Jon Kessler has built a remarkable career out of rather clunky mechanized sculptures. A 1996 Guggenheim Fellow and a professor in Columbia University’s School of the Arts since 1994, Mr. Kessler has had solo exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (1986), the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh (1991), and P.S. 1 in New York (2005), to name but a few. Kessler’s art often balances dark themes and political subject matter with a wry humor and mesmerizing modes of presentation. In 2009, for example, he debuted Kessler’s Circus, a video sculpture that the Deitch Projects press release noted at the time “depicts the American military-industrial complex as macabre circus.”
In The Web, Mr. Kessler’s latest work currently on view at the Swiss Institute in New York City, the mediated scenes of modern warfare of Kessler’s Circus have been exchanged for the sublime spectacle of consumer culture. Kessler turns to contemporary visual culture, and specifically Apple Inc., to examine the impact of popular and commercial imagery and products on society’s desires and collective psyche.
The Web is a colorful, kinetic installation filled with whirling objects and brightly lit computer screens housed within a sprawling wooden construction. Kessler has mounted iPads, iPhones, and other Apple hardware throughout the installation, while surveillance cameras rotate back and forth on mechanized mounts. The quiet hum of the machinery is occasionally punctuated by the iconic sound of an Apple computer’s startup chime played over loudspeakers.
A variety of security cameras positioned throughout the installation—including tiny spy-cams held by lifelike disembodied hands—stream real-time footage across the network of monitors and screens situated throughout the installation, where they mix with prerecorded imagery of earlier visitors and footage culled from commercial advertising. Visitors can also download an iPhone app while in the exhibition space that will upload the images from their phone onto surrounding monitors. The brightly lit screens and banks of stacked television monitors create a kaleidoscope of video imagery, and visitors could certainly be forgiven if they at first mistake The Web for a fun, interactive tribute to Apple.
Among the most complex of artworks that cultural institutions are asked to preserve today are those based on digital technologies and generally referred to as “time-based.” For a formal definition, I prefer the one developed by the Tate that summarizes time-based media as ”works of art which depend on technology and have duration as a dimension.”
Over the years on this column, I’ve had and shared conversations about approaches to caring for time-based art, including interviews with Jeffrey Martin, Glenn Wharton, and Hugh Shockey, art conservators at major institutions. Though those discussions have provided a good framework, what I’ve really wanted to do is create a discussion around digital art that involves, at once, an artist, a conservator, a curator, and a technologist, so that folks might better understand the complexities associated with caring for this kind of artwork.
Late last year, at the annual meeting of the Museum Computer Network (MCN), I was finally able to pull together this kind of discussion. The panel turned out better than I imagined and I’m thrilled to share it here on Art21′s Blog:
In addition to myself, the lineup included:
- Anne Collins Goodyear, Associate Curator of Prints and Drawings at the National Portrait Gallery. She is also president of the College Art Association. In May, she will join her husband, Frank Goodyear, as co-director of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art.
- Penelope Umbrico, an artist and photographer whose practice often involves interactions with digital media from the Internet.
- Koven Smith, Director of Technology at the Denver Art Museum. He is also on the program committee for MCN and a member of the steering committee of the ConservationSpace project.
- Jeffrey Martin, time-based art conservator and moving image archivist, helped develop the panel. He was scheduled to participate but had to cancel due to unforeseen circumstances.
Artists today program forms more than they compose them: rather than transfigure a raw element (blank canvas, clay, etc.), they remix available forms and make use of data. In a universe of products for sale, preexisting forms, signals already emitted, buildings already constructed, paths marked out by their predecessors… –Nicolas Bourriaud, 2001
In my fourth and final post covering New Frontier at Sundance 2013, I explore the creative and innovative exploration of augmented space—which refers to technologies, objects, or symbols that overlay physical space with information. It is a new type of collage that makes use of a broad collection of forms and techniques. Keiichi Matsuda provides a good starting point from both technological and aesthetic perspectives.
