Play By Play : What to Expect in the Coming Months

January 18, 2013 · Print This Article


I came on as the Managing Editor of the Bad at Sports blog about a month ago. It’s been an exciting turn and I hope to do well by it. A few people have asked what my vision going forward is, and I thought I might say something about it here. I hope to continue reflecting on the dynamic energy in Chicago’s contemporary art world while connecting to conversations and aesthetic agendas in other cities and disciplines. That agenda was set in place a while ago and I believe I can continue to guide and focus that intention. There is room for experimentation in that vision, which seems necessary to me. Bad at Sports has never presented a tidy, singular package and as such, I believe it would go against the nature of the project to filter content and tone through a single, editorial lens. Its roots in independent, DIY and Punk Rock collectivism remain at the heart of the project’s vitality and the blog is a platform for unique and individual voices that pass through the subject of contemporary art and culture. As such it becomes a nexus of concerns and responses to culture at large. That is something I hope to preserve under my stewardship. As an artist-run forum, Bad at Sports has the unique capacity to reflect on a host of subjects, exposing the intellectual, aesthetic and social networks that define and subsequently influence cultural production. I believe it is our job to explore and discuss the contexts we inhabit. In doing so, we further establish a living touchstone and future archive of contemporary discourse.

Some changes should be apparent already — others will fall into place like pieces of a puzzle in the coming months. The process is organic, but I’ve been trying to set up a casual, thematic architecture  that unfolds over the course of a given week. Eventually, I hope to schedule two posts a day, one before 2pm and one after. Built in to this, is room for special occasions and guest writers — those posts would either go live in the evenings, or fill in existing gaps. To that end I’ve been inviting a number of new writers, many of whom I have admired for a long time.

Here is something of a loose schedule:

Mondays: Essays and reflections from old favorites Jeriah Hildewin, Shane McAdams and Nicholas O’Brien — writers who have been posting with consistent dedication. In addition, I’m excited to announce a new bi-weekly column by Dana Bassett, whom you may know for her ACRE Newsletters.

Tuesdays are dedicated to three subjects: Performance, Social Practice, Language (or the performance thereof) and Object Oriented Ontology. Confirmed participants include longstanding contributor Abigail Satinsky and Mary Jane Jacob (Social Practice), Anthony Romero and João Florêncio (performance), Gene Tanta (language), Robert Jackson (OOO).

On Wednesdays, we will read about artists and art in other cities. The following writers will post on rotation: Jeffery Songco is covering the Bay Area, Sam Davis continues to represent Bad at Sports’ Los Angeles Bureau, Sarah Margolis-Pineo is writing about Portland. Juliana Driever will be relaying posts, interviews and artist profiles about New York, and then we’ll bring it back to the Midwest with Kelly Shindler’s dispatch from St. Louis, and Jamilee Polson Lacy writing about Kansas City.

Thursdays herald our illustrious Stephanie Burke’s Top 5 Weekend Picks and a new monthly contribution from author/translator Johannes Göransson whose writing you can also find here.

Fridays have been set aside for art reviews and artist profiles with contributions from Danny Orendoff, Monica Westin, Abraham Ritchie and myself.

WEEKENDS will feature a range and flux of the above, plus Brit Barton’s Endless Opportunities, cultural reflections and short essays by Terri Griffith, continued posts from Jesse Malmed, in addition to a monthly contribution from the newly confirmed Bailey Romaine and Adrienne Harris.

My last note is this — there is room in this schedule for additional posts, posts that would feature special events, festivals and conferences in the city. That space would also be available to, at times, connect the blog and the podcast. As a first indication of this, we will be highlighting IN>TIME, a performance festival that is going on as we speak, from January until March.

Otherwise if you have any comments, suggestions or, even guest posts you would like to submit, please feel free to contact me at:

I Explained What State Smashers Are to a Grand Jury: An Interview with Julie Perini

July 17, 2012 · Print This Article

Julie Perini is endlessly curious. Her practice revolves around moving images, but utilizes a full quiver of strategies toward an equally far-ranging set of goals. The work–like Julie herself–is smart and funny, willing to try new things and thoughtfully self-aware. Even as she becomes more established in her role as a maker, organizer and writer, her curiosity and restlessness of form push her into new and challenging situations.

Graciously and unexpectedly, her responses in this interview touch upon several ideas I have been thinking through recently: the perceived mind/body split, the role of one’s hands in the realm of the digital and how to align the political, personal and aesthetic in ways that open up experience instead of closing it down.

Where do you come from? Specifically, how many parts of New York have you lived in and what initially keyed your interest in making art? Making videos in your basement? DIY shows in other people’s basements? An aggrieved political sense from infancy?

I moved around New York State from birth until age 29 in the following order: Poughkeepsie, Ithaca, Brooklyn, Buffalo, Oswego.  There were brief stints in Florence, Italy and Juneau, Alaska in there too. I was a quiet kid and a voracious reader of books.  As soon as I was able, I was writing my own stories and poems. I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. I was also a musician in various high school ensembles and in bands with friends and yes, the late 90s independent music phenomenon was a big eye-opener for a disaffected youth like me in the suburbs. What little interest I had in the type of music I was learning in school disappeared when I realized other kids like me were making music in their bedrooms with friends that didn’t have to be perfect and you could sing about stuff that was funny or actually mattered to you. I also made videos with friends using clunky VHS equipment my early adopter parents had, often for school assignments, like the hour-long docu-drama Nam: The Homefront, 1964-69.

Also I went to the public library often and took out VHS tapes of classic Hollywood films. I loved the clever banter between people like Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracey; those movies were so much better than the junk Hollywood was offering up in the 80s and 90s. I went off to college at age 18, wandered into a campus screening of The Red Shoes, had my socks knocked off, and keep going to see odd films at Cornell Cinema like work by Sadie Benning and Jennifer Reeves. I was hooked. At that time, Cornell only had two 16mm film classes that you had to sit on a wait list to get into, so I went to Ithaca’s public access station to learn how to use analog video editing equipment. I’ve been teaching myself how to use whatever equipment is available ever since.

You mention that some of your interest in engaging with community-oriented and more overtly political work stems from your own experiences with the FBI in Steve Kurtz of the Critical Art Ensemble‘s investigation. I know about this from reading things at the time and later seeing Lynn Hershman Leeson’s interesting film about the same. Can you detail your experiences a bit more and discuss how they impacted your making?

