A Love Letter to Computers Club

Originally posted on The Creators Project blog

A from still from the CCHQ video by Nicolas Sassoon

Since the first post on May 2nd 2009, I have been addicted to Computers Club. The project, a group site dedicated to sharing art made with or by computers launched by Krist Wood, 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 artist/members have been able to share work that typically reaches beyond the standard fair of netart.

When I talked with many members of 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). Members discussed how these former outlets served as a way of showing work, but some members felt as though those projects didn’t offer avenues to push member’s practices beyond some self-induced restricting labeling of being considered a netartist. 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. The passion and willingness to explore how the computer as medium can filter and influence the production of artwork found amongst CC members shows how this site provided a shared context for visually sophisticated work to mature beyond the scope of the screen.

When asked how joining CC influenced and engaged this desire to challenge standard receptions of so-called netart, Laura Brothers commented:

I was well aware of the implicit restrictions that I have placed on myself when making work for out4pizza [Brothers’ live-journal that acts as her main art-publication site]. Basically, it began very carefree and natural and fun and overtime, I felt that I had established unforeseen rules for myself that I attempt to adhere to. Tiny things – like even the consistent desire to post on black. So, I figured I could try and make my contributions to CC a way to branch out from my own invisible boundaries – a place for personal explorations that to me were something slightly different.

Disco Drown by Laura Brothers

I think that a result of the exploration of ideas and techniques that occur within the many pages of CC provides striking evidence of a dramatic step towards expanding the scope of what netart can visually undertake and encompass. Much discussion around this topic has emerged in simultaneity to CC growing and developing over the past two years and I feel as though the work that members have created on CC has played no small part in enabling a discourse about how the net can be viewed as a viable space for developing exhibition platforms. Many members, for instance, have shown in various web-based exhibition platforms including jstchillin, The State, and recently a newer project called bubblebyte. In tandem with these online projects, members of the club have also had numerous physical mountings of work both domestically and abroad both of digital objects and physical fabrications of works. This is not to say that Wood and the starting members had this in mind when the project launched, but instead the development of the community of artists and enthusiasts around the site have seen how that push for self-discovery has informed an opening up of curatorial and traditional gallery rigidity (at least this is the case for myself).

I think I should stress here that these developments and new considerations of the influence of these makers and CC as a project is not necessarily a dominant focal point for those involved. Instead a guiding sentiment that Duncan Malashock shared with me seems more apropos:

When it comes to how it affects me to have my work presented and shared in the midst of the rest of the work in the group, I’d say if anything it creates an unspoken reinforcement of our status as “amateurs”, meant in the most positive sense – that we are making what we make because we love to. If I had to guess, that’s probably a lot of what brought us together in the first place… In my opinion, the common link is that participation in the group sets up the expectation that you ought to post what you’ve put care into, which doesn’t bother me at all as an ideology – I think care is the mark of good work anyway.

Still from itsalwaystimetochillforever by Duncan Malashock

I agree that the use of amateur as a non-pejorative term – a sentiment borrowed from an essay by Ed Halter – is an essential part of understanding the power of CC as a whole, as well as individual works displayed. Even if there isn’t an inherent “togetherness” of the group – an expectation I had assumed but didn’t find direct affirmation of from members – the affinities the work and members have for one another can be addressed through this deep sense of exploration of the computer as a making and sharing portal. That process of discovery, or re-investment, of tools and applications of the computer for art making and the net as a site of distribution has been a revelation for many members including Nicolas Sassoon:

… the main influence working on CC had on my work was to make me consider websites more as spaces to discover, more than [spaces with] restrictions. On another level, discovering the work of the other artists was a huge influence… especially because of the variety of practice. In Vancouver there is this idea that an artist is someone that works locally, that becomes involved with communities as well as an observer of its own surroundings. Being in CC was making these notions completely obsolete or reductive. I don’t think its necessarily an obsolete notion for everyone, but for me and my work it is, since now I’ve got two local hangouts.

