Hyperjunk: Paddles On! Brings Digital Art to Auction

October 8, 2013 · Print This Article

Rafaël Rozendaal, Into Time 13 08 13, 2013

Thursday of this week will mark an important moment in the history of digital art. Although the long and fruitful history of this medium will hardly be brought to a close, an important chapter in its narrative is about to unfold through the first ever digital art auction hosted by Phillips. The auction, entitled Paddles On!,  is of particular significance because it is not only the first auction for Phillips, but also the first primary market auction to occur at any major international auction house to only feature digital art works.

When I had first heard the news that Phillips was teaming up with Tumblr to host an auction a couple of months ago, I was a bit skeptical. After hearing that Lindsay Howard (co-director of 319 Scholes and former Eyebeam Fellow) was coming on board to advise and curate the works for this sale, some of my reservations started to dissipate. But I didn’t fully come around to appreciating this auction until I got a sneak peak of the exhibition and had a chance to sit down the three organizers of this project: Ms. Howard, Megan Newcome (Phillips Director of Digital Strategy), and Annie Werner (Arts Evangelist at Tumblr).

Addie_Wagenknecht

Addie Wagenknecht, Asymmetric Love Number 2, 2013

During my visit last Friday, I got a chance to see the final moments of installation, and was also given a guided tour of the broad yet considerate exhibition of the works on sale. The diversity of the work was not only presented in a near flawless manner, but it also showcased the breadth of pieces that all can directly and loosely be identified as digital art. I found myself “checking boxes” as Ms. Howard led me around the exhibition, noting familiar faces like Rafaël Rozendaal, Kate Steciw, and Alexandra Gorczynski. But as my tour continued, I was confounded when my curatorial and critical presumptions quickly dissolved upon noticing that the collection of makers presented in this auction was not pandering to a specific audience or community. Of course I wasn’t expecting anything less of the organizers, but there was a part of me ready to criticize the exhibition for neglecting to include digital artists that otherwise wouldn’t associate with one another. Instead, I found this group of artists to appropriately reflect the many facets of digital art – an assortment that all too often is presented in separate digital fiefdoms. Later, Ms. Howard commented that her intentions with this auction were to bring in as many voices within this sphere as possible:

When I’m curating in general – not just in this particular auction – I’m looking [at] who the nodes are in the network that are actually creating fresh work or creating fresh ideas. So I looked for artist for this auction who were nodes and are representative of larger movements in the field.

To that effect the artists represented do constitute many different subsections within the digital art moniker – interactive sculpture, generative code-based works, netart, webcam performance, experimental video, etc. But what surprised me the most was the way in which these different “nodes” seamlessly come together in the space. This is not to say that the artworks appear “samey” by any measure, but instead it is to comment on how these works share a common thread of turning contemporary technological experience into a refined aesthetic statement.

Perhaps part of this comes from the fact that I haven’t seen many of the artists in this auction shown in spaces equal to the Phillips standard – often I’ve only experienced this work either on my personal computer or in artist run galleries operating on a shoestring budget. In a strange way, the pristine presentation of these works alone makes them appear worthy of sale. It was at once startling and refreshing to see work that I had admired for so long presented in the same way as a work for sale by an old master.

Molly Soda, Inbox Full, 2013

Molly Soda, Inbox Full, 2013

This being said, my admiration for the participants in this exhibition made me reflect on the content of these works in a way that I would otherwise take for granted in other contexts. I subsequently contended with the organizers that the look of these works shouldn’t be their only selling point, and I pressed them to talk to me more about why this collection of artists seemed fitting for this auction. Ms. Werner responded by talking about how Molly Soda was a particularly fitting example to rebuke my inquiry:

While Molly [Soda] is obviously very important to tumblr – I think she’s one of the first tumblr famous it girls – I think that she as an artist didn’t really come into [her own] until someone was like “you’re an artist.” But I think for a longest time she was really a user that really informed the way that our platform grew and developed. [The auction] kind of elevates that entire culture that I think others felt was a little small or diluted. People didn’t take it seriously but it’s so huge and so vibrant. Molly’s piece really gives a voice to this generation.