Lynn interviewed me for that film (Strange Culture) but I didn’t make the final cut. It’s a long story, but for now I can tell you this: In the summer of 2004 after my first year of graduate school at the University of Buffalo, the FBI issued me a subpoena to appear before a federal grand jury to testify as a witness for the bio-terrosism investigation of Steve Kurtz of Critical Art Ensemble (CAE). My part in this story is particularly amusing because the main reason that I can see the authorities called me in was because they found a note I’d written Steve that contained a line that said, “State smashers need to stick together.” So I explained what state smashers are to a Grand Jury. In an effort to understand why the community of artists around me in Buffalo was being scrutinized in this way, I read a lot of books about the history of the FBI, like Ward Churchill’s Agents of Repression, and this quickly led me to other resources about state repression of dissidents in the US. The FBI has been successful at halting the development of progressive groups like the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense and the American Indian Movement for example; these are facts that are well documented and well known. So this research provided me with a context for understanding why the government found CAE’s work so threatening. This wasn’t anything new.

At the time, this experience impacted my practice by making it difficult to focus on anything except the case and keeping my professor out of prison. In an effort to push past this creative block, I began shooting video with a small DV camera throughout the day in an unplanned, uncensored way. I followed most whims that I had and ended up making a lot of performance videos and diary material. I was inspired by people I’d been reading about from the Civil Rights Movement and resistance movements in the 60s and 70s like Assata Shakur, Fannie Lou Hamer, and so on. I figured that if they do what they did in their efforts to change their worlds (endure torture, ridicule, solitary confinement, etc.), I could push past my own personal boundaries and dance in public or whatever it was I had set my mind to do. After a few months, I reviewed a lot of this material and either used it to make finished short pieces or re-created some of what I had shot to make finished pieces. This became my graduate school thesis, Experiments in Immediacy. And this is still the main way that I make work – I follow whims, experiment a lot, and then review the resultant documentation and fashion it into finished works. I have an artist talk that I do called “Shoot First & Ask Questions Later” that discusses this approach.

Part of what would seem to distinguish Relational Filmmaking from other filmmaking practices is an emphasis on process over the final product. I think this is a commonality throughout your work: you are very overt in your direct communication with viewers. You speak and write directly to the viewer in many of your pieces and the way your materially-invested films are titled and presented very plainly addresses the process of their making at the outset. I’m hoping you might talk a bit about whether you conceive of these works as, on some level, being documents of the process of their making and about the relative directness of your speech/text throughout your work. Is clarity an important condition of Relational Filmmaking? Of politically-engaged art more broadly?

I am glad you picked up on this and asked about it. All of my work tries to strike a balance between process and product. Sometimes I feel like I hit a sweet spot with that balance and at other times I feel like things lean bit too much to one side. So I wouldn’t say that I prioritize the process over the product since I am invested in creating careful and considered experiences for viewers as well as designing meaningful processes. Yes, I do conceive of much of my work as being a document of its own making, or a record of its own making (thanks Peter Gidal). The handmade films in particular seem like records of what happened to them as they came into being. And yet, much of the processes that made those films are not recorded; a viewer wouldn’t know for how long I’d left Collaboration with the Earth in the ground, for example. This leads us to the titles and text. I decided to use text to tell quick stories at the beginning of each film, narrating the process behind each production. I think of this way of presenting material as a kind of Joseph Kosuth or Martha Rosler move, where I show viewers the same process in two different representational systems. This phase I’m describing is where one of the great joys of moving-image-making lies for me: looking at the results from experiments and figuring out how to shape them into something for someone else to view. I have to make decisions about the extent to which I let people in on the process and the extent to which I allow narrative or formal considerations to influence the final piece. I rely on text a lot to do that but I am always trying to find new ways strike that balance. Installation is pretty exciting to me right now because objects and materials communicate in an entirely different way from verbal language.

In terms of direct address, that partly comes from some of my earliest experiments with 16mm film in the late 90s. At that time what I thought was the most fascinating thing about film was that it could make a viewer feel something physically or even do something unconsciously. Horror films for example, make me cover my eyes with my hands during super scary parts; I can’t control it. Some really gross films make me vomit a tiny bit in my mouth. Amazing. So in the 90s I made short horror films, usually about people who had a vexed relationship to food. For example, in one film food inappropriately comes out of a character’s body parts like his ears and nipples. I am still interested in creating a sense of reaching out through the screen and directly touching a viewer. A lot of documentary filmmaking does that and so does advertising. I think of my use of direct address, which is mainly through text/titles and sometimes through a subject talking directly to the camera (usually me), as a way to openly acknowledge the relationship between the art object (the video, the film) and the viewer. Mainly to acknowledge that the relationship is there, it’s happening. There is something immediately funny to me about being this explicit.

Who are other Relational Filmmakers? Do you feel that this constitutes a “movement” or is the purpose of your manifesto a way to clarify your thinking on your own work?

The purpose of the manifesto was mainly to clarify my own way of working. I do not think it’s a movement although I bet we could find enough makers out there whose work isn’t adequately described by Bill Nichols to write an essay that argues there’s a trend towards relational work. Lately I have wanted to keep the tenets of the manifesto but change the name. The “relational” term seems to float fine in filmmaking circles but other types of artists and art people recoil; it seems to carry with it a lot of late 90s baggage that I don’t really need. I’ll get back to you when I find a better name.

What can Social Practitioners teach filmmakers and vice versa?

Good question. Filmmakers can teach social practitioners what they’ve learned over the past 100+ years about the ethics of working with human subjects as well as some techniques for effectively assembling and presenting visual/audio documentation of events. Social practitioners can remind filmmakers about the importance of being present and aware when creating an artwork with other people.

Will you talk a bit about 34 Years of Whiteness: Race & Ethnicity in the Work of Julie Perini? Why whiteness instead of womanness? Why whiteness instead of educatedness? Why whiteness instead of Americanness? Does whiteness in this context convey all those other types of privilege?

The Whiteness talk is a lecture I did a few months ago at the close of a show I had up at Place Gallery in Portland. It was inspired by an artist talk I had been at this past fall by a Native American woman. She talked about the use of family stories, tribal traditions, and indigenous language in her painting, sculpture, and installation. She both explained what motivated her to make work in the first place – preserving and celebrating her heritage – and she unpacked the symbols that recur throughout the work. I had this aha moment while I was sitting there: “Why don’t I ever give a talk like this? One where I talk about the influence of my family, my race, etc.? I give artist talks all the time and they are usually about some new process I’ve developed or some formal boundary I’m pushing here or there.” Then it all started to flood quickly into my consciousness, what a talk about race in my work would look like. In a moment I pretty much reviewed my entire creative output and reframed it through a racial lens. It was a big moment.

