Posts Tagged ‘contemporary art’

Friday, July 16th, 2010

Marisa Olson: Recent Work


The Internet enables anyone with a connection to publish and share their artwork on a global scale. In many ways, this is a triumph of democratic thought as the barriers to creative expression are open much wider than they were twenty years ago. This pleasant vision becomes complicated, though, when one considers that because of this very democratization of cultural production, the landscape of cultural reception transforms, as well.

The viewer or receiver of cultural data is now presented with a seemingly infinite amount of novelty and amateur cultural ephemera to sift through. Because of this, the viewer’s relationship to media becomes one not of audience member to media work, but rather of “prosumer” to media unit.

In the ocean of infinite media novelty, the media viewer is nudged towards, on the one hand, consuming media the way a cable television ”zapper” surfs through television, and, on the other hand, producing media in the hopes of providing another surfer with good, quick zappable content. This surfing/consuming/producing model is, in general, not conducive to deeper modes of reflection or engagement with media. On the contrary, it is conducive to shallow skimming, scraping the surface of works. The pleasure of consumption in an ocean of media is the leap from one drop of media to another to another as opposed to a deeper engagement with a single drop. The media which are most attractive are fast, funny, and immediately clear. They need to be, otherwise the prosumer will grow bored and surf to the next article or the next image or the next whatever of media. The result is that media requiring a relatively greater degree of depth of thought are lost in the shuffle.

Now, with all of this in mind, an artist might grow anxious.

What is the point of making anything and casting it out to this ocean of media if it’s just going to be at best buzzed through or at worst completely ignored? It’s great that the Web allows anyone to put their own production into the sphere of public consumption, but at what cost? For the contemporary artist especially, whose motivation is ostensibly to create culture with a greater depth and preciousness than a “Fat Kid on Roller Coaster” video, it would seem absurd to even participate in this dog-eat-dog system.

Still, though… would anyone earnestly desire for everything to return to the pre-Internet model in which only a handful of individuals are able to put their ideas out there into the world? No, probably not. Fifteen minutes of fame are better than none.

What to do then?

How can an artist participate in this system which is in many ways preferable to the prior model without feeling as though their individual works of art are on some level meaningless?


The artist Marisa Olson’s recent work is not illuminating in the sense that it has any concrete answers to this question, but is rather therapeutic in the sense that it seeks to quell the desire for answers to this and similar sorts of questions by focusing instead on what is creating the anxiety in the first place.

For example, Whew! Age (2010), a performance at PS122 in New York, dramatizes a hallucinatory therapy session in which the patient oscillates between a search for meaning and a cynicism regarding the very idea of search for meaning.

In a set composed of cardboard crystal shards outlined in dayglo duct tape and cheap-o Persian rugs sparkling with glitter and tinsel, Olson’s character interacts with the video projection of a customer-service rep-slash-self-help guru (played by Olson, as well). 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. 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 or 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 in which 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 mass-produced wisdom, chilling and heating, going into one’s self and back out to the world, is the space Whew! Age inhabits. In the process, it produces a therapeutic effect by nudging its audience towards neither one pole nor the other but rather towards an acknowledgment of the inevitable contradiction between the two.

Another example of Olson’s recent work is Double Bind (2010), a two-channel video first exhibited at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, California. The work is composed of two YouTube videos – one a “response video” to the other. In the first video, one views Olson dressed professionally in a black suit with make-up and styled hair as she wraps her head in hot pink vinyl bondage tape until it’s completely covered. In the response video, one views Olson unwrap the pink tape from her head.

So, in one video, the artist is tying herself up in bondage tape; in the other, she’s releasing herself from this bondage. As they play in a loop side by side – not in perfect sync as the runtime of one video is roughly twice as long as the other – the viewer is presented with two contradictory messages – liberation and submission – each competing with the other and in neither case allowing the two messages to coalesce into a synthesis.

The title of the work, Double Bind, refers to the artist’s binding of herself and unbinding of herself with the bondage tape, and it also refers to a term developed by, among others, the anthropologist/psychologist/cybernetician Gregory Bateson, referring to a condition in which two contradictory pieces of information negate one another. This negation creates an anxiety in a patient in which he or she cannot settle on one piece of information or the other. For Bateson (following, to some extent, ideas explored in Zen Buddhism), the discussion of the double bind underlying these sorts of contradictions possesses a therapeutic value for the patient by demonstrating that the desire for solution or synthesis is not a pressing human concern due to its logical impossibility.

In Double Bind, the phenomenon of “double bind” is demonstrated, thus creating a way to confront the anxiety by pointing out the incommensurability of the information in conflict with one another. Through this demonstration, the subject struggling with the choice of either/or is released from the need to even make such distinctions.

