Unititled, Clyfford Still (courtesy Art Institute of Chicago)
I used to be a painter. I was never a really good painter, so the discontinuation of that part of practice some seven years ago was not a big loss. That being said, I am often reminded of how much I owe to my humble/clumsy painting beginnings. While still in my post-painting undergraduate studies, I would often frequent the Art Institute’s Abstract Expressionist rooms for comfort and solitude between classes or after an emotionally draining critique. I distinctly remember visiting a long, narrow room that existed upstairs in the pre-modern-wing building that housed only five or six paintings at a time. This room would often rotate works by Ad Reinhardt, Joan Mitchell, Mark Rothko, or Paul Kline. However, a permanent fixture in this space were always two massive, wall-sized paintings by Clyfford Still.
Both works – which are currently not on display – employed Still’s signature nocturnal black, but one was interspersed with scars and crevices of cream, red, and yellow; colors that now seem “out-of-the-tube” but were hand mixed by Still in the early 1950s. These two pieces were fantastic evidence of Still’s meticulous pallet knife work, and the dense murky black of 1951-1952 (almost none of Still’s work had titles) the heavy layering created a remarkable sombre darkness that would engulf a viewer, creating a void primed for personal exploration and meditation. I would sit on the bench that bisected the room longways feeling as if a white noise reverberated between these two pieces; a stoic frequency bounced between them that only a metaphysical shortwave radio could dial into. During ideal viewing sessions – times when the museum was near closing hours, or during particularly cold winter weekdays that deterred visitors – the power of sitting between these facing works would create the perfect mental vacuum to delve into deep contemplation. In those moments, I felt as if the subtlety of texture and composition that existed in these works acted as mirrors for the complexity and nuance of my own burgeoning artistic voice. That sense of belonging amidst those two works would bring me back countless times, and made me a life-long appreciator of Still’s oeuvre.
Gallery View of Clyfford Still Museum (courtesy Clyfford Still Museum)
So, perhaps needless to say, it is with some bias that I came to the press preview of the Clyfford Still Museum in downtown Denver. The dense concrete cube, designed by Brad Cloepfil of Allied Works Architecture, is located just behind the iconic Hamilton Wing of the Denver Art Museum almost serving as an architectural antithesis to Daniel Liebeskind’s hyperactive bravado. The subdued practicality of the museum does a great service to the new home for 94% of Still’s life work, allowing for the fabled 300 days-a-year Front Range sun to filter through the perforated ceiling with the help of motorized shades and diffusing glass. During the press conference, Cloepfil discussed how he imagined the materials of the building being “compacted” into the earth to ground the museum in an act of homage to the organic palette found within the 2400+ pieces of the collection. The density of the concrete delicately avoids being cumbersome due to the airy quality of the nine galleries found on the second floor. Almost all elements of the building – from the low ceiling lobby, to the publicly available storage facilities – faithfully serve the ambition and sincerity of Still’s six decade career that started in the prairies of Alberta and ended at his isolated farm in central Maryland.
The galleries are delicately filled with key selections from the estate for the inaugural exhibition, and many works on view have had extremely limited public appearances until now. Although the initial galleries that you approach are a bit cluttered with early semi-figurative work from Southern Canada and Washington State, the care taken by adjunct curator David Anfam and museum director Dean Sobel with Still’s more iconic work truly accentuates their undeniable arresting prescience. I was fortunate enough to be led on a guided tour by Anfam of the various facilities that are housed in the museum complex, including a preservation center, a research library, and an interactive timeline. While on the tour, Anfam frequently emphasized how Still, unlike his contemporaries, always prioritized personal cerebral exploration over exhibition and public notoriety. Anfam also took many opportunities to dispel the misreading of Still’s work as masculine grandiosity, and instead argued that the colossal paintings that comprise a majority of his later output came instead from a sincere inward-looking sensitivity to the ways in which post-war America politics and culture were in a state of radical change.
