Andrew Norman Wilson: Movement Materials and What Can We Do

After the opening of Movement Materials and What Can We Do, Andrew Norman Wilson‘s solo show at Prairie Productions, several of the conceptual and physical territories explored in the short run show have continued to resonate past its closing last week. The premise of the show operated as a consolidation of previous online projects and videos into a more tangible manifestation organized as a gesture to bring these topics away from their digital origins. In doing so, previous works like Scan Ops and Workers Leaving the Googleplex gain more weight in introducing a physical element to discuss the so-called dramas of digital production through illustrating their history and cultural lineage.

The show consists of multiple installations of various “viewing stations” and “mediation environments” that mimic other previous work, but are designed more specifically to be “ideal spaces” for the listening and contemplation of a lecture-performance that Wilson performed during the opening. The space serves as a transitional site akin to other familiar topics in Wilson’s oeuvre – the airport, the commuter spa, the temporary architecture of a corporate office life style, etc. There are also new works featured in this show that delicately explore the nuances of digital labor and the potential for this type of unskilled-labor to be greatly – and disturbingly – taken for granted amongst cyberspace users, surfers, and specifically scholars. To a certain degree, the academy itself is implicated in this process of unintentional (or at least unconscious) sidelining of digital laborers, a tricky territory given the self-implication that Wilson imposes in previous work. In avoiding the tired game of “who is to blame” that typically occurs in art work that hovers around social practice, Wilson fractures and rearticulates the rhetorical motifs of the corporate world in order to use their inherent – and again, unconscious – poetics to evaluate and critique an international corporate engine.

More specifically, the lecture performed during the opening floats between essay film – a genre familiar to Wilson who has cited the recently deceased Chris Marker as one of his primary influences – and musings on the phenomenological linkages between himself as artist-laborer and the digital-workers represented in his work. These conjectures also reflect on the nature of the technology that binds us together as users, viewers, operators, and laborers (whether conscious or not). The danger here comes with an all-too-easy transcendental approach to how the “internet connects us together in ways never imagined possible.” However, Wilson adapts that cliché to assist in how alienating the infrastructure of the web is to its end users. Through our connections (both as art audience members and as digital consumers), we can start to witness a dangerous tendency within digital media to usurp and obliterate its predecessor for the sake of a (broken) mythic, and often politically corrupt, progress.

Through guiding our vision with our listening to Wilson’s lecture, audiences are made to reconsider what we mean by immaterial, since the labor, the handiwork, and the infrastructure of the web necessitate physical properties and units; this includes a spectrum of physicality that span from the electricity that flows through fiber-optic cabling as well as the fingertips that hold down photographed pages for GoogleBooks. Wilson repeatedly reminds us that the immateriality of the web is a precarious assumption on the part of digital practitioners and consumers. The effectiveness of this warning is enhanced when positioned amidst a visual landscape where such ignorance has run rampant, where even clearly physical objects like yoga mats, inflatable exercise balls, and ergonomic office furniture could be viewed as immaterial.

Wilson debuted a work-in-progress video piece titled Free which seemed to present uncertainty and precariousness across personal, professional, and civil dimensions. For one section – ‘The School,’ Wilson hired a corporate video team to shoot scenes in which a Korean student from Benito Juarez high-school uncertainly reads text from motivational posters around his school. For another section – which Wilson dubs ‘The Corporation’ – former Google contract laborers (like those represented in Googleplex) present their hobbies around silicon valley – trance DJing, Ninja-performance, and go-ped racing to name a few. The participants spoke about the future as if it were the present, summoning up a rhetoric of futurity akin to utopian discourse. Each section seemed to contain elements that could fit in other categories, and this was acknowledged by an opening PowerPoint-generated animation of ten different exploding tables of contents. A gesture that perhaps means to literally tear apart the vernaculars that typically divide these sectors of Western Culture.

