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Items by Rachel Wetzler

  • Permalink for 'Cameron Martin's Nonspecific Landscapes'

    Cameron Martin's Nonspecific Landscapes

    Posted: 16-April-2013, 12:00pm EDT by Rachel Wetzler

    Partition Expanse, 2011, 30×45 inches, acrylic on canvas over panel

    Cameron Martin will participate in Rhizome's Seven On Seven Conference on Saturday, April 20th, paired with technologist Tara Tiger Brown.

    Of all the genres one might associate with contemporary artistic practice, landscape painting is low on the list, more closely aligned with the nineteenth century than the twenty-first. In this sense, Cameron Martin?s canvases, apparently photorealistic depictions of nature executed in an icy palette of pale grays and whites, are paradoxical objects, simultaneously part of an art-historical trajectory dating back to the sixteenth-century Danube School?credited as the first to make ?pure landscape? the subject of paintings?and its negation. To create them, he draws on a personal archive of images, culled from advertising, found photographs, and his own staged and impromptu snapshots; selected images are then combined, altered, and manipulated in Photoshop, from which he extracts a stencil, finally applying layers of paint to canvas with an airbrush.

    Adivial, 2012, 24×24 inches, acrylic on canvas over panel

    In his series ?Bracket,? exhibited in 2011 at Greenberg Van Doren (now Van Doren Waxter), spectral images of craggy mountains and dense forests, given elusive titles like Balantane or Icliste, are cropped and bordered with blank space, emphasizing their relationship to not only the photographic image?as one critic noted, registering the barely-there images in Martin?s paintings is akin to watching a photograph develop in a darkroom?but also its use in media, suggesting preparatory layouts for magazines or ads. In more recent paintings, Martin augments the image with thin black lines and tonal shifts, linking them even more closely with graphic design. As Martin stated in an interview with the Brooklyn Rail, ?After many years of making full bleed pictures, where the image comes entirely to the limits of the support, I became aware of how with landscape painting in particular, you are encouraged to just dive into the picture, and you don?t think about what?s outside the frame. There?s an inherent illusionism that you buy into as a result of the full bleed. I wanted to think about ways of making the image itself the subject of the painting as much as what was depicted in the image.?

    In these paintings, Martin exploits the multiple associations of the term ?bracket?: in photography, bracketing refers to taking multiple versions of the same shot at different exposures, while in phenomenology, it describes a suspension of pre-conceptions, setting aside certain assumptions in order to privilege the first-person encounter. On the one hand, they call attention to the formal processes of image production in their conflation of painting, photography, and digital media, but they also function as meditations on absence and presence, inclusion and exclusion. 

    Album, 2012, 48×48 inches, acrylic on canvas

    These scenes might be conceived as corollaries to what the sociologist Marc Augé famously described as ?non-places??interchangeable, transitional spaces like supermarkets and airports that are familiar and ubiquitous, but lack any of the defining characteristics that might root them in a particular culture or location. Martin similarly renders places that are not, beyond the fact that they are literally invented by the artist on a computer: much as his process removes the direct touch of the brush, the extension of the artist?s hand seen as a guarantor of the work?s expressive authenticity, the resulting paintings are not so much landscapes as ?landscapes,? images whose mediation is constantly foregrounded. In his work, landscape becomes an empty signifier, much like the intentionally vague, verdant settings of advertising images that are intended to be familiar to everyone, in which, as the artist notes, ?the specificity of the location, geographically or historically, is completely eradicated.?

    Sempiturn, 2010, 60×60 inches, acrylic on canvas

  • Permalink for 'Send/Receive: Liza Bear and Willoughby Sharp After Avalanche '

    Send/Receive: Liza Bear and Willoughby Sharp After Avalanche

    Posted: 29-November-2012, 9:51am EST by Rachel Wetzler

    Still from Send/Receive

    In recent years, the significance of artists' magazines has been cemented by the proliferation of exhibitions, panels, and monographic studies devoted to independent publishing endeavors. Not merely side projects or promotional vehicles, such magazines constituted, as art historian Gwen Allen argues in her 2011 book Artists Magazines: An Alternative Space for Art, a form of exhibition space in itself, a central site of postwar artistic experimentation.

    The magazine was, in a sense, the ideal form for the ?dematerialized? art practices taking hold in the 1960s and ?70s, which were often rooted in language and typically exhibitable solely in the form of secondary documentation?textual descriptions, instructions, or scores; diagrams and maps; and photographs. At the moment when artists were vehemently challenging the authority of the institutions that mediated between their work and its audience, as well as the attendant commercial system that conferred value based on the saleability of the object, the form of the magazine offered a way to circumvent existing structures?to disseminate projects and ideas directly to an audience, and one that was, at least theoretically, broader than that of the museum or gallery, and more geographically dispersed.

