In order for students to feel comfortable expressing themselves with a particular medium, they often have to spend plenty of time messing with the stuff they are interested in shaping- be it car parts, plastics, plaster or paint- before they may be ready to create high quality works. A few artists I find myself recommending to students when it comes to specifically “messing” with paint and thinking like an abstract painter include Hans Hoffman, Helen Frankenthaler, Howard Hodgkin and Jessica Stockholder. Each has the potential to pleasantly surprise the viewer, even when you are often stuck with an image a fraction of the actual size, through pure painting and/or the juxtaposition of color. And while Hoffman and Frankenthaler might be known for abstract expressionism, Hodgkin for a more semi-abstraction related to making objects instead of two-dimensional works (painting into and around the frames), and Stockholder for her range of two-dimensional and installation work, the fact remains that the finished work from these artists often reveals a trace, or truckload, of the process the artist used to get there. Asking students to investigate this process is a part of getting them used to really pushing the material and becoming truly familiar with it.
But besides being good examples of artists that really consider their medium in a very obvious way, what else can students learn from artists like Hoffman, Frankenthaler, Hodgkin and Stockholder?
Students have the opportunity to use these artists as a model for working with space and developing complex (vs. complicated) compositions. The principles of balance, juxtaposition and emphasis come into play as each artist forms works that rely heavily on different approaches to balance.
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.
New Kids on the Block | Angela Dufresne: Self-Confessed Storyteller, Punk, Image Maker, and Feminist
As a student in junior high in the suburbs of Kansas City, artist Angela Dufresne wrote a short story in which the young Dufresne allowed a band of “dude bullies” to torture her in order to protect an intimate friend from a similar fate. The sense of urgency in this fictional and moralistic fantasy world still registers in Dufresne’s paintings. The landscapes are murky and the portraits brooding. With a deft hand, Dufresne melds the incongruous, for example, contemporary cinema courts French Baroque painting. Her wont is to revel in the muddle that results from the mash-up of disparate cultural clippings, which are most sincerely, if self-consciously, re-enacted. Dufresne, who lives and works in Brooklyn, is an Assistant Professor of Painting at the Rhode Island School of Design.
The following interview took place via email between January 31 and February 5, 2013.
Jacquelyn Gleisner: I read that you grew up in Kansas. Can you paint a picture for me of your childhood in the heartland?
Angela Dufresne: Just like all difficult situations, it was alienating and simultaneously the driving force behind much of what I do in a very positive way. Yesterday, I was listening to an old recording of James Baldwin. To paraphrase, he basically said by putting a group of people, Afro Americans, in a cultural jail, two things happen: the power group imprisons another group and the flip side of that relationship is that the power group instantly makes a prisoner of itself by having to service the prison and maintain the structure of the relationship. Some profit from the situation, but in general the whole thing is a great expense to the community and progress.
Let me compare my situation as a woman to Baldwin’s points regarding oppression; however, in my case, it was a sexual divide. I experienced restrictions in my own family while my brother had none. As a result, we both suffered from this preferential treatment. Our identities were fixed in traps at age four, basically, our life script on the table. In Kansas, I saw people being limited in their behavior and thinking on profound levels all around me. I recognized this at a very young age and was quite a morose, depressive child. I was realizing that the social structure was malicious, and also, that I was a budding lesbian. There was no space for either realization in Kansas in the 1980s or in my Catholic-light family, to be clear.
Though many things have changed, on both fronts, there had to be a moment where I reached the point of realizing that the society had nothing to offer me, and thus I had nothing to lose. Very empowering. That is Baldwin’s point: groups with nothing to gain have nothing to lose and that’s where unexpected forms of agency emerge. I learned that nothing I did mattered, so I could do anything I wanted.
“I come from a place where you have a lot of sky. The sky starts from almost ground level and goes up. But over here you have to really look up to realize that there is eventually sky somewhere. That’s almost the experience of most people who live in open country and they come to New York—sky is not a common commodity.”
In today’s Exclusive episode, Nigeria-based artist El Anatsui discusses his large-scale sculpture Broken Bridge II (2012) and the importance of its location on an east-facing wall above the High Line, a relatively new park located on once-abandoned, elevated railroad tracks on Manhattan’s west side. By incorporating mirrors into Broken Bridge II, a new material for the artist, Anatsui is able to reflect and point out characteristics of New York that he considers iconic.
Having now produced three Exclusive videos featuring Anatsui, in addition to his Art in the Twenty-First Century segment, Art21 has thoroughly documented his exhibitions and evolving studio practice. In my opinion, we have been able to cover his work so comprehensively because Anatsui himself is very engaged with and curious about the process of documentary filmmaking.
When Art21 was unable to visit the artist’s studio in Nsukka, Nigeria, due to high travel costs, he took it upon himself to purchase a video camera and ask a friend to film him and his assistants at work. Anatsui consulted with our director of production, Nick Ravich, on what camera to purchase, and stayed in touch with our executive producer, Susan Sollins, about the best footage to capture. Although we have worked closely with all 100 artists featured in Art in the Twenty-First Century, having Anatsui this involved with the production process meant reconsidering the distinctions between filmmaker and subject while still being able to take our audience behind-the-scenes.
Anatsui’s interest in filmmaking is, perhaps, because cameras are already such an integral part of his creative process. He explains in an earlier Exclusive episode: ”For days, I can keep shifting [bottle caps] around, taking photographs of them, and putting them in the computer…I need to have a large bank of images, effects, textures that I can always refer to. They can trigger off new ideas.”