Think about it – the reason I had never given a talk about race in my work the way this Native American artist was doing was simple: I am a member of the dominant racial group in the US. Here, white people are just people: we are the standard, the norm, the universal. Our race is invisible. The lecture was an attempt to make whiteness more visible by pointing out the ways that my previous work constructed images of whiteness, of white people, of the white race, of white privilege. Since whiteness is invisible, particularly to white people, I needed a lot of help to see it and several friends of mine who are people of color graciously helped me out. You can imagine how awkward, beautiful, and hilarious these conversations were. “So, um, I am sure that this video I made shows some stuff about what it means to be white but I’m not sure exactly how it does it. Would you mind looking at this for me…?” I believe that our identity is expressed in all of the work we make, whether we intend it to be there or not. Art does more than merely express identity, but identity is in there every time.

The Whiteness talk was one of the best things I have done in years. The audience who came was filled with people interested in talking about identity in and around art. We had a great conversation. People want to talk about things like race; there just aren’t a whole lot of spaces where it seems safe to do that. All of my work is about heightening my own awareness in some way and now this Whiteness lecture is helping me to be more aware of myself as a white person. And while I am certainly informed about and interested in ideas about intersectionality, right now I have a lot of work to do to understand the more nuanced histories of white people and white art in the United States. I think it would be great to have a whole series of talks like you mention in your question – Gender in the Work of Julie Perini, Nationality in the Work of Julie Perini, Class…, Ability…, and someday: All Axes of Identity in the Work of Julie Perini. Great idea!

Your day job is as an Assistant Professor at Portland State University. Can you talk a bit about how teaching has impacted your practice?

When I’ve got a good group, an awesome class meeting makes me want to run out into the street, or home, or to my studio, to make stuff.

You have a new project your raising funds for now. I’m hoping (first) you might take this moment of pixel megaphone, blog soap box to turn readers into donors and (second) I’m wondering if you have any thoughts about crowdsourced fund-raising. Will Kickstarter endure or will we joke about it in five years? Is it a key component of new relational art? Should we resent the middlemen? What is this project about?

Sure! The Gentleman Bank Robber: The Life Story of Rita Bo Brown is going to be a short portrait documentary of Bo Brown, one of the members of the George Jackson Brigade. The GJB was a revolutionary group from Seattle in the 1970s that carried out a lot of militant actions – ie; bombings – to protest the Vietnam war, to show solidarity with workers on strike, and so on. The group often robbed banks to fund their activities, and Bo became known as “The Gentleman Bank Robber” because she demanded funds from bank tellers in a polite manner. She dressed so butch that the authorities were looking for a man for a long time before they figured out they should be looking for Bo. Eventually the GJB all did prison time for their actions but now they are all out. The GJB were like The Weather Underground but unlike the Weatherman who were mostly white, the GJB was a mixed sexuality, mixed race, and mixed gender group. I met Bo through a friend of mine here in Portland, Lydia Bartholow. Lydia has wanted to record Bo’s life story for a long time, to have more documentation of radical history from working class butch dykes like Bo. I am more than happy to help out with that project, so here we are. Our friend Erin McNamara is also working on the project. We are running a kickstarter campaign right now to raise money to fund our travel to Oakland, CA where Bo lives. We want to spend a week with her, interviewing her and her friends, documenting her life, and so on. I can’t say right now what the final product will look like but it may be more straightforward than most of my other work. Bo is so awesome, super down-to-earth and sweet but also hard as nails and brilliant, that I am psyched to be able to spend a week with her like this. We are about halfway to our fundraising goal – please feel free to support The Gentleman Bank Robber!

In regards to crowd-sourced fundraising, this is the first online fundraising campaign I have ever done. It seems like it is good for a few reasons: (1) you can raise funds very quickly, (2) you generate excitement about your project and build a community around it before you even make it, and (3) you can get funds from people who don’t live near you. The first two were true before the internet and the third was true but more cumbersome to pull off. The main drawback seems to be that it’s just plain annoying; I probably receive several kickstarter requests every week. I do not know what the future holds for crowdsourcing like this. I think we should ask Canadians what they think. Artists there seem to have an easier time accessing state funding to support their work. I heard that Kickstarter now channels more funding to the arts in the United States than the NEA does. That is not a good sign.

This relates as much to your own practice as it does to my interest in how artists conceive of their careers and the infrastructures they use to bolster their work. You’ve recently gone through a number of residencies (and have just begun another at Yaddo). How do these specific spaces and contexts inform your work? Does the Relational Filmmaker’s Manifesto dictate this kind of site-specificity? 

In one way, this relates to your teaching question. I have a humanities/social science background, so teaching in art departments and art schools for the past several years has been like going to school all over again. I did not recognize it at the time, but during my undergraduate years there was this subtle idea in the air that thinking was what was difficult, important, and valuable; that’s what we did at school. Making was this base thing that happened someplace else. It was a manifestation of the unfortunate but common mind/body split we see everywhere in our culture. I’ve been unlearning that lesson slowly. And after several residencies where I’ve been able to have some heart-to-hearts with people who work with clay, paint, textiles, language, sound, and so on, my respect for artists and appreciation for what all artists do has grown tremendously. Artists practice fusing their minds and bodies so that they can act in creative, expressive, and investigative ways with materials, tools, forms, and ideas. Incredible.

I want you to talk about your (recent) interest in the materiality of film. This seems like a relatively late discovery considering how long you’ve been making images move. I’m interested in how  this more hands-on, process-engaged work has opened you up to new ideas. Part of what’s also interesting is that you bruise and beat the film such that–correct me if I’m wrong–the only time it’s ever actually projected, as such, is when it’s being transferred to a digital copy. How does film–as a physical thing–come to bear in other parts of your practice? What does it mean to be engaged in this specific form at this point in history? Have you taken an interest in the “materiality” of digital video, in its ones and zeroes?

Mingling with painters and sculptors for the past several years has made me way more open to both (1) working with materials with my hands and (2) seriously exploring formal elements. I learned about handmade film techniques through a workshop Pam Minty teaches at the Northwest Film Center and I immediately started to wonder what my usual repertoire of questions and strategies would look like as cameraless films.

I have taken an interest in the materiality of digital video, and analog video for that matter. I am constantly aware that these are all very different media created and transmitted through completely different means. I have not yet taken that fact to be the subject of a work but I appreciate that other folks like Evan Meaney are doing that, although he is doing that and much more.

What is the difference between creative activism (falling into something like living and acting politically as form) and political art? To me, one of the fundamental issues surrounding political art as well as documentary as a broader practice. How important are clarity, succinctness and overtness to communicating political ideas? Is there room for genuinely innovative and formally expressive work that is still oriented toward conveying a political idea? Compare, say, Frontline documentaries with those of Jackie Goss or Craig Baldwin or even Ken Jacobs, if the goal of a politically-engaged film is to convey a political idea, maybe formal innovation can get in the way? And if creating a complicated space in which a multiplicity of ideas and feelings and interpretations can flourish is a goal of much of contemporary practice, how does this muddle political meanings? 