Recently CC decided to expand its digital property by creating the Computers Club Drawing Society (CCDS) as a way for original members and newly asked participants to create work using in-browser custom drawing software. An initial exciting component of CCDS is that this platform welcomes artists to submit drawings to be considered for potential membership. This more open environment for artists to share work and sketches is no longer limited to the hand-picked membership of the original club, which I hope will create more a sense of community and affinity amongst computer artists. Another fascinating part of CCDS to consider is that all participating artists are restricted to same limited tools to create their work. By preventing artists from resorting to the familiar tactics, tools, and filtrations of their regular practice, CCDS challenges drawers to maintain a personal aesthetic even in the face of a limited and shared tool palette. With this knowledge in mind, the variety of drawings from CCDS members show the strength of each artist’s visual style and how these aesthetics can still transcend any technical barriers imposed by a shared light-weight software. Robert Lorayn put it well when discussing some intention behind the design of this platform:

I feel it all drapes a core desire to see someone’s character clearly. As clear as that can be shown over this medium. And to be honest, I feel the computer (or the internet) gives us the opportunity to see a person a bit differently. That being the case, I think Computers Club gives space for its members to project those voices–to show that character. And the Drawing Society takes another approach by its necessitating the same tools. In that environment every member creates alongside the other members with tools and practices that might be unfamiliar to them. Those challenges and explorations, then, become a shared experience, yet the end result is a unique one–their unique voice. In my opinion, that feels like the backbone of CC.

Syn -, Conscious Drift by Robert Lorayn (made on CCDS)

As a recent inductee into the CCDS, I personally feel as though the Computers Club project as a whole does provide a unique and valuable site and community for computer artists to be able develop their voice. Seeing how my own personal artistic practice has developed and been influenced by the content of the Drawing Society in combination with my efforts to bring together voices from participants of Computers Club into this article can hopefully be evidence of the significance of this project for others to also appreciate.

One Year In (a reflection on B@S publishing)

I have been creating content for the Bad at Sports blog for over a year now and I thought that taking an opportunity to take stock of this fact and reflect on the correspondences I’ve developed over that period of time. Because of the speed and immediacy that newer technologies force upon makers and thinkers, artists and art writers get few chances to be able to take in all of the threads and ideas that circulate in their work. Obviously making work – be it writing or visual production – has it’s own self-reflexiveness, and developing a healthy practice of finding what works and what doesn’t can satiate a desire for digestion and personal evaluation. But then again, I think exposing those methods – the ways in which one identifies with their work and their habits – can provide outlets and insights that the outwardly publication of work does not always permit.

Before even delving into particular moments that I want to reflect on, I want to take a moment to thank all of the people that have shared their work, practice, thoughts, and support for this column and my efforts. The interviews and conversations I’ve been conducting over this past year have given me an amazing amount of inspiration and I feel very lucky to be able to share these dialogs with others, as well as be able to represent a community that I share a deep affinity to. To put it more simply, this column has always had the intention of championing the work of others, and for this I am eternally grateful.

To that end, thinking about how I can better serve and represent those I want to reach is perhaps a good starting place, since I have had to recently rediscover what it is that I hope to accomplish in this publication series. At the heart of these posts is a desire to create a dialog between makers loosely working around the moniker of “new media art.” Because of the variable formats and disciplines that are nested inside that place-holder term, I thought being able to relate or tie practices underneath that umbrella might help my own understanding of this arena of creativity as well as share that exploration with a contemporary art audience.

As a result, I’ve found that talking with artists within their craft/medium is an apropos way to get an understanding of the formal elements of an artist’s practice, as well as gain access to the conceptual underpinning of why they have chosen the formats they have. This essential crux of my inquiry into what constitutes new media work, and how artists both identify and abstain from that labeling, is of particular interest to me since I have always wanted to maintain an expansive idea of what constitutes new media work (an undertaking that I explored early on in my “art writing” career). As the term “new media” goes more and more out of fashion (at least in regards to describing work made in + around the net), I’m again posed with a question of what it is that I hope to be accomplishing with my column as well as the question of what directions do I pursue as my work develops and responds to the shifting cultural attitudes of my colleagues and peers.

One major alteration in the vernacular of art made on and around the internet has been the emergence, and subsequent resistance, to the term netart. It’s rise in popularity has been an interesting and challenging dilemma for academics and artists alike in that the term privileges the net as the primary (i.e., best) interface for distribution of work as well as acknowledges how that interface of dissemination is an essential tool for critical exploration of self and society. The conundrum about this labeling is that the usual suspect associated with this type of work have increasingly moved further away from the infrastructure of digital-screen based technology and more into the space of the traditional gallery. The question of how to identify works influenced by the aesthetics and behaviors of network technology has been of increasing concern since the lines between digital and physical presentation of work have begun to fold into each other (or at least become more apparent). In other words, how can a maker’s practice be deemed netart if the work no longer is intended to exist and be distributed on the net?