Furthermore, as curator Richard Rinehart points out in his statement regarding the work, an underlying theme of Double Bind is Olson’s own oscillation between digital culture and the world of contemporary art. By presenting her work as a YouTube response video replete with the design elements and user comment structure familiar to users of YouTube and placing that in the context of the white cube art space, Olson engages in another double bind – the push and pull between the democratic culture of the Web and the elitist culture of contemporary art. Without definitively aligning herself in either realm, Olson presents this very conflict between democratic culture and art culture as a subject of the work.

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, April 8th, 2010

The Continuous Line Drawings series by Damon Zucconi consists of (what is displayed to date, anyway) fifty-four short loops (at the most a couple of seconds per loop) – each of which consists of a single action – a jagged line being drawn.

These line drawings, though, are not representations of the artist’s hand painting in a studio or over a pane of glass (as in the films on Picasso and Pollock).

Rather, they are representations solely of the line itself being drawn over a field of black as if they were a screen-capture from a digital painting program (which they’re not – on the contrary, they were created with a tablet and a piece of custom software which captures, plots, and plays-back the drawing gesture).

The lines in each loop begin to fade away as soon as they are drawn, resulting in a “ghosting” effect (in this sense, they look like hyper-complicated representations of the heart beating as it rises and falls in a classic EKG monitor).

However, the rigorous looping combined with the very short run-times of each loop results in the continuous retracing of each line’s path so that just as a point in the trajectory of a given line drawing is about to completely fade away, the drawing of the line from the following loop picks up the slack, breathing new life into the line and sustaining an afterimage of a full shape drawn by the line.

When one views these elements as a whole, then, one views both:

1. An un-changing object (one does see a static shape outlined through the looping drawing of the line).

2. As well as flux (the continuously executed temporal event of the line being drawn).

Each work in the series thus plays with this tension between the work as a spatial object and the work as a temporal object (or alternatively, an understanding of an artwork as a creation and an understanding of an artwork as creating).

To that end, Zucconi alters the frame-rate at which he records the drawing of each of his lines.

So, in drawings with relatively high frame-rate recordings (say, sixty frames-per-second), the action appears “fast” and, thus, the “object-ness” of the shape drawn by the drawing-action is rendered more legible and vice-versa.

When one views through each work of the series, then, one begins to picture the differences between each drawing and between each drawing-time.

Additionally, when the artist projects these works in physical space, his objective as an artist, then, becomes to create a harmony (or dis-harmony as the case may be) between the physical architecture and the frame-rate of the drawing.

The work becomes site-specific.

Saturday, March 13th, 2010

If I encounter the work of a contemporary artist through their website or some other form of managed presence on the Internet and I do it again and again and again and again, then the evolution of their website or managed presence itself becomes a work.

That is to say, the more I view the artist’s work as an ongoing chronological development accounted for in a database accessible on the Web (as opposed to, say, seeing an object first-hand and, then, relying on memories or reference books to account for the artist’s previous body of work), the more I view a whole new type of first-hand:

A performance of the artist as an artist, moving in and out of positions and tempos, and, in some cases, picturing their own inhabitation of time.

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

50 50 by Oliver Laric is a version of the 50 Cent track In Da Club composed of 50 other versions of the song culled from YouTube user videos. In each of the videos, a user (or users) performs a homemade karaoke performance of a pop song in front of a home video camera or webcam.

Laric cuts these versions together to create a single, seamless performance of the track which has less to say about In Da Club and more to say about the fact that the world of images in 2007 – the year the video was initially uploaded – is composed of versions of In Da Club as much as it is composed of the original track.

When one searches for a pop song on YouTube, more often than not one will find versions of the track produced by rank-and-file YouTube users as opposed to an “original” version.

And if one does find an “original” version of the song, it will still be versioned anyway through the video’s visual component – say a slide show of thematically relevant imagery or a static screen of text and graphic elements advertising whatever it is that the user sells.

This ecology of versions is what 50 50 shows me.

Thursday, December 31st, 2009

Space Junk by Marisa Olson is a black, monochrome square painting like Malevich or Ad Reinhardt or Wade Guyton, but when you look closer, you can see that it’s not black – but a pattern of flickering stars whose aesthetic is appropriated from a web-native starfield wallpaper .gif (a now defunct trope of Web 1.0). The surface itself is wallpaper that Olson wallpapered onto a stretcher to make the monochrome painting.

So, there is a reference to an obsolete avant-garde painting style, as well as a reference to an obsolete Internet aesthetic.

When they combine, they each highlight each other’s obsolescence. Or, perhaps they highlight the fact of obsolescence.

Part of what Post Internet art had to do was get into contemporary art, which – on paper – seems do-able, but in practice is incredibly difficult. Contemporary art people look at contemporary art. They have a sense for work that is adding something they appreciate to their world and they have an even stronger sense for work that is not doing anything but wasting their time.

This painting is “art” because it tells me something about art, about obsolescence in art. It is art (without quotes) because it tells me something deeper, too. Memento Mori.