These are all useful questions you’re hitting on here, ones that have been considered for a long time either consciously or unconsciously by people with power and by people who want power. I think that Jen-Luc Godard quote makes sense here: “The problem is not to make political films, but to make films politically.”

Person Corporatehood: An Interview with Mike Merrill

July 3, 2012 · Print This Article

Person Corporatehood. I said this aloud one day and let it sit for a minute or two, trying to figure out what it meant. I believe in this kind of thinking: create language, see if what it describes is useful, use it, make it. I said this and then I realized that Mike Merrill had made it. He’s a publicly traded person. People own shares in him and vote on matters of import to his life: dietary choices, romantic entanglements, whether or not to have a vasectomy, his professional and civic obligations and affiliations.

As an artist, this highlights a few key elements of what seem to dictate his practice and production. He is compulsively collaborative and instigates projects with varied social reaches and dynamic insider-outsider/collaborator-audience roles for others. He has an interest in how the aesthetics and language of business can be utilized in new forms. And, I think most important in appreciating what he does, he creates systems of rules–games–in which he and others interact, bump up against and work within these strictures.

His projects are manifold–and are not always described as art–but include the internet community/cultural nexus Urban Honking (which he co-founded in the early part of this century with YACHT‘s Jona Bechtolt and States Rights RecordsSteve Schroeder and on which I also have a blog), its internet reality show the Ultimate Blogger (which ran three seasons), Team Video (which produces, as you might expect, TV), Allison Supper Club (site-specific meals) and, of course, KmikeyM, which is him as corporate entity, him as owned by you.

Buy stock in Mike. Have him buy part of your drink. Make a weird rule for yourself and see how it makes things.

Let’s begin at the beginning. Can you tell us a bit about your biography? I recall that you were raised in Alaska. As a late-teen you joined the Army. In 2001 you co-founded Urban Honking. Can you fill us in on the in-betweens?

I grew up all over Alaska. Spent my youth in a place called Coldfoot, AK with very few other humans. Then when I was in 5th grade I finally got to go to school with other kids in Soldotna. In my junior year of High School we moved to Sitka, AK. Even when we were in the same place we moved  around a lot. I don’t really have a “childhood home” and I haven’t been back to Alaska in many years. I’m sure that affected me somehow…

Growing up my Dad was a State Trooper and I thought I wanted to be a cop. I was just around it so much and would read books on pro-active vs. reactive policing, community policing, and all these other things my Dad had around. I really liked the systems and the thinking around those systems. I didn’t realize that there was a difference between that and the average police officer. So after High School I joined the Army as Military Police, thinking I’d do that, then go to college, and then eventually end up in some federal law enforcement agency. But I quickly hit a snag when I realized that to be a good cop you kind of have to be a bit of an asshole… I mean, you have to want to get into people’s business. That’s the job of the police! To place themselves in situations where they are not wanted, and to do so with authority and take control. That was not me. I wanted to read books about supply logistics (there is a lot of supply and logistics happening in the Army!) and play with the computer inventory systems. So I wasn’t a very good MP, and likely I wasn’t a very good soldier, so when I had an opportunity to get out, it seemed like the best option both for me and for the Army. I like to say we split on amicable terms. It was a mistake, but I don’t blame that on the Army, it was my mistake. Anyway, that experience certainly affected me. I joined at 18 and got out at 21. Pretty formative years.

When I got out I didn’t want to go back to Alaska and I had friends who were renting a house in Portland, so I told them to save me a spot and I moved to Portland in 1998. A few years and many projects later I was living with Jona and Steve and we started Urban Honking. God, there is so much more, but I feel like this got long and boring!

The context of this interview is that you are–as you sometimes present yourself–an artist. I don’t think in 2012 we need to have a discussion about why or why not your work can function as art. I am however interested in you talking about the kind of code switching and context-shifting that you present for different projects. What are the advantages of presenting your work as entrepreneurial or as art or as something like a series of goofs by a guy with web savvy?

For me the danger of presenting what I do, or rather, how I live, as art is that it’s too easy to dismiss. “Oh, that’s an art project. It’s not real life.” So while I feel like many of the individual projects can fall under an art category I don’t choose to place being a publicly traded person under that. In Portland I engage with a lot of different people. People who identify primarily as artists, or writers, or designers, or software engineers, or whatever. The beauty of the KmikeyM project is that it hits all those points. I need all those people! So I think the context-shifting actually happens very naturally. I talk code with the software people and concepts of control with the artists… of course, many people around me wear multiple hats, so it all blurs together. But in general I tend to categorize people in my head as how they interface with KmikeyM. The way it’s presented is in a constant state of flux.

Can you talk a bit about your time in the military? What elements of that experience have shaped your life as a maker/project-person?

Being in the Army taught me how to adapt to systems. The Army is very well regulated. There are rules for every single thing. A few of us more rebellious types realized at some point that the true power in a system like that isn’t rank… it’s the rules! The rules exist for everyone so even when it was not in our own best interest we’d bring up these rules about the things we were doing, just as a way to exert some sort of control. I think that experience was the start of this idea that social systems could be “hacked” just like computer systems. It’s the same thing… you just find ways to exploit the rules.

Where did the idea to become a publicly traded individual come from? What have some of the surprises of this project been?

I didn’t want to be the publicly traded person. I wanted to invest in the publicly traded person! The original idea came from They use a shareholder model but there is no market, which as a shareholder of etoy I found sort of frustrating when I saw the stock price go up! I wanted to sell and cash out! I talked about the idea for years before I met someone who had the skills and interest to make it happen, at which point I couldn’t say no.

A huge part of what makes your project so interesting is to watch you–as a human being with your own feelings, ideas and context–work up against the way you are required to by your share-holders and the rules of the elaborate game you’ve created. You are a registered Republican now but also have seemed to struggle within these confines, even endorsing Barack Obama’s reelection (while supporting Republicans for Obama). Can you talk about this decision, and, using this as an entry into this part of your life, discuss other instances in which you’ve been challenged by your shareholders’ decisions? How many of your shareholders are also friends?

Part of becoming a republican was certainly just to “mess with the system”. I find it pretty silly that something as polarizing in our culture as political party is determined by a form you get from the post office. You just check a box and off it goes… BOOM! Registered Republican. But then the reality sinks in… I’m a Republican. There is a history to it that’s pretty interesting and while the current version of Republican is pretty broken, the core of it is still solid. Right now I’m not a very good Republican, but I’m also pretty new at it! I’m learning more and getting better and working on finding ways to incorporate my new political beliefs into my life and projects. It’s a no brainer to support Obama and join Republican For Obama. He’s the best candidate. The idea of being party-loyal over nation-loyal is why politics is broken. Republicans supporting Obama is a sign that the current leadership isn’t pushing the right agenda.