    Among the storied magazines of the ?70s, Avalanche, founded by artist and curator Willoughby Sharp and filmmaker Liza Bear in 1968 (the first issue appeared in Fall 1970), is perhaps the most iconic in terms of capturing the ethos and character of the period?s artistic climate. The privileged editorial form of Avalanche was not the critical essay or review, but the artist interview and it often turned pages over to artists? including Gordon Matta-Clark, Hanne Darboven, and Richard Long ?to design their own spreads. Likewise, its ?Rumblings? section functioned as a form of pre-internet global art-world message board where artists could submit announcements of upcoming exhibitions, projects, and publications.

    Ephemeral and inexpensive, Avalanche was, as Bear described, ?a cross between a magazine, an artist book, and an exhibition space in print. Basically, it was devoted to avant-garde art, from the perspective of the artist.? Avalanche, and periodicals like it, were attempts to rethink the art magazine in terms of both form and content, conceived in response to mainstream publications like Artforum, which were dominated by the critic?s voice and implicitly bore the influence of curators and dealers. However, Avalanche was also a network, a decentralized mode of distributing art that aimed to shift the site of reception beyond institutional boundaries.

    Avalanche had always been receptive to new media?the entire 9th issue, published in Spring 1974, was dedicated to the January 1974 Video Performance Exhibition at the SoHo alternative space 112 Greene Street?but the static nature of print obviously limited their ability to engage with it beyond publishing still images and discussions with practitioners. However, following the publication of Avalanche?s final issue in the summer of 1976, Bear and Sharp largely devoted themselves, both collaboratively and independently, to projects that engaged developing technologies in video and telecommunications?especiallytelevision.

    In September 1977, Bear collaborated with artist Keith Sonnier, along with Sharp and several other artists, on Send/Receive Satellite Network, a two day project for which the artists set up a two-way satellite link between New York and San Francisco. Using a CTS satellite co-owned by NASA and the Canadian government, artists on either side of the country were able to collaborate in real time, with the resulting program broadcast to viewers on Manhattan Cable?s public access channel. The project unfolded in two phases, with the first considering the implications of satellite technology and the second a demonstration of its collaborative and artistic possibilities.

    In the latter phase, the artist-participants?Margaret Fisher, Terry Fox, Brad Gibbs, Sharon Grace, Carl Loeffler, Richard Lowenberg, and Alan Scarritt in San Francisco, and Bear, Sharp, Sonnier, Richard Landry, Nancy Lewis, Richard Peck, Betty Sussler, Paul Shavelson, and Duff Schweninger in New York?probed the project?s unique conditions of production: Scarritt, for instance, created a feedback loop by pointing a video camera at the television set at the ground station in San Francisco and transmitted the video via the satellite to New York, while dancers Lewis and Fisher responded to each other?s movements from opposite sides of the country. Describing the questions informing Send/Receive, Sonnier and Bear wrote, ?What are the implications of simultaneity? Of instant exposure and instant response??

    As Sonnier noted in an interview with Bomb magazine, one of the most significant aspects of Send/Receive was that it had happened at all: ?The media is so completely politically controlled [that] the focus became less and less about making work as illustrating this huge propaganda tool. Acquiring that tool was the political thrust?making that tool culturally possible?.Send/Receive was the culmination of a learning experience.?  With Send/Receive, the artists not only explored the artistic uses of satellite technologies and the nature of telecommunications as a medium, but also began to articulate the political potential of artists? use of them.

    Following Send/Receive, Bear created a series of public access television programs, some with Sharp?s involvement, which aired regularly on Manhattan Cable from 1979 to 1991. Whereas Avalanche had directed itself implicitly against the mainstream art world and its institutions, the projects oriented around telecommunications were fundamentally concerned with the intermingling of governmental, corporate, and military interests that determined and regulated access to information on a global scale. Using television as a medium allowed them to intervene in this system from within, disrupting it by harnessing television?s potential to disseminate information and by detourning its visual and narrative tropes.

    The Very Reverend Deacon b. Peachy: Part 1, 1982, excerpt, SERMON IN SHOES (Part of Communications Update, 10 March, 1982)

     The first of these programs, the ?Warc Report,? was a 10-week series produced by Bear and Sharp, along with Rolf Brand and John Howkins, that presented coverage and commentary on the 1979 General World Administrative Radio Conference in Geneva?a conference held at 20 year intervals in which delegates from member nations of the UN?s International Telecommunications Union met to negotiate issues concerning access to, and regulation of, telecommunications services and technologies. Though, as the producers of the ?Warc Report? noted, the decisions made at the conference would impact every aspect of the development and direction of the telecommunications industry worldwide for the next two decades, it received virtually no mainstream media coverage; the ?Warc Report? was explicitly designed to counter this ?information moratorium.? Each of the ten episodes addressed a different aspect of the conference and the implications of its decisions, ranging from ?What is WARC?? to ?Military Uses & Foreign Policy,? combining live coverage of the conference with discussions about telecommunications issues more generally.

