ASPECT Magazine releases periodically DVDs documenting works by 5-10 artists working in new or experimental media. The videos of the pieces can be viewed in their original version or accompanied by the audio commentary of an expert. The commentators usually start with a description of the work then they go deeper by bringing the work in the broader context of history/art history/history of technology, by revealing anecdotes about the career of the artist, by explaining the technological challenges of the work or highlighting the issues the artist wanted to raise.
This week, i've been watching Volume 16: Lo-tech and Volume 17: Hi-Tech. The first presents nine artists who work with basic, or in some cases antiquated technology. As its name indicates, its 'hi-tech' counterpart features ten artists working at the intersection of new ideas in art and technology.
There were only a few names that were familiar to me in Lo-tech and Hi-tech and that's good, i'm all for discovering new artists. One of the reasons of my ignorance might be that i tend to be a little too enwrapped in Europe and most of the artists and commentators in both volumes are North Americans (one notable exception is Arie Altena presenting with his delightful Dutch accent Marnix De Nijs's Beijing Accelerator.)
I'll just highlight a work that blew me away. Nikhil Murthy's video Two Crashes (1926/2007) juxtaposes special effects that were regarded as "high tech" at the beginning of the 20th century to what was considered "high tech" at the beginning of the 21st. The first film is Buster Keaton's The General (1926) that shows the most expensive stunt of the silent era: a real wood burning steam locomotive driven onto the burning bridge, where it collapses. The second scene shows the spectacular crash of a real Porsche Carerra GT in the film Redline (2007).
The artist slowed-down and sped-up the video extracts according to data from two notorious stock market crashes: the ones of 1929 and 2008. The two clips are then edited together by rapidly flashing between the two films. Because of their differing speeds different combinations are seen throughout the video. It is always the same scenes, there are only two of them, yet the construction of the ensemble is mesmerizing. What is most annoying however is that i can't find the video online, just the extract on ASPECT's website.
New media art can do with it as much introspection and analysis as it can get and ASPECT does that in a very approachable yet precise and professional way.
Image on the homepage: Stephen Vitiello, Something Like Fireworks, 2010.
It was time i'd interview Niklas Roy! Jonah Brucker-Cohen had a fantastic talk with him for gizmodo but that was 4 years ago. And there are video portraits about Niklas Roy online but there are in a language i can't quite master. Niklas is one of the most facetious characters of the 'new media art' world. His dance machine without 'annoying Dj", moving curtain, 'distributed' fountains, white cube gallery in a box, physical teapot inside a Commodore cabinet or his electromechanical version of the game Pong are certainly witty, absurd and at times, even hilarious. But don't let the jesting fool you. Behind the playfulness of Roy's machines, lay much irony and lucidity about the world of art & tech he belongs to.
Hi, Niklas! Why do you feel the need to invent 'useless things'?
Well, I guess that engineers and designers which usually invent machines and devices mainly do that in order to solve a problem with their inventions. Or they want to make an existing process more efficient with the help of technology. But such efficiency-driven approaches exclude a vast field of possible inventions. I find it very interesting to explore this field as it promises to be very free.
Do you really believe that your works are useless?
Somehow, my creations often end up in art exhibitions. So the question is, how useless is art? I strongly believe that art is useful for the health of society in some sort of balancing way. From that point of view, my machines might be a bit useful.
It is a bit daunting to interview you. I'm not sure i can trust any of your answers. Especially after having had a look at the WIA < > WIA project for which a fictitious African artist set up an installation that consisted of a public toilet in Linz, that appeared to be hooked up via Internet to an African village's well. Why did you chose to trick ars electronica? Was it really a spoof? Surely they must have known there was something fishy in the work?
Ars Electronica is the leading Media Arts institution. Their pole position makes them define trends and create hypes. Unfortunately, I often cannot agree to those hypes - which feeds the rebel in me.
Melissa's - let's call it 'performance' - started when Ars Electronica released a 'call for proposals' for an exhibition as part of Linz' culture capital program. This open call was more or less a very clear wish list of what they'd like to show. This open call would have made a good briefing for companies which focus on designing interactive installations. But it was not suitable to address artists which should stimulate the society by expressing their own positions. My application as African artist Melissa Fatoumata Touré began as a little fun experiment. I submitted precisely what Ars Electronica asked for and spiced it up with some toilet humour. I wanted to know how they'd react to such a rather ridiculous submission. It worked out far better than I thought: As I heard later, Melissa's toilet project was the first that got accepted by the jury - and they were even a bit sad that the other submissions didn't even come close to the 'quality' of Melissas proposal. Well, this is what the jury said.