Although this specific work – a reading of letters and comments posted to her blog in a marathon 8 hour recorded performance – is indicative of a very contemporary conversation occurring through social media, the question kept arising regarding why this moment in particular seemed ripe for having an auction for this kind of work. Part of my initial skepticism came from observing the many previous attempts to sell digital art either going awry or else backfiring. In the past, the idea of taking online media and putting it into private collection has seemed rather antithetical to the ethos of the very platform that made their work possible (or else made the distribution of their work that much more accessible). But more recently, the thought of selling digital art has become more popular as the market seems better equipped to present these artists to collectors. I asked the organizers to talk about why this moment seemed most fitting, to which Ms. Newcome responded:

When I had first started talking to Lindsay, she asked me what was the Phillips angle in the auction world, and it is what is now? This is what Phillips sells, and I think that was inspiring for Lindsay. Once that was established that that’s where we wanted to go – the vibe of the whole event – that became a point of no return… For this particular auction, Phillips couldn’t have done this without Tumblr and Lindsay, and Lindsay couldn’t have done this without us, and so on. We three together was what was so essential, and without one component… this auction would not be a reality.

All coincidence of overlapping interests and timing aside, what Paddles On! presents to audiences – both familiar and new – is that artwork made and distributed through digital networks must now become more vocalized and represented within a contemporary art market. Many recent signposts have been pointing to this moment – the heated conversation around Rhizome’s booth at the Armory in 2011, the outrage of artists and academics railing against Claire Bishop’s misinformed “Digital Divide” essay in Artforum, the development of the Art Micro Patronage project by The Present Group, the selling of digital art by AFC at NADA this past year, just to name a few. But now it is happening, and already over half of the works have been bid on through Paddle8 – a sign in and of itself that now seems to be the time.

Nicolas Sassoon, Waterfall 6, 2013

But then what? Let’s say a majority of the work sells at or above its reserve, what does this signal for both contemporary art and digital artists hoping to bring their work to a larger audience? My initial doubts and concerns for this auction is that it might shape a future aesthetic, or else inadvertently dictate a kind of digital art that is only interested in going to market. I realize that this concern cannot be reserved just for this medium, and instead should be a broader reflection on the ways in which market politics and finance can and will always influence the strategies of emerging artists. However the artists in this exhibition were specifically selected not only because of their contribution to the field, but also due in part to understanding their longevity within an ongoing conversation of art making beyond digital media. Again, my fears are further appeased by Ms. Newcome in reference to a studio visit she recently had with contributing artist Mark Tribe:

We don’t call digital cameras, digital cameras anymore; we don’t call digital watches, digital watches anymore. One day, we won’t call digital art, digital art anymore…

Although I initially felt that this auction might seem somewhat opportune, the three organizers of this exhibition suggested that the more important consideration must come from how this auction will – at its heart – help bring digital art to an audience wanting to participate in a conversation that for too long has stood at the periphery. The resounding “finally!” that has come from many artists, curators, gallerists, and academic is a testament to Paddles On! working towards an overall positive goal. Although I hesitate to defend the auction based upon my own knee-jerk reaction against commercialization of work made online, I do laud the participants and organizers for putting their absolute best foot forward. It is a rare instance that many people get to witness a community come into its own, and I felt that when I walked through the exhibition of the 20 lots for sale on Friday that I was indeed witnessing an important moment for all those involved in this endeavor.

To that end, I feel as though Ms. Howard put it best when articulating her excitement for this event to unfold:

Even if no piece has sold, or if we got no bids… having all these people rally up support, educating collectors, having the conversation, bringing in more people into the loop, makes this all a success.

In this spirit I wish all the artists the best of luck on Thursday when the live auction kicks off at 8pm at Phillips’ gallery on Park Avenue. I hope that the success of the event – as Ms. Howard eloquently suggests – will mark a new beginning for an ongoing relationship between the digital art community and the contemporary art market.




Play By Play : What to Expect in the Coming Months

January 18, 2013 · Print This Article

tt-green-tennis-court

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: caroline@lanternprojects.com




New ‘Centerfield’ Post on Art:21 Blog: Nicholas O’Brien on Gallery 400’s ‘File Type’

June 29, 2011 · Print This Article

Christopher Meerdo, "Cypher," 2011 (.aes-256 file). Courtesy Gallery 400.

Our latest Centerfield column is up on Art:21 blog. This week, Nicholas O’Brien takes a look at Gallery 400’s current exhibition, File Type, which looks at how “formats… represent ways that artwork in digital or Internet media create particular standards of representation.” Nicholas also talks to the show’s curators, Lorelei Stewart and Chaz Evans, about their ideas behind the show. A brief excerpt below; click on over to Art:21 to read the full post!