[Augmented Space] is a paradigm that succeeds Virtual Reality; instead of disembodied occupation of virtual worlds, the physical and virtual are seen together as a contiguous, layered and dynamic reality. –Keiichi Matsuda
Augmented space is a method of creating a space within a space, or merging two or more dimensions in a single artwork. In his essay Postproduction (2001), Nicolas Bourriaud explores the mashup of images that contemporary artists project onto walls, or overlay on physical surfaces as a framework for innovative forms and narratives. In Datamosh (2011) Yung Jake layers compression artifacts and technology as a form of art. Cityscape 2095 (2012) is the result of a collaboration between Yannick Jacquet (aka Legoman), Swiss illustrator Marc Ferrario (aka Mandril), and sound designer Thomas Vaquié. These artists merge multiple dimensions by showing the passing of a day in fast-forward using drawings, video projections, and sound. Cityscape 2095 puts the spectator at the summit of a tower facing the horizon.
Imagine being on the observation deck of a tall skyscraper, looking out over the city below. Jacquet/Legoman and Ferrario/Mandril use a mixture of architectural influences to co-author an urban text that feels strangely familiar but is also impossible to locate. It is a representation of the artists’ utopia—a futuristic world within the real world, or a physical space augmented by the virtual. The idea was to show the passing of a day in an imaginary city in fast-forward. In the early hours of the day, the scene is sparse and line-based; but, as time passes, the imagery grows until it becomes urban semiotic overload—a desert of the (physical and hyper) Real.
What we see today is an art which seeks a more immediate contact with people than the museum makes possible… we are witnessing, as I see it, a triple transformation—in the making of art, in the institutions of art, in the audience of art. —Arthur Danto, 1997
In this third post of my 2013 New Frontier [see the first and second posts] series I revisit Nicolas Bourriaud’s theory of relational aesthetics based on contemporary artworks that focus on human relationality. In Bourriaud’s system, art is meant to model possible universes of authentic human sociability. Relational aesthetics takes the dynamic social environment as its subject and envisions the gallery as a site of human exchange, renewed sociability, and social interaction. Bourriaud writes, “Herein lies the most burning issue to do with art today: is it still possible to generate relationships with the world, in a practical field art-history traditionally earmarked for their ‘representation’?”
New Frontier engaged this idea by presenting Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s Pulse Index, one of a few interactive and social installations on display for the Sundance festival. This piece records participants’ fingerprints at the same time as it detects their heart rates. To participate, I put my finger into a custom-made sensor equipped with a powerful digital microscope and a heart rate device. A fingerprint immediately appeared on the largest cell of the display that pulsated to my heart beat. As more people contributed their fingerprints my recording traveled upwards and across until it disappeared altogether—creating along the way a Fibonacci pattern. Fibonacci patterns can be found everywhere in nature, from the clusters of florets in a sunflower to the bracts of a pinecone. These patterns are applicable to the growth of every living thing, including fingerprints.
This is the second post in a series covering New Frontier art at Sundance 2013 (see the first post). Collectively, the artworks combine sensors, video, sound, streaming, web cams, projections, programming, the web platform, and other technologies to produce immersive, interactive and participatory performances and installations. Audiences are able to experience real and fictional worlds simultaneously. This series looks at artists from around the globe who are inventing new uses for existing technologies, or fashioning new technologies to fit their interests. These artists are innovators, creating new aesthetic forms and new ways to articulate their identities.
On the Internet, artists can assume any identity and are limited only by their imaginations—artist Cao Fei is China Tracy in RMB City. For the Art21 Blog, I covered artists who transitioned from the physical to the virtual in Second Life. These artists go by avatar names such as DanCoyote Antonelli and Bryn Oh. I first wrote about performative interventions and the ambiguity of identity three years ago. Today, artists’ avatars are virtually performing in physical (real) spaces. New Frontier artist Yung Jake has re-conceptualized the Happening as a mixed reality performance space for the Information Age marketplace (e.g. smartphones, tablet PCs, etc.). Yung Jake’s new media interventions eliminate the boundary between the artwork and its viewer. The audience, in a sense, becomes a part of the art or the art itself. Yung Jake does not normally interact directly with the viewer, except as an avatar.
Yung Jake is a character [but] he also lives by that character. I don’t even know who the other person is. I found out his legal name just for airport purposes, but I never talk to him other than calling him Yung Jake.
Shari Frilot, New Frontier curator
Yung Jake a/k/a Yung Jake has been described as a “datamoshing, glitch-creating, meta-rapping artist” who employs “cross-genre collaborations, GIFS, and the sweet new app he and his buddies created for Sundance.” The new app is called Augmented Real and it is a mobile augmented reality (AR) rap music video that pops out of posters and magazines (see below). The app can be downloaded on mobile devices like smartphones and iPads. Yung Jake also stars in E.m-bed.de/d, another online performance that pops up on laptops and is triggered by sitting down in front of the device. I had a chance to speak with the recent CalArts grad and his designer Michael Ray-Von (also from CalArts) about their work at New Frontier.
It is the real, and not the map, whose vestiges persist here and there in the deserts that are no longer those of the Empire, but ours. The desert of the real itself. —Jean Baudrillard, 1994
In the film, The Matrix (1999), Morpheus says, “Welcome to the desert of the real” after Neo wakes up from his computer-generated virtual reality. Experiencing the Real as a virtual and natural landscape is one way to conceptualize New Frontier, a Sundance Festival event that is described as a “social and creative space that showcases media installations, multimedia performances, transmedia experiences, panel discussions, and more.” This year’s offerings took place at The Yard in Park City, UT, providing more than 100,000 square feet of multipurpose venue space. In the following excerpt from New Frontier curator Shari Frilot, visitors are welcomed to The Pixelated Pavilion:
The 2013 edition of New Frontier features full-dome wrap-around films, augmented reality experiences, 3-D projection-mapped environments, and datamoshed hip-hop performances. The works by this year’s artists disorient time and space and provoke a reconsideration of how we may integrate the fibers of our bodies with the realities of life on the digital frontier.
Words like “frontier” and “desert” conjure up images of artists as pioneers working on the edge of a border separating two worlds. Indeed, the New Frontier program presents itself as a place of transition where contemporary artists (and filmmakers) blend the virtual and natural (physical) worlds. This is makes sense for a festival like Sundance that showcases independent film.
Transmission | An Interview with Lori Felker: amplified sprocket holes, light passing through celluloid, bumping into dirt and tape and emulsion
On May 20, 2011, I bolted up the stairs of my favorite experimental music venue in Chicago for the premier performance of Lori Felker’s Light Makes Music. I had no idea what to expect, but I was told it would be noisy and there would be analogue film, which is about all I need to hear to get my blood pumping. With three projectors and over a dozen loops as her instruments, Lori loads and unloads films, alters the sound heads and lens focus, and shifts the projectors around on their tables to shoot light and sound throughout the venue, into the audience, along the bare walls, and sometimes through glass windows. I’ve seen the performance three times since—opening for The Fortieth Day at the Empty Bottle, or paired with 16mm screenings of The Residents’ music videos at The Hideout, or within the Dirty New Media performance night held last fall in the parking garage behind the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. Each time it is different. Each time it is amazing.
Lori Felker is a filmmaker based in Chicago who teaches in the Film, Video, and New Media department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she earned her MFA in 2007. Her work has been screened at major international events: Rotterdam International Film Festival, NYFF: Views from the Avant-Garde, VideoEx, Zurich; Festival du Nouveau Cinema, Montreal; Curtas Vila do Conde Film Festival, Portugal; Wexner Center for the Arts, MassArt Film Society, MuHKA_media, Belgium; and Boston Underground Film Festival.
Following is an interview I conducted with Felker after she performed Light Makes Music at The Hideout in Chicago on January 27, 2013.
The end of the calendar year marks the beginning of winter break in academia. For me, it has been tough juggling an academic residency with my creative endeavors, so I let out a big sigh of relief after classes ended. And then I went right back to work. This period is critical, as it gives artists who have academic careers some time to pursue their own work. In recent weeks, I have been assisting two such artists: Marina Zurkow and Claude Wampler.
I first worked with Marina years ago when I was her intern at Eyebeam. She later became my academic mentor, guiding me through the often treacherous lands of graduate school. But nothing we’ve done together compares to the past week of working as a two-person quilting bee. We’ve been finishing up Tyvek sculptures for her solo exhibition Necrocracy, which opens today at bitforms gallery in New York.
Happy New Year!
First, just to update last week’s column regarding some of the most teachable moments in 2012, it was brought to my attention that I missed a few:
Rineke Dijkstra’s retrospective at the Guggenheim, along with Zoe Strauss at the Philadelphia Museum, taught us that portraiture most certainly can go beyond appearances and telling stories. It can even teach us about ourselves.