To answer your last two questions: As far as I know, the organizers really had no clue what was going on until Melissa presented her work via Skype and with a live video broadcast from her uncle's internetcafé in Africa. That happened about three weeks after the opening of the exhibition, as far as I remember. But you should not forget that they've never seen Melissa before this presentation. It was all organized just via email and phone calls. There was a lot of imagination involved. On both sides actually: I also could just imagine what the organizers in Linz would think about Melissa. And during the long process of preparing the exhibition and the installation, I often had the feeling that Ars Electronica wouldn't believe Melissa's identity anymore and that they're already playing with me.
I like your explanation of why Melissa is 'the perfect dream of every new media curator.' And i couldn't help but smirk at 'her ideas are distilled media art mainstream.' Could you elaborate on this? What are 'distilled media art mainstream' ideas? Do i perceive a certain disenchantment/fatigue with media art theories and ideas? Or am i completely wrong?
I'm not even sure if ideas and theory play such a big role if you want to become successful in this field. Here are some simple lessons that I've learned so far:
1st: Don't be an artist. You should be an architect or have a background in biology, or something else more or less unrelated. Melissa was actually a computer scientist. Talking about Melissa: Your gender also plays a role. Being a woman beats being a man, as women are extremely underrepresented in this field.
2nd: No matter what you're really up to, I can recommend you to also make some experimental electronic music. This adds an interesting layer to your personality. Your level of musicality doesn't matter as that's the point where the experimental part starts.
3rd: Buzzwords and -topics are your friends and your source of inspiration. You might consider to become active in the fields of biotech, sustainability or, of course, Facebook.
You explain that you created the Vektron modular because sometimes you need to listen to some strange zoundz. That sounds (to me at least) like a lot of work just for the sake of listening to some strange zoundz. I was wondering how often you create a work just for your own amusement. How much are you influenced by the possible feedback from public, the future reaction of the audience during the creative process? Do you give it much importance when you are developing a new work?
Building this synthesizer was actually an attempt to add an interesting layer to my personality. But I didn't want to write it so clear on my webpage, as this would have caused the reverse effect. Ok, now serious: I regard the development of things like this experimental Synthesizer as both, spare time fun and hands on research. I do that as often as possible as it often leads me to new ideas. The hard thing is actually to organize life an a way that you have so much spare time where you can work really free.
I was very impressed by the little video documenting the Reinventing Television workshop you headed a the Valand Art School in Gothenburg. Can you take us through a couple of projects that turned old tv sets into 'storytelling machines'?
This was really a nice workshop. Anna Kindvall, one of the directors of Malmö's Electrohype biennial was teacher there at that time and invited me. The idea was to take old TV's and build new machines inside or with them. I often built TV's out of cardboard boxes when I was a child and don't get me wrong, now, but I think when something was a lot of fun to do in childhood, it's always nice to make the same things with art students.
My Little Piece of Privacy is a curtain that moves along your studio window to protect you from the gaze of passersby and achieves precisely the opposite. I have the feeling that it is also the kind of idea that the 'creatives' in advertising and communication agencies would love to steal for their clients. Has anything like that ever happened to you? Have people from advertising ever approached you with a request to adapt one of your projects for their client? Is it something you'd be happy to do?
This installation is indeed an amazing attention-magnet. But the installation makes so much sense because it is just about a little hyperactive curtain. If the curtain would be replaced by a moving advertisement, it would be just poor. Maybe the 'creatives' which wanted to steal the idea also realized that. At least they didn't contact me and I haven't heard of any spin-offs, yet.
I guess the previous question calls for the upcoming one: The first time i saw your work was at Transmediale where you were showing Pongmechanik. You were still a student at the udk in Berlin at the time. As far as i can see you're still a happy independent artist doing exactly what takes his fancy. How do you do that? Do you have any advice for talented media art students who would like to actually have a career as media artist and not as 'creative' doing websites for an 'interactive design' company?
I think I answered that already in two different ways: My personal trick is mainly to organize life in a way that I have a lot of time (and at least enough money) to work on things that I find interesting. Working in a company will not really help, as this takes too much time.
How did you start being involved in media art? What attracted you in this field?
It was actually many years ago, when a friend took me for my first time to the Transmediale. I was working in the film business at that time, creating visual effects for feature films. This Transmediale visit caused two things: On the one hand, I've never seen so many interesting installations at one place before. I loved the way how technology was used in this very creative way. And on the other hand, I saw that there's plenty of space to make even more interesting things with technology. That's why I started to get involved in this field.
I saw the International Dance Party once in an exhibition in Amsterdam. i was alone in the room and could afford to throw away any kind of inhibition. But you must have witnessed the effect it has on a group of people. How do people react to it usually? Are they very self-conscious? Or rather extrovert?
Like the curtain, the IDP works amazingly well. But of course, there's a little bit of chain reaction involved. If one person starts to dance, it doesn't take long until the whole room takes off. The sad thing about this is, that I really like how the machine opens and closes and how it transforms its shape. People which are just dancing don't recognize that, as the installation always stays in full party mode. If that's the case, I sometimes try to convince the people to stop dancing. First they don't approve my suggestion, but if they do, they love the installation even more afterwards.
