Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

Economics, politics, sociology, anthropology, national defense, law, cognitive science, and myriad other fields are increasingly focusing their investigative energies onto the ramifications of the ever updating financial flows, communication paradigms, sub-cultures, social norms, personal security concerns, and general experiential phenomena emerging in relation to the growing public usage of the Internet.

That said, it would really be something for the rarified air of the contemporary art world to not follow suit.

But, nevertheless, that is largely the case.

Contemporary art, for a variety of reasons, chooses to bypass or ignore the opportunity to reflect on these technologies.

Stroll through the kunsthalles of Europe or the galleries of Chelsea (to name two prominent examples), and one would be hard-pressed to find any indication (outside of certain for better or for worse ghettoized new media spaces) that the constellation of technologies surrounding digital networked computing have any influence over one’s relationship to space and time.

It’s like it doesn’t exist.

Which seems like a problem (if, that is, one believes that art, as a “humanity,” is pressed to reflect on the condition of being a human).

Perhaps I’m making a mountain out of a molehill, though.

After all, I spend a lot of time on my computer and while it seems to me like my own life is radically different than it was before I started logging onto my friend’s Prodigy Internet provider when I was a kid, that doesn’t necessarily mean that other people are quite as hooked.

In fact, most people don’t spend nearly as much time on-line as I do.

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that the opposite is actually the reality – most people are luddites who are actively not engaging with these technologies – they write letters not e-mail; they read books not blogs; they read The New York Times not; they have big family dinners not social network updates.

Even in this case, though, the actions just mentioned are conducted in explicit reaction to the phenomenon of the Internet.

A world of “not Internet” still presupposes the existence of Internet – be it an existence worth celebrating or problematizing.

To go out of one’s way to not use the technology, the technology still impacts one’s actions.

But still, it might be argued, that’s obscuring the problem here.

It’s not that there is a world of Internet and not-Internet, but that most people in the world have never even thought to think about these technologies because they’re too busy breaking their backs in manual labor and, as such, it’s imperialistic (not to mention petty) to suggest that anything so wild as the Internet is worth taking seriously.

Fair enough, but even if, for the sake of argument, most people in the world will never interact with these technologies (or choose not to do so), their lives may very well be effected, nonetheless.

With the proliferation of n.g.o.’s and transnational corporate interests into parts of the world where Internet access is limited, the livelihood of all but the hardiest human beings is in one way or another dependent upon capital which is now streaming through and enabled by digital computer networks.

But, perhaps, that, too, is missing the point.

Perhaps it’s not that the art world doesn’t think these technologies are on some level “worthy” of inclusion into the contemporary art discussion, but that it’s never really been the job of contemporary art to automatically start wringing its hands over new technologies.

In this reading, it’s not that the art world doesn’t understand the Web, but that the Web doesn’t understand the art world.

Neither Internet art nor art about the Internet actually partakes in what’s interesting about the contemporary art discussion and, as such, makes it difficult for themselves to be included.

For better or for worse, contemporary art is a world and (as worlds tend to do) it spends a lot of time reflecting on its self.

If the artists can’t figure out a way to connect the development of the steam engine or the television to contemporary art, then why would contemporary art have to automatically reflect on the steam engine or the television?

They might be important technologies (no one is arguing that they aren’t), but it’s simply not the job of contemporary art to account for them just because somebody outside of contemporary art demands that it be so.

Besides, that’s what new media art spaces or art & technology journals like Leonardo are for.

Related to this argument is the question of quality.

Again, it’s not that contemporary art is automatically predisposed to reject the inclusion of art made about these technologies or with these technologies, but that, entre nous, there just hasn’t been any good examples of this type of art.

The proof is in the pudding and one can’t expect artwork that’s at best working at an undergrad level of sophistication to just waltz right in and take over the conversation.

This might be the most powerful argument against the notion of contemporary art’s embrace of work explicitly made on or about digital computer networks.

However, I believe it’s an argument which is ignorant regarding the work that is actually out there – the proof in the pudding so to speak.

From one view, the artists I’ve written about on this blog, for example, are working very creatively in the wake of (again, from one view) early video art, “the Pictures generation,” painters like Christopher Wool, and on through the Guyton, Price, Smith, Walker crowd.