    In her essay ?Public Access: The Second Coming of Television?? published in the journal Radical Software in 1972, Ann Arlen argued that the public access cable channels that had recently been initiated in New York represented ?a chance to change the course of the nation?s most promising and least fulfilled mass communications medium.? The significance of public access for Arlen was not only in its ostensible democratization of the medium, offering the possibility of a TV show to anyone willing to put in the effort, but, more importantly, that it represented ?our first experience of an electronic mass medium through which people may talk to other people unmanipulated by media professionals??a means of presenting events not as packaged ?news,? but as information, communicated from person to person. The ?Warc Report? was precisely such a program, filling a crucial gap in mainstream media coverage, but doing so in a manner antithetical to commercial news broadcasts. It was designed to present the viewing public with information as opposed to news, and to do so through the very medium that would be broadly impacted by the decisions made at WARC.

    After the conclusion of the "Warc Report," Bear began producing "Communications Update," a weekly 28-minute show with segments created by artists, most of whom shared equipment through a video co-op. Like its predecessor, much of the first season was devoted to media politics and developments in telecommunications?segments included "Making Public Television Public," for which Vicky Gholson discussed censorship with professors from City College's Black Studies Department, and "VIEWDATA/APTDATA," which looked at recent computer networking projects. However, it also included more idiosyncratic material by artists that moved well beyond the expectations of television programming. In William Wegman's segment "Upstream at an Unusual Angle," for instance, the artist was filmed in fishing gear, interacting with amused passersby as he attempted to fish in the middle of a crowded?and waterless?public space. 

    Politics never disappeared from Communications Update, but in successive seasons, it was increasingly oriented toward commissioning and broadcasting artists? projects on a wide range of issues rather than focusing solely on what Bear described as the ?new world information order,? and in 1983 the show was renamed Cast Iron TV to reflect this shift. In a statement that same year, Bear described the show as  ?play[ing] freely with media conventions, drama/documentary, comedy and satire. It hovers on the bounds of fact and fiction, rides the dramatic potential of fact, the narrative potential of reality, but also toys with theatrical illusion adroitly.?

    Decidedly eclectic, the programs on Communications Update/Cast Iron TV ranged from experimental film and video works by local and international artists?the Croatian artists Sanja Ivekovic and Dalibor Martinis produced two features on video art in Zagreb?to segments that explicitly drew on television?s vernacular. One of the show?s recurring programs, the Very Reverend Deacon b. Preachy, produced by Milly Iatrou and Ronald Morgan, aped the format of late night televangelist shows, with satirical sermons insisting that their viewers send them no money. For Bear, providing artists with the opportunity to create the media?and giving audiences an alternative to commercial programming?was implicitly political, regardless of the nature of the programs themselves. As she stated in a 1983 article in The Independent, ?We used the public channels because they were the only consistent media outlet that we had?a regular weekly outlet as opposed to sporadic exhibition of videos in alternative spaces. The aim was to provide artists an active role in the making of information, as opposed to being passive receivers of it.?

    While these telecommunications-based projects can be seen as an extension of Avalanche into other media formats, opening up another avenue for artists to connect directly with their audiences, they might equally offer a new perspective on the magazine and its goals. They emphasize the extent to which Bear and Sharp were interested in exploring, utilizing, and subverting mass media?not only circumventing the institutions of art, but intervening more generally in the structures that determined the form and content of what the public could see and hear.

  • Permalink for 'Photoshopped Sherman'

    Photoshopped Sherman

    Posted: 11-April-2012, 5:21pm EDT by Rachel Wetzler

    Images from Cindy Sherman's society portraits series (2008.)

    A friend recently recounted an anecdote about teaching Cindy Sherman?s work to her undergraduate students. She was in the middle of her lecture, explaining Sherman?s elaborate, chameleonic process of casting herself in various roles in her photographs, when one student interrupted, insisting that the photograph projected on screen must have been Photoshopped, that it was impossible that the woman in this image was the same person as in the one before. The others nodded in agreement. Faced with this chorus of disbelief, my friend checked her notes: the image on her slide was from the mid-1980s, several years before Photoshop?s commercial release. The process of creating it was, indeed, analog: the photograph was shot on film, and Sherman?s apparent physical mutation in it the result of costuming and skillfully applied makeup rather than digital manipulation. However, the students? responses raise interesting questions about how we might conceive of her work in the wake of the digital, particularly since her most recent work has, in fact, made use of such software. 

