New Media News
Alec Soth, The last snow globe repairman, Northfield, Minnesota, 2012. Courtesy Mack. © Alec Soth
Impala, Canada, 2005. From the series Niagara
Melissa, Flamingo In, 2005. From the series Niagara
Alec Soth is documentary photographer and perhaps the title doesn’t do him justice. His photos don’t just show realities, they open up a space for narration and imagination. Whether they portray open wilderness or human beings, his images depict the U.S.A. we forgot existed. The one that’s far away from East Coast/West Coast urban glamour, hysterical political campaigns, ultra white teeth, drones, police violence and pretty much everything the media describes today to evoke the U.S.A.
Soth has a solo show at the Media Space of the Science Museum in London. Gathered Leaves: Photographs by Alec Soth presents four series: the quiet and nostalgic Sleeping by the Mississippi which i discovered back in 2008 as part of a wonderful exhibition called Heartland at the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, Niagara which portrays the famous falls and the people drawn to their touristic and romantic appeal, Songbook which looks at the longevity of community activity in the USA but this post will focus solely on Broken Manual, a series that explores the lives of the people who have chosen to live off the grid.
Alec Soth spent five years crisscrossing the country in search for the hippies, hermits, monks, survivalists and other loners who are ill at ease with society. While working on the photo series, Soth discovered communications and manifestos made by these people. Many of the publications are shown in the exhibition space. As for the photos, they respect the life choices of the loners. The men (they are all men!) are either lost in the landscapes or left out of the frame. The photos themselves often don’t have a title. And when they do, it’s an enigmatic one. This series is accompanied by a manual, written by someone called Lester B. Morrison , which serves as a guide for those who are thinking of shunning civilization.
Broken Manual is a compelling work. On the one hand, it communicates anxiety and distress. On the other hand, it paints an alluring escape from everything and everyone who makes living in society challenging.
Broken Manual was also the subject of a documentary by Laure Flammarion and Arnaud Uyttenhove.
USA, 2007. From Broken Manual
USA, 2008. From Broken Manual
USA, 2008. From Broken Manual
USA, 2008. From Broken Manual
USA, 2008. From Broken Manual
USA, 2006. From Broken Manual
USA, 2006. From Broken Manual
USA, 2008. From Broken Manual
Untitled, 2008. From Broken Manual
View of the exhibition space
Other images in the exhibition:
Bonnie, with a photograph of an angel, Port Gibson, Mississippi, 2000. From the series Sleeping by the Mississippi
Crystal, transgender princess, Easter Sunday, New Orleans, 2002. From the series Sleeping by the Mississippi
Michele and James, Niagara, 2004. From the series Niagara
Dave and Trish, Denver, Colorado, 2014. From the series Songbook
Execution of Jerry Martin, Huntsville Prison, Walls Unit, Huntsville, Texas, 2013. From the series Songbook
Alec Soth, Corsicana, Texas. 2013, Corsicana Tumbling Academy. From the series Songbook
Bil Sandusky, Ohio, 2014. From the series Songbook. © Alec Soth
Crazy Legs Saloon, Watertown, New York. From the series Songbook. © Alec Soth
Gathered Leaves: Photographs by Alec Soth is at the Science Museum Media Space until 28 March 2016.
Image on the homepage: Alec Soth, Enchanted Forest (36), Texas, 2006.
Martin Reiche, Drone Garden (installation part 1.) Part of NN – Computability, Survival, Cybergenesis Solo Exhibition January/February 2015, Berlin. Photo by Martin Reiche
I discovered Martin Reiche‘s work a few months ago. I was visiting the art+bits festival organized by Medialab Katowice (the event was very good and i’ll post a review of it sooner rather than later) and i came upon a work, Drone Garden, where electric circuits were competing for bandwidth as if their lives depended on it. The idea was puzzling and thought-provoking. The aesthetic of the installation was simple and elegant. A few meters further was an interactive piece that was observing visitors and matched them in real-time with a profile on Facebook. Now that work was vexing, i felt offended when i saw who my social network alter-ego was supposed to be. But the work was witty and intelligent in the way it dealt with identity propagation. Plus, it was by the same artist as the Drone Garden. I had to get in touch with the artist…
Martin Reiche studied computer science at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology but then decided to change path and moved to the Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design to study media art with Michael Bielicky .
His work investigates issues as different from each other as perception, international power networks, religion, changes in the human condition through technology, surveillance and electronic and physical warfare. His book, Real Virtuality, explores how the virtual has seeped into every aspect of our life and shifts not only our understanding of the world but also the way we define ourselves.
Martin Reiche, Firewall (Sculpture), 2015. Photos Martin Reiche
Martin Reiche, Firewall (Sculpture), 2015. Photos Martin Reiche
Hi Martin! I was watching a talk you gave for the OpenTechSchool and you explained that your background is actually in computer science but that at some point you decided that being a scientist wasn’t enough so you left the course and studied art instead. What is it about science and the way it is taught or presented nowadays that doesn’t satisfy you? And what do you find in art that you couldn’t find in science?
When I was studying computer science at an engineering university, what I saw in my direct community was the development that people went through while studying eg. linear algebra and stochastics for a good two years. They learned a tool to solve a problem, but the more they got aware of the potential of the tool they learnt, the more they saw everything as a problem that can be solved by this tool. It was like in the classic joke: If you only have a hammer, everything else becomes a nail. Personally, I wanted to take a step out of this and thus started to study media art, but this of course was just my personal strategy to diversify in order to get a better overview of things. Luckily, I stayed on that path and now integrate both my experience in media art as well as in mathematics and computer science into my artworks.
Martin Reiche, Drone Garden
Martin Reiche, Drone Garden (installation part 1.) Part of NN – Computability, Survival, Cybergenesis Solo Exhibition January/February 2015, Berlin. Photos Martin Reiche
I really like the fact that you describe Drone Garden as being a “contemplative non-interactive installation.” I think that many art & tech shows would gain from inviting contemplation but maybe it’s just the lazy in me who’s speaking. What made you decide to call this work ‘contemplative’?
Contemplation is something very important for me personally and that in my opinion is underrepresented in ‘art and tech’ projects. In many of them, the technological part acquired an overly important role, and then sometimes the critical layer overshadows every other aspect of the work. Then again, a lot of works are mainly sensationalist. For me, the key is stripping the sensation out of the equation: It might make it less accessible in the first place, but it also adds the mystery of some untold part of the work. And sometimes, the work’s meaning becomes completely obsolete if you are just getting sucked into the contemplative space that the work radiates.
Martin Reiche, Drone Garden. Exhibition – art+bits festival. Photo: Krzysztof Szewczyk – CC BY 4.0 Medialab Katowice
The description of the piece also refers to the organic world with terms such as ‘plants’, ‘garden’, ‘fight for its existence’. The micro controllers are also immersed into water. Why was it important to you to bring parallels with the organic world?
It was a design decision that came into being when I was creating the concept for the piece and I was reminded of plants in a greenhouse when I was sketching the microcontrollers hanging from the network hub, so it seemed natural to me to further work on this inherent visual parallel to the organic world. Even calling it a “garden” started at this point.
Also, I like the idea to re-naturalize technological artifacts, because they are finally so directly connected to our everyday life that we see them as a given, as something almost natural to us.
Now i’m also wondering how it works. Did you program microcontrollers with some forms of warfare strategies so that they will compete against each other?
Exactly. All three microcontrollers implement different and very common types of attacks against networked systems. One is flooding the network with unsolicited data, one is constantly trying to take over the identity of the other two microcontrollers, and the last one is just trying to crash the installation altogether by directly attacking the surveillance machine. So what you can see on the screen is the outcome of this “fight” on a network packet level. This would be what a network administrator of a company sees when he/she is trying to find out how an adversary broke into their system.
How much does this fight reflect what is happening every day in global communication network for example?
The hardware that you see in the installation is what is being used around the world still today to create the global networked communication system that we call the internet. Especially the protocols, ie. the basic rules on how to exchange impulses of electric current in an organized manner so that the other end can interpret it as data or the rules on how to gain and maintain free access to this network, they are still the same as 20 years ago. Despite all claims to make the internet safer and better and more secure, its best ideological feature is that every member can have access to it, can freely communicate and that we can all build a vast network of knowledge and sharing. Of course, this means taking risks, as every form of freedom implies. The risks are manifold: Break-ins into corporate networks by adversaries, identity theft, organized crime just to name a few. The methods to “protect” the network from these risks are as manifold: Network surveillance, de-anonymization, censorship.
In “Drone Garden”, the microcontrollers fight the same fight that every server and every workstation connected to the internet is fighting: it is a fight for bandwidth, for being allowed to be a member of the network, for not being censored.
I also like what i would call the ‘minimal aesthetics’ of the Drone Garden. But how important is the aesthetic aspect important in your works? Is this something you pay much attention to?
My whole body of work is paying much attention to detail, especially to visual and conceptual detail. In that line of thought, the visual aesthetics of a piece is absolutely critical to understand the piece in the manifold ways it is intended to be seen. Also, a minimal setup in an installation allows visitors to easily understand the full setup: Everything is just right in front of their eyes, connected to each other. Yet, what I am showing is not just the combination of these parts, but the essence of their assemblage. If you pair that with the indiscernable nature of software in the physical world, you get a work that is minimal yet complex, sculptural yet digital.
Martin Reiche, BNC B, Beyond Non-deterministic Connections, Version B (Post-digital sculpture),2015. Photos Martin Reiche
Martin Reiche, BNC B, Beyond Non-deterministic Connections, Version B (Post-digital sculpture),2015
BNC B (example still of the video generated by the work)
BNC B is a stunning piece. However, i have to admit that the description is way way too techy for me. Could you dumb it down a bit and explain what is happening between the metallic structure and the video on the screen?
BNC B is, just like Drone Garden, a project that falls into what I call “post-digital sculpture”. The work explores the functionality of basic physical building blocks of our connected world, in this case coaxial cable connectors called Bayonet Neill-Concelman tee connectors. Using 400 of these T-shaped connectors I built a sculpture that not only strikes visually with its sharp 90 degree angles and minimalist style, but also still preserves its function: It is a huge network which is connected to two DVD players that run two abstract video works in an infinite loop. By sending the output of these DVD players into the sculpture, the videos are analogically mixed and then again displayed on two small TV screens. The resulting video is a colorful mixture of the two movies that lies somewhere between analog video art and glitch aesthetics.
Martin Reiche, CCTV2.0 (Interactive video installation), 2015. Premiered at Playin’Siegen Festival in April 2015, Siegen, Germany. Photos Martin Reiche
Who are the artists or scientists whose work and ideas inspire you the most?
Definitely Carsten Nicolai, Marina Abramovic, Daan Roosegaarde and Buckminster Fuller, and all the other great thinkers that just don’t come to my mind right now.
You co-founded the Subformat Research Group. Again, that’s a pretty interesting name. What is the group researching exactly?
It is a small but international extra-universitarian research group that started in Karlsruhe back in 2012. A couple of people including me were discussing on how a digitization of our world leads to formatization of perceptible space, eg. how we change our understanding of space through the usage of specific forms of digital technology (such as smart phones). We figured that we need a name for that group, something that could serve as the umbrella for a lot of streams of research on digital anthropology.
Martin Reiche, LUMEN documentation
Martin Reiche, Lumen (Stills from the video installation), 2016. Photos Martin Reiche
Any upcoming work, event or field of research you’d like to share with us?
Yes! I am very happy to show BNC B for the first time on the European continent this month (23-28 February 2016) in Madrid at the JUSTMAD art fair. Also, I am currently working on an editioned giclee print series that will be for sale around May this year – so stay tuned!
A couple of weeks ago, MU in Eindhoven invited the public to a 2 day long immersion into all things bio art and bio design. The Body of Matter / BAD Award Special weekend lined up a series talk, panels, workshops and performances and explored how the techniques and challenges of life sciences are embraced by contemporary artists and designers. There’s more details in the first part of the report. Head this way if you haven’t read A weekend of bio art and bio design at MU in Eindhoven (part 1.)
Isaac Monté, The Art of Deception (Heart of Stone)
But before i proceed with the final part of my report from the weekend, I need to say something about Eindhoven. Several years ago, i wrote about an exhibition in Eindhoven. I can’t remember what exhibition i was reviewing at the time but i do remember that i wrote that the city looked ‘as dull as dishwater.’ I’ve had a change of heart. Eindhoven always had the Design Academy, the fantastic Van Abbemuseum, the MU art center and various other interesting cultural spaces. But now they have Strijp S, a 27 hectare huge area attracting a dynamic crowd of artists, designers, concept stores, juice bars, a communal vegetable garden and organizations. Strijp S used to be the industrial site of the company Philips. It’s a mere 15 minute walk away from the city center and that’s where MU is now located. And Baltan Laboratories. And the BioArt Laboratories. And more. Each time i go to Strijp, there’s something new, thrilling and stylish to discover.
End of the parenthesis. Let’s get back to Body of Matter and to the artists’ talks, shall we?
Hongjie Yang‘s Human Tissue Vase is made of human kidney cells that have been grown on a 3D vase-shaped scaffold. I first dismissed his work, thinking that Tissue Culture and Art Project had been there before with their Victimless Leather jacket. But Yang’s piece has a different focus.
It’s less about the ethics and politics of using tissue culture and more about exploring the place that biotechnology can occupy in the history of design techniques and aesthetics. Furthermore, the designer was also intrigued by the kind of relationship we might develop with artifacts that share genetic information with us. Would we care more for an object made using our own cells? Will human-derived objects blur the distinction between person and object, between alive and inanimate?
The designer is particularly interested in examining the influence that human progress has on aesthetics. New technologies can be seen as disrupting any idea we might have about aesthetics and about the sublime. They create the conditions for new objects and aesthetics to develop. The chisel was disruptive, it enabled for a finer shaping of wood or stone. The Industrial Revolution in England was also aesthetically disruptive because it led to the invention of bone china. We could multiply the examples. But now that we are entering the Post Natural Age, what will the new chisel be? Will we see the emergence of lab-grown china? Will biotech innovations transfer into new aesthetics?
Floris Kaayk! I had almost forgotten how impressive his work is. I remember seeing Metalosis Maligna for the first time, it was clearly a mockumentary but i was still tempted to believe that the story it narrated was true. Shot in the style of a documentary, the video informed the public about a disease that affects patients with medical implants. Metal implants get infected and start growing inside the body until they sprout out of it, start eating the flesh away and turn human patients into half-organic, half-mechanical beings.
Kaayk creates fictional films, interactive projects and online fictions. He takes a well-known media format and subverts it by replacing existing events with fictional stories. In 2012 his online media project Human Birdwings was all over the press. Told through a series of short youtube videos, the work chronicled the successful adventure of a man building a set of wings that allowed him to fly. Most major news outlet fell for it. Until Kaayk revealed that the inventor and the story were purely fictitious.
Floris Kaayk, The Modular Body, 2014
Floris Kaayk, The Modular Body, 2014
Kaayk is now working on a new internet story called The Modular Body. The work is inspired by 3D-printed organs and the media format adopted is the one of kickstarter pitch videos. The artist was interested in the gap between what the science can actually do and the way the media presents it. If you read the press, you get the felling that human kidneys, hearts and noses are routinely printed and implanted. But the implementation of 3D printed technology in medicine is still years away from now. The Modular Body fictionalizes this 3D printed body and presents it as the solution to our outdated bodies. Kaayk envisions that in the future we’d have 3D printed body parts that work like detachable modules. We’d be able to combine, plug and connect them to each other according to our needs. We could replace any part that doesn’t function optimally and adapt it to whichever situation we might face. The Modular Body is still a work in progress and it will take the form of a series of footage fragment. The Body of Matter exhibition showed extracts of the final work. It’s pretty gruesome. There are raw bits of flesh crawling over a table.
Charlotte Jarvis invited Dr. Reinout Raijmakers to join her in a conversation about art & science because he is the scientist she turns to whenever she has an idea for a new project but doesn’t know whether it is feasible, which field of science might help her give a tangible form to her projects, etc.
She briefly explained one of her latest works, Et In Arcadia Ego. Part of the MU exhibition, the piece was Jarvis’ attempt to confront her own mortality head on. She worked with Prof. Hans Clevers and Dr Jarno Drost at the Hubrecht Institute to grow gut cancer tumour from her own cells. The project started with a rectoscopy to collect colon tissue. The samples were then grown in vitro and then submitted to mutations that made them cancerous.
Jarvis also talked about Music of the Sphere, a collaboration with Dr. Nick Goldman, the molecular biologist who stored Shakespeare’s Sonnets and other data into synthetic DNA. The artist used Goldman’s technology to encode a new musical recording by the Kreutzer Quartet into DNA. The DNA has been suspended in soap solution and broadcast on the audience with soap bubbles. The ‘recording’ fills the air, pops on visitors skin and literally bathes the audience in music.
The moment i almost dropped my pen and paper was when she talked about her desire to work with scientists on a new project that would consist in encapsulating and recreating the smell of her husband. She could make a fortune if she managed to patent the process! I wouldn’t mind packing a little flask of my boyfriend’s smell whenever i have to travel. Jarvis’ idea actually sparked some animated discussions in the public about perfumes, hormones, pheromones, sexual attraction, Putin body odour and all kinds of notions more or less related to the smell of people we love or loathe.
Isaac Monté talked to me about his project a few months ago (see Can organs be objects of design?) but the show allowed me to finally get to see the final 21 decellularized and modified pig hearts. They are incredibly beautiful and moving. The hearts and their story deserve to tour widely in exhibitions across the world.
The designer worked with Professor Toby Kiers (Free University Amsterdam) to decellularize pig hearts and manipulate each of them as if they were blank canvases that could be tattooed, embroidered, stained, dressed up with precious materials, filled with with concrete, etc. The decellularization process involves stripping organs of their cellular contents, leaving behind a scaffold that can be repopulated with stemcells. Isaac had invited 2 scientists to join him and discuss how far scientists but also artists or designers can go when it comes to manipulating organs. One of the scientists explained how they use decellularization technique in order to respond to the lack of organ donations. Her work consists in exploring how we can turn an unhealthy liver into a liver that can safely be transplanted. They would get rid of the cells in the liver and then fill the empty matrix with good cells.