From other views, other genealogies could be posited and, if one is willing to put aside their own embarrassments concerning the computer, then one might see how these connections aren’t forced, but are rather logical and even obvious.

That’s not to say that this is the most astounding work ever made, but that at the very least it’s positioning itself in ways that seem like they should be intriguing for a contemporary art audience to reflect on.

Now, in contemporary art’s defense, it’s not so easy to just up and change its whole game plan.

First of all, there’s the problem about how to create financial value around this type of work and, thus, circulate it through its own well-oiled economy.

But outside of that, there’s another anxiety.

Contemporary art, to my mind, is in the business of asking “what is contemporary art?”

If contemporary art were pressed to say “contemporary art exists in the digital network as much as it does outside of the digital network,” then contemporary art would all of the sudden be operating from radically different premises.

The “white cube” paradigm (as the site where contemporary art occurs) would be threatened from within.

The “where” of “where the art occurs” would be altered as the simulation of the physical work through (primarily) the Web archive would be understood to be art’s arena.

To my mind, work which successfully bridges the worlds of the digital computer network and contemporary art is work which, on some level, implicates contemporary art into this very network.

It’s not work about the digital computer network, it’s work about contemporary art’s own entanglement in the digital computer network.

And for contemporary art to acknowledge this, it would demand that contemporary art changes the way it sees itself.

As such, contemporary art wouldn’t be taking in an orphan, but a virus.

Thursday, May 27th, 2010

From The Penultimate Truth (1964) by Philip K. Dick:

Below, a wide river like wet silver wiggled from north to south, and Joseph Adams leaned out to view the Mississippi and acknowledge its beauty. No reconcrews had accomplished this; what glistened in the morning sun was an element of the old creation. The original world which did not need to be recreated, reconned, because it had never departed. This sight, like that of the Pacific, always sobered him, because it meant that something had proved stronger; something had escaped.

Tuesday, May 11th, 2010

From Galaxies Like Grains of Sand (1960) by Brian Aldiss:

For a long minute, Jandanagger was silent, searching for the key phrases of explanation.

“You have learned as much as you have very rapidly,” he said. “By not-understanding and then by well-understanding, you have made yourself one of the true citizens of the Galaxy. But you have only taken leap X; now you must take leap X¹º. Prepare yourself.”

“I am prepared.”

“All that you have learned is true. Yet there is a far greater truth, a truer truth. Nothing exists in the ultimate sense; all is illusion, a two-dimensional shadow play on the mist of space-time. Yinnisfar itself means ‘illusion.’”

“But the clawed thing…”

“The clawed thing is why we fare even farther ahead into the illusion of space. It is real. Only the Galaxy as you previously misinterpreted it is unreal, being but a configuration of mental forces. That monster, that thing you sensed, is the residue of slime of the evolutionary past still lingering – not outside you, but in your mind. It is from that we must escape. We must grow from it.”

More explanation followed, but it was beyond Farro. In a flash, he saw that Jandanagger, with an eagerness to experiment, had driven him too far and too fast. He could not make the last leap; he was falling back, toppling into non-being. Somewhere within him, the pop-thud-pop sound of bursting arteries began. Others would succeed where he had failed, but, meanwhile, the angry claws were reaching from the heavens for him – to sunder, not to rescue.

Monday, May 10th, 2010

On the one hand, Trash Humpers by Harmony Korine is a mildly hip take on Jackass.

Korine and his co-conspirators dress up as crystal meth tweekers and generally cause trouble throughout Nashville, Tennessee while being filmed through the retro lens of the VHS camcorder.


On the other hand, the film transcends hipster posing through Korine’s sincerity as an artist and the sense that he is invested in giving the film a certain depth.

(“Make it, make it, don’t fake it!” Korine’s own character implores throughout the film.)

So, with that in mind, what is going on here?

As the film opens, the predictably weird and stylish antics described above are in full effect.

One views the protagonists smashing televisions in abandoned houses, humping plastic trash cans, taking shits in front of automated garage doors, giving mock blow jobs to the branch of a tree, etc.