    For those of us who first encountered Sherman?s photographs before ?Photoshopped? became part of the vernacular, her work carries rather different connotations: it is less about a process of editing or altering the image than one of altering the self through a kind of private performance staged for the camera. Sherman transforms herself, in each image, to the point that she is not only no longer wholly recognizable, but also no longer present as ?Cindy Sherman? at all, instead appearing as a litany of characters and stock types. As she noted in an interview with filmmaker John Waters in the catalogue of her current MoMA retrospective, ?Before I ever photographed it, I was playing around in costumes and dressing up as characters in my bedroom.? 

    It is precisely this aspect of dressing up?of adopting and embodying different types?around which much of the critical reception of her work has revolved over the past decades. Moreover, she has maintained a rigorously private studio practice throughout her career, rarely, if ever, working with assistants: Sherman is not only photographer and model, but also hairdresser, costumer, makeup artist, and prop stylist. She performs in front of the camera, but also behind it, adopting multiple roles and functions over the course of creating each photograph. When presented in serial form, the photographs reveal the meticulousness of her process, with each successive image calling further attention to the laborious transformation involved in creating the one preceding it.

    Yet over the past decade, Sherman has increasingly embraced the digital, resulting most recently in works that do, in fact, achieve their transformative effects through Photoshop rather than prosthetics, makeup, and careful staging. Her experimentation with working digitally began with the ?Clown? series (2003?04), for which she added lurid, patterned backgrounds to images initially shot on slide film, and culminates in the large-scale untitled wall murals she began in 2010, one of which lines the entrance to her MoMA exhibition. In them, her bizarre characters are inserted into a pixelated black-and-white landscape, where they hover flatly against the crudely rendered trees. Moreover, she wears no makeup, transforming her facial features exclusively through digital means, suggesting that Sherman has steadily shifted the orientation of her practice from performance to post-production. 

    In addition to the murals, the MoMA show includes Untitled #512 (2011), part of a series commissioned by POP magazine, which depicts a figure set against a trompe l?oeil backdrop of a craggy landscape digitally altered to resemble paint on canvas. While these works are overtly manipulated, the use of digital means is more subtle in others: the ?Society Portraits? (2008), which cast the artist as aging doyennes, appear less obviously edited than uncannily off. Up close, signs of digital intervention become more apparent: rather than photographing herself in situ, Sherman adds the backgrounds after-the-fact, resulting in awkward, claustrophobic compositions. Wrinkles, pores, and other signs of age are enhanced, making them unabashedly visible. 

    In one sense, this is a logical step: on a pragmatic level, working digitally offers a quicker, easier way to achieve the same effects?as Sherman noted in a New York Times interview, ?it?s horrifying how easy it is to make changes? using Photoshop. It also opens up new possibilities, allowing her to experiment with techniques previously unavailable to her, such as inserting multiple figures into the same image, or placing them in unfamiliar settings. However, for an artist whose work has long been tied to her process, the implications of such a shift seem significant.

    Sherman?s photographs have always been ontologically complex, challenging our ability to properly categorize them: they are photographs of Cindy Sherman that are also, simultaneously, not photographs of Cindy Sherman, portraits of the artist in which she is both present and absent. From the beginning of her career, her photographs have insisted upon the constructed nature of images, their potential to manipulate and lie to the viewer, yet they have been anchored by the fact that, on some level, everything in them has actually occurred?she is not a clown, nor an old Hollywood vamp, nor a Renaissance Madonna, but she has dressed like one. The illusion is never seamless: we see incongruous details (a shutter cord in her hand, an obvious prosthesis) that call attention to the fictitious construction of the scenario depicted, but nevertheless, such details also serve to highlight the fact that Sherman has actually constructed it in real life; they are not just images, but documents of her activity. 

    The digitally altered photographs, too, call attention to their fabrication, but the terms have changed: they lack the implicit tension that underpins the earlier works, between Cindy Sherman as artist who constructs the tableau and Cindy Sherman as model who effaces herself in the image; between the knowledge that the scene is staged and yet, that it has also taken place. Part of what has always been so captivating about her photographs is exactly what made my friend?s student insist that they were faked: no matter how convincing her costume, her staging, her makeup, we know that the same woman lies underneath it. 

    What to make of this turn toward the digital? In spite of her embrace of software, Sherman?s work is still made for the gallery rather than the screen. Just as the ?Film Stills? mimic the old promotional stills produced by movie studios not only through style, but also print size and paper type, the ?Society Portraits? echo the gaudy, overlarge scale of a wealthy patroness?s portrait, resembling the sort of thing that might hang in one of her subjects? living rooms. Even the murals, though they escape the frame, are resolutely oriented in the material, quite literally bound to a physical space. 