In this way, the inaugural exhibition is incredibly successful – to rewrite the dominant narrative of American AbEx is no easy task, and the lasting impression of the museum that has followed me since my visit is that Still’s conscientiousness is evident in an unexpected and rare display. This is not to say that the museum leadership should reward themselves with single handedly changing the contemporary perspective of High Modernism, but the reward of the nearly seven year process it took between the gifting of the collection from Patricia Still to the completion of the museum is unfathomable. The immediate benefit of the museum’s opening is to finally allow for a more wide recognition for an artist – when compared to other giants in the American AbEx pantheon – whose work contains transcendent empathy for the world around him. This quality shines through in Still’s opus, providing a much needed counter to the otherwise stale or remote machismo that typically dominates Abstract Expressionism.
1957-J No. 2, Clyfford Still (courtesy Clyfford Still Museum)
The current showing at the museum provides a very faithful testament to a man incredibly in touch with his cultural surroundings; a figure of his era often overlooked but always lingering. Still was not only a contemporary of those more lauded, but was considered amongst that community to be one of the the most generous of teachers and mentors to those around him. Pollock is famously quoted for saying his work made “the rest of us look academic.” However, Still’s tremendous control over how his work could be shown prevented him from becoming a household name. In 1951 he severed ties from Betty Parsons Gallery and for the rest of his career was notorious known for respectfully declining invitations to participate in exhibitions. One famous account documented in the catalog of the museum is a short reply to Peggy Guggenheim to thank her for his representation at The Art of This Century Gallery and her efforts in championing American AbEx painters, but deciding to cease his relationship with the gallery.
This prolonged self-excommunication that spanned Still imposed upon his career is undeniably reflected in the commitment he put into his paintings. As a result the serene – at times overwhelming – spaces that are created within the paintings on display are so enveloping that the very act of removing one’s gaze from their aura is a reeling task. In short, the work chosen by the museum for its first outing is undoubtably mesmerizing and entrancing in their profound melancholia and enlightened earnestness. Where writers and critics of the past have judged these paintings as aloof, remote, and antagonistically abstract, I’d instead argue the opposite and claim that the empathy and humanity found within these paintings remains remarkably poignant, particularly in an artistic age so bereft with pastiche and indifference.
January 03rd, 2012 | 03:14 am | Uncategorized
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authors note: As I’m sitting down to write this a little over a week before my deadline for B@S, I’m sitting across from a younger student in a library amidst the Art and Art History Stacks. She is visibly frustrated at her reading, fidgeting often and being easily distracted by her frequently vibrating iPhone. Amidst deep sighs, eye rolls, and aggravated throat clearings, she lifts her book off the table just enough for me to read the spine: Postmodernism for Beginners. Perhaps all to obvious, I feel her pain.
Even though I’ve spoken, written, and thought about humor often in my own visual work, it is a research topic for me that I’ve felt particularly compelled to reconsider lately. This desire to continue to explore, or else rehash, previous considerations on this topic of critical inquiry have been spurred by a couple of recent inspirations and events that I hope will act as benchmarks for what will inevitably and unfortunately be too short of an essay (I’m writing in the future tense here, so you’ll have to bear with me). These events are as follows: a serious reading of an essay by Brad Troemel entitled Why No Serious? A Case for Idealism in and Era of Constant Irony, rewatching Sshtoorrty by Michael Snow while in the midst of reading Hegel, and recently finding things – in a very general sense – to not be very funny.
I’ll start with the last order of business. “Funny” is an illusive and nefarious trait of things. Saying that I’ve been struggling to find the funny in things – objects, scenarios, events, exchanges – is not to say that I haven’t been laughing. This might strike most as an emotional paradox, but I’ve unquestionably been given to guffaw and genuinely LOL on many a recent occasion. Lately, however, I have noticed that this laughter is not coming from a place of celebration, or from enjoyment of humor, but instead is driven by a recognition of the desperate state of authentic communication. In my mind, laughter, as a communicative gesture, has little to do with something being funny but more to do with a person’s display of empathy. A case study for this could be found in the comedic oeuvre of Louie CK. A recent episode (Eddie – season 2 , episode 9) of his FX show is almost a perfect example of this point in that although there are scenes throughout the show of more “typical funny” moments, the entire episode is dedicated to (SPOILER) an old friend taking Louie on a binger in order to tell him at the end of the evening that he is going to commit suicide. Louie, to his credit, attempts to convince his friend not to go through with his plans, but ultimately the episode ends with a knowledge that he was unsuccessful. Although I understand the potentially severe dark humor that Louie CK might be playing with at these margins, I’m fairly certain that the lack of funniness in this episode still invites laughter due to a shared desperation between this scenario – which I suspect to be a reenactment or semi-diaristic event – and the personal experience of the audience.