The designer documented the whole research and creation process in The Art of Deception book.
That’s it for my report from the Body of Matter weekend. May the event inspire other places around Europe to set up new initiatives, commissions and competitions that will help artists and designers dialogue with scientists.
Previously: Plastic trash, rotting rubber & wonky skeleton. Maarten Vanden Eynde’s lecture at the Body of Matter / BAD Award weekend, A weekend of bio art and bio design at MU in Eindhoven (part 1), Matter of Life. Growing new Bio Art & Design
Kristin Neidlinger, Wearable garments that give you goosebumps when someone thinks about you. Kristin Neidlinger, Body of Matter – Body based bio art & design, MU Eindhoven, 2015. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer
At the end of January, the MU art space in Eindhoven dedicated 2 days to bio art and bio design. The Body of Matter / BAD Award Special weekend invited the public to take part in talk, panels, workshops and performances and explore how the techniques and challenges of life sciences are embraced by contemporary artists and designers. The event followed the theme of the ongoing exhibition Body of Matter which explores (until tonight!) how biotechnology can modify the body and the perception we have of it. What will the ‘normal’ body look like in 5, 10, 20 years time? How will our identity and sense of self change with body modification? Should we impose limits to the way science is going to shape bodies, both on the inside and from the outside? Will science expand our understanding of ‘alive’ and ‘dead’? What role can aesthetics play in discussions about body enhancement?
The weekend was also an opportunity to reflect on the outcome of the Bio Art & Design award which, each year, offers artists and designers a total of 75 000 euros and the opportunity to collaborate with researchers and develop ambitious works that engage with life sciences.
My plan was to wrap up the whole event in one big post but the weekend was so dense in new ideas, food for thought and speculations that i had to write separate stories. First there was Maarten Vanden Eynde’s lecture which was so stimulating and smart that i decided to dedicate a full post to it. And now i’m going to split the rest of the weekend into two stories. Today, i’ll be sharing my notes from Friday. Tomorrow, i’ll post the ones i took on Saturday.
Body of Matter – Body based bio art and design. Video MU
The first speaker who took the floor was the co-curator of the Body of Matter exhibition. William Myers is a teacher, a curator and an author. In 2014, he published Biodesign: Nature + Science + Creativity and a few months ago, he looked at the more artistic side of creative works that explore life sciences in his book Bio Art: Altered Realities (i reviewed it last year.) In this publication, Myers argues that bioart doesn’t just encompass the art that engages hands-on with living materials but it can also define works by artists who use more traditional media to respond to shifting definitions of identity, nature and life brought about by the latest advances in life sciences. To him, bioart includes thus art that uses biology as a medium and art that uses biology as a subject. A good example of this broadening of the definition of bioart is Vincent Fournier‘s ongoing series Post-Natural History. At first sight, the photos look like typical animal portraits. Until you realize that there is something off… The species are ‘newcomers’, they have been modified using synthetic biology either to enable them to conform to man’s own needs and desires, or to help them adjust to the biological changes our planet is going through: extreme temperatures, rising pollution levels, etc.
I interviewed Emma Dorothy Conley a couple of months ago when her project MSA: The Microbiome Security Agency was announced as one of the winners of the BAD Award competition. Her presentation in Eindhoven refreshed my memory about all things MSA and microbiome. The human microbiome is the collection of microbes that colonize the human body and they do so in such quantity that they outnumber our own cells ten to one. They live inside our body and on our skin and because these bacteria can vary considerably based on our age, diet, habits, geographic location and overall health, scientists believe that they can be used as a unique identifier, much like fingerprints.
Because we shed bacterial cells wherever we go, we might soon see emerge the use of microbiome sequencing in criminal investigations or for commercial or surveillance purposes. Emma’s project explores how we can protect our bioprivacy from these intrusions. The most promising of the strategies she investigated seems to be an obscuration solution that we could spray on our body. The blend mixes all kinds of revolting ingredients such as fermented food and zoo poo to create additional noise and hide the bacterial information that your body carries.
Conley imagined that you could donate a sample of poo or other bacteria-rich bits to an MSA bank. The sample would be added to a pool of bacteria that would be used to make a solution that people would apply on their skin to make their bionome anonymous.
Orion Maxted is a performance artist and curator who investigates theatre in relation to systems and algorithms. More specifically he tries to makes machines out of people.
An example of artworks that interest him in that respect is Douglas Gordon’s 1993 video 24 Hour Psycho which, as its title clearly indicates, is a video installation showing Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 classic slowed down so that it lasts for 24 hours. The piece contains the instruction to reproduce it in infinite variations: 24 hour Star Wars, 66 hour Jaws, etc. A work like that one made Maxted think about machines and about mass producing copies of an artwork.
Maxted works with improvisers whom he defines as ‘persons trained to process information in real time.’ He brings them together to ‘form a single thinking system.” Improvisation, according to him, is key to the process because it is full of algorithms, feedback process, etc.
He and his improvisers performed 2 works during the Body of Matter / BAD Award Special weekend. The first one was The Machine. Completely improvised using algorithms and patterns, the show explores our relationship to machines and the development of language. The actors reproduce and modify each other’s words and gestures according to an algorithm, creating a continually evolving feedback loop. The result is puzzling and entertaining, you sometimes wonder whether the human participants are obeying and serving the system or mischievously generating glitches.
The performance of the final evening worked in a similar fashion, except that it used systems biology computation to generate performance parameters for actors.
Špela Petrič, Miserable Machines: Soot-o-mat
The elegant patterns of Špela Petrič‘s vases are drawn by mussels. More precisely by tiny muscles removed from the molluscs body and then attached to an electro-stimulated design apparatus. The muscles are kept ‘alive’ by being repeatedly washed with water and shocked so that each tiny spasm of energy they produce is used to scratch lines onto the object. Because the contractions happen only once every 20 minutes or so, the design process takes several hours. The work is both absurd and poignant. A creature is killed in service to the machine, the design, and the product. The work speaks of the commodification of life and the ruthless exploitation of living systems, but it also symbolizes us, the mass of humans actors entrapped in the machine of capitalism.