    At first, I couldn?t help but feel that by exchanging the elaborate masquerade for Photoshop, Sherman was, somehow, cheating. But perhaps this new direction is fitting: though they have often been read in terms of performance, Sherman?s photographs have always been, at their core, images about images: about the way images function, how they are created, trafficked, and coded, the ways in which they manufacture and disseminate meaning. Now that Photoshop has become the norm, we know better than to have faith in their fidelity?we assume that what we see is mediated, altered, and edited, regardless of whether it is an Instagrammed iPhone snapshot or an airbrushed celebrity on the cover of a magazine. 

    Throughout her career, Sherman has been singularly attuned to the cultural role of images, and her digital works, too, capture and comment on the way we understand photographs today?not as documents of reality, but as raw materials that can be endlessly refashioned.


  • Permalink for 'Artist Profile: Antoine Catala'

    Artist Profile: Antoine Catala

    Posted: 4-April-2012, 5:04pm EDT by Rachel Wetzler

    In a statement for your 2009 exhibition "TV Show" at 179 Canal, you described television as a dying medium, suggesting that the work in the show was a kind of eulogy for TV. Television is a recurring theme in your work, but you?ve used it in various ways, both as a material and as a subject, often taking the most familiar types of programs?the news, for instance?and altering the way we see it. What is it about television that appeals to you? Are you interested in defamiliarizing something we take for granted, forcing the viewer to reconsider its place in everyday life? Is this work reflecting a sense of nostalgia for television?s past? If it?s a dying medium, what do you think has replaced it?

    TV is no longer the all-powerful medium it used to be.  It?s dead in the same way radio is dead, whereby it only occupies a peripheral position in our lives. Internet is the new place, because it encompasses words, images, videos, audio, as well as the viewer?s participation.  The internet packs more information; in that sense it?s more HD than TV and that?s what people go for, the better, more fulfilling, more entertaining medium.

    I was interested in TV broadcasts initially because I thought it was funny to bring live TV into the museum or the gallery.  In my TV work I encourage the use of any entertaining program.  However, screening an episode of Spongebob (a personal favorite) doesn?t work the same, in an exhibition context, than say the news or any program with live content. That?s because the viewer?s common assumption is that if a video is shown, it must be pre-recorded.  But I am not at all interested in working with pre-recorded TV shows.  I want to deal with the flux of what is produced at that very moment.  These are pieces that are permanently up-to-date.  I think the pop paradigm has shifted.  We are no longer dealing with iconic pop culture, in the sense of Warhol?who was an orthodox Christian by the way. Images have become subliminal, transient: these are the images I am interested in.  [Even a pop idol like Lady Gaga, one wouldn?t have a clear picture of her.]

    I have no interest in nostalgia.  To deal with the TV, before it completely vanishes was perfect timing, because it allowed me to treat the TV as is.  Before, when video art dealt with television broadcasts, because TV was the most powerful medium around, the artwork was read as conflating with the medium.  That?s inherent to the position of TV in society, not the nature of the work.  Now that TV is about to die, we can contemplate TV for what it is, as an incredibly crafted language. It did things that nothing else can nor will ever do again.

    As for using the TV sets as a material, I do so because they are a familiar way of viewing images.

    Your exhibition at 47 Canal, ?I See Catastrophes Ahead,? takes the form of a rebus, in which each of the five pieces in the gallery represents a part of the titular sentence. As the press release notes, ?Every digitized image, sound, video, smell, taste and object is associated with [key]words. In an internet search, typing a word opens the door to an infinite universe of possibilities.? The rebus is a centuries-old form of translating words into images, and yet you?re employing it here to reflect the impact of recent technology?the Internet search?on the way we conceive of language. Do you see a connection between the two? There?s something about a rebus that is curiously reflective of the way the Internet works: when you type the word ?cat,? for instance, into Google, you get a whole list of unrelated suggested search terms. Was this something that you were thinking about specifically when you made this work?

    I was specifically focusing on Google Image Searches.  Google Image search makes connections between images and words.  A rebus operates similarly.  Like you say, searching for the word cat brings up a near endless flow of images of cats.  The rebus reader operates the other way; he or she sees an image and has to attach a word to it, in the process sometimes making wrong associations.  The rebus reader is a bit like the Internet algorithms, attaching words to images.

    The Internet, at its inception, was silent and drab; now it?s an exciting place, with plenty of videos, sounds, and images. There is a tendency for the Internet to ?flesh up,? to develop substance on top of the underlying text backbone.  Now objects are thrown in the mix.  With an Internet search one can cull and print (via 3D printing) objects.

    So, via an Internet search, a word can conjure up many quasi-physical or physical incarnations, be it images, sounds, videos or now objects.  I was specifically interested in the triad word ? image ? object in making the works for ?I See Catastrophes Ahead?.  Each piece in the show is an in-between stage, part image, part object, and part word.