However, I wouldn’t classify the show as being tritely bittersweet, but instead would say that the humor of the show is attempting to move through or beyond the funny, and into an emotional territory rarely explored in traditional comedy: authentic empathy. Troemel’s essay attempts to address the lack of empathic exchanges through grounding the current sustained onslaught of irony through a critical lens of cultural history. His description of early Parisian Surrealist performances provide a backdrop for the contemporary mainstream joke paradigm and situates MTV – via Mark C. Miller and Robert McChensey – as the catalyst for the emptying out of irony as a critical device for Gen X’ers and the current Millennial generation. His argument that the commercial manipulation of youngsters perpetrated by MTV resulted in a development of radically harmful porous identities amongst those that proverbially “took the bait.” Even though I think there is an underlying subtextual irony presented by Troemel in writing such a treatise due to the frequent (and arguably unjust) allegation of trolling the netart community, his attempt to critically engage ironic tendencies within those that work in creative online environments does bear noteworthy merit:
Used as a coping mechanism for the anxiety caused by rapid cultural turn over, constant irony is the reclamation of hopelessness or lack of idealistic creativity spoken through the voice of detached coolness. Being constantly ironic is an effective deflection of one’s own porosity because it provides the illusion you were too cunning to have ever wanted anything more solidified.
It is precisely this hopeless and detached deflection that has contributed so much to the now dominant standard of humorless funny. As a result of constantly having to reconfigure ones own identity in relation to new standards and status-quo’s that necessitate a pastiche of subversion, artists and cultural workers of my generation suffer from a lack of self-criticality that is required to create an empathic response. Certainly this is partially due to the speed in which artists working online are expected to produce content, and that the minimal layover time between conception of an idea, its production, and eventual distribution, leave little opportunity for the emerging artists to devote to critical self-reflexivity.
Troemel’s concern with irony superseding idealism is stressed near the end of the essay when he claims that this porous process “does not [just] conceal idealism, but is a reactionary response to the compounding belief that political change of any kind is unfeasible.” Even though I agree that the political left is in serious danger of the hand-in-hand apathy that comes with the current status of irony, I would argue that the underlying problem with contemporary manifestations of irony is that its overuse has resulted in a lack public discourse concerning the formulating of new modes to convey sincerity and authenticity.
One domain that has offered a tremendous amount of personal reflexive space for myself has been a rekindled attraction to experimental/avant-garde cinema (I must give proper credit here to Phil Solomon for my re-found appreciation for cinema). While thoughts of humor had been milling around in my head for several weeks, I had the timely fortune of having a second viewing of renowned artists/filmmaker Michael Snow’s Sshtoorrty. This approximately 30 minute examination of a three minuet staged scene cut in half and superimposed on itself reveals hidden temporal and spatial considerations of an otherwise cliched melodramatic Farsi mise-en-scène. The repetition of the scene forces audiences to closely examine color, shape, composition, and movement that normally remains obfuscated through a seamless professionalism, or else completely removed from the conversation of traditional narrative cinema. What at first seems completely ironic and ill-purposed develops into a complex musing of form and cinematic space. Over time, the absurdity of this surfaced staging made to emulate authentic drama becomes apparent and a humor emerges precisely due to a kind of transparent reflexivity between Snow and his medium – a self-awareness that translates into an audiences ability to empathize and laugh.
Coincidentally, while in the midst of rediscovering gems of humor found within various formal and conceptual gestures in experimental cinema, I was also reading Hegel for the first time (this juxtaposition should be read as a kind of joke, i.e., “So, Michael Snow and Hegel walk into a bar…”). During my reading of Introductory Lectures on Aesthetics, I couldn’t help underline passages in Chapter 5 that directly discuss the ironic and sincere properties of art’s relationships to the history and development of Modern Philosophy:
… negativity which displays itself as irony is, then, on the one hand the futility of all this matter of fact… on the other hand, the reverse may happen, and the I may also find itself unsatisfied in its enjoyment of itself… so as in consequence to feel a craving for the solid and substantial, for determinate and essential interests. Out of this there arises misfortune and antinomy, in that subject desires to penetrate into truth… but yet is unable to abandon its isolation and retirement into itself, and to strip itself free of this unsatisfied abstract inwardness (of mind).