This question has caused many to grasp at new terminologies to specify a practice developed utilizing the social networking capabilities of the net as a means of showing and sharing pieces that no longer rely on the materiality of the net. But these new labels – be it Post-Internet Art or Internet Aware Art – and the desire to classify and comprehend an emerging avant-garde of makers working within and through screen technology speaks to the fact that the term netart was never a very effective grouping for the work that I’ve been attempting to represent in the past year. To paraphrase and site Domenico Quaranta, a emerging sentiment amongst this community is that there is no longer a need for the “net” prefix when examining this art.

Through talking with others, I’ve been surprised to find that the net often times plays a very little visible role in the way that artists conceive of a work. Looking back on the conversations I’ve conducted, I realize that there are very few instances of talking specifically about how the net has inspired content as well as generated and avenue of showing/sharing work. Perhaps that unspoken understanding between myself and artists shows a missed opportunity to critically investigate the significance of the net as a site for exhibition and distribution. This is particularly interesting when I’ve gone to great lengths to try to faithfully represent a makers practice through their medium of production.

Perhaps my unintentional avoidance of talking about “why the net is important right now” is rooted in a concern that talking in this way could potentially cheapen the work that I want to highlight. If I were to focus on merely the technological aspects of a work than I would be taking time away from talking about the actual content of a given maker’s practice. I think that artists rarely get a chance to converse outside of their normal peer group about concerns within their field of research. In order to flesh out some of those reservations, I’ve wanted to provide younger/emerging makers a platform for shared skepticism and intrigue. Through discussion of content, intent, influences, and purpose a dialog about the shape of contemporary digital image-making becomes more lucid for myself and hopefully for my peers.

There have been particular moments where I felt that these conversation gained some traction against the slippery vernacular surrounding online social art practices. The conversation I’ve recently been occupied with revolves around what constitutes a community and how these groupings support and nurture each other. Looking back at a conversation I had with the Dump.fm crew, I can see a desire in my peers at wanting to spark conversation about the effectiveness of communities, and to challenge what it means to work within a constant collaborative recursive system. Interestingly enough, creating systems, networks, and locations for artists to rapidly turn over and surf through content has enabled the constant real-time conversation engine that Jon Rafman talks about in our conversation in Second Life. This development of platforms is also what motivates Jason Rohrer and Mez Breeze, who like Ryder Ripps and Scott Ostler authored environments for others to share, play, and experiment. That collective desire to effect, circumvent, and/or question traditional art context was also a driving force for the organizers of the Gli.tc/h conference held in Chicago last October.

These intersections of motivations to create works and communities is a quality that artists share online precisely as a result of being immersed in a network sensibility. I don’t believe that these similarities can solely be located to these artists “being good at the internet,” and instead think that other influences ought to be considered. More recently I’ve seen how these memes and emerging signifiers can be traced and examined through a lens of media history. Seeing how iterations of early network communities (like BBS’s and list-serv’s of the late 80s and early 90s) influence makers has been a way to highlight common interests and histories (although I think I need to do a better job of making that more clear). One of the benefits of that investigation is to create links between what otherwise would be perceived as very separate practices (like between Dump.FM and Mezangelle for example). The create bridges and segues, albeit through my own specific sense of media history and contemporary art, is based in an effort to accentuate how artists working in similar fields might never consider themselves in close proximity to one another, but in actuality have much in common.

In retrospect, I’m surprised by what now seems like obvious similarities and overlapping interests between the artists featured over the past year. Regardless whether artist are developing unique platforms for exchange or employing preexisting commercial crowd-based content databases both vectors of self-examination are providing critical outlets for an expanded perspective of contemporary digital image-making. To see how these threads naturally surface, reoccur, and go in and out of focus is for me one of the most powerful parts of these conversations.

By being able to reflect in this public way, I acknowledge I’m leaving myself susceptible to criticism for using Bad at Sports as a platform to file personal for semi-diaristic purposes. However, I want to instead highlight the amazing opportunity I have been given, and to emphasize the generosity that this blog has offered me both artistically and academically. I just hope I can faithfully uphold the ethic of sharing and discourse that my work stands for, and that others have graciously offered to me, into all future publications and endeavors.