    Even though much of your work draws on the immaterial?television broadcasts, digital video, the Internet?it often takes the form of installations, sculptures, and other interventions into physical space. Moreover, when you use technology, you often call attention to it physically?I?m thinking in particular of the way that you incorporate the wires, tubes, and machines that power your 47 Canal show into the work itself; the Mac Mini that controls the projections, for instance, is encased within one of the sculptures, plainly on view. Are you actively trying to create a material experience of these things?

    I guess I have a structuralist perspective: I am interested in the structure of the medium I deal with.  I find the structuralist tactics visceral: it deals with embodiment of the medium.  Ernie Gehr said: ?A moving picture is a real thing and as a real thing it is not imitation. It does not reflect on life, it embodies the life of the mind.?  I bring in even more physicality to an image?moving or not?to exaggerate the underlying affective relationship we have with it.

    Your use of technology ranges from the highly sophisticated?for instance, you?ve employed technology developed recently by scientists at Carnegie Mellon in your work?to the relatively rudimentary, as in the hologram sculptures, which use light and mirrors to give the impression of an object floating in space. Are you specifically interested in merging high- and low-tech methods in your work, or do you simply use whichever techniques you think are most appropriate for individual pieces?

    Dan Graham says that my show at 47 Canal is a bit like going back to being a 12 year old who builds his own radios sets.  I use technology that is familiar to people: I used CRT TV when it was the most popular, flat screen now, because they are the most familiar ways of showing images.  For my show at 47 Canal, I use cutting edge technology of different eras: holograms of the Victorian times, nano projectors and arduinos, for instance, of today.

    You have degrees in both mathematics and visual art. Does your background in mathematics inform your work as an artist? If so, how?

    Mathematics is a language, a unique one.







    How long have you been working creatively with technology? How did you start?

    My mother says that because I was a premature baby, the doctors put me in an incubator. When the incubator broke, I fixed it.

    Describe your experience with the tools you use. How did you start using them?

    Where did you go to school? What did you study?

    I studied Mathematics in France, then Sound Art and then Fine Arts in the UK.  In art school, I set for myself the goal of using new ?techniques? for each project I would make.  I feel I still operate with the same motto. 

    What traditional media do you use, if any? Do you think your work with traditional media relates to your work with technology?

    My work deals mostly with our relationship to technology, or more specifically to images and the machines that produce them.  That?s because it?s an environment we create for ourselves and that in turn we (as humans) respond to.  This relationship is one of the vehicles for our mutations.

    As for my practice, I am after results.  I would use anything as long it produces what I am after.  I used drawings for my show at 179 Canal.  Drawing is still a great place to explore.

    Are you involved in other creative or social activities (i.e. music, writing, activism, community organizing)?

    I have curated exhibitions.  I am not as good a writer as I would like to be, but I still intend to write: to write about my work and the work of the people I know or that interest me.  That?s because artists have a privileged position to discuss their peers? works.  I think artists should make use of this position to defend not only their personal voice, but also of the one of their peers.  It?s all about bonding and bonding makes for better art works.

    What do you do for a living or what occupations have you held previously? Do you think this work relates to your art practice in a significant way?

    I run a one-person company called ?Bonjour Computer, LLC?.  I help people with their computers; or rather I help them in dealing with their frustration with technology.  It?s akin to being a pet psychologist.  It fits my practice and offers the double advantage of a decent pay as well as flexible hours.  [Plus, most of my clients come to my exhibitions.]

    Who are your key artistic influences?

    I have diverse influences, starting from dialogues with people around me.  Each piece I make is informed by several people or works.  For my last show at 47 Canal I was thinking of American ?Pictures Generation? artists (Matt Mullican, John Miller), Belgium surrealism (Marcel Broodthaers, Magritte), as well as Google Image Searches and rebuses.

    For me, Mullican deals with a collective unconscious, a residual of collective pop culture lodged in his subconscious, that, via a system of personal symbolism, he merges with a collective unconscious.  Broodthaers and Magritte brought the ?word? to surrealism.  Both these sources are, at least for me, a more abstract form of surrealism and share similarities.  I thought the two could be bridged.

    Have you collaborated with anyone in the art community on a project? With whom, and on what?

    I like collaborations and exchanges.  For instance, I have been interested for a while in Christophe Hanna / LA REDACTION?s book Valérie par Valérie. Hanna is an incredible writer; sadly his work has not been translated to English yet.  Hanna?s book deals with the constant fabrication of a public identity?it?s more a document than a narrative.  In an (maybe failed) attempt to assimilate the book, I gave a conference at the New Museum as part of the New Silent series organized by Rhizome, about the construct of my own public identity.  For the project I enlisted Philipp Furtenbach, a founding member of AO&, a collective of itinerant chefs, whose focus is on the social fabric of small communities.  With Philiipp we set a regimen of stringent meetings and questions, that he asked me every week (?How do you picture yourself in the future?? was one of these questions for instance).  The meetings and questions were directly derived from Hanna?s book.  I met with Philipp on a weekly basis for 7 or 8 months.  The questions served as the basis of the reflection for the conference.