A new teaching assignment at NYU, which included supervising the Saturday Visionary Studios program for high school students taught me that thematic courses, not just units of study, can be exciting for teachers and students alike.
Scaling back the more traditional format for TASK and using very few supplies taught us that you don’t need a ton of materials to achieve the goals intended, as we did with Oliver Herring this past July to kick off our 4th year of Art21 Educators in New York City.
Finally, revisiting Richard Long’s “A Line Made By Walking” was another teachable moment that has become, for me, a metaphor of sorts when it comes to teaching with contemporary art.
Now, getting back to Speak About What’s Unspeakable, which was written just after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown, Ct, I want to share an update on some next steps for my own classroom….
I am in the midst of writing a unit of study for the 2nd semester titled That’s Entertainment?? Students in my high school foundations classes will be doing research into children’s games, video games, films and television shows that in some way make the act of harming or killing other people the main objective. I believe that one way to construct a dialogue about what has happened at twenty-one K-12 schools since 2000 is to begin having frank discussions in the classroom about America’s obsession with violence. Continue reading »
Before we continue talking about last week’s “Speak About What’s Unspeakable,” I thought it might be good idea to end the year on a constructive note by looking back at some of the most teachable moments- events, exhibits, chance happenings and other opportunities – that made for uncanny entry points in the classroom…
Wayne LaPierre’s ignorant and insensitive remarks one week after the Newtown, Ct. school shooting, where he actually had the nerve to suggest that not only there be armed guards in every American school, but that teachers be armed themselves, became another chance to build on our conversation about gun control and America’s lust for violence. It also made me think of Hawkeye Pierce: “I will not carry a gun, Frank. When I got thrown into this war I had a clear understanding with the Pentagon: no guns. I’ll carry your books, I’ll carry a torch, I’ll carry a tune, I’ll carry on, carry over, carry forward, Cary Grant, cash and carry, carry me back to Old Virginia, I’ll even ‘hari-kari’ if you show me how, but I will not carry a gun!”. I am currently in the middle of writing a unit of study called “That’s Entertainment?” where students will examine games and films that glorify violence in our society and respond with works of art that question the “entertainment” value of the media explored.
Union-busting legislation in Michigan raised the issue of whether, as the Michigan governor claims, union-busting is “good for workers” (?!). This is one hell of a ripe topic to examine across the curriculum.
The NHL lockout continues to offer us the opportunity to see that greed gets you nowhere. In this case it’s actually pushed the NHL into irrelevance as basketball and football simply get more space in the Sports pages. (Sorry, just had to add this one.)
Recent exhibitions by Mark Bradford, Keltie Ferris and Trenton Doyle Hancock taught us that painting is not only alive and well, but that it’s also being shaped and revisited to explore elements that expand how we see painting. Keltie Ferris, especially, kicked ass in her most recent Mitchell-Innes & Nash show.
Zoe Strauss’ exhibition, “Ten Years” at the Philadelphia Museum was a wonderful opportunity to see how this photographer with little formal training made us slow down and really contemplate the “American working-class experience,” and to convey what she calls “an epic narrative that reflects the beauty and struggle of everyday life.”
New teacher evaluation systems were launched across the country and it taught, if there was a bright spot at all in this mess of a roll-out, that reexamining our curriculum to clearly state what constitutes learning is a good thing for all of us.
Clint Eastwood talking to a chair at the Republican National Convention taught us that improvisation, for all its merits, is not always a good thing if you don’t actually give a few seconds of thought to what you’re doing on stage.
Janine Antoni’s keynote speech at the National Art Education Association’s annual conference in New York City, on the other hand, taught us to consider how we might teach students to wait, that creativity is NOT linear, how to “trick ourselves” into modes of creation, that “creativity exists outside of consciousness,” and that even marriage is about “sculpting a place in between.” Janine continues to be one of my favorite artists to work with in the series.
Finally, the launch of Art21’s Season 6 taught us that with 100 artists to work with in our Peabody Award-winning documentary series, not to mention New York Close Up, Art21 is one of the first places to investigate when looking to teach about and learn with contemporary art….
Happy New Year to all. May you find inspiration and joy in 2013 and thank you for continuing to read Teaching with Contemporary Art each week!