Has anyone ever bought the Beginner Set "Junior IDP"?
That's my main income!
Any upcoming project or exhibition that you'd like to share with us?
Yes, there's this exhibition in Barcelona's DHUB opening soon. The vernissage is on June 21st.
And then, there's another exhibition, called 'Paranoia' which is still going on in Lille's Gare St. Sauveur. Charles Carcopino curated this really great show. I can 100% recommend it and it's still running until 15th of August.
Photography used on the homepage is by Martin W. Maier.
One thing that has puzzled me for years is the passion some people profess for the Louis Vuitton monogram. It's not that it's unsightly, it's just that the reason why some girls ruin themselves for the joy of sporting that insipid brown thing on their arm is beyond me. That prejudice against the brand has held me back from visiting the Espace culturel Louis Vuitton each time i was in Paris. I went a couple of times to the Fondation Cartier and to the Fondazione Prada in Milan but i couldn't get past the name of the Espace Culturel. Until last week when i decided that it was only fair to get rid of my narrow-mindedness.
It didn't start so well. I wasn't allowed to take any photo, not even of the artworks i had copiously photographed in other venues. When i asked why i wasn't allowed to take photos i was told "Because it's not allowed." The exhibition itself, however, made much more sense than the answer i had just received. The artworks selected makes you bounce from the poetical to the humorous to the downright dangerous. Plus, the LV cultural center team hands out hard cover catalogues of the show like other distribute b&w copies of press releases.
"Somewhere Else" showcases the work of eighteen artists for whom expeditions are the starting point of artistic endeavours.
Some try to relocate their creation in order to define them separately, some work on work installations while some others produce their creations outside of its conventional environment. Such undertakings have, in fact, led to a new artistic movement which is primarily based on encounters with new spaces and other human beings.
The title of the work that Joanna Malinowska presents in the gallery directly refers to Ader's last performance. In Search of the Miraculous, Continued.../part II is a continuous video shot of a solar-powered boombox playing Glen Gould's recording of Bach's 'Goldberg Variations'. The equipment was abandoned in the Canadian tundra, its sound fading in the wind. Notes of Bach and Gould might be forever audible if the installation survives storm, snow and winds. But this, of course, would be truly miraculous.
Fabrice Langlade was showing the plans and model of a porcelain bridge he hopes to build one day on the steppe of Mongolia.
Fernando Prats, who will represent Chile at this year's Venice Art Biennial, celebrates the expressive work of the physical elements. Sometimes he's there to nudge and help natural elements. Other times, such as in Acción Chaitén, he merely records the result of nature's endeavors. Acción Chaitén documents the destruction wrought by the Chilean volcano which, when it erupted in 2008, covered an entire region in ash.
Despite his wide notoriety, i confess that i had never heard of Marc Horowitz before. But did he make me laugh! In 2005, while working on a catalog shoot for Crate and Barrel, he managed to sneak in the words "dinner w/ marc 510-872-7326" on one of the pages of the catalog. The catalog was distributed, he lost his job but received more than 30,000 phone calls. He spent the following year driving across the country and having dinner with individuals he had never met. He documented "The National Dinner Tour" in charming pictures and blog posts.
The Marc Horowitz Signature Series is a set of 19 performances aimed at 'improving' the lives of the citizens he encountered. He planted an "Anonymous Semi-nudist Colony" in Nampa, Idaho, inviting passersby to shed some pieces of clothing and bounce around a park with him. In Craig, Colorado, he enticed people to bury their problems in a park plot. My favourite is the video he shot in Walsenburg, Colorado where he reenacted the techno viking dance session in a junkyard.
For Horizon moins 20, Laurent Tixador & Abraham Poincheval spent 20 days digging an underground tunnel in Murcia, Spain. They advanced one metre a day and sealed it up behind themselves as they went. Like moles.
Other artistic expeditions: Rentyhorn, making the legacy of colonialism visible, The Spice Trade Expedition - In pursuit of artificial flavoring, Biorama 2: the Moon Goose Experiment, Interview with Ulla Taipale from Capsula.
I had never heard of Laurent Montaron before last week. I was preparing a trip to Paris and going through the list of exhibitions open when i stumbled upon a small photo of a Catholic saint and, far more interestingly i should say, a press release that mentioned the artist's interest in the history of media from the appearance of mechanical modes of representation in the late 19th century up to today's different digital forms.
Off i was to see Montaron's solo show at the galerie schleicher+lange. The exhibition is small with only three pieces, each of them strong, perplexing and unlike anything i've seen anywhere else recently.
Phoenix awaits the visitor right as they step into the gallery. An antique Phénix, a wax-cylinder phonograph launched in 1902 by French mail-order company Maleville, is laying on a wