Friday, May 15, 2009

Review: De Montreal:Videos at the ATA

Last Friday I went to De Montreal at the ATA, which presented the work of nine Montreal-based video artists. I thought that overall most of the films spent too long saying too little or were too oblique, but a few of them were interesting.

The first, "Where Time is the Protagonist" by Ilinca Balaban was an 8 minute series of unrelated video mostly of lockers and people bowling and bowling pins and a racecar video game. It was slowly paced, and isolated the objects in the video. It "eschew[ed] formal linear narrative for a more surreal and abstract depiction of imagery culled from the everyday... Human activity is rendered impotent..." Which was visually interesting for about 30 seconds. I spent the first 7 minutes wondering why I was being presented these languid shots of inanimate things, mildly annoyed by Balaban's indifference to me, the viewer. Then in a section of racecar video game the pixelated passenger in the car asks the driver with a speech bubble, "What were you thinking about?" And the driver replies, "I was just trying to figure out where we're going." Which made me reflect on my own mental process while watching the film.

I have recently been evaluating art I see on how it affects me and other viewers/partcipants, as important a metric as formal aesthics and conceptual and cultural significance. By this standard my favorite was "Don't Laugh" by Valerie Boxer, where Valerie, wearing big plastic gorilla teeth admonishes the camera person not to laugh while she eats a banana with the fake teeth. It was funny, especially as she claimed on film to be trying to get into the character of a monkey and the whole banana-eating process didn't go well.

The best was the last film, "Pine" by Ali El-Darsa. The film was moody and out of focus. The cinematography was lovely and functioned well as metaphor. A man comes home to his apartment, through the dark halls of the apartment building. He goes into the bathroom, looks in the mirror. The video comes into focus as he looks at himself, leaning over the counter to the glass, and then out of focus. He takes off his clothes and gets into the bath, and the film cuts to what could be his fantasies: he and another man making out naked. This cut is focused, some bedroom with daylight, with that raw ametuer porn-style of filming. Our protaganist ejeculates and the film cuts to him alone in the dark bathroom, mulling over the sex scene, out of focus. The shots of his face out of focus were especially poigniant. It was pleasant to have such sensical narrative after the "abstract" and "non-linear" films preceding and the content was raw, direct, and human, rather than the obtuse, oblique, removed preceding films such as ""

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Response: "Seeing the Past in Present Tense"and "The Eiffel Tower"

I have been chewing over monuments, leaving teethmarks in bronze, turning them inside out to pin-point what they do and fail to do, even when quite well intentioned. Site and culture specific with hints of propaganda, these disembodied distillations of History carved in marble are so silent in their eternal gaze.

Paula writes in Seeing the Past in Present Tense of a Holocaust monument in Harburg, Germany, Monument Against Fascism, War and Violence--and for Peace and Human Rights (1986).

"The monument... was a forty-foot-tall, three-foot square rectangular structure made of aluminum and sheathed in soft lead. The designers attached styluses to the monument and encouraged visitors to sign their name on the surface of the structure, in effect, signing a contract of responsibility. Between 1986 and 1993, the monument, with all the signatures it carried, was slowly lowered into the ground on hydraulics. Downstairs through a glass slit in a metal door the monument and some of the signatures could be viewed. Finally, only the top of the monument remained visible from the surface... I visited the site of the Harburg monument recently and found that it has been profoundly and resolutely forgotten."

Yet even the more typical monument, huge in plain sight, is forgotten, looked past as we move through space, commemoratives of things we don't care to remember. The Dewey Monument, in Union Square, for example, is to commemorate Admiral Dewey's victory over the Spanish Navy at Manila. How many Union Square shoppers are aware of that? The monument's significance fades into oblivion.
Often in other cultures, and occasionally in our own, monuments are tied to specific ceremonial activities. This happens when monuments are the site of rallies, protests, or state-sponsored national celebrations. These gatherings and ceremonies serve to re-activate the monument as culturally significant in a similar way that ceremonies of parading (such as Semana Santa celebrations) or washing (as of the Buddha during New Year celebrations) of religious sculptures serves to constantly activate them symbolically in the religious community.
The Vietnam Memorial functions in this way, constantly activated by those who go there to rub names or leave flowers.

Roland Barthes wrote "The Eiffel Tower," published as part of Mythologies. The Eiffel Tower is so large that it is always present, it cannot be forgotten, and its simple shape open to attribution of meaning, an "infinite cipher."

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Response: Screen Relations

Nicolas Bourriaud's theories of relational aesthetics are an important approach to contemporary art. His claim that art has departed from the conceptual traditions of the 1960s and '70s and begun something entirely fresh has created a stir in art theory. I read his book Relational Aesthetics which comprised a collection of articles he had written about art. They were all over the place, so for this class, I will respond to “Screen Relations: Today's Art and Its Technological Models.”

“Our age is nothing if not the age of the screen” (66). Art galleries today are full of screens, which allow for unprecedented combinations of text, image, video, interactivity and an abstraction of site via the Internet. Digitalization creates another layer of remove from the signified, another layer of simulation to the image, but also extends the mechanical reproduction discussed by Walter Benjamin into a new dimension. “... It is actually now possible to produce images which are the outcome of calculation, and no longer of human gestures. (69)” Which takes us from mechanical reproduction to mechanical production.