That’s it for part one! See you tomorrow same time, same place for my notes from Body of Matter / BAD Award Special Day 2.
My images from the Bioart weekend are on flickr.
The latest in a series of interviews with artists who have a significant body of work that makes use of or responds to network culture and digital technologies.
You’re working on Hudson Valley Ruins (2016), your forthcoming machinima film produced in the life simulation game, The Sims. What prompted you to start using The Sims as a tool to make your work?
I started using The Sims out of a desire to work in 3D before I had learned any modeling. After a decade-long hiatus from the game, I had a serendipitous experience as I unearthed a forgotten toolkit of customizable assets and building tools.
I played the first iteration of The Sims obsessively between 2000-2003, aged ten to thirteen. The Sims was my window onto an inaccessible realm, a fantasy theater for enacting my imagined late teen years and early adulthood–a world without school where you could drive, sleep at a man’s house, or try out his heart-shaped hot tub. I would frequently role play as older women that I wanted to emulate, an amalgamation of various movie and book characters and cool teens that I would see at high school. I envisioned adulthood as a world of intrigue and possibility, a release from the ensnarement of a middle school nightmare. Real life could only disappoint these optimistic projections.
Jacky Connolly, Hudson Valley Ruins Teaser: Afterschool (2016)
I am no longer enacting an imagined future, but reenacting the traumas of earlier life stages. In my scenes, the nightmares of childhood and the traumas of adolescence serve as an anteroom to hell. Anxious and foreboding nights spent in a suburban bedroom have shifted from being the context in which I was playing (as a preteen) to the subject of my film scenes. As an adult, I can now use this world for my own private film production. This is how the intrigue and possibility of the game lives on, in the sandbox world's potential for mastery through reenactment.
We spoke about The Sims 1’s oppressively tedious structure—without cheats your Sims age, commute to work every single day, and have to perform routine tasks such as sleeping, eating, and cleaning. You are working in The Sims 3, where there is more freedom to input your own designs and reconfigure the game so that the season is permanently autumn or that your Sims don’t have to go to school or use the bathroom during a take. Even though The Sims 3 offers more flexibility, the enclosed suburban environment of the game seems to be central to your work. I was wondering if you could discuss how the environmental and structural limitations of The Sims are important for you, as opposed to the reality of an open virtual world such as Second Life?
The game franchise demands that its participants to simulate the "rat race," earning Simoleons, remodeling their homes, and buying properties. More expensive items improve the Sims’ moods. There are hardly enough hours in the day for Sims to do anything in a leisurely way; they are perpetually struggling and dissatisfied. The intended game-play is worlds away from the utopic playground of Second Life. The Sims is closed off and hermetic, the player is a master of puppets in a virtual world local to their desktop. Sims neighborhoods are not uncanny landscapes with impossible architecture. Rooms have four walls and houses are built on a foundation, the setting is plastic and suburban. The familiar, imprisoning domestic interiors of this game engine are pertinent to the quiet terrors and awkward social encounters of my suburban-horror film scenes.
The Sims 3 allows for cheat codes that override most of the game's built-in nuisances. One thing that cannot be "cheated" is the time of day. If I am shooting a scene during the golden hour and the sun goes down, I have to wait for another game day to pass to continue filming. I enjoy this constraint, as it heightens my own temporal disorientation. I spend thousands of hours sitting at my desktop, virtual hours melting into real hours of my life passing by.
Jacky Connolly, The Rosh Hashanah Room/The October Anteroom (from Basement Puzzles/Rune Rooms) (2014)
The Sims is designed to include instances of unreality within its stereotypical suburban narrative; A genie can be summoned by cleaning the antique lamp and the Grim Reaper appears to take Sims on the edge of death. Your films seem to relate to this, interspersing the mundane with macabre and fantasy. In Hudson Valley Ruins, some of the architecture is based on abandoned resorts in the Hudson Valley Borscht Belt. You also mentioned, towards the end of the film, that he characters access another reality connected to your earlier vignettes from Basement Puzzles/Rune Rooms (2014) through a portal. I am interested in how you work with real historical and geographical elements and instances of the surreal, absurd, or supernatural, and how these different realms intersect within the world of The Sims.
In the original version of The Sims, the supernatural and macabre elements were an afterthought, only introduced in later expansion packs for the game. The Sims: Makin’ Magic introduced a hole-in-the-ground portal to Magic Town, an autumnal neighborhood with circus folk, witches, faeries and magicians. Basement Puzzles/Rune Rooms and the Fawn’s Leap, NY videos definitely connect to this afterthought, the intrusion or re-insertion of fantasy and the supernatural into a more coherent environment. I am interested in portals in the psychoanalytic sense, moving to "another scene" or a virtual theater where fantasies are played out.
The main reason I use the third Sims iteration is the way that the landscape is rendered in this release. The toxic purple sunsets, rhythmically swaying branches and falling orange leaves introduce a more haunting, evanescent ambiance. Hudson Valley Ruins’ title is taken from a website of the same name, a catalog of the region’s forgotten architectural landmarks. I am drawn to the past lives of the Hudson Valley and its ruined remnants, which are now being demolished one by one. Instead of ruined buildings, this film contains ruined people who seek refuge in imaginary/disappearing places.
Jacky Connolly, Forever Alone Calzone (excerpt) (2015)
Without dialog between characters, sounds, such as the wind, pizza dough crackling in an oven or a toy choo-choo train, set the tone and pace in your films. For your exhibition, Fawn’s Leap, NY with Flannery Silva, the surround sound on Hudson Valley Rock Chick (2015) and Forever Alone Calzone (2015) permeated the gallery space. Working outside of a cinematic linear plot, how do you consider sound and its connection to narration?
The algorithmic weather patterns, animal noises, and wind intensity sounds are omnipresent while playing the game, and are exaggerated by the absence of Simlish voices. The repetition and variation of sound creates a sensory experience, when a storm comes the rain and thunder is overpowering. This was especially effective with the surround speakers in Fawn’s Leap, NY. So far, I am only using in-game sounds, music and Foley/sound effects included. I sometimes use cheats to control the weather while I am filming, so that a storm is brewing in climactic moments. I edit my scenes to the pace of the diegetic sound. Hudson Valley Rock Chick / Forever Alone Calzone are my most successful use of sound to date. The repetition of certain noises (the train) and the in-game guitar playing become recurrent musical themes that highlight significant moments of action.
Along with your art masters, you are getting a dual degree in library science, which essentially deals with the science and methods of collecting and organizing information. When watching your vignettes Basement Puzzles/Rune Rooms (2014), there is a feeling of walking through someone's memory palace—artifacts put in unfamiliar places in order to derive new meaning as elusive or personal signifiers. Would you say there is any correlation between organizing information and the idiosyncratic logic to some scenes, such as a a grey-haired girl floating in an indoor carpeted pool or the same character inhabiting a windowless room adorned with blue velvet and Chagall paintings?
Creating an elaborate collection of virtual homes and rooms, I have definitely been informed by my LIS education. For Basement Puzzles/Rune Rooms, I initially created a database diagram of rooms and the virtual objects contained therein. My dual-degrees have often connected in this way, I was learning about database models while studying Lev Manovich’s database cinema. If you envision virtual places and sites of action as a cinematic database, a film moves away from a traditional, linear narrative structure: relational databases contain a large list of items with no imposed order.
Cabinets of curiosities/memory theaters have also served as an inspiration. The basement rooms were envisioned as microcosms of the surrounding Hudson Valley, containing plants and ornaments from the surrounding landscape. These relics are enigmatic copies of real world phenomena, simple meshes and textures assembled by the game to evoke memory. The placement of apparently unrelated Sims ephemera in a room stimulates curiosity by hinting at unseen interconnections and associations.
How long have you been working creatively with technology? How did you start?
When I was 6 or 7, I would use Kid Pix Studio to create gif mise-en-scènes. A few years later, I used American Girls Premiere, a game for creating animated stage plays using American Girl cutout dolls.
Where did you go to school? What did you study?
I went to Bard College at Simon’s Rock, an early college in the Berkshires of Massachusetts, where I studied Photography and Art History. I am currently finishing my MFA in Digital Art and MS in Library and Information Science at Pratt Institute.
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 am studying to work in the library and information field. I have been a babysitter for the past three years, which keeps me up to date on video game trends and actively engaged in the realm of childhood.
What does your desktop or workspace look like? (Pics or screenshots please!)
Alex Taylor's 3GTV is on the front page of rhizome.org through Monday, February 8.
In a modern-day world dominated by iPhones and Androids, images of Paris Hilton flaunting a pink RAZR flip phone have long been filed in the digital pop culture archives. Despite Anna Wintour and Rihanna’s outlier attempts to bring back in style the outdated flip phone for a few paparazzi snaps in 2014, the cellular landscape has since shifted.
During the 3G era, camera phones allowed users to record and play back short videos in a file format called 3GP. With Apple’s introduction of ios9 software, iPhones lost the ability to play back this format, making these videos as obsolete as the phones they were recorded on.
For his new project 3GTV, awarded a 2015 Rhizome micro-commission, Alex Taylor culls 3GP videos from YouTube, re-presenting them in a CGI interface that simulates the experience of a 3D smartphone. Users are able to view an endless loop of randomized 3GP video clips that were harvested from YouTube. If you’re lucky, you may run into a video of a boy dancing to Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean or Jersey Shore’s DJ Pauly D introducing Pitbull during an MTV Spring Break special from 2011. 3GTV harnesses the present day cultural phenomenon of binge watching, but in a format that reminds us of what used to be, allowing us to see the content and aesthetics these videos have in common.
The project isn't only about a nostalgic aesthetic, though. The prevalence of what seem to be recent international videos suggests that while many users in the US have to set down their 4G smartphones and transition to our computers in order to visit this digital exhibition, less privileged users in West Africa, Southeast Asia, and even the United States are still using 3G mobile devices years after a style became outdated. Our digital past is still here, it's just unevenly distributed.
Culling its name from the 1999 satirical film directed by Mike Judge, the group show "Office Space" at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco focuses on the soft power and absurdity inherent in the alienating strategies and the sometimes-productive ambiguity of the modern workspace.
Entering the exhibition, the two computers in Cory Arcangel's Permanent Vacation (2007) emit across the first room the pinging of incoming and, possibly, permanently recurring "out of the office" emails that bounce back and forth from one computer to another. This room also features the paintings of Joel Holmberg, which structure their compositions according to a content management system's template designs. As these templates are often employed for the landing pages of Web 2.0 businesses, in these works, an evocative image serves to only support a company's primarily textual message. This is best demonstrated in the painting We Can't Know Precisely What we Mean Until we are Forced to Symbolize It, (2015) in which the work's title is emblazoned over a replica of the painting The Jolly Flatboatmen (1846) by George Caleb Bingham, gesturing towards the nature of the freelance laborers depicted in the painting as well as a meta-commentary of the future uses and networked existence of Holmberg's own paintings.
Joel Holmberg, We Can't Know Precisely What we Mean Until we are Forced to Symbolize It (2015, courtesy the artist)
A work somewhat antithetical to the routine malaise often associated with office spaces, The Mouse Mandala (2006–2015) by Joseph Delappe brings together computer mice (that the artist found in second-hand stores across Silicon Valley) in a large mandala in tribute to the weavers whose work was displaced by the first Industrial Revolution. The use of the imagery of the mandala is at once indicative of the new-age ideology that often underpins strategies for personal and organizational optimization, and at the same time appears like a pile of well-curated e-waste, until one becomes aware of the intricacy of the work’s weaving. Though mandalas are meant to be representative of the universe as centered around the dwelling place of Buddha, the work instead brings this cosmological diagram into the history of Western technological development. The use of Eastern iconography alongside second-hand technology thus becomes more reminiscent of the various invocations of tidying guru Marie Kondo who, as of late, is seemingly on everyone’s lips in Silicon Valley: specifically of the mysterious voice that told her, after a tidying-induced nervous breakdown, to look at the things that she threw away more closely.