Int’view w/ Wave Int’l

Not too long ago I was asked to participate in the second issue of publication and exhibition platform Wave Int’l. This iteration will be hosted by Oakland exhibition space Important Projects opening this saturday (the 28th of May) with an accompanying online publication. I was very excited to be involved with this initiative started by Chicago based artists and organizers Brian Khek and Jasmine Lee along with the talented work of Andre and Evan Lenox, Ben Schumacher, and Hayley Silverman. Wave Int’l issue02 will include essays, objects, conversations, projections, and installations represented both in physical space as well in a downloadable pdf. When initially asked to participate, I knew that I had wanted to be able to contribute a piece for the publication that would address some ongoing questions I’ve been workshopping about the over-simplification of the term community. Specifically I’ve been wondering how the academic vernacular of “the community” has effected an emerging field of artists working on or around network technologies.

The best way that I knew how to approach these concerns – one of the most developed ways I have grown into over this past year – has been through an interview format. I decided – with Brian and Jasmine – that being able to talk with Hayley would be a good use of my inquisitiveness, and hopefully allow for both of us to get out into the open some shared anxieties about our burgeoning field and the milieu of unresolved circumstances that screen-space and digital frameworks pose to our respective practices. Our conversation (which I will provide excerpts of in a bit) did provide for some interesting insights, but in a strange way, it also served as a reinforcement of how dire these unresolved questions are for myself, and in a way showed me how my own practice still had much room for growth.

One such instance came when we started to critically examine what it meant to work within a community and how I had come to expect a certain sustainability that a community maintains as a result of shared interests:

Nicholas O’Brien: … I’m curious about how you engage your community or what community means to you since community is such a large part of my practice. In other words, being able to engage like-minded people, making work for them, or about them, or with them is very important for me.

Hayley Silverman: Community is complex and usually related to my terrestrial coordinates. I would often think of my community as being the people immediately within my surround and whom I share lived experiences with. When I look at artists work online I process it differently. They are indexed as information.

I sometimes think of community as a veil for a collective understanding. That there is a presumption that we do indeed know each other. The social translated online creates an intense circulation, one that, as I said earlier, magnifies certain personalities. The second self, or the other self produced virtually, seems to be a contemporary project of redesigning “the old man into the new man”- contributing to an obsession with the relevant – the contemporary. Artistic production, curation, and reception will always be dangerously entangled with the social.

NO’B: Do you think the web, as an interface for highlighting the social aspects of creative production, allow for more transparency for these communities to intermingle?

HS: The web helps facilitate modes of engagement that do open up a dynamic space (one that is interlinked) but my primary vehicle in the production of my work is felt reality.

NO’B: Can you elaborate on the term “felt reality.”
HS: I privilege empirical knowledge.

Although probably not originally intended, Hayley provided me with a great insight that I think I had up until now taken for granted: makers and artists working online each have very specific reasons for interfacing with the web as a site of production and distribution. My more critical readers will probably think that this admittance is a sign of naiveté on my part, but instead being able to allow for this realization to wash over me – to let it permeate some of the more immediate expectations I have from any given community – was (and continues to be) a powerful thing for my own sensibility to reconcile. I address this disparity later in my conversation with Hayley:

NO’B: I might want to move on to talk about the importance and relevance community plays within your work. Being able to engage like-minded people, making work for them, or about them, or with them is very important for me. What are some of your thoughts on how your peer group effects your work (particularly when you are often grouped together with artists that make work more directly interfacing with online technologies). On that note, I think one of the things I’d like to talk about is a concern I have about the limitations of any given community and how perhaps one of those limitations is revealed in the aesthetics generated through or around those associations.

HS: Communities form as the intermittent and transitory outcomes of coordinates whether that be through geography, gender, race, or a process of filtration. How do we align ourselves with particular subjects or movements? Is it to protect ourselves from the voluminous waves of information that wash over us? At some point we could use convention to narrow ourselves… It is as though identity is the condition of correct anticipation, given these restraints. I think the process of a thinker or maker is to invent places to explode to. 

NO’B: Communities then can be mobile?

HS: Well it depends on how you define mobility. Jung’s writing on “herd psychology” speaks about the rootlessness of modern people that results from a disaster not only of primitive tribes but of modern man, in effect, causing a collective psychic injury. The herding of people into major megalopolises caused social and mental pathologies; thinking in large numbers would result in the rise of “mass psychology” also known as mass-mindness. This dependence on the externalization of culture (materialistic technology, commercial acquisitiveness) would enable the loss of spiritual culture. Within this ideology we have never stopped being mobile – it has become extended to another frontier – in this case, cyberspace.

NO’B:  This injury is probably linked to how I’m skeptical of the overuse of the term ‘communities’ and how using that buzz term poses potential limitations. If we have constant mobility – or have a history of it – creative content would then suffer from a kind of transience. However, people latch onto momentary glimpses within that haze and form small niches around them. I fear these pockets of communication and exchange don’t lend themselves to further extension outside their immediate sphere. Do you see an inherent limitation within the establishment of these types of communities?

HS: I’m not sure that’s true. I do believe that people act as if history has ended. That nothing is connected to a lineage – which encourages people to behave not as historical actors but by living out their own demography.

My initial skepticism of the term community – which could be located in my own overuse of the term as a catch-all for a grouping of people that might only be working with similar technological approaches – was (and maybe still is) unfortunately contributing to misconceptions about net-based practices instead of undoing or realigning those expectations. In this way, I was finding ways in which the interview is not always a viable format, and was reminded of a quote from Guthrie Lonergan reacting to harsh criticisms that Bring Your Own Beamer events recently had undergone after mounted stateside exhibitions: “I think the real deal happens online for many.” I felt at that moment that what Guthrie was trying to express was that often times an exhibition or show (even ones with promising premisses and multiple iterations like BYOB) cannot possibly hope to resolve everything within their physical manifestation, and that artist find that the location where the dialog gets fleshed out the most is through shared networks of exchange and conversation (like message boards, comment thread, gchats, group blogs, etc.).

In this way, I felt that being able to re-evaluate my initial questions, and the intentions behind them, could still be an effective way for me to continue to foster my own creative practice. I hoped that doing so would also enable an exposure of my process with others. I decided while in the midst of editing the material for Wave Int’l to try and take these anxieties I was finding about my own sense of participation amongst the community of my peers and formulate them into new questions for Brian and Jasmine:

Jasmine Lee: I was thinking about how Wave Int’l is contextualized… within what “community” It’s difficult to locate, since it falls somewhere between an academic discourse, a critical discourse, and an artistic discourse.
Nicholas O’Brien: I think that these borderlands of discourse is something I struggle with, personally. Or not struggle, but feel anxiety about.
JL: There seems to be some understanding that those said discourses, or at least their titles, are somewhat arbitrary.
Brian Khek: Yeah, I feel our style of execution is something in an international context. Not representing any specific city, per say.
JL: Global, not international.
NO’B: That distinction seems important.
JL: It’s global in the sense that the discourse is united — our interests and what not — but we are still reconciling borders, names, nations, territories. Which is not far off from titles of “communities” or what/how individuals choose to align themselves with.
BK: Right. I feel like international assumes defined communities (i.e., nations).
JL: Yes, and those definitions are very important in distinguishing where the differences become similarities.
BK: Maybe that’s why the abbreviation in our name is more appropriate. I feel “int’l” plays with that.
JL: I think we’re… interested in illuminating, or hinting at distinctions; in structuring content, subject matter. The same way an abbreviation might.
BK: Maybe [the abbreviation of the name] recognizes those distinctions. I feel like the name is supposed to make you think of corporate identities but the abbreviation makes you question what it really means. It serves as an abstract to the familiar. I think it’s important or successful in that we get to talk about it so often.
JL: I guess that’s also what I meant by those distinctions of community/discourses being arbitrary.

Seeing how this distinction was important for the organizers of this project gave me more pause about the use of community – as Jasmine says – as an arbitrary grouping of persons. When I had initially decided that discussing community and shared experiences within a given material or environment, I had unintentionally accepted that the similarities within delivery of content would extend backwards into the original conceptualization of a project or work. To that end, I decided to explore an alternative route and was curious to see if acknowledging shared influences might be a location to discover how community and aesthetic are generated and supported:

NO’B: This kind of actually brings me to a question that I had early on in thinking about this project. In thinking about naming and drafting an identity, could you talk about some of your main non-art influences? For instance, how does “general web content” influence your practice?
My reason for asking is that I think when working online, in particular when working with a publication, there is an aesthetic that gets referenced both consciously and unconsciously.
JL: Well, to list off some recent influences off the top of our heads… Joseph Grigely‘s exhibition prosthetics, Katja Novitskova’s post internet survival guide, Kari Altmann’s r-u-in?s.
BK: With our exhibitions we try to extend the content/subjects in the publication and vice versa.
JL: We learned some really important things working with Joseph, in regards to protheses, which are not limited to general web content. In this way, it’s the careful consideration of all components of an idea as extensions of the thing itself, which is why we stress both the exhibition and it’s subsequent documentation. As well as the printed publication and the web publication.
BK: We try to make it clear that neither is the premier object of focus. We are as interested in presenting the physical works as we are a pdf or printed publication and I think we attempt to achieve a harmony between them to communicate something more faceted.
JL: Often times, digital work may be made to trump – replace – reconcile the matters of the physical, or material, or vice versa. We see all components as beneficial on the same plane, but I’m not sure if that is completely developed yet.

This last quote from Jasmine speaks very strongly with a concern of mine that I think other artists within the so-called netart community are also addressing through a movement back – or sideways – to more traditional frameworks and mediums. One of the best examples that I can come up with in recent memory could probably be observed in a group show entitled Rhododendron curated by Harm van den Dropel at W139 in Amsterdam. In this exhibition artists that have used the internet as a site for production and distribution in many early works have chosen to create objects using more traditional fine art materials (or have continued a practice that I am unfamiliar with from pre-net projects). This example is just one of many of the signifiers of a reversal of the potential “trumping” that digital contexts provide within the community that I aim to represent and be in dialog with.

Barmecidal Projects and the Paradox of the Virtual Gallery

Last month Mike Goldby and Jillian Kay Ross curated and organized the launch of a new virtual gallery project space called Barmecidal Projects with an inaugural showcase called FREE 4 ALL. The release of this project occurred in conjunction with an opening at Butcher Gallery in Toronto by projecting a virtual walk-through of a 3D rendered fictional space modeled after Mathew Marks Gallery in NYC.

Although Barmecidal Projects is not the first of it’s kind to present online works in this fashion (notable precursors include Chrystal Gallery curated and rendered by Timur Si-Qin, and An Immaterial Survey of our Peers curated by Lauren Christiansen and Brad Troemel), this recent exhibition reignited questions I’ve been mulling over regarding this model of presentation. I addressed some of these concerns with Goldby and Ross last week and will interweave our conversation into an ongoing debate I’ve been having with myself about the future and current potential of the virtual gallery space.

Although I had visited the project site and gone through the walk-through a handful of times, it was only after I read a critical response/review to FREE 4 ALL on it’s not about the art that made me decide to try to put some of the thoughts I was having about this work into a more solid frame of reference. I applaud moderators/authors Joanna Sheridan and Ginger Scott on their taking to task some of the technical aspects of the project by delving into the infrastructural short-comings that Barmecidal suffered as a result of appearing to do too much with too little (in ways of time, resources, rendering power, etc.) I do, however, disagree that these lacking elements influence my overall appreciation for what this project aims to explore.

In one particularly instance I thought it unfair to pit the efforts of Goldby and Ross against the virtual gallery tools developed by Google’s Art Project. Measuring the scope of each exhibition is in itself a gesture that undermines the fact that exhibitions like Barmecidal Projects can even be mounted through the limited DIY resources available to the artists represented. Galvanizing and organizing the work shown in FREE 4 ALL is a task all on it’s own, especially since a portion of the artists participating in the exhibition have never even attempted to work in 3D before or are forced to use unstable bootleg versions of animation software. Goldby and Ross expressed to me that some of the most exciting parts of putting together this exhibition came from the dialog generated between themselves and artists whose work they had to render.