As far as other challenges it’s not so much direct actions as it is an overriding sense that I need to keep things moving. I have a responsibility to them. It’s a relationship I’ve come to value more than most personal relationships (not all, not yet). It certainly helps that most of the people I personally care about are shareholders. That allows me to apply the love I have for my friends to the rest of the shareholders. These are people who chose to get invested in me. That’s huge! Who has that? I am incredibly lucky to have a community that supports me and pushes for me to be my best.

Why aren’t there more Republican artists?

Republicans don’t make art, they make money. It’s hard for me to talk about my party. We’re in a bad place right now. I’ve embraced the values of the Republican Party but I feel like my fellow Republicans are much too busy opposing the ideas of Democrats and so they ignore our true agenda. Plus religion got all wrapped up in Republicanism and that isn’t helping. We’re in a dark and confused place right now, but I think the fact that the best we could do was Romney is a sign we’re close to hitting bottom. At least I hope so. Republicans need to ignore Democrats and focus on being good Republicans. This is a bit of a tangent, but I think it’s related. Art is about creation and right now the Republican party is more focused on destruction of their opponents than creation of their own ideals.

Looking back, I think the first way that I first engaged with (you and) Urban Honking was through the Ultimate Blogger contest/show. My friend and sometime roommate Tim Donovan was a contestant on the second season and ended up doing quite well (I think he was either second or third). I loved that project. I’m also surprised in looking back at how much the internet has grown and how different a project like this would be now. Not only would it seem absurd–since “blogger” no longer even sounds like a funny word–but it’d be on Hulu or something. This kind of project exemplified something exciting about “cyberspace” that certainly still exists in large quantities but is not the dominant way “users” interact with “content.” The dream of streaming video for many was a citizen-created media–something like YouTube but without the TV clips and without the targeted advertising. How did Ultimate Blogger come about? What kind of lessons were learned from that project? What were some of its surprise consequences?

It’s funny to think back about that project. We were creating video on the web before YouTube existed! I was never part of the DIY music scene of the northwest but I think this was my version of that. After we made Urban Honking it because clear that the internet allowed us to compete on the media sphere with major corporations. Jona could design things that looked better than most media companies! We started to imagine not just this little web magazine but a whole media empire. And eventually we created that empire, but instead of slowly expanding we just created each new piece one after the other. So we got into blogs, then TV, then radio… We never made any money and it was never a business, it was about creating these things. Ultimate Blogger worked so well because Steve and Jona and I each contributed to it. It was  great collaboration and the most intense and fun thing I’ve ever done. We did three seasons and each time it almost ruined our friendships! It got pretty intense, but we kept doing it again. Being able to lose yourself in something that big is pretty addictive.

Can you talk about the social aspect of your work? Urban Honking is a web community, Allison Supper Club and Whiskey Friends are real life social clubs–themed hangouts, let’s say–that have online components. KmikeyM offers your friends and investors a chance to make decisions about your life in a social environment. A number of your projects are also collaborative. Do you conceive of your role in these as an instigator?

I don’t think it’s quite instigator, but that’s probably close enough to true. Most of these things were created because I wanted to do them and no one else was creating them, and it would be my dream to hand them off and have someone else run them. But they are collaborations and they work best when everyone is involved. I’m more collaborator than instigator. Or maybe I’d say reluctant instigator. Which isn’t to say I don’t like it, but I sometimes worry about coming off as a bit of an asshole when I’m telling everyone what to do all the time.

A lot of the plot of the third season of Ultimate Blogger 3 is about your relationship with Steve Schroeder and your characters’ divisive feelings (“like the Three Stooges always fighting and stuff–but there are only two of them”) as they relate capitalism, corporate sponsorship and “selling out.”

These themes persist in your work and seem to be better and better honed as you grow and work through them. This is vast, but will you describe your relationship with capitalism? How has it shifted over the years? How has constructing economic matters into projects altered these relationships? What can other artists learn from markets?

First off, capitalism isn’t bad. The reason we see so much bad shit happening in capitalism is because people are violating the rules and we’re overly obsessed with short term profits above all else. That’s a poor formula for success. I think we’re post “selling out” and I’m glad because that was a boring argument. Economics is the dominant system, so for me it makes sense to start playing around and replicating that system. There is an element of real danger in dealing with people’s actual money. People have to trust me with their money, and that’s hard for some people. But I think it’s more fun when the stakes are real. I’m not sure yet if there are lessons for other people… well, that’s not exactly true. I have an idea for a short e-book I want to sell about doubling your money and tripling your happiness. I can’t really spill the beans here or no one will pay for my e-book.

Going through your old videos, there are the internet remnants of a project called 7×7 in which you and some friends/collaborators each limited your diet to seven foods/drinks. As the contest wears on, you are seen sabotaging your competition by bringing their favorite (and forbidden) consumables. You discuss (to us, to you) the necessity of agonism, how unless tested and reified through temptation and debate.

You say that being good without the presence of bad is meaningless. And, further, being good without being tempted to be “bad” is meaningless. Does this still impact your work? How do you think of provocation as it relates to your work?

You can’t have good without evil! I think that is true. Or I guess, you wouldn’t know what good is without evil. This is especially true in a story. Plus, I like being the villain. I’m good at it. The “heel” as it’s called in professional wrestling. A hero is only as strong as his nemesis. Batman has the Joker, Kennedy had Nixon, and God has the Devil. I’ve long thought I need my own nemesis, but I haven’t found anyone yet…

How is art like a game? How does thinking of the world in terms of rules (which may be bent or exploited) shift your behavior and your social expectations? Do you think of the constraints and rules of these games in similar terms to how a poet or artist may make constraint-based works? Can rules be freeing?

Yes. Absolutely! You can’t create something without rules. The first rule is a purpose. You can’t take meaningful action without purpose, and once you define a purpose you have a measure to judge your actions. Does it take you closer to the purpose or further from the purpose? It’s more fun when the rules are set by someone else, because then you can start to push the edges and find the holes. Videogames are a good example of this. There is no cheating in a videogame. Even “cheat codes” aren’t cheating because they exist in the game! They were programmed in! They are part of the rule set. It’s not that different in real life. Everything is “allowed” but there are consequences. You can lie to everyone you meet, but in the long term that’s not going to pay off. You can punch someone in the face, but then it’s going to be hard to be friends with them later (plus you might go to jail). So we ease back from those extremes and we think about ways to accomplish our goals in a longer term way. And then you realize that there is really no positive outcome for you in punching that asshole in the face or even starting a year long campaign to ruin them. As much as I like to play the villain the logical conclusion is that there is no future in villainy. If you are smart enough to be a good criminal you are smart enough to know not to be one. Long term planning makes everyone play nice. God, that was quite a tangent..