On either side of the mandala are two paintings by Alex Dordoy, The Man in the White Suit I & II and The Man in the White Suit V &VI (both 2014), which utilize the gallery walls to make each painting appear as if they were images being scrolled through on a phone. Taken in mind with the circular mandala, the juxtaposition produces an anxiety-induced dizziness; the flattening effect of the works’ color palette furthers the banality of their depiction of generic office environments. In one piece’s boardroom with an American flag and in the other’s similar boardroom with a declining stock market graph, there is the phantom presence of the titular man in a white suit within the white walls of the space that foregrounds the absence of a distinct focal point in both works, implying a viewership that is immersed rather than contemplative, but just as easily disconnected.
Joseph DeLappe, The Mouse Mandala (2006–15
, courtesy the artist and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts)
Alex Dordoy, The Man in the White Suit I & II (2014, courtesy the artist and Grimm Gallery, Amsterdam)
The inclusion of Soul and Feelings of a Worker, Whitechapel version (1978) by KP Brehmer, an artist often associated with Capitalist Realism, makes explicit the role of mood regulation in the workplace. Magnifying the graphed data from a 1932 study of the emotions of workers to an almost human scale, the two canvases that comprise the work stretch across the exhibition wall, both nailed directly onto the plaster to be held in place and painted in a way that resembles Fortran punch cards. In front of this work, Julien Prévieux's What Shall We Do Next? (Sequence #1) (2006–2011) displays a set of cartoon hands cycling through a series of patented gestures used on touch screens. The work is displayed using an overhead projector in lieu of a digital one, exemplifying the pattern by which new technologies are integrated into the work place, and often forced into the hierarchies of a preexisting bureaucracy. Comparing the former work’s enlargement and the latter’s animated cartoon depiction, both pieces work with the scalability of users and employees, and in each piece's representation, the tactics become absurd in their reduction or privatization. Considering the divorce of emotions and of gesture from their subjects, these two works are suggestive of a management based on complete hyper-individuation, on one end to track and evaluate, and on the other, to replicate.
KP Brehmer, Soul and Feelings of a Worker, Whitechapel version (1978)
Julien Prévieux, What Shall We Do Next? (Séquence #1), (2006-2011)
In Pilvi Takala’s The Trainee (2008), the artist performs a refusal of labor while working as a marketing intern for the international company Deloitte. First at a desk, then in a hall, and lastly in an elevator, Takala’s character Joanna is always at work on her thesis while gradually moving to the periphery of her environment. Though, for some, a neutral and detached subjectivity can be seen as an ideal of both cognitive labor and conceptual art, Takala/Joanna's performance of "brain work" is so far detached from her coworkers' expectations that for them it does not constitute work. What bothers her coworkers is that she is not performing her work the way they are; in one instance, this results in a staff member bringing her a laptop computer. In a way, Joanna performs both physical and cognitive labor—she performs the office habits of any other employee to an extreme while performing cognitive labor for her character’s thesis; arguably, the piece can function as a way to further market Deloitte, as many of Takala’s superiors were in favor of her performance. But because this work is not immediately identifiable or accessible by her coworkers, it becomes suspect.
Pilvi Takala, The Trainee (2008, courtesy the artist and Carlos/Ishikawa, London)
This aspect of refusal is done to great effect in Wages for Facebook (2013) by Laurel Ptak, a remixing of Silvia Federici’s famous manifesto demanding wages for housework and Office Voodoo (2010) by Haegue Yang in their presentation of modern labor's domestic aspects. Rather than representing a collapse of the distinction between leisure and work, Office Voodoo illustrates that for many, leisure time is never spent in a leisurely manner. In the work, two drying racks attached by plastic ties are interwoven with an obsolete headset, cloth-covered powering cords for five dangling light bulbs, a security camera, iridescent CD-Rs, and a thin golden chain; navigating this piece at first felt like a chore due to the crossing wires and the intersecting grids of the drying rack. However, what remains clear in the piece is that objects for private and practical uses dangle on a dependent structural level as objects for surveillance and labor within an object reflective of one’s noncompulsory weekly routine. The title Office Voodoo makes the assemblage resemble the silhouette of an enlarged Voodoo doll, and the sculpture is indeed the framework of a figure, formed and informed by the histories and uses its viewers bring to its constituent parts. Instead of a harbinger of a Kafkaesque bureaucratic nightmare, the office space detritus appears as another part of a routine of personal maintenance. Despite its complexity, the sculpture neither exorcises nor completely represents the conditions and power structures of the modern work place, but instead presents these parts as something one reflectively and privately pinpricks.
To believe that there is an omnipresent workplace hierarchy to critique or within which to succumb often gives more credit to management strategies than they might deserve, as these strategies can have comparatively shorter life spans than pre-existing structures of affective labor. Ptak and Yang show how the soft power of the workplace is constantly inculcated by exterior power structures, as much as these power structures are—and already have been, in turn—informed by the dispersal of capital. But honestly, who is really still capable of leaving their work at work?
Exhibition view, “Office Space.” Foreground: Haegue Yang, Office Voodoo (2010).
Top image: Bea Fremderman, Kafka Office (2013, courtesy the artist)
Plastic trash, rotting rubber & wonky skeleton. Maarten Vanden Eynde’s lecture at the Body of Matter / BAD Award weekend
Maarten Vanden Eynde, Homo Stupidus Stupidus
A few days ago, the MU art center in Eindhoven organized a Body of Matter / BAD Award weekend of talks, masterclasses, panels and performances. The event accompanied Body of Matter exhibition, an exhibition that looks at how biotechnology might in the near future modify the shape, functions and even our perception of the body. The show also offers the opportunity to discover the winners of Bio Art and Design Award which each years enables young artists and designers to develop collaborate with prominent Dutch science centers and develop ambitious projects related to the latest developments in art sciences.