In this way, Hegel provides some philosophical context to both what Troemel is criticizing while also showing that aesthetics and the artists should – in one way or another – be involved in an outward reflexivity that Snow is approaching in Sshtoorrty. That is, if the artists or cultural producer limits themselves to ironic tendencies, then s/he will inevitably limit themselves to a aesthetic discourse and experience. They will develop a propriety for an “antinomian” funny; one that is inherently in contradiction, incapable of mixing in with greater society/culture, always at odds, and unable to function in an empathic humorous way.
In a sense, humor must rely on the utmost pursuit of an honest communication. Certainly we can apply the old comedy adage of humor needing space to be able to “tell it like it is,” but this cliché – which now is mired in its own irony – won’t suffice. Hegel himself equates the “eternal lamentations over the lack of profound feeling, artistic insight, and genius” as a result of the proliferation of a “half grotesque and half characterless” ironic “insincerity.” The grossness of those that operate solely in self-interest engender a cultural state which “affords no pleasure,” and as a result marginalize attempts at sincere communication. One could easily trace the rampant fear/paranoia that is generated by mass telecommunication to the prolonged repulsion of sincerity in online formats. A potential downfall of drawing this comparison, however, is that alternatives to the standard impersonal/ironic behavior might become less visible to those seeking profound exchanges.
In this way, I offer an alternative way in which humor can occupy a public dialog of communal reflexivity, criticality, and empathy: Wit. As one of my more favorite subtopics within the strata of humor, wit, as a communicative gesture, requires – if not outright demands – an attention to comic subtlety. Wit, in its most profound execution, requires two fundamental properties: timing (which is all but lost in this article), and an acute awareness of context – especially the context of self with others. A deep understanding of social-self, and a willingness to strip ones self of social convention, allows for wit to become a critical tool for creating conceptually and emotionally charged humor. For wit operates not just as an observation of a scenario, but as an act of interruption. This witty interjection is not meant directly to undermine the subject material of any specific conversation, but instead made to enhance an exchange by grounding it in an attentive reclamation of subjective experience into more “solid and substantive” realms of shared empathy.
To do this effectively, and for full humorous effect, one must conceive of any and all social scenarios to be a potential moment for communal self-reflection. In this way, wit requires a devotion to the moment; an immersion in a discourse like none other, a commitment where an individual willing to powerfully invoke wit must “strip [themselves] free of unsatisfied abstract self-inwardness.” A result of this phenomenological embodiment of the moment, one can use wit as a tool against the demanding pace of online activity and situate themselves in a position of critical presentness. This ability to take ownership of the moment can simultaneously be used as a weapon against fighting ironic tendencies due to a new-found self-agency and self-awareness. The mitigation that wit provides against the pulverizing pace of the internet’s demanding creative production cycle not only allows for more temporal space for reflection, but also generates a public voice that stimulates reactive (read engaged but not reactionary) public discourse.
Even though I’m finding a lack of funny things – a problem, as I said, that motivated me to critically revisit humor – I want to emphasize that I’m not observing a climate of overwhelming heartlessness amongst my peers. The amount of empathy that is generated amongst the community that I find particular affinity towards – a vibrant pool of artists, activists, writers, and curators – is most likely the most visible aspect of the variable social networking channels available to these individuals today. However, I’d argue that the empathy and shared communal reflection that occurs within comment threads and group chats, needs to be more tangibly translated into the visual and conceptual work generated by this community. These efforts will hopefully bridge the gradual shrinking gap that still separates those working under the netart classification and the rest of the contemporary art world.
January 03rd, 2012 | 02:15 am | Uncategorized
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Mark Amerika and I corresponded over the past several weeks while he has been jet-setting over the western hemisphere promoting and sharing ideas behind his recent University of Minnesota Press publication remixthebook. We discuss below, in a univocal, non-hierarchic, feedback looped way some of the tenants and relevancies of remix to post-studio/post-production art practices. I’m especially keen on the blurred lines of authorship that we have undergone as a result of wanting to continue the conversation Amerika puts forth in his writing. Our effort to synthesize voices in relation to our individual perspectives on remix act as a performance of identity that often gets manifested through the mechanisms of social media and networked culture. The repartee below offers a stream-of-consciousness glimpse into a perpetual state of curiosity and subversion of the self that remixthebook confronts, wrestles, and plays with.