You only wear Brooks Brothers. This makes you relatively immune to the whims of fashion, gives people another thing to say about you and keeps you looking sharp. You’ve also written recently about your loyalty to other brands. In so doing, you’re building the Mike Merrill brand. You’re more identifiable now than ever and you’re theoretically freed to spend your time in ways other than deciding which socks to buy and which stocks to sell. Will you discuss these branding strategies, how this is impacted by your personal corporatehood and, perhaps, how these relate to the concept of the “profile” and identity?

It’s frustrating to me that you have these amazing designers for the web or visually creative people who put so much time in their work but don’t think about their own “personal CSS”. Dressing better has been a goal for a long time, and for the KmikeyM brand that is a suit and tie. I’m a corporate person and there is a uniform to that look. Going head to toe Brooks Brothers was a way to inoculate myself to fashion (though it’s also given me a greater appreciation for it). Also, being on the west coast, and especially in Portland, it does set me apart and while that was initially difficult I’ve learned to enjoy it. My philosophy isn’t that everyone should dress in suits (but c’mon, that would be amazing!) but rather everyone should dress with purpose. Wearing a suit is a strange thing to get accustomed with. Normal dress these days is jeans and t-shirt. The jeans are heavy and the t-shirt is light. A suit reverses this. The suit pants are light and the shirt, tie, and jacket are the weight. So people feel uncomfortable in suits because it distributes the weight opposite of what we’re normally wearing. But eventually you adjust and find yourself feeling weird when you aren’t wearing a tie. And then you get bored with normal ties and figure out how to tie a bowtie… and it continues from there. The look evolves, but the rules help maintain a certain consistency. Brand loyalty is problem solving. You create a rule for yourself that says when it’s time to buy X, I’ll buy it from Y. No more thinking about the best X. That problem is solved. We create systems for problems we don’t want to think about.

You and Alex Mahan organize a project called Guerrilla Happy Hour in which you and Alex station yourselves at bars that don’t have happy hours (all of them in Chicago, incidentally) and offer any friend who buys a drink a dollar (of your own money). How did this come about and what are your goals in this project? How do you square this with your “pay what it costs” philosophy?

Guerrilla Happy Hour came about because Alex and I work downtown and often get a drink together. Drinking is a social activity, and the more people involved the more fun it is. GHH creates an event out of it. It’s like a party and people want to come to a party. For us it’s pretty cheap… $25 each in dollar coins. No big deal. If you think about it in terms of throwing a party then $25 is pretty cheap! And that’s an investment. Great ideas come from drinking with smart people. Alcohol loosens lips and soon you find yourself planning great epic projects together! Also, it’s a great way to meet girls.

For the past four years, you’ve co-authored the 2020 tumblr, which takes as its scope the future and the way science, technology and society in these speculative futures are (re)presented. Let’s pretend you’re creating these studies and grand claims instead of circulating them. What do you see for 2020? How will our relationships with each other and with commerce shift?

Being an optimist I look forward to the future. If anything, I lament being born too soon because I know I’m going to miss out on some amazing shit! The thing about 2020 is that the year was chosen based on the cyberpunk genre. It’s this idea that the near-future is all mega-corporations and augmented humans and science basically moving too fast and creating a whole new reality… while at the same time it’s the same old story of the haves and have nots. My vision of 2020, or 2050, or whatever, is that it will be totally normal. Only the past is alien, because you start to think, “How did they live without plumbing? Or cars? Or the internet?” The future normalizes everything. We have these major breakthroughs happening all the time and no one pays attention to them because they aren’t yet products we can buy. And once they are products we crave them, so they aren’t scary anymore.

A Hallucination That Is Also a Fact: An Interview with Mary Helena Clark

May 15, 2012 · Print This Article

The world of moving images is fraught with comparisons to magic, to illusions. It is our inheritance and it’s where photographic work gets its heat. Mary Helena Clark’s films work because she understands the perpetual strangeness of seeing “real life” projected on a screen. She understands how to craft a vision of that reality that is highly subjective while still being attuned to the audience’s desires, expectations and baggage. And, in so doing, her works subvert our expectations of the veracity of moving images, while at the same reaffirming the vitality of the well-timed magic trick.

The works feel like they are entirely on her terms. We experience them as we do a well-crafted magic act: the illusions’ realities owe as much to their deception as to the pleasure of being deceived. Built from varied sources—both crafted and borrowed—her films are collages in the best sense. The materials are simultaneously autonomous and inextricably entangled. They are deeply mysterious while bound to reality. And, like so many works of this kind, they give—capably and generously—as much as we’re willing to take.

She has screened widely and in many of the finest contexts the experimental film community offers. Having just completed her MFA at the University of Illinois Chicago, it is fitting that she has a capstone show of her work at Roots and Culture on May 27th. Many of the works will be screening in their native 16mm and though I may not be allowed be to say as much, there may very well be secret works screened interstitially. 

The Plant from Mary Helena Clark on Vimeo.

To begin, I was hoping you could share a bit about where you come from and what brought you to this kind of work. What were you like as an 18 year old? Did you arrive at experimental film through low-budget horror films? Punk shows? Color field comic books? And, relatedly, who were the makers and what was it they made that created that shift in your brain to begin making (or thinking about) experimental film?

I wish I could say something cool but the more honest answer is poetry. I wrote poems and a few plays and set up a darkroom when I was in high school. And then went to film school never having made any films. Robert Todd was my first teacher who showed me experimental film and taught me how to shoot 16mm and use an optical printer. I thought I would eventually make narrative films and that experimental work was a way of mastering images and building a vocabulary but it became my preferred language.

I feel like a lot of your work deals with tromp l’oeil and different types of illusion. While your images are very photographic—that is to say that instead of being computer generated, heavily processed, etc. they bear a tight indexical relationship to their subjects—but they don’t always feel real, whatever that means. Will you describe your relationship to illusion? What types of images appeal to you in the process of creating and gathering them?

I like that magic tricks still work even when you know the moves.

For me, an illusion gives you the best of both worlds. Fantasy and an awareness of its production.

In Sound Over Water, I wanted to shift the interpretation of a single image—a flock of birds— through fluctuating abstraction. By re-photographing and hand processing the images, the “read” changes. It’s ambiguously figurative—schools of fish, crashing waves, light on water—and then ends with the series of photographs acting as document, accentuating the gap between actual and perceptual.