A lot happened during that weekend and I’ll come back with more details about it later on. Today, i thought i should dedicate a full post to Maarten Vanden Eynde‘s brilliant lecture on the first evening. He talked about how the fish, the beaches and even ourselves are chocking on plastic, about King Leopold II of Belgium and his brutal exploitation of Congo, and about the Homo Sapiens, a species so presumptuous it gives itself the title of ‘doubly wise.’
Maarten Vanden Eynde, Homo Stupidus Stupidus, part of the Body of Matter exhibition. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer for MU Eindhoven
Vanden Eynde doesn’t define himself as a bioartist. What interests him is the Genetology (The Science of First Things), Eschatology (The Science of Last Things) and how these two relate. As a result, his work hovers between past and future. His talk zoomed in on the piece he is showing in the Body of Matter exhibition as well as on 3 other works related to the body and to the evolution of our planet:
Homo Stupidus Stupidus is a human skeleton taken apart and put back together as if the person who assembled the bones had no knowledge of human anatomy. The name of the piece refers to the mistakes done in attempting to reconstructing the skeleton but it also mocks the arrogance of our own species which define itself as Homo Sapiens Sapiens. Given the unethical way in which we behave towards the environment, other species or between ourselves, the title of Sapiens Sapiens is unquestionably inappropriate.
Maarten Vanden Eynde’s lecture during the Body of Matter special weekend, 22 January 2016. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer for MU Eindhoven
Vanden Eynde also took us through another of his work that is directly related to the body: The Invisible Hand, a rubber copy of the right hand of Leopold II of Belgium. The artist made it at night by climbing on the equestrian statue of king in Brussels.
The Invisible Hand, Art Brussels 2015, Belgium
The Invisible Hand (making-of), Brussels, Belgium
The Invisible Hand (making-of), Brussels, Belgium
From 1877 until his death in 1909, Leopold II, had an unprecedented influence on the current Democratic Republic of Congo. He was the founder and private owner of the Congo Free State, a territory he was eventually forced to cede to Belgium in 1908. The Congo Free State then became a Belgian colony under parliamentary control.
Although the king never set foot in the country, he changed, exploited and shaped it so fundamentally that the result is still visibly present today. The Invisible Hand refers thus to Adam Smith‘s 1759 theory of the same name. The concept could be summed up as follows: individuals’ efforts to pursue their own interest and profit may frequently benefit society and the entire economy more than if their actions had been directly intended to achieve the greater good. Of course few attained that more unwillingly than Leopold II whose reign is marked by the atrocities that Belgians committed in Congo. With the chief goal of ruthlessly exploiting the natural resources of the African country, Leopold II’s politics nevertheless instigated a local economic growth, but at a high price. More than 10 million people are estimated to have died as a consequence of Leopolds ‘Invisible Hand’.
Nsala looking at the severed hand and foot of his five-year-old daughter, Boali, a victim of the Anglo-Belgian India Rubber Company (A.B.I.R.) militia, 1904
The name ‘The Invisible Hand’ doesn’t just refer to Smith’s theory of an unobservable market force, it also alludes to the custom of chopping the hands of enslaved people who didn’t work hard enough.
The Invisible Hand (making-of), Ngel Ikwok, Kasai-Occidental, Democratic Republic of Congo
The Invisible Hand (making-of), Ngel Ikwok, Kasai-Occidental, Democratic Republic of Congo
The Invisible Hand, Art Brussels 2015, Belgium
But let’s get back to the artwork, Vanden Eynde went to the Democratic Republic of Congo with the copy of the hand of the ruler who had never traveled to his ‘own’ colony. The artist brought the mould to an abandoned rubber plantation in Kasai-Occidental and filled it up with natural rubber. Strangely enough, the rubber reacted to oxygen and decayed quite rapidly, the white rubber hand turned into a black one that smelled atrociously.
The hand traveled back to Belgium where it was presented inside an old Victorian vitrine at the art fair Art Brussels, completing the problematic circle of colonial treasure hunting in relation to historical fetishisation.
Plastic Reef, Manifesta9, Genk, Belgium, 2012
Hordaland Art Center, Bergen, Norway, 2013
Glendale College Art Gallery, Los Angeles, US, 2009
Fish caught in a plastic containers.Its teeth seem to fit the bitemarks on the plastic debris. Photo
Beach trash in Montevideo. Photo
Plastic flocks together with patches of sargassum seaweed floating in the North Atlantic Gyre. Photo
Next, the artist talked about Plastic Reef, a work that explores the longevity of plastic trash that floats around our oceans, litters our land, is buried underground and might very well outlive our species. Plastic doesn’t decompose, it shrinks down through friction and light into ever smaller pieces. These tiny plastic particles are called “mermaid tears” and in some parts of the ocean, their masses can be even greater than plankton. Some sea creatures mistake the particles for food, putting them directly into the food chain and thus potentially onto our plates.
Today there isn’t a single cubic meter of sea water that is free of plastic particles. By 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the sea and according to Captain Charles Moore, we can’t even see all of it because plastic is present up to 100 meters below the surface of the sea. Entire gyres have taken shape in our oceans in which plastic trash is being washed around by the currents and form what looks like islands of rubbish. The biggest water-based plastic trash aggregation, called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, is estimated to be about the size of Central Europe.
Al Jazeera, Micro-plastics fill world’s oceans
Peanut the turtle before being rescued from the plastic ring of a six-pack holder. Photo Missouri Department of Conservation, via The Dodo
The artist visited ocean gyres around the world and collected hundreds of kilos of plastic debris from each place. He then melted the trash to form a sculpture that grows in size and weight each time it is exhibited, reflecting how the material is relentlessly invading our planet and damaging its fauna and flora.
The trash became beautiful again and seemed to solve two problems at the same time: the plastic in the ocean and the disappearing of coral reefs world wide, the artist writes
1000 Miles Away From Home, Hordaland Art Center, Bergen, Norway, 2013
The final work that the artist presented are five snow globes that symbolize the five main oceanic gyres. The globes contain water and bits of plastic debris Vanden Eynde collected in the North and South Atlantic, the North and South Pacific and the Indian Ocean. The snow globe is like a time capsule for the future. When it is shaken the water creates a micro gyre making the plastic swirl around.
I really want one of those snow globes….