This interview came at a timely moment as well since I acted as a micro-blogger-in-residence for the remixthebook twitter feed. I’ve also put some thoughts down about remix in relation to my own visual/creative practice for the publication’s blog.
Why is remix relevant for you right now? I mean, if we look at the history of remix, do we not see a diversity of methods that are employed across a wide range of practices and disciplines, everything from Cubist collage to Rauschenberg’s combines, to the cut-up technique of Brion Gysin and William Burroughs, to Situationist détournement, OULIPO styled proceduralism, appropriation, DJ/VJ culture, plunderphonics, codework, what Bourriaud refers to as “postproduction art,” and of course the whole mashup scene on the Internet and beyond? Do not all art methods at some point relate back to what you call remix? Isn’t it almost like asking what does it mean to dream? Because in a very real sense, navigating through remixthebook, which is both a print book AND a work of conceptual performance art AND a website composed primarily of other artists and writers sampling source material from your writing and postproducing it into new iterations of performance theory, the question you seem to be asking is what is NOT remix? And if EVERYTHING is remix, would it not be the job of the contemporary artist to take what media culture has made common, in this case the act of remixing our identities for us, and destroy it from within? Or is that reading into it too much? Perhaps it’s too romantic a notion, one that once again positions the artist as a cultural outsider and what we really need to do is to investigate how remix opens up The Total Work as a collaborative, ritualistic daily practice? What would a remix of the Gesamtkunstwerk look like? How would this collaborative ritual of remixing everyday life, something that de Certeau addresses in a slightly different way, be situated inside the history of the avant-garde? In remixthebook the idea of an artistic and literary avant-garde almost disappears since everyone is doing it which then challenges the 2.0 crowd to ask ourselves can a vanguard art scene even exist in social networking culture? Perhaps we need to look at the various contemporary approaches toward what Duchamp refers to as The Creative Act — but that you see as The Act of Remix — and put them in their proper cultural context? In this regard, maybe what you’re doing is turning theory into a social media art practice that has its roots in conceptualism but is really not that either because of the way you confuse or problematize this whole issue with the body? That part in the book about the legendary Bruce Lee, and his book Artist of Life, and his take on Gestalt Therapy? I guess you see him as remixologist too? Didn’t he Chop and Screw? That brings up another important question: which remixologists are influential for your own practice? Or is it even necessary for artists to address that question? I’m thinking here specifically of that passage in the book where you write about how “we don’t even need to be aware of our past influences … they reside in the body like second or third or fourth nature / something that enables us to play ourselves without having to think about it”? I also wonder how this book, if we can even call it a book, especially since so much of the content is created by others on the remixthebook.com website, situates itself between the “trickle-down” of high-art and the “bubbling-up” of low-art? Obviously this dichotomy cannot sustain itself any longer, but is there a location within that spectrum that you’ve decided to build an outpost in? You say that these influences from the bodies of work postproduced by others are IN you in a way you have no control over and that it’s really a matter of mirroring neurons which is an interesting use of neuroscience because I know that in your recent keynote at that big symposium in Rio de Janeiro you were trying to suggest that this relational agency that makes daily remix practice even possible, on a base creative level, or a biological level, also takes place in social networking culture too, and that we are just now learning how to show empathy or respond to the “actionary” agenda of the others we engage with while on the Internet, yes? Because this intersubjective jamming among the digital personae who play themselves on the Net is also a kind of social or emotionally engaged remix, right? And of course this intersubjective jamming is not limited strictly to the social networking protocols of the online junkies getting their next hypermediated fix, in fact — where is the Net in our everyday physical performance of self? How have we augmented ourselves to a point where the biological self can be irrelevant to establishing creative identity? The word you use is copoietic, which I think you sample from Bracha Ettinger, yes? You seem to be asking how we might consider the historical trajectory of various remix-related art practices themselves as source material to reinvent what it means to a social agent, but to do it as part of some ritualistic, boundary-blurring art/life practice where the social networker exhibits their performance art in the field of digital distribution, right? I guess a question all artists, those who identify as such and not, would be how does remix infiltrate your work? If we can assume that are creatively invested in acts of perpetual postproduction, then when does the ingenuity or initiation of a mix start and end? When does the metaphorical record change, the cross fader cut, the midi-controller nob turn, the splice interrupt, the click trigger? Can language even do this subject any justice? What other metaphors can be used to discuss remix that don’t rely on the rhetoric of the turntable or sound engineering console? Because in the book you suggest that we are always sampling from the Source Material Everywhere and yet this also then brings up the question about whether anything is outside the boundaries of being considered remix? Can we ever just wake up and consider ourselves off the remix grid? Especially given the fact that when the grid is encroaching upon biological realization, how does one unplug? Or is it a permanent condition that we’re wired to deal with as part of a this daily, ritualized practice, i.e. the so-called practice of everyday life? It’s as if we can never get away from it … for example, could not this dialogue we’re having right now also be a remix? The language is so fluid and malleable on the screen either one of us could be typing these words, no? Isn’t language, as the foundation of technological society, already a hack, a remix, a short-circuit of our biological selves into virtual experience? This makes me wonder: how do collaborations influence remix? And also, how can young artists continue to engage in radical transparency without forsaking their identity being consumed by mass culture? That may seem out of the blue, but if you think about it, given all of the data mining and how Google and Facebook now pretty much OWN our data which they would love to monetize without us even knowing it, I guess what you’re saying is it’s up to the remixologist to creatively intervene in their own identity construction and the best way to do that these days is to actively manipulate their data into a simultaneously and continuously shifting version of themselves? This would then be a kind of conceptual performance art project, yes? A post-studio, post-personae creative research practice? And a metafictional process too, right? Aren’t you suggesting that by manipulating the metadata that informs our online identity we need to convert the act of remix into a kind of auto-fictionalization process that morphs identity at will? But would that not do a disservice to any potentially genuine forms of communication? Two-wrongs make a right? Would physical, non-screen, remixes help mediate the tension of the over-performance of self as a shape-shifting fiction-in-the-making? Maybe we could read remixthebook as another one of your fictions? Like your novels? What’s the difference? Is it all part of the same remix of an impermanent state of being? But can we get back to network culture specifically? Because I’m curious, can we distinguish network culture as an aside or subset of (mass) culture? How is network culture providing the context for auto-remixology? How does identity get remixed through the variable contexts of network culture? How do we develop versions of ourselves – alpha, open/closed beta, release candidates, RTM, General Availability, sustained support, End-of-life (all terms borrowed from the software industry) – based on a combination of personal drama and creative meta-fiction? Are you suggesting that we can literally immerse ourselves in actionary (to sample Paul Miller’s phrase), practice-based art research that borrows from appropriation and remix and postproduction art and out of this immersion build a performance personae that has its ancestral roots in the lineage of canonized art history? And what about narrative? Or else furthering the “progress-march” of the canon? In its written form, remixthebook is really about storytelling, yes? Is creating a narrative of remix – historically speaking – important for remixologists? How do we circumnavigate that linearity? Or is it not really about linearity at all but a kind of simultaneous and continuous fusion of the moments that were never meant to be but get documented as a formal trace left behind nonetheless and that we then are trained to read as narrative? How do we avoid the “old-trappings” of making contemporary art that looks too familiar as contemporary art? How do we borrow from art history without romanticizing it? This begs even more questions: how does time effect/affect a remix? How does space effect/affect a remix? What are the physical limitations of remix, if there are any? Or else how does a remixologist play between their activities and performances on or within the screen and in physical manifestations? You must have had this feeling of co-existing in different mediated and embodied spaces while performing your live VJ sets around the world, yes? But even so, ARE there boundaries and limitations to remix? What are some of the fundamental foundations for a successful remix? Do remixologists even need to be concerned with success per se and what would the criteria for a successful remix be? Who determines what does and doesn’t have value as a form of remix art? And finally, what does remix have to do with craft? Or even better, what does craft have to do with remix? And when did remix “come to you?” Or, as you suggest in META/DATA, your prior book of contemporary art theory, are we actually all born remixers?
January 02nd, 2012 | 09:39 pm | Uncategorized
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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.
June 16th, 2011 | 07:19 pm | Uncategorized
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