qualities of the work that would be lost in that translation (ie some of the fantasy)?
Some qualities and intentions within the work can actually be enhanced with a physical production. The programs I use are meant to send images to print, models to build, objects to assemble, and I enjoy following that process. Some of my work can also find a form ‘in between’, like Hot Springs, which were printed on mirrors and to the scale of the physical objects they represented.
In mentioning the interest in exploring specific environments, do you think that you’d be interested in site-specific installation? Or do you consider the work you are already making as a kind of site-specificity?
A large part of my work is already site-specific, but I’m also drawn to work with contexts of other natures. I see the evolution of my work off-line as a natural order of things, still fed by my online practice. Projects expanding both online and off-line is also something I’m excited to think about.
I often wonder whether a given piece of architecture enhances the landscape, or does anything to respond to it, especially because of the cut-paste cooperate architecture that emerged out of the designs of the Bauhaus. Are there contemporary architects or buildings that you think achieve that balance?
I look at architecture as something that can potentially generate ideals and fantasies, which makes me look more towards utopic or excessive projects that aren’t always realistically successful. As an example, I have been very curious of the Farnsworth House by Mies Van Der Rohe, which seems to have influenced a lot of contemporary architectures and ideals of modern living. Dan Graham mentions this house in his essay Kammerspiel, saying that the house was a source of stress for its original owner. The building is placed in the middle of a huge park, and the windows give the house a feeling of vulnerability, especially at night. The inclusion of human habitat within a landscape seems to have its own limits; it often implies changes in terms of comfort, lifestyle. I feel like a successful architecture would be a building that takes in consideration those types of changes.
When showing your work, is it important that viewers acknowledge that these spaces are meant to be fantastical or otherwise impractical?
When I draw a shape that looks like a house or a building, I enjoy that it can be interpreted as something fantastical or realistic. I name a lot of my drawings Studies. A study is something potential, transitory in the process of making. It either leads to a final project or to another study.
What do you think the largest hurdle for translating online/screen based works into a gallery/physical space?
Online/screen based pieces are working in a specific context, showing them in a gallery seems to imply the information of that context. I’m always excited about that perspective, but it is something that really depends on each work and each artist to me.
What is coming up for you in the next couple of months?
I’m showing a new piece this month in a show called GETTING CLOSER at Fe Arts Gallery in Pittsburgh (curated by Lindsay Howard) and in show at Helen Pitt Gallery in Vancouver. It’s a really exciting project based on a new format for me, and it’s also a collaboration with Sara Ludy and Krist Wood. Many online and off line projects too, the only issue being to be able to make them all.
This past week I had the immense pleasure to be involved with the Los Angeles instance of Bring Your Own Beamer, a one night event initiated by artist Rafael Rozendaal where artists fill a gallery/venue with images beamed by borrowed or self-owned projectors. I also had the great chance of talking to BYOB LA organizers Chris Coy and Guthrie Lonergan to talk about how the evening unfolded, as well as how there already has been some much heated conversations regarding what these events facilitate. We’re joined by Artie Vierkant, who participated in both the LA and the NYC versions of this project, to discuss some of the recent criticisms of this type of impromptu self-organization, but also to have a kind of debriefing of our feelings and thoughts about how things went last Friday.
We specifically discuss articles published by Brad Troemel and Karen Archey on Karen’s new art criticism and review site Bien-Pensant that respond to the potential emerging issues that are coming out of the conversations that surround BYOB-like shows; namely, what/who are these events serving, and how can artists approach these settings with equal parts enthusiasm and criticism. The four of us talk about the attitudes and feelings that we each had about BYOB LA, and discuss how these situations are initiated as part of an ongoing conversation between a large community of diverse artists working online (or working within the “internet aware” classification that has been circulating).
Through our conversation, we decide that to overly contextualize the practices as a sum whole would do a disservice to the powerful differences that separate and differentiate creative practices exhibited within BYOB thus far, and that leaving the discourse open and in constant renewed upkeep would be essential in maintaining a dialog between each other. Below is the chat log of our discussion, as well as a short video that tours the BYOB LA event.
November 23, 2010 · Print This Article
Over on the art21 blog I’ve posted some thoughts about the work of netartists based in the Midwest and how they possible share common ideas and themes. I asked a handful of makers what their thoughts on how living on the third coast has effected their practice. Here is a short excerpt:
Since moving away from Chicago this past summer, I’ve seen how Chicago and the Midwest have influenced my work, as well as my work ethic. The spirit of experimentation and collaboration run very deep within Chicago’s art veins, and I’ve seen how Midwest hospitality has infiltrated even the toughest skinned “coastal imports.” With these in mind, I’m curious how artists working online – in a non-specific spatial setting – have either engaged or adjusted their Midwest sentiments (if any) within a global network.
I asked several net artists if their practice has been influenced by living in the Midwest, and I received a wonderful variety of responses. Although working online has “freed” several artists from the limitations of a bloated or overcrowded art market found on the coasts, some argued that this liberation is not unique to the Midwest and that artists internationally are finding ways to create and distribute their work without the cumbersome (and what some would call slow) commercial gallery system.
Read the rest of the piece here.