As an artist that has had his fair share of working in the IT industry, Wilson has unique insights into the inner workings of the giants in that economy, and through partial self-exploitation, he is able to address a somewhat diaristic redemption of his involvement and active participation with this act of labor marginality. Wilson remains refreshing in his self-awareness not only as a voice and actor within this world, but also more importantly in his physical demeanor while performing. Through his unapologetic groomed behavior, it’s easy to imagine his as a corporate lackey, or even as an a spokeperson/protegee of Elon Musk. As the blurring of the lines between self-promotion and artist as brand become more obfuscated and abstracted, Wilson appears totally conscientious of his towing the line, and seems to have more recently decided to work within the rhetoric of corporate infrastructure, than to tip-toe around it. In some ways, this show brings to the fore this willingness, and although some of that is pronounced more readily in previous works, the translation of that energy into more expansive and less “branded” territories– ala the new video Free – shows a burgeoning maturity on the part of the artist.

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.

Quote from Vito Campanelli’s interview w/ Geert Lovink

As for students, they seem to me mainly oriented to use the more various objects (PC,digital devices, books, etc…) and not inclined to ask themselves questions about the things they are using. They use them without asking themselves where they come from or which valences they express over the function of use, or even, which evolutionary paths they design? This attitude is probably the fruit of the ruling consumerism that represents, de facto, the only historical reality that new generations know first hand.

source (found on Greg J. Smith’s serial consign)

Definitely agree with this sentiment in teaching theory related classes, not as pervasive a sentiment in studio sections though. Super glad to have seen/read this since it is a superb distinction being made about critical thinking about contemporary network technology.

The Artists Hand… Kinda

Lately, I have been asking myself how the interface of the screen influences the projects and products that exist within mediated space. In particular, I’m wondering how the periphery of the graphical user interface (ie, the devices we use for interaction in screen space) dictate presence and persona as well as guide action in digital realms. In a way, I’ve become curious with how the movements of the cursor across a digital frames have played such a heavy role in how we embody our activities onscreen.

Part of this question comes from the proliferation of touch based interfaces, and how tablet based computing is quickly making the cursor an obsolete part of the graphical user interface. Even if the cursor disappears from our everyday media-routines, the iconographic power, and – perhaps more importantly – it’s symbolic significance will permanently hold a place in the valhalla of digital culture.

The crux of this inquiry into the status of the cursor is coming from a place of wanting to understand our current relationship to screen aesthetics, especially since contemporary net-based artists are exploring how digital technology can recursively be in dialog with AFK space and work. Looking at the sculpture and installation based works of Kari Altmann and Ida Lehtonen precisely make me wonder how the affect of the screen and its interface are being reflected and digested through non-screen-based disciplines.

The cursor acts as both an object of recording motion/interaction as well as a placement holder for mediated screen identity/presence. These two modes – and their rare combination – imbue the cursor with so much cultural weight and familiarity. This inoculation has become so pervasive in computer literacy that it has infiltrated our non-screen culture as well. Some artists employ the visual power of the cursor and have gone about removing this icon from screen space in order to investigate its significance in other mediums and contexts.

Tools@Hand, Micah Schippa 2008

Constant Dullaart, for instance, moves the cursor off-screen and onto the back of a RC floor-runner that chases and is chased around by spectators wanting to catch and/or avoid it’s erratic pointy motions. As a nod to the rich historical overlaps that lie between textiles and computer technology, Micah Schippa hand-weaves the cursor into a cloth, along with other familiar graphical user interface iconography in his Tools@Hand series. In a more humorous gesture, John Michael Boling positions the cursor as something more akin to pestilence in Lord of the Flies by having a flock of cursors float around and seemingly worship the Google logo. Chris Collins elevates – and satirizes – the mediated haptic experience of the cursor in his And So I Touched the Hand of God by likening the user experience of one (your cursor) to many (screen space, social space) to relationships between a disciple and the divine.

And So I Touched the Hand of God, Chris Collins

By simultaneously being both meditative and funny, Collins’ piece is able to bridge a gap between the cursor as icon, and cursor as experience of embodied device on and off-screen. The cursor can, and should be, thought of as our first information-age avatar. The simplicity of the cursor – and relative standardization between platforms/software – allows users to readily and easily transfer their persona into a spec on a screen.

The psychological and phenomenological relationship between user and cursor should be presented as a space for introspection within an ever increasing rapidly-moving environment. In some sense, the speed at which screen space clips makes it all the more easy for us to forego the otherwise dense transition from touch to interface to screen. This willingness is also in no small part due to how we have developed a digital culture that understands mediation of self through gadgetry (both hardware and software).