I want to make cinema that is both trance-like and transparent: that operates on dream logic until disrupted by a moment of self-reflexivity, like tripping on an extension cord.

The man at the end of By Foot-Candle Light is completely beguiling. His performance begins somewhere between a portrait and a screen test, but then gets so lovably weird.

 When I first saw this I had a feeling that this was your father and that you had invited him into your studio to chat and play around and once the camera started rolling, he slowly began to goof. There’s a really amazing intimacy in that moment because his eyes are locked on the lens and as his behavior gets stranger, there’s more interaction on the camera’s end. I’m almost reticent to have you blow this mystery by giving the back-story of this performance (and the film more broadly), but I think that too gives an interesting indication into your process.

I had the good fortune of meeting Paul Russell when he came to audition for the role of a hypnotist in another unmade film. I was trying to recreate a story my friend told me about a hypnotist coming to his middle school. He told me that a very shy and very pretty girl was picked from the audience as a volunteer. My friend’s crush on her grew as he watched her fall into a trance and “see” snow for the first time. He described this sublime scene of this girl spot-lit on stage, arms raised, turning in unseen flurries. I thought, “That’d be a nice film!” but by casting call I knew the whole project was too precious. So I filmed the auditions and conflated the making of the movie with the dream you might have had.

By foot-candle light from Mary Helena Clark on Vimeo.

My read on By Foot-Candle Light is that it’s a lot about performance. The startling and (when watched in a proper theater, incredibly effective) opening shot prepares us for an invisible star. The probing lights next take us into a mysterious cave, through a detour of what appears to be a high school dance troupe performance and into a snow-covered birch forest. The white snow gives the illusion that the trees are floating in the air or that the ground has been physically removed from the image. The grain of the trees and the grain of the celluloid undulate and breathe. Then, another illusion: the introduction of footsteps in snow. Through the dream logic of cinema, these cut to your own feet, silent in your studio. There’s applause, the mysterious man appears and, with the shushing of the crowd, his magic eye tricks begin. Does this read resonate? Can you offer some insight into how you think about performance, both in and out of films, and if/how the roving, subjective camera (and attendant lights) performs for the audience?

You got it! This is the film where the periphery becomes the focus. It’s everything that circulates around the main performance, brought up stage in the film. So yes, I wonder if the spotlight has enough pluck to be the lead. It’s sort of like a travelogue trance film à la Maya Deren. I am thinking as much about the audience as I am the performer (or absence of one). How does the texture of the film/video change our situation as viewers? When seen “on the big screen” the opening shot performs another space, other moments of the film are about teleportation. And where do we arrive? In the filmmaker’s studio. I guess that’s my take on the sweaty leap from bed, it’s all just a dream!

And The Sunflowers pairs still images of floral wallpaper with a guided meditation soundtrack, with marvelously subtle textural pulsing in the form of analog video artifacts. As the voices pulls the viewer more deeply into a hypnotic state, another layer larger, realer flowers emerge.

The effect is very hypnagogic, both hallucinatory and subdued. I have a Christopher Wool poster that I’ve played boggle with for hundreds of hours. That wallpaper felt like it’s absorbed a lot of spaced-out eye hours. The pacing in that work is notable because it doesn’t feel excessively durational (or about duration, let’s say), but it does provide the slowness necessary to give us that intimate zoned feeling.

Your work frequently fuses disparate elements, both shot and found. Do you consider them collage films? Do you have an interest in collage as a way to think about your work?

I do. I like how the phrase collage film implies an individuality to the elements of the film even after they’ve been brought together and chopped up and manipulated. They’re still these discrete things with their past lives. I like finding sounds and images that seem perfectly self-expressive, but they’re just found! And then use them with footage or recordings I’ve crafted. There’s comfort in knowing it can all make sense, that my meaning can live on top of the material’s particular history.

You were telling me a bit about your thesis and about the way you’ve adapted Franco Moretti’s notion of clues within detective novels to function as a model for thinking about avant-garde cinema. I know it’s hard to condense however many dozens of pages into a paragraph, but I’m hoping you could talk a bit about this idea and how your research has impacted the way you think about the work you made before reading it (as if, perhaps, these were clues that reveal what your work has become) and the work you’ve been making since.

It’s a wonderful conceit from Moretti’s Signs Taken For Wonders… The clue as the key to the “semantic ambiguities” created by the criminal. That in a detective novel the revelation of a clue creates new meaning to an object or event. (Moretti’s example is the band in the Sherlock Holmes’ story The Speckled Band being deciphered as band, then scarf, then snake). As a filmmaker, I am interested in the slip between signifier and sign and the multiplicity of meanings allowed when a 1:1 relationship is broken. In this noir-ish light, the world is filled with puzzles, confusing the senses, reducing a crowd to color, a dog to a syllable, darkness to infinite space. I think my earlier movies were looking for the hidden and mysterious and my newer films have a sensitivity to what’s in plain sight. Or at least that’s what I hope for. It’s the difference of staring at one’s wallpapered bedroom or taking a walk.

Orpheus (outtakes) is meant to function, at least nominally, as a series of outtakes from Cocteau’s Orpheus. Part of what makes that such an exceptional film is its reliance on relatively simple special effects to convey grand symbolic ideas. Certainly these were relatively sophisticated techniques in 1949, but their power today is imbued with an at least elementary concept on the audience’s part in how they were made. The work and its effect (so to speak) are uncanny because they are still grounded in reality, because their artifice is simultaneously total and naked. When we look at a computer-generated alien, all its variables are controlled by the makers: its relationship to reality essentially lacks context. Your outtakes maintain the film’s knack for the uncanny and magical. The direct rayogram of the chain gives us a feeling of falling or of a large chain falling, always just out of reach. And yet it is simultaneously a chain and we know how it got there.

Yes. Again it’s plainness in illusion that interests me. Méliès made people disappear by turning the camera on and off and I think the simplest tricks are a nice reminder of the ease with which the mysterious can be conjured. André Bazin has that great quote about photography ranking “high in the order of surrealist creativity because it produces an image that is a reality of nature, namely a hallucination that is also a fact.” Nice, right? I think of this quote when watching the chain rayogram in Orpheus (outtakes) that you mentioned. The image made by the object’s own outline on the film creates a flattened, rhythmically pulsating pattern. Sometimes it reads as a chain and at others a braid or a spine, but I am most interested in the vacuous space or the “rabbit hole” the object implies.