It’s all funny enough and the super softness of the VHS imagery combined with the perpetually humid, “almost-about-to-rain” milieu in which these actions were documented makes the whole thing feel less like the pounding sharpness of Jackass and more like a Sunday afternoon nap.

But, what else?

Where is all this going going other than towards a certain vague Vice magazine style “artsy-ness”?

Well, to begin, a symbolic motif develops:

One views a succession of ratty, plastic baby-dolls with which the humpers oscillate in response from either maternal love to abject destruction.

The baby-doll calls to mind both the organic fragility of a “real” baby as well as the durable artificiality of plastic in a single image.

(Or, alternatively, the hope for a new life and the dismissal of old garbage.)

Is this baby, then, one the world loves or one the world destroys?

And as Trash Humpers unfolds:

Sometimes plastic baby-dolls are loved.

Sometimes plastic baby-dolls are destroyed.

And one can’t accurately anticipate when these sea changes will occur.

The resulting blur between these two poles then becomes something in-between creation and destruction:

Call it fornication.


(From chaos, to order and back again until The End [“the money shot”].)

(In an ending rivaling 2001, the sight of a humper lovingly coddling a real baby sparks a horrifying question – the baby is coddled by the humper now, but [when] will the sea change?)

This thematic is expanded through the reading of another character’s poem in which the only thing left to do with all the garbage of technological progress choking one’s world is neither creation nor destruction, but endless fornication (this character is later murdered by the humpers).

Again and again, the humpers manipulate the abject, obsolete “trash” mounting in the wake of progress, sometimes destroying it, sometimes preserving it, mostly doing both at once.

Pulling out (or in) a couple of degrees, then, Korine’s approach to his own medium of obsolete analog VHS adds a further layer to one’s understanding.

VHS (trash) is – here – neither destroyed nor created, but (perhaps one could say) loved, humped – manipulated in such a way (not too fast, not too slow, just right) as to elicit its own secret virus out into the air (as if to infect [and mutate]).

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

I like to walk around in a particular park.

This park isn’t huge, but it’s not small either (about a mile around) and it has some tennis courts, as well as a series of hills.

On the largest of these hills is a large vertical monument to a military exploit around which a lot of fit, physically attractive people hang out.

And on one of the smaller of these hills are a couple of small, dying trees around which a group of sickly, goth teenagers hang out and role play vampire fantasy scenarios.

Writing about Internet art makes me compare everything I see to the Internet, so, after seeing this group of kids on a regular basis for long enough, I began to think about the relationship between vampires themes and what it’s like to be online.

Here are some thoughts:

1. Vampires are unable to exist in the light of day:

The teenagers don’t seem to fit into the world of daylight.

Multiplayer online gaming in a dark, musty basement is better for them and they would appear more at home there.

2. Vampires are able to exist in an endless duration:

The Internet is a vampire world in the sense that online time is premised less on the rhythms of day and night (the seasons changing through the “real” world) and more on those of the endless twenty-four hour data stream (the endless “now” of the virtual world).

The endless time of the virtual world seems more appropriate for these teenagers than natural time.

In the synthetic, role-playing milieu of virtual worlds, it is the vampire kids who seem relevant and cool, not the physically-fit people who hang out near the military statue.

It should be said, though, that the recent popularity of vampire mythology is not fundamentally bound up with sickly teenagers hanging out near dying trees.

For example, I walked into a large, chain bookstore yesterday and was frustrated to find myself shuffling through hundreds of yuppies, suburban “moms,” and other assorted mainstream people who were packed standing room only to hear Charlaine Harris, the author of a series of elaborately-realized vampire mystery novels, speak.

In fact, this group was almost identical in appearance and demography to the one I (again accidentally) found myself swimming through who were on hand to hear Candace Bushnell, the creator of Sex and the City, speak at the same bookstore – a population less Hot Topic than Gap.

This is not to pass a value judgment either way, just to say that there is something about the thematics and atmospherics of the vampire myth which speaks to an audience of “indoor kids” beyond the goth teenagers in the park.