G+R: we wanted a wide range
N O’B: i see
G+R: people who use the language of 3d rendering, people who use the language of net art, people who work exclusively IRL (offline)
we really enjoyed working with them
they gave us an idea or sketch and we produced a piece
N O’B: interesting
G+R: it was fun working with them because we would send them renders and they would tell us if they liked it etc.
but there’s also something to be said about the idea that we are “re-creating” their works
N O’B: so you guys facilitated the production of works
G+R: yeah, we facilitated their works

I cannot fault inata for not knowing how Goldby and Ross committed themselves to incorporating non-net-based artists into this exhibition, but I do take issue with neglecting to take into consideration how the decisions and outcomes that occurred as a result of the feedback between artists and organizers (a working methodology that good artists, curators, and cultural commentators engage with as often as they can) appear evident in the presentation of this exhibition. In this way, I felt as though this comparison made between Barmecidal and Google typifies how inata had missed the point of Barmecidal’s initial objective.

Through exhibiting these works in such a manner, Barmecidal Projects is attempting to make audience members “suspend certainty” in a way that calls into question the arbitrary distinction between what is considered real and virtual. If we allow ourselves to quickly let go of the visual gimmick of this show – albeit a somewhat difficult task given the deliberate direction and perspective of the camera angle in the video – then we can hold FREE 4 ALL to the same traditional success standards we would regard non-virtual galleries sites. Thus I think the show is successful by the standard that Ralph Rugoff has suggested in that it the works “engage in a dialogue with one another,” in way that allows for “artists [to] offer us their talent for making unexpected connections.”

Rachael Milton - Maldoror, 2011

Without that consideration, one can see that the concentration on craft and render quality found within the above mentioned review are evidence of an over-emphasis on technique as a way of not discussing the content and concept behind a singular piece or a group dynamic. To that end, one of the more interesting aspects of the project can be found between the discrepancies between the varying rendering engines and their native lighting environments. By exposing differing skills sets and aesthetic acumen, Goldby and Ross highlight a tension that spaces like Barmecidal Projects can very purposefully embody in way that a physical representation cannot. For instance, the stark contrast between Georgia Dickie‘s Fusilli with Rachel Milton‘s Malador should be observed as a bridging of a gap between the rhetorics that inform the production of works made on or around the web. The diversity of works, and their subsequent levels of rendered “believability,” point to the variety of perspectives and influences that shape the content of contemporary net-based artworks. In the instance above, we can see how minimalism and manga hold equal places of interest within the vernacular of the contemporary community represented within FREE 4 ALL.

However, there are some technical aspects of the project that do have some interesting considerations to take into account. For instance, the walk-through loop creates an unintentional structural narrative as a result of the sequences visible beginning and end. In this way, viewers aware of this (knowledge that might not occur in the Butcher Gallery installation) can mistake that continuity as containing crescendoes and moments of rest. As a result, a viewer of the loop must would have to take into consideration that certain pieces are unintentionally prioritized over others.

Shelbi Chew - Untitled, 2011

Goldby and Ross admit that rendering limitations prevented a more dynamic viewing situation. Allowances for wandering and lingering around any given piece might prevent these hindrances, but I am still curious what this visual guidance/dictation does to the pieces included in this show. Although the camera view that we get roams the various rooms and objects in a relatively democratic way, the static-ness of that perspective speaks to some of the incumbered limitations contemporary artists are facing when deciding to work within and around screens. Whenever an artist choses to emulate three-dimensions, regardless if your medium is computer rendered imagery or 16mm film, one is still faced with the consequence of working with a singular image surface/plane.

This quandary plays itself out – even if only accidently – in the visual framework that Barmecidal Projects provides in their tour. One would think that browsing could be a guiding paradigm to try and tackle this problem, either through the inclusion of multiple screens or through multiple offered perspectives. In our conversation, the curators seemed to agree that a more interactive approach would help solve some of these constraints. They also stressed the fact that in future iterations there will be more emphasis made in making the theme more evident through specific selections of artists working in around similar content:

G+R: in the future
briefs and themes [like “FREE 4 ALL”] will be more directed
working with smaller groups on tighter themes and taking advantage of the immaterial space
N O’B: this was more like an inaugural show
G+R: yeah
sort of like a showcase
N O’B: i see
G+R:i know
after the first show was finished
i started to really think about the idea of the space (mike)
as a showcase, using the space as a vessel worked
but when themes become tighter the space will become increasingly important
it’s exciting to have a mutable space
N O’B: rite
G+R: and also exterior space to the gallery as well
N O’B: like a whole building?
G+R: exactly, and it could be placed in any location
it becomes a lot to consider