Bourriaud asserts, “art creates an awareness about production methods and human relationships produced by the technologies of its day. (67)” He goes on to claim that “the main effects of the computer revolution are visible today among artists who do not use computers...(67) ”and of those who do to create, for example, “computer graphic images:” “at best, their work is just a symptom or a gadget...(68)” I do not entirely agree with him. Making “computer graphic images” or models of flocking or what have you, is participating in technology. Using technology in the place of traditional mediums cements its momentous primacy as experiential medium. This participation will not garner recognition as an original, individual artist, but it is worthwhile to look past individuality.

What he argues is that, rather than creating representations, technology should be used in art to simulate and represent behavioral patterns and to “decipher the social relations brought by [technology]. (68)” Specifically, “art's function consists in appropriating perceptual and behavioral habits brought on by the technical-industrial complex to turn them into life possibilities... [or] reverse the authority of technology in order to make ways of thinking, living and seeing creative. (69)”

Relational artists, he continues, construct “models of sociability suitable for producing human relations. (70)” In my mind this is not unlike a program which produces an image.

How I would relate this to my own art practice is to use interactive technology to construct sociability models. To start with, the computer is intended to be used by the individual, perhaps as a portal to a social configuration, a medium by which we interact with each other over the Internet or a network. I am interested in rearranging those social format structures by allowing many people to interact with a single computer at once and through less conventional methods. i.e. by video-captured gesture rather than using a mouse.

The Internet seems to me like an incredible tool for collapsing space and site in real time. What's more, it renders antiquated the broadcaster/receiver dichotomous communication model of T.V. or radio by allowing for simultaneous broadcast and reception by all communicators. Working with that as a medium is great as long as it is interesting an not too abstract. I intend to use it to create remote access to the object of interactivity and direct control of the interactivity parameters wirelessly, in the presence of the object. I am also interested in the ways that programming and the Internet can function as time-sensitive channels of dialogue with participants.

The trick to all of this, if one cares to involve other humans, is for the art thing to be engaging and accessible.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Response: Intro to Semiotics

Our class readings:
this is not a pipe by tom streeter
semiotics for beginners by daniel chandler

Semiotics is such a buzz word that I have picked up its meaning through context, or in examinations of specific semiotics-based work, such as the work of Martha Rosler. It was interesting to have it spelled out. A cultural anthropology teacher I once had said that what differentiated humans from animals was symbolic thought. In that context, semiotics is the study of what allows for all culture.

Syntagmatic relations, or creating meaning by sequence or order of signs is where it starts to get interesting: the forming of time-based constellations of meaning are the basis of all narratives and prose.

Streeter focuses largely on media and advertising, which is a great place to start deconstructing codes and ideology, but that's kind of obvious, as in, most of us have been exposed to those deconstructions, of gender in the media for example. What I am more interested in is the "shared expectations and interpretive frameworks" those codes engender.

Similarly, I appreciated what Chandler had to say about use of medium and bricolage, or creating as a 'dialogue with the materials and means of execution.' Which is generally my artistic approach to projects, but which he used to address the idea of "the medium is the message."

My overall impression of this is the infinite capacity of knowledge. Of knowledge of knowledge. Meta is possible to the nth. Definitions of significance lead to definitions of signs lead to taxonomies of signs which are analyzed for conventions of organization, which can be separated into "semiospheres" of time and place. Better to stop now and get a beer.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Improbable Monument: First thoughts.

The final project for my Conceptual Strategies class is to write a proposal for an improbable monument. We don't have to make anything, we just have to make something up and thoroughly articulate it.
In brainstorming for this project my thinking has been mostly abstract, making inventories of all the ways a monument can be improbable: its material, location, significance, its method/relational approach.
I am especially attracted to the idea of ephemeral monuments, which have a poignancy that bronze cannot contain. I have been thinking about scale. When we say monumental we generally mean something huge, which dwarfs us, perhaps reminding us of our insignificance, but generally so huge that it cannot be ignored. The Eiffel tower is monumental, but lends its incredible height to whoever cares to go up it.
If we have monuments mostly to remember and celebrate things, isn't it important to remember to laugh or dream or eat cookies? A monument to the future would probably be funny to our grandchildren.

Three specific ideas:
Tower of balloons: a monument to our collective hopes and dreams.
Individuals will assemble and each fill a balloon with helium and add it to the base of the tower, which will grow into the heavens with each addition.

The threaded snake which moves through space unbounded. This is the part where I am not limited by material concerns: A monumental pedestrian tunnel would go all around the city, snaking up over things and under ground, side to side and up and down, through the water and the tree tops and right through buildings. It would be elegantly engineered in the geometrical snakeskin style of Olafur Eliasson. This would be a monument to human imagination and creativity, a monument that is many places.

The monumental television. Televisions mostly function as a substitute for direct human contact, but a giant television, done in classic monument style in white marble would make an excellent giant projection screen, perhaps near a park.