Several net-based artists have taken up this concern within their own work online, I think particularly since the cursor is rapidly approaching obsolescence. Ilia Ovechkin embraces the mediated tactility of the cursor to follow (and also trace) the movements of a teenager displaying his head-banging skills in his bedroom. Not only does Ovechkin’s Cursor act as a kind of symbolic intermediary between user and interface, but also between watcher and watched. In this sense, the cursor is a device for documentation and interaction; a reification of screen self through the movements of another device and another body.

Duncan Malashock‘s recent performance pieces record cursor movements within a very specific area or pattern (akin to Bruce Nauman’s Walking pieces). After multiplying and repeating these movements/phrases into a type of rhythmic round, the compounded performance becomes a hypnotic and slightly claustrophobic display. In Malashock’s Sarabande – a type of dance performed in triple metre – three cursors roam across the screen, independent of user guidance and control. The disembodied cursor starts to take on a new role, one that forces the viewer to reflect how the interface might contain inherent properties and stipulations that otherwise get ignored or taken for granted.

Malashock’s work plays with different types of cursor experience; in some pieces we get to engage the cursor directly, using it for its instinctive interactivity, and in others we have to observe the cursor go about it’s movements without having the ability to effect placement or result. We can imagine that these two types of engagement with our digital hand lead to two types of user experience: alienation or identification.

Portrait of a Youngman, Shunya Hagiwara 2008

This juxtaposition and synthesis of these two states of interaction happen within Portrait of a Youngman by Shunya Hagiwara. In this piece we are able to control and participate with the objects on screen, but we also are subjected to a kind of cursor theft as the objects move through a specific frame of interactivity. This limitation of participation is similar to Malashock’s recorded performances in that they show how the constraints of the interface dictate engagement and expression within the screen. The inherent hindrance of the cursor, and our reliance upon its mechanism and behavior, highlights our growing frustration and desire to move away or beyond this framework of interactivity into more intuitive hardware (ie wetware).

Rafaël Rozendaal also investigates this dichotomy of user experience through single-serving-site pieces that have variable amounts of interactivity and control. Although the mouse plays an essential role within many – if not most – works in Rozendaal’s oeuvre, two works in particular, annoyingcursor.com and outinthewind.com, exemplify the two distinct ways that the cursor can be employed as a phenomenological tool. The irritation in annoyingcursor.com (which you can imagine is self evident by the title of the work alone) reprograms the cursor to no longer abide by the typical utility that we normally expect. In doing so, Rozendaal reinforces our reliance upon the limitation of interface, and perhaps unintentionally points to our ever-growing movement away from the established hardware used for screen interaction.

outinthewind.com, Rafaël Rozendaal 2009

Through the simple and playfully poetic outinthewind.com, Rozendaal counters our frustration in annoyingcursor.com with a much more sentimental view of how we embody screen space. In this work the pixels of our cursor are blown off by randomized gusts from unseen digital gales. An almost immediate reaction I have with this work is to make sudden movements of impatience in order to regain my cursor’s form, but this on further it’s deterioration, and eventually renders the cursor into scattered slowly-fading dots in a void. Once the cursor has disintegrated completely, viewers are forced to either navigate away from the work, refresh the page, or close the browser altogether. The sense of loss within this work that occurs when we fully adsorb our absence of a graphical self on-screen. In doing so we recognize the level of investment we’ve made in the interface as a representation of personal belonging and dependancy.

Our demanding agency over digital interfaces crumbles when we realize that the series of interactions we have on-screen are based on computational situations that are occasionally beyond our control. This type of interactivity is not only unpredictable, but it is also so far removed from our everyday understanding of technology that our only way of digesting this process of translation is through a series of complex and subtle abstractions of self. As a result, the plug-and-play expectations of our hardware and software have gradually turned us into disembodied or estranged users. We are now faced with the difficulty of having to combat and understand the contradictory burden of the simultaneous frustration (when things don’t work right, for reason we don’t understand) and profound attachment (feeling loss when graphic representations of self disappear or are stunted) amidst being inundated with a whole new set of problems that touch screen hardware has already started to bring.

scan of a notebook