In some ways these concerns that Goldby and Ross shared with me are recapitulations of some of the more poignant parts of the inata review, but instead of pointing to potential failure on that part of the orchestrators of this exhibition, I’m instead wanting to consider what alternatives and options might be available for future iterations of this gallery and others. In particular, the question regarding the decision to use familiar iconography found within a traditional gallery is an acute critique that also speaks to my own curiosity:

… there are monitors in the Barmecidal gallery that represent installations of video work. This is perplexing because they serve no utilitarian function besides standing in for recognizable objects. All the same, why adhere to this standard when the virtual model renders it completely unnecessary and when there are seemingly infinite alternative possibilities? Without having to adhere to the confines of physical space, and other annoyances like gravity, why do monitors have to stand in to separate the video work from any other media in this transitory space?

Lee Ormerod - Bulldog Clip #7, 2011.

The one piece that actually comes quite close to challenging the austerity of the artificiality of the space is a very quiet piece by Lee Ormerod entitled Bulldog Clip #7. This piece uses an enlarged, almost Oldenburg-esque, bulldog clip to pinch and elevate the floor of the gallery is a gesture that shows the otherwise hidden mutability to the conventional white cube. Ormerod’s piece is almost like a wink to the viewer, reminding audience members that the strict standard geometry of a space meant to disappear is only a visual launching pad for a potential plethora of subversive statements. Work that immediately addresses and challenges what is considered the “standard” within a screen-only based gallery can be the segue into turning a conversation about technique into a discourse of aesthetic breakdown of technical expectations within computer rendered environments.

I’m convinced that the excitement Goldby and Ross expressed to me has been able to translate into a strong reaction to FREE 4 ALL that enthusiasts of net-based practices have been able to share with their non-net cohorts. This being said, I still think that the occasionally anecdotal and “so close of non-art” tight-rope walking has a long way to go before any kind of agreed upon model of presentation can be found. The proximity to “the real thing” needs to be more critically examined as not just a by-product of lack of government of gallery funding, but instead as a way of critically examining how the whole model of production and distribution of works online has forever changed the face of the gallery world (both visually and conceptually). Even though Barmecidal Projects is not the first of it’s kind, its wide exposure and current spotlight provide a telling example of how contemporary digital artwork can potentially be exhibited in a way that simultaneously uses and challenges the familiarity of the idealized white cube gallery system.

Antler’s Wifi

Rick Silva‘s ongoing project Antler’s Wifi depicts a series of animations that combine geometric glitch aesthetic with serene landscapes and natural iconography. The weekly updates to this blog project vary in complexity and density, but all the images share an acute aesthetic that Silva has been developing over the past several years. The visual elements that comprise the animations in Antler’s Wifi – a telling name – often juxtapose vistas of the icy surrounding of Silva’s current Calgary home with diagrams that appear to be algorithmic interpretations of geological structures found beneath the soil. These images not only appear to hold secret mathematical equations, but also appear to be pseudo-scientific data visualizations of some hidden incalculable source.

The crystalline patterns and undulating shapes that appear in the more recent iterations of this work – “an aesthetic that was rebooted” according to Silva at the beginning of 2011 – create a tranquil yet playful reinterpretation of the landscape image. It appears as though the line drawings and artificial peaks that mirror the mountain ranges and remote lakes hold resonant frequencies that generate their rhythms and patterns. The short gif cycles appear as though they contain sonic qualities that never actually manifest through playback. This lack of an aural link to the repetition and rhythm of the animations accentuates the remoteness of the imagery providing viewers with hypnotic and haunting micro-scenarios.

The directness of the pairings made by Silva throughout this work symbolize a need for understanding and contemplation of the visual world outside out windows and away from our screens. The meandering presence that dictates the visual paths and pace of the aesthetic that Silva captures within this work is akin to the wanderings of an amateur cartographer mapping the foothills of his backyard. In some images the false sense of simplicity that landscapes embody is paired with similar elementary geometric spaces for deviations and abnormalities to occur. Silva compares the hidden ecology of any environment to the abstract complexity of euclidian geometry throughout many iterations of the work. Observers of this project can see how the lo-fi superimposition of data-projection highlights the correlations that Silva wishes to explore in these diaristic and delicate renderings.

Reposted on i like this art.

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