Monday, May 3rd, 2010

From Past Master by R.A. Lafferty (1968):

“New dimensions of pleasure are achieved daily and almost hourly,” the precis machine played. ”All live in a constant ecstasy. We are all one, all one being, the whole world of us, and we reach the heights of intense intercommunication. We come to have a single mind and a single spirit. We are everything. We are the living cosmos. The people of Astrobe do not dream at night, for a dream is a maladjustment. We do not have an unconscious, as the ancient people had, for an unconscious is the dark side, and we are all light. For us there is no future. The future is now. There is no Heaven as the ancients believed; for many years we have been in the only after-life there is. Death is unimportant. By it we simply become more closely integrated into the City. We leave off being an individual. In us there is neither human nor programmed, but we are all one. We verge to our apex which is the total realization of the world-folk. We become a single organism, ever more and more intricate, the City itself.”

NOTE: This passage features a “precis machine” explaining to Thomas More the world of the future which his book Utopia helped create, despite the fact that it was a meant to be satire.

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

The world of Christopher Priest’s novel Inverted World is literally moving forward.

Indeed, the world is, one learns, a large mechanical sphere moving on continuously built-out tracks which are plotted by people such as the novel’s protagonist, Helward Mann.

Mann’s only job, as a “Future,” is to survey ahead of the track-work, making sure that the world’s journey towards what is referred to as “optimum” is as smooth as is reasonably possible.

The reason the world engages in this peculiar activity is the oft-mentioned fear of a centrifugal force in the natural world which, as Mann can attest to, would suck the mechanical world into a Hellish entropic spiral – a void.

(Mann saw this).

Now, this would be fine were it not for the fact that this world – in its endless march towards “optimum” – is overrun with mountains of its own feces.

One can hardly look around the world without viewing its own crumbling mechanical apparatus, its own genetic aberrations, and its own unapologetic human exploitation and warmongering – all conditions contingent upon the world’s progress in one way or another.

But, surely – as Mann would argue – there is simply no other option – one must keep going.

Indeed, Mann, as a professional surveyor into the future, would know – he has, after all, seen it:

If Man(n) stops working, Man(n) goes to(ward)s Hel(l).

(This is what Helward Mann saw.)

For Mann, one must choose the lesser of two evils and march on into the future.

The problem with all this, though – as the novel’s foil to Mann, Elizabeth Khan, demonstrates – is not that Mann is wrong per se, but rather that his question is badly stated.

It’s not that there is a binary between going forward towards the Truth and backwards towards Hell (as if time were a piece of string); but rather that there are a plethora of radically incomplete goings – never forward (as if towards “optimum”), but simply “on.”

All one can do here, then, is be reasonable and present to what is in front of one; that is to say, see things.

In the case of the world of Inverted World, the paradigm of seeing must shift or the world will drown in the endlessness of the ocean (in a sort of reversal of Mann’s own understanding of the void).

Again – it’s not that Mann is “right” or “wrong” here but that his vision is for better or for worse in ruins.

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

The subject matter of “Liquid Door,” an exhibition of work by Isola & Norzi on-view at Art in General in New York, is the screen (and the desire to transcend the screen) between the human mind and the natural world.

One views:

1. { salt water [ fresh water ( distilled water ) fresh water ] salt water }, an aquarium tank filtering between salt water, fresh water, and distilled water.

2. Platonic Aquarium, the schematic model of an idealized Buckminster Fuller-esque underwater domicile.

3. Bated Breath, a series of matted photographs depicting the artists’ attempts to re-create the “liquid door” of Jacques Cousteau’s “Starfish House” (a “door” which emerges due to the air pressure of the water colliding with the air pressure at the threshold of the House)

4. And Large Glass, a video documenting the pas de deux performance conducted between a scuba diver and the large transparent glass screening him from the public space of the Coney Island Aquarium.

Throughout the viewing of these works, one’s attention is nudged further and further away from the form of life occurring in the water and closer and closer towards the screens which separate one from this very form.

Indeed, there’s something anti-aquatic about it – not beautiful, not flowing, not majestic; claustrophobic, mirrored, alienating.

This is not necessarily a problem, though; in fact, if one spends enough time in the show an intriguing (if not bitter) quasi-philosophical thought might enter one’s mind:

In one’s search for a “closeness” to nature, perhaps these efforts have only increased one’s dependence-on and desire-for the screens which separate.