I’m with you on the deepening poetry of Cocteau’s special effects. Our awareness of his trick photography empowers them more. In Orpheus mirrors are portals to the underworld. He used tanks of water to make the “glass” a permeable surface. It’s an elegant solution for the visual effect and complicates the metaphor. In my (outtakes) I use the hole punch common on 16mm film leader as a mouth of a tunnel. We see the flash of the punch mark then the circle slowly grows to engulf the frame. It is the first instance in the film where the artifacts (dirt, scratches, lettering) become representational. The film looks to its physical condition to point to the liminal state.

In re-watching Orpheus (outtakes) I realized that I was asking you many of the same questions as the contestants on that 1950s game show from which moments of your audio are taken. They ask (and no one answers): Are you in motion pictures? Are you a comedian? Do you also appear on the stage? Do you go back as far as the silent movies? So, to further literalize this chain: will you address the role humor plays in your work? Why Buster Keaton? Why the game show?

The cartoon references like the tunnel or the blinking eyes in the dark are funny to me but also sad, goofy and lonely. A figure with no voice, no visible body, only eyes looking out where no one can see… I think it’s easy to find some stoner existentialism in these Looney Tunes tropes. Inky black voids. I love that stuff…

Why Buster Keaton? He’s always been my favorite. He’s the master of turning the everyday object into mutable forms. His engagement with the world is totally physical and pure magic.

Why the game show? The first time I heard Buster Keaton talk was on an episode of What’s My Line when he was the mystery guest. He seemed so anachronistic and alien. When I decided to riff on Cocteau’s Orpheus, I thought he should play a part since he moved (precariously) between the worlds of silent and sound cinema. And what makes more sense then a silent film star acting in a film about the underworld where it is very, very dark?

How is a filmmaker like a hypnotist?

In my case, both use the mode of direct address. You are getting sleepy. You are sitting in a darkened room. I’m always thinking about the moment of reception, and pointing to that moment as a way of implicating the audience.

Works Sited: Time-Lapse at SITE Santa Fe

April 24, 2012 · Print This Article

SITE Santa Fe, my home city’s premiere contemporary art exhibition space, has a good track record with moving images. Among the many stand out pieces in the Klaus Ottmann-curated 2006 biennial Still Points of the Turning World was Carsten Nicolai‘s immersive mind-melter Spray (you can watch a reasonably unsatisfying version of it here, though I might only recommend that if you can Honey I Shrank Myself to the point of feeling completely overwhelmed by the intensity and ferocity of the image). With 2008 came a marvelous retrospective of pioneering video artist Steina. Last year’s biennial was devoted to works in film and video and featured an embarrassment of riches to braid cinematic and gallery concerns, including Cindy Sherman’s lone stop-motion animation, a stray Raymond Pettibon animation, a stereoscopic dance film by Bill T. Jones and OpenEnded Group and a meticulous tabletop installation by Jennifer and Kevin McCoy which reenacts (as you watch and as figurines of the artists watch [as you watch them]) the indelible tracking traffic jam scene from Jean-Luc Godard’s Week End.

Which is not to say much beyond that an internationally recognized contemporary arts space is doing its job and doing it well. Time-Lapse, the current exhibition (through May 20th), to crib liberally, “challenges the notion that an exhibition is a fixed entity with artworks that remain consistent throughout the time the exhibition is on view.” Changes are made throughout the show ensuring that “no two days will be the same.” I can report on the day I was there, at least.

Since 2007, Mary Temple‘s Currency project has involved drawing a portrait image drawn from a news site and fusing it with an accompanying text built from the image’s caption and its headline. The works are scanned each day and posted digitally on her website (and to twitter) and physically on the walls of SITE.

Byron Kim‘s decade-plus Sunday Painting series couples weekly cloud paintings with diaristic texts. They’re quite lovely and give a sense of the ordinariness of his days (kids’ soccer woes, lots of meals, sending paintings to Santa Fe), the slow passage of time and the continual flux of something like a sky. I enjoyed imagining the graphite texts on the clouds taking the place of his attempts to anthropomorphize and concretize the abstract churning billows: it looks a demon riding a circus elephant, no, wait, it looks like chicken parmesan for dinner and, oh shoot, I forgot to call Jerry, it’s ok, I’ll see him tomorrow.

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer‘s Pulse Index is a far-sighted palmist’s new best friend. The interactive installation records the fingerprints and heartbeats of visitors and plays them back on a series of screens. The video of the most recent print takes on gargantuan proportions and knocks the next most recent down a scale. This in turn knocks the next and the next down until eventually each kid is knocked off the bed, like so many nursery songs. His Microphones is also interactive, featuring a microphone with an embedded speaker. Upon speaking (or singing) into the spotlit microphone it responds with a past visitor’s speech (or song).

Most impressive to me was Eve Sussman and Rufus Corporation‘s whiteonwhite:algorithmicnoir. Like past works by Sussman and her team, art history loans the title (White on White) to this heady, recombinant algorithmic noir. The film is edited/constucted in real time through an artisinally-crafted computer algorithm using 3,000 film clips, 80 voice-overs and 150 pieces of music. The quasi-narrative is in continual flux with constant new collisions of image, text and sound. The wall text carefully credits all involved (the Rufus Corporation) in a bold expression of the collaborative nature of the project.

Its clever technological sophistication is evinced through a flatscreen showing the coded processes by which the combinations we’re watching arise. Though I am not a programmer (nor did I speak with Jeff Garneau, the team’s programmer), I was able to glean that the image, text and musical sequences have a variety of tags associated with them. The computer hunts for other like tags in choosing the next clip. In so doing, our concept of the elliptical and subjective strategies of poetic cinematic representation are both challenged and satisfied. When trees as a metaphor transition into literal trees, the decision making process feels honest and human. Indeed, that the film is set in a dystopian future city and has so many hallmarks of a hazy science fiction essay allows the narrativiness greater space to root itself in our brains. I don’t even know that all people are aware that the film is continually changing.

Less successful, I felt, were the looping films in the Time Capsule Lounge. As I’ve said before, the “recontextualizing” of works meant to be experienced in a linear and trajective manner in a cinematic space to the looping, gallery space is rarely successful. The lounge is not without its charms, though including a curated library of time travel books and a series of special performance events programmed by amorphous dynamo local art collective Meow Wolf.

Somewhere in and outside of all of this was the March 2012 web-exhibition. Conceptually indebted to Seth Siegelaub‘s catalogue March 1969 (a.k.a. One Month), the website featured a different work by a different artist each day of March. As now, the (physical) gallery is showing a playlist that takes you through the month. And though this screening mode for many of these works might garner the same criticism of the loops shown elsewhere, that this component of the exhibition is acting as a catalogue of an internet-based show feels distinct and justified to me. The website now is mostly links to the artists featured (and not the specific pieces) but is still an excellent grouping.