Christopher Meerdo Experiences the Icelandic Landscape Through the Body of a Decomposing Sperm Whale
Christopher Meerdo’s deep interest in Icelandic culture and geography led him to apply for the three-month SIM International Artist Residency in Reykjavik, Iceland, where he was based from February to April 2012. Now back in Chicago, Meerdo says the residency has changed his practice, jolting him out of the fast pace of his MFA program, and back into the natural landscape and rhythms of art making. “Iceland had such a natural draw for my practice, both ideologically and aesthetically speaking,” says Meerdo. “During my stay, I visited places, from the columnar basalt formations of the black sand beaches at Reynisfjara to Verne Global’s state-of-the-art carbon neutral data center housed in the post-military outpost at Keflavik.”
Before Meerdo left for Iceland, he was working on a project based on Wikileaks data—a perfect tie-in to Iceland, where individuals involved with Wikileaks were working to make the country an international, legal safe haven for corporate and governmental whistle-blowers. Meerdo was already researching the topic and making work about it before setting up his studio in Iceland.
In Cipher (2011) he utilizes data from a 1.5 GB file that Wikileaks founder Julian Assange released mid-2010, via website, to just a few people. Assange declared the site a “thermo-nuclear device” that would detonate and release the file’s passwords, if anything happened to him or the Wikileaks organization. The contents of the document are still unknown. Meerdo visualizes the file through a script, translating the raw binary data into pure black-and-white pixels, and then prints it onto one 350-inch-wide sheet of paper. This project was followed up by Meerdo’s multi-part piece Chinga La Migra (Fuck The Border Patrol) (2011), images based on data visualization of classified documents from the Arizona Border Patrol, supplied by an unnamed hacktivist group. Meerdo converted each file into a RGB visualization based on, again, its binary data. Through these images (available on the artist’s Tumblr blog chinga-la-migra.tumblr.com), Meerdo questions notions of illicit data.
These projects, and the culmination of grad school too, were at the forefront of Meerdo’s mind as he traveled to Iceland. But the ideas he brought with him were gone almost as soon as he set foot on this surreal island country. “Going abroad after completing my MFA was a really good move—like hitting some kind of reset button on my thought processes and creative outlook,” says Meerdo. “Being in the Icelandic landscape gave me a renewed sense of self, space and materiality.”
One would be hard-pressed to find a more memorable video than Cyprien Gaillard’s Desniansky Raion (2007), currently on view in MoMA PS1’s The Crystal World—the first solo museum exhibition of Gaillard’s work in New York. The three-part video opens with a static establishing shot of Genex Tower, the colossal, Brutalist style building in Belgrade, Serbia, whose twin concrete towers are connected near the top by a bridge-like structure and capped with a bizarre rotunda that once housed a revolving restaurant. The video (a segment of which you can watch here) then cuts to a parking lot of a drab housing complex in St. Petersburg, Russia, where we witness two large groups of men—one mostly wearing red shirts and the other blue—slowly walking towards each other. Set by Gaillard to the hypnotic electronic beats of French composer Koudlam’s “I See you All,” the video shows the color-coordinated groups marching in loose formation, reminiscent of ancient armies confronting each other on some distant battlefield. Suddenly, signal flares billowing smoke arc through the air and the two groups come together, clashing in flurry of fists—a breathtaking display of raw physical violence set against the stark backdrop of the housing block. As the sounds of Koudlam’s pulsing music draw louder and more urgent, the furious hand-to-hand combat intensifies while bodies of the fallen lay strewn on the pavement. Before long, the blue faction beats a hasty retreat, only to regroup moments later on one side of a nearby pedestrian bridge. The two sides come together again, this time clashing on the impossibly narrow span of the footbridge. The blue group is once more chased off, and the victors in red erupt in victorious celebration.
The video footage used by Gaillard, who was born in 1980 in Paris and currently lives and works in Berlin, documents a subculture of fight clubs that have sprung up in suburban housing projects in and around St. Petersburg, Russia. As the exhibition reveals, these and other modernist housing blocks found across the Western world are a recurring motif in Gaillard’s work. Ubiquitous in the post-war era, such housing structures once embodied modernist notions of community but soon became viewed as architectural eyesores and deemed unsuccessful experiments in high-density public housing on account of the crime and other problems associated with them. As structures embodying the failed utopian aspirations of modernist avant-garde thought, these public projects have become the quintessential monument for Gaillard’s purposes (one of the artist’s early video projects not on view at PS1 deals with Pruitt-Igoe, the 1950s urban housing project in St. Louis, whose demolition in 1972 signaled for many the end of Modernism).
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 latest New York Close Up film is now available for your viewing: Mika Rottenberg and the Amazing Invention Factory.
What are the stories we tell about objects? In this film, artist Mika Rottenberg considers a survey of her videos in which women work in factory-like settings to create handmade objects. Growing up in Israel, Rottenberg recalls not being exposed to commercials on television until she was a teenager; after moving to New York City, she encountered infomercials such as Ron Popeil‘s “set it and forget it” Showtime Rotisserie chicken oven. Fascinated by the stories surrounding these inventions, Rottenberg creates her own fabricated products as well as idiosyncratic fictions about the origins of objects. Populating her videos with women who have extreme physiques and who sell their services on the Internet—such as wrestling, squashing, and photo opportunities—Rottenberg’s imaginary factories are run by people who “own the means of production.” Throughout her videos Rottenberg draws the viewer’s attention to the architecture of the body and the psychological dimensions of labor and value. This New York Close Up film features Rottenberg’s works Tropical Breeze (2004), Mary’s Cherries (2004), Dough (2005–06), and Squeeze (2010).
Mika Rottenberg (b. 1976, Bueno Aires, Argentina; raised in Tel Aviv, Israel) lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.
Watch the full film below. Continue reading »