This thematic crystallizes as one views Anemonia Mirabilis, a projected video loop (one screen from nature) depicting vintage film footage (another screen from nature) of Cousteau and his colleagues smoking cigarettes in their underwater home (a third screen from nature) which the artists have re-filmed through the “transparent” water (a fourth “natural” screen from nature) of a “transparent” aquarium tank (a fifth screen from nature) and contextualized in a space marked for “art” (a final screen from nature).

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

Glass House, a photo series by James Welling on-view at the David Zwirner gallery in New York, consists of sixteen large-scale framed prints and six smaller framed prints.

Each of the prints depicts either the Modernist “Glass House” residence designed by Philip Johnson in 1949 in New Canaan, Connecticut or further architectural and sculptural elements located on the forty-seven acres of the House’s grounds.

In each digitally-captured image on view through the gallery’s white-walled rooms, the artist experiments with a wide range of lens filtration techniques, resulting in lushly-saturated colors grading over the figure of a giant glass cube (or similarly Modernist iconography) in the midst of the pastoral Connecticut landscape.

Despite the presence of varying seasons and light conditions portrayed throughout the photographs, though, the project as a whole projects a feeling of day-dreamy late-afternoon melancholy and reads in dialog with certain late 1960s psychedelic album covers or the lens flare effects favored by certain European cinematographers of the same era.

Digging a bit deeper into the work, though, one begins to view the significance of these images beyond their somewhat nostalgic sensual power.

First of all, the key technical variable is the variation of filters between the artist’s camera lens and his subject matter.

As one views through the twenty-two photographs on-display here, one begins to view their filters and their filtering (as they are the primary agent of change between the individual photographs in the series) as much as one views their subject matter (the Glass House).

The decision to photograph this particular building is decisive as it illuminates a framework around which to view the process of filtering.

In a project picturing various filtrations on the landscape, the “transparent” glass of the Glass House becomes visible as just one more of these filters – one more obstruction between one’s self and “reality.”

This becomes more intriguing when one considers that the Glass House, in particular – as an idealized model of Modernist ideology – sought to provide a neutral, objective, totally transparent space through which one could look out onto the world.

However, as history has demonstrated, the Modernist vision of objective transparency is hardly without a point of view; it is, indeed, a wildly distinct lens through which to filter one’s view on reality – no better nor worse than any of the varieties of filters employed by Welling through the series (which is fine [it’s not as though there’s something that would be more objective]).

Finally, with all of this in mind, the work offers one more (unintended) kick.

Moving through the gallery space, one views the photographs – yes; but one also views the glare of the glass filter between themselves – as viewers – and the photographic print:

A “neutral, objective, totally transparent” window reflecting back one’s own contextualization in the “neutral, objective, totally transparent” space of the white cube in which all of this is occurring.

Monday, April 19th, 2010

From Return from the Stars (1961) by Stanislaw Lem:

The Coronation was quite a simple matter. They put a man in a suit, took him up into orbit, and at an altitude of some hundred thousand kilometers, where the Earth shines like the Moon enlarged fivefold, simply tossed him out of the rocket into space, and then flew away. Hanging there like that, moving his arms and legs, he had to wait for their return, wait to be rescued; the spacesuit was reliable and comfortable, it had oxygen, air conditioning, a heater, and it even fed the man, with a paste squeezed out every two hours from a special mouthpiece. So nothing could happen, unless maybe there was a malfunction in the small radio attached to the outside of the wearer. There was only one thing missing in the suit, a receiver, which meant that the man could hear no voice but his own. With the void and the stars around him, suspended, weightless, he had to wait. True, the wait was fairly long, but not that long. And that was all.

Yes, but people went insane from this; they would be dragged in writhing in epileptic convulsions. This was the test that went most against what lay in a man – an utter annihilation, a doom, a death with full and continuing consciousness. It was a taste of eternity, which got inside a man and let him know its horror. The knowledge, always held to be impossible and impalpable, of the cosmic abyss extending in all directions, became ours; the never-ending fall, the stars between the useless, dangling legs, the futility, the pointlessness of arms, mouth, gestures, of movement and no movement, in the suit an earsplitting scream, the wretches howled, enough.