When I initially saw the promotional poster for File Type, currently on view at University of Illinois at Chicago’s Gallery 400, I was immediately intrigued by the curatorial premise posed by curators Chaz Evans and Lorelei Stewart regarding how “formats… represent ways that artwork in digital or Internet media create particular standards of representation” (quoted from the curatorial statement). The variety of artists selected for the exhibition — a combination of local, national, and international makers – would have given me enough reason by itself for me to attend the opening. As I entered the space and browsed the works on display, I felt my curiosity continue in ways that I had not expected when initially considering the above statement by Evans and Stewart. Even after I left the show, questions kept reappearing and presenting themselves to me with intense frequency. Initially, I couldn’t help but question why some works were displayed on flat panel monitors as opposed to computer screens and as I continued to peruse the show, I wondered how the mounting of a physical show reflecting on the effects of network technology on artistic inquiry inevitably varies from a digital exhibition of identical material (something that perhaps I have had more comfort in discussing as of late). Can an exhibition highlight recursive dialogues between the language of the screen and the language of the gallery? Is there a sense of irony in the idea of a file type, since a great majority of the works deal with the translation and fluidity between codecs and mediums, as opposed to the static state of objects that galleries and museums tend to support and reenforce? Without outright calling File Type a “media art show,” how does this show effect the reception of the work, or even more importantly effect my (and the viewer’s) understanding of “media art?”

As these questions bubbled around in my brain, I decided take the initiative and voice these queries to the curators themselves. (Read more).




Check Out Nicholas O’Brien’s Guest Post at The Creators’ Project

June 27, 2011 · Print This Article

A from still from the CCHQ video by Nicolas Sassoon.

Just wanted to give a quick heads’ up that Bad at Sports’ blogger/columnist Nicholas O’Brien has a guest post up on The Creators’ Project, a website focused on technology, culture and creativity. Nicholas writes what he describes as a “love letter” to Computers Club, “a group site dedicated to sharing art made with or by computers that was launched by artist Krist Wood.” I’m posting a tiny sliver of Nicholas’ essay below, but please click on over and check out his full post!

Since the first post on May 2, 2009, I have been addicted to Computers Club. The project, a group site dedicated to sharing art made with or by computers was launched by artist Krist Wood, and has been lauded as one of the preeminent locations of so-called netart and artists working with computer generated/manipulated imagery. Although the template of the site follows other previous group-based projects, I’ve never been completely thrilled with the idea of calling Computers Club a blog. This is probably due in part to how the content found within Computers Club has, since it’s origin, been a place where artists/members have been able to share work that typically reaches beyond the standard fair of netart.

When I talked with many of its members over the course of several weeks, they discussed how previous engagements with other group projects and/or personal blog-based sites had influenced the kind of experience they expected or hoped for with Computers Club (henceforth abbreviated to CC). Former outlets had similarly served as a way of showing work, but some members felt as though those projects didn’t offer avenues to push their practices beyond some self-induced restricting labeling of “netart” and whatever that label implied. As a way to combat these anxieties, CC members found ways to address more broad artistic concerns that were not solely located in computer-based art by creating works that could be conceptually considered through the lens of illustration, painting, performance, experimental video, and even music. Read more.




Catch Nicholas O’Brien at the Nightingale Theater TONIGHT!

March 23, 2011 · Print This Article

Artist, writer, new media curator, and BAS’ own “Hyperjunk” blogger Nicholas O’Brien is visiting Chi-town, and if you live here you can see and — best of all — talk with the man yourself if you head on over to the Nightingale Theater tonight, Wednesday March 23rd, at 8pm. Full details on the action-packed events below…pecha-kucha style lecture?? This will be good.

I am Back: Nicholas O’Brien at the Nightingale Theater: Nicholas O’Brien will weave a conversation and lecture around his recent screen based works. These routes will range from a reading of an online conversation about mediated spatial awareness, screening samples from an ongoing video blog, presenting a pecha-kucha style lecture on the show Breaking Bad, as well as showing a VHS love letter sent to a distant, yet familial, stranger. The evening will enfold over the course of interlinking monologues discussing loss/return, finding sincerity in flippant formats, discovering self through cultural history, excavating digital landscapes, and employing wit to both disarm and embrace.