    Do you actively study art history?

    I develop specific interest for certain artists and I would read about them.  I have a focused interest.  There is so much information out there, that I find it distracting.

    Do you read art criticism, philosophy, or critical theory? If so, which authors inspire you?

    I recently read some Willem Flusser; I enjoyed it.  Also Paul Ryan, Cybernetics of the Sacred, is an amazing read.  It?s one thing I struggle with being in New York, finding time to read.  I?d like to read more science fiction.  My friend Josh Kline has good recommendations.

    Are there any issues around the production of, or the display/exhibition of new media art that you are concerned about?

    My nature is to be carefree.  With time and experience I am starting to realize that new media work or at least mine is based on illusion and that strict display conditions have to be respected for the work to function.  For instance, the room needs to be lit a certain way, the sound be set at a certain volume or the video be projected a certain size.  If the conditions are not met, my work does not function.  It?s pretty basic stuff, but people still do not know how to deal with technological works.  So I am learning how to be more specific and direct when I install shows.  I do not deal with the archival aspect of my work yet.

  • Permalink for 'The Art of Fieldwork'

    The Art of Fieldwork

    Posted: 2-February-2012, 11:35am EST by Rachel Wetzler

    Simon Fujiwara, The Museum of Incest: A Guided Tour, 2009 (performance), courtesy of Neue Alte Brücke, Frankfurt

    In 2008, the New York-based artist Ellie Ga joined the crew of the Tara, a sailboat drifting in the Arctic Ocean as part of a scientific expedition, occupying the incongruous position of the ship?s ?artist-in-residence? among a team of scientific researchers. The role of ?artist in residence? on a scientific expedition is a malleable one, without clearly defined parameters, thus Ga decided that her project would be to become the ship?s archivist, attempting to capture the various facets of life aboard the Tara: the ways in which the crew organized the world around them without conventional landmarks; how they entertained themselves; the sense of uncertainty that results from following the whims of weather patterns, never quite knowing where they would move next; as well as her own personal associations and insights about the expedition and their surroundings, unburdened by the demands of scientific fact or reportage.

    In the resulting body of work, which has taken various forms, including lectures, performances, slideshows, and videos, her personal narratives and memories often occupy a central role. In the performance Reading the Deck of Tara at the Lower East Side gallery Bureau in 2011, visitors were given one-on-one readings with the artist herself, in which she used a custom deck of cards inspired by those used in fortunetelling to relay aspects of her life aboard Tara. Each visitor?s particular cards determined the form and content of the narrative, with each reading?and thus each version of the story she?d tell?being particular to that visitor, the performance?s element of chance echoing the movement of a ship adrift.

    Ellie Ga, Reading the Deck of Tara installation (2011)

    Borrowing methods from various disciplines, from sociology to fiction writing, Ga is one of a number of younger contemporary artists whose work is tied to a kind of artistic fieldwork, investigating aspects of their lives and interests by merging the apparent objectivity of documentary forms and anthropological research with a plainly subjective, flexible approach, drawing on multiple methodologies and discourses. While the ?archival impulse? in contemporary art is hardly a new phenomenon, and research-oriented practices have arguably become the norm rather than the exception, what seems to differentiate work like Ga?s from those that fall under the broad, often contested banner of ?relational,? ?dialogical,? or ?socially-engaged art,? is that the endgame here isn?t to offer a historiographic corrective or engage an outside community; rather, the role of artist is treated as license to borrow freely, to temporarily adopt and explore different modes of working, living, or thinking.  

    Like Ga, New York-based Swedish artist Sara Jordenö?s projects also often take the form of atypical archives, presenting the results of her research in the form of films, installations, animations, drawings, and text. Heavily informed by sociology, she has referred to her work as ?performative investigations,? highlighting the tensions implicit in artistic research and the shifting roles she plays in the process of creating it. The Persona Project (2000-2010) is a work in seven parts revolving around Ingmar Bergman?s 1966 film Persona, the artist?s favorite film. Created over the course of a decade, the resulting archive examines what Jordenö describes as the film?s ?peripheral? voices: those impacting the film?s creation, circulation, and reception but rarely, if ever, considered, ranging from translators and voice-over actors to the woman who lives in the house where Persona was filmed. Ultimately the archive Jordenö creates with the Persona Project is an idiosyncratic one, less a portrait of Bergman?s Persona?its ostensible subject?than a reflection of the artist?s own concerns mediated through a form of near-obsessive research.

    Sara Jordenö , film still from "The Set House (Hedvig)", (2010), from the Persona Project

    Sara Jordenö, Installation view of "The Diamond People--Instructions for a film", (2010) at the Bildmuseet, Umeå

    Similarly, her project Diamond People?Instructions for a film (2010) examines issues of labor and globalization through an investigation into the synthetic diamond industry in Sweden, South Africa, and China. However, the project goes beyond merely charting the relationship between these geographically distant and yet economically intertwined sites. Combining more typically ?documentary? media like photography and video with drawing, poetry, and animation, the project equally reflects Jordenö?s concern with the implications of her anthropological approach and her own shifting relationship to the subjects of her inquiry: one of the places she considers is her hometown, the Swedish industrial town of Robertsfors, and the synthetic diamond factory around which life in the community revolves was her first employer, working in the payroll office during summers as a teenager. The subtitle, ?Instructions for a film,? is itself enigmatic, hinting at something in need of assembly, as in industrial manufacturing, but also suggesting a work-in-progress, or perhaps even a coy invitation to the viewer to take up the task of attempting to resolve the project?s inherent complexities and contradictions.

    Though his projects might appear, at first glance, to have little in common with Jordenö?s, the work of Berlin-based British-Japanese artist Simon Fujiwara is similarly concerned with adopting multiple roles to probe aspects of his own personal history, casting himself variously as anthropologist, architect, novelist, and raconteur. In the project The Museum of Incest, Fujiwara created a proposal for a museum at the ?Cradle of Mankind? in Africa, where many of the oldest hominid fossils have been discovered. The premise for Fujiwara?s museum is that the origins of man are rooted in incest, envisioning an alternative natural history museum in which we are all products of society?s greatest taboo. Drawing on the conventions of academic lectures and archaeological displays, the absurd proposal includes an exploration of the architectural complex that would house the museum, composed of parts of existing buildings designed by Fujiwara?s architect father.

    Simon Fujiwara, Welcome to the Hotel Munber, 2010, installation at Pinchuk Art Center, Kiev, courtesy Neue Alte Brücke

    Likewise, for the multi-layered project ?Welcome to The Hotel Munber,? the artist took inspiration from a hotel owned and operated by his parents in Franco?s Spain during the 1970s, reconstructing the hotel bar based on descriptions and photographs, and attempting to write an erotic novel set in it, casting his father as the gay protagonist. When presenting the work as a lecture, Fujiwara similarly adopts a pseudo-academic mode, combining extracts from his fictionalized narrative of his parents? life in Spain with their photographs, memorabilia from the hotel, and newspaper clippings, blurring the boundaries between the factual and fictional. That a dramatized version of ?Welcome to the Hotel Mumber? formed the second act of Fujiwara?s recent Performa commission ?The Boy Who Cried Wolf? only serves to further challenge our ability to distinguish between the elements Fujiwara has invented wholesale and those that are accurate recollections of events

    When asked, in a 2009 interview, about the ways in which he adopts various identities in creating his works, borrowing from their tropes and methodologies, but never fully conforming to their professional standards, Fujiwara responded:

    Who says I?m not a writer or an architect or anything? Who has the authority to decide these things? [?] Honestly, I am a fraud, I?m an outsider in all these fields, but this gives me the liberty to work subjectively. Truth and accuracy are not my concerns. If an academic would work with fiction in this way, it would be dishonest, wrong even, whereas you?d be a fool to trust an artist in the first place.

    Fujiwara?s quote might arguably best sum up this tendency: if art can be anything, then the artist can also be anyone. Though their work is strikingly different in process and final form, Ga, Jordenö, and Fujiwara, to consider only a few of the artists working in this vein, explore the possibilities offered by different disciplines, choosing to be as rigorous?or as lax?as they see fit. Yet, rather than resulting in watered-down versions of social science, in which the methods of a more supposedly ?serious? field are employed to confer a veneer of relevance or gravity on an artistic project, the work of these artists is enlivened by the marrying of the subjective and idiosyncratic with the academic and research-intensive.

    For a younger generation of artists, for whom the use of technology is natural and the Internet an inextricable part of information gathering, the ability to adopt these various strategies and roles is greatly enhanced by the accessibility of information: in an Internet age, the barriers to research begin to collapse. While these projects are typically presented in a physical format?as an installation, a book, a film, a performance, and so on?what is striking is that the form itself is flexible; each of the artists discussed here has presented the results of their research in multiple different ways, allowing each project to take on several different incarnations. This, too, arguably reflects a new attitude towards a research-based practice, and the influence of the digital world: rather than conceiving of their work as a physical entity, with a particular, fixed form, it is instead versatile and open-ended.


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