Archive for February, 2010

Monday, February 15th, 2010

Whew! Age, a performance by Marisa Olson at PS122 in New York, is about the twin concerns of chilling out and heating up and chilling out and heating up.

In a set composed of cardboard crystal shards outlined in dayglo duct tape and cheap-o Persian rugs sparkling with glitter and tinsel, Olson interacts with the video projection of a customer-service rep-slash-self-help guru (played by Olson, herself).

On the one hand, the guru character leads Olson inside herself on a mission to “chill out” and stop worrying about all the things she thinks she needs.

It’s a sort of pop-Zen-New Age stand-by: eliminate your desires to see yourself as a being blinded by desire.

To some extent, it works.

Olson comes to the stage in a translucent mask and the guru is able to get her to take the mask off (there’s a gag where after Olson takes the mask off, it reveals another mask, but the guru is sharp enough to have her remove that mask, too).

On the other hand, the guru is a sleazy con-man, convincing Olson to put on blinders – avoiding hope in more rigorously intellectual traditions such as empirical science, post-structuralism, and psychoanalysis.

And, in a musical montage in the middle of the show, the new age approach of the guru is marketed as a cheesy, 100% guaranteed enlightenment or your money back-style video series.

This tension between sleaze and truism is explored in a moment when the guru demands of Olson to put her finger in her mouth and imagine that her finger is a glacier.

Olson does so and the guru says to be as chilled as the glacier.

This starts to work, but then one remembers that the glaciers are melting.

And this melting – ostensibly due to climate change – is what created anxiety for Olson in the first place.

Between wisdom and bullshit, chilling and heating, going in to one’s self and back out to the world, is the space Whew! Age inhabits.

It is, the performance tells us, after the New Age of crystals and Enya.

The Whew Age doesn’t profess to offer peace of mind through true enlightenment, but a piece of mind through its demonstrating the impossibility of true enlightenment.

In and back out, truth and illusion, in a pattern.

A spiral.

Saturday, February 13th, 2010

Bootyclipse (2007) is a YouTube channel by Dennis Knopf in which he freezes frames from “booty clips,” YouTube videos in which performers point their butts toward the camera and begin shaking them to the sound of dance music. However, the frames he chooses to freeze are all empty – only displaying the room in which the dancer will perform.

For Knopf, the moments before the performer enters the frame (after having turned the camera on?) are the secret key to these videos.

He holds on these empty moments in messy bedrooms and dimly-lit kitchens, looping them through the entire length of the original clip’s soundtrack, and, thus, providing the user with a peek into the world in which the performer lives.

They are a post Internet form of social realism.

Saturday, February 13th, 2010

Whereas once there were amateur photographers – hobbyists whose interest in the camera’s aesthetics led them to a love of privately displaying their pre-digital photographs – there are now what Ed Halter, in his essay “After the Amateur: Notes,” calls “sub-amateurs” – users whose interest in the camera’s functionality in communication led them to a need for publicly displaying their digital photographs.

Think: family album versus Facebook.

The same could be said for the world of amateur filmmaking (pre-camcorder) in relation to the world of YouTube.

The amateur filmmaker often embraced her 8mm or 16mm film camera out of a sincere interest in the technology; the sub-amateur YouTube user often embraces the functionality of the webcam out of a sincere interest in communication.

Halter writes:

The amateur enjoyed spending time with the camera, and thus could become caught up in its formal possibilities; the sub-amateur sees the camera in terms of pure and immediate functionality.


A vein of contemporary Internet art has, according to Halter, emerged in accordance with the rise of sub-amateurism on the Internet.

He points to artists such as Guthrie Lonergan, Oliver Laric, Double Happiness, and Petra Cortright who conduct investigations into the functions of sub-amateur web usage in order to unveil these functions as functions rather than formal qualities.

They illuminate the function of the software default rather than a particular form so that we, the viewers of their artwork, may better see these default functions as conventions in the way we speak to one another in 2010.

Saturday, February 13th, 2010

Infinity Float by Kari Altmann is a video animation depicting a missile.

Altmann’s missile, though, never hits a target.

Rather, it draws infinity signs in the plume of its continuously billowing smoke again and again and again and again until one begins to watch the continuous delineation of infinity as much as the missile drawing this delineation.

What disturbs this pleasant vision of blissed-out endlessness, though, is the float of the infinity sign, itself.


As the sign rises slowly but continuously towards the top of the frame and finally beyond it, it ends up reading less as “up” and more as “out” – a memory.

And as one peers into the background upon which these memories were staged, one begins to delineate the background as much as the memories it provokes.

Friday, February 12th, 2010

Exotic-A by Kari Altmann is a video of continuously fracturing digital imagery depicting a natural “exotica” of tropical flora and fauna.

Video documents move in, out, and through one another in a continuous flux. They are bound by both a static, “bedrock” background image, as well as a static, diaphanous foreground “gauze.”

The views shift in and out of focus and it all remains dreamy and illusionistic.

The work, thus, mirrors the indeterminacy of the natural world.

It is not a coherent form with an essential focal point; it is an ecology – in motion.

Altmann’s broader project works with these same ecological principals.

When one views Altmann’s website, most of her projects are listed, but not linked to as they are either works in progress, or research for future projects, or simply not available to be viewed.

But, go back to her site a month later and something’s changed.

Some of the work from the more distant historical past is made available, and some of the work from the more recent historical past is made unavailable.

Altmann understands her personal archive of work to be mutable, taking advantage of the instantaneousness and general ease of change in the digital, to place her own history in flux.

Projects are listed; projects are taken away.

All one can do is describe the view as it slips out of one’s grasp again and again.

Wednesday, February 10th, 2010

R-U-IN?S Catalogue #0001 is a zine and .pdf by Iain Ball, Sebastian Moyano, Matteo Giordano, and Kari Altmann, who initiated the project.

It consists of 95 pages of collaged photographic media depicting digital technophilia such as product shots of Sony flat screen televisions, computer-generated pornography, and portable memory storage devices, as well as crumbling geological formations in barren landscapes such as canyons, deserts, and beaches. In many of the images, these themes are combined as in, for instance, the product shot of a flat screen television displaying imagery of the Grand Canyon.

At first glance, this confrontation of the ancient and natural with the contemporary and electronic may seem arbitrary, but as one moves through the imagery, a provocative logic emerges.

The title of the piece gives one a clue as to where to go from here.


It reads as both “Are you in(s)?” and “ruins.”

“Are you in?” mutated into the text message lingo of “R U IN?” brings to mind social status, cliques, peer pressure, coolness, fashions, and the latest technological gadgetry. R U in or R U out? It also reads as something aggressively temporary – something one knows will quickly lose its luster, but for the moment, is the only place to be.

“Ruins,” on the other hand, are the crumbled remains of what was once “in.”

Taken together, there is a fluid exchange between “R U In?” and “ruin.”

That is to say that the newest technologies are monuments to themselves before they are created. No one really believes that a piece of technology will last beyond a couple of years at most.

When one pages (or scrolls) through the Catalogue, one, then, sees less of a clear delineation between “new technology” and “old rocks” and more a continuous stream of dead surfaces: ruins.

In the text which appears on the final two pages of the Catalogue, the artists explain their intentions in similar terms.

They write:

R-U-IN?S is a project initiated by Kari Altmann using an archaeological approach (online and offline) to search the deteriorating surfaces, objects, and codes in the contemporary world. Topics of interest were addressed as ruined places and times in the database, from which artifacts and recordings were taken.


Shortly later in the text, the artists make the point that because this “archaeological” investigation into the database is conducted in the very database it mines, “it became a study in and of itself.”

This suggests that, not only are all of the images and actions depicted in the pages ruins, but that the software and hardware one uses to view the images are always already ruins as well.

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010 is a website by Kari Altmann.

The content of the site is a relatively lengthy, vertically-scrolling display of approximately seventy still images and YouTube video players set off against a white background – no text.

That in itself is nothing new – artists have been making these types of heterogeneous found image displays for some time now and, as Seth Price points out in his Teen Image essay, the style is itself lifted from something print magazines have been exploring for at least fifteen years.

But what distinguishes Altmann’s project from what Price terms “hoardings” is the self-reflexive intentionality of her particular images.

She wants to show you something in particular: time, decay, built-in obsolescence. We see collisions of two themes: obsolete technologies of the “just past” such as compact discs or previous generations of flat-screen televisions as well as crumbling architectural details and rock formations of the ancient past.

In the most potent images, we see both at once – dialectically. The first diptych of images at the top of the page gets at this. In the image to the left of the diptych, one views what appears to be two fangs – the sort of relic one might see in a display of fossils and bones of pre-historic animals at a natural history museum.

However, there is a USB connection sticking out of the base of each of these fangs. Their power resides not in the prick of their tips, but in the information they store as little Flash Drives.

In the image to the right of the diptych, one views a broken slab of what, at first glance anyway, reads as an “ancient monument” – perhaps a temple – displayed behind a glass cube in a museum setting.

However, as much as one views the ancient slab, one views the rainbow colored reflection ring generated by the flash of a digital camera. The image is a collision between the ancient and technological.

As one scrolls-down through the rest of Altmann’s images, this tension is explored again and again and again. Through the repetition of the theme of technology and ancient ruins, Altmann creates a portrait of endless technological obsolescence.

Monday, February 8th, 2010

Can one be bad at the Internet?

Can one use the Internet in such a way that it is objectively-speaking bad?

Well, yes, and no.

On the one hand, yes, I’m personally bad at the Internet because I don’t know every trick to get free music.

I’m also bad at the Internet because I don’t know *that much* about how the Internet works or its history or coding languages.

In a very real way, I’m bad at that stuff.

So, yes, one can be bad at the Internet.

I’m certainly bad at the Internet.

But, on the other hand, so is everyone else.

If you’re good at understanding the legal frame of the Internet, you may not be good at understanding the cultural memes of the Internet – you may be bad at it.

If you’ve developed an elegant mathematical model of the Internet which accounts for every node, you may not understand the current security threats posed by hackers.

And so on.

In fact, we’re all pretty wildly bad at using the Internet.

Perhaps that’s why we cluster in circles, spinning our wheels amongst the same voices in a fit of future shock – it’s a way to deal with the troubling fact of the human brain’s limitations that the Internet makes obvious.

So, the problem is not whether one can be good or bad at using the Internet.

The question is badly stated.

Perhaps we can say “does one use the Internet with intention?”

Monday, February 8th, 2010

Digital imaging software converges as much previous visual media as it can handle – painting, photo, film, video, animation, printmaking, newspaper, etc. – and creates automatic simulations of gestures that read as these media.

For instance, the “film grain” look or “sun flare” effect or the “spray paint” tool.

These digital effects, though, take on their own visual look that is distinct from what they imitate.

Similarly, digital imaging software has created to a suite of effects that are derived from analogical functions, but have gained their own uniquely digital feeling, such as the ubiquity of the “rounded corners” look familiar to users of Macs or Web 2.0 applications, or the jagged, hard-edged look that comes from a rough usage of the “lasso” tool in Photoshop, or the uncannily smooth, but hollow lines created in the Maya 3D imaging software.

With this is mind, Poster Company (the duo of Travess Smalley and Max Pitegoff) have created a series of digital paintings that throw all of these digital affects and effects – both in reference to functions analogical and digital – into a stew of action painting, untutored Photoshop fiddling, glitchy Quicktime files, 8-bit vampire castles, Matisse, Leger, Lichtenstein, soft film footage of lunar landings, Terminator 2-esque liquid-metal, Kandinsky, late 60’s psychedelia, ”cheesy” public-access video effects, etc.

Each of these “posters” contrasts effects with each other, which allows the viewer of the work to see each of the effects as an effect. Typically, an effect or a digital aesthetic is viewed in the context of giving some other message. It is meant to disappear. Here, though, the effects are divorced from any context and allowed to be viewed as chunks of visual language bouncing off of other chunks of visual language. This is not to say that the posters are a mess. On the contrary, the artists are able to create powerful, often eye-popping compositions from these materials in the same way that an artist like Rauschenberg used the trash on the street near his studio to create his combines of the 1950s.

When they showed this work at Foxy Productions, the artists focused on quantity as much as quality.

The first thing one notices upon walking into the room in which their work was exhibited is that there are a lot of posters – too many, a surfeit.

However, it comes very close to working because they play this overwhelming output against the formal skill and care going into each individual image and the whole thing holds together.

One oscillates between the feeling of being overwhelmed – both inside and outside of the posters – and the focus on a particular image or gesture, which resonates and harmonizes the work.

I say “comes very close to working,” though, because there is something going on in their process which does not come across in the gallery show:


If there is, in the end, a power to what Poster Company is doing, it resides in the project’s continuous devotion to daily production.

The question “what is a digital painting?” is here better phrased as “what is digital painting?”

The significance of their work lies not in the individual compositions, nor in the volume of output (although these elements are undeniably crucial for the full execution of the work to occur), but rather in the performance of the work.

I’m not sure how one would convey this in the gallery without being gimmicky, but it, nonetheless, seems to be a dimension of this work (and work like it by artists such as Harm van den Dorpel and Charles Broskoski) that needs to be explored.

Sunday, February 7th, 2010

Kevin Bewersdorf wrote a series of texts such as “The Four Sacred Logos” and “Spirit Surfing” which merged corporate motivational speaking tropes with a vision of the Internet as a spiritual space.

These texts are now lost – erased from the Web by Bewersdorf himself.

If one is to speak about them, then one must remember them.

The way I remember them is that they made a claim – the Internet is a space of spiritual movement – and then they cross that claim out by wrapping it up in a shtick which points to loss – loss of any hope one may have had for the Internet as corporations changed the Internet into a giant Wall Mart.

Bewersdorf’s use of the word “logos” in the “Four Sacred Logos” texts is an example of how this works.

It’s a pun.

On the one hand, there are “logos” (plural) as in branding devices such as the Nike “swoosh.”

Bewersdorf designed “sacred” corporate logos for each of his texts which are not unlike the corporate logos found in erectile dysfunction medication pamphlets at the doctor’s office.

On the other hand, there is also “logos” (singular) which is something like the primordial divine truth through which all creation emerges as described in ancient philosophy and theology.

Bewersdorf’s logos of the logos cancel each sense of “logos” out in endless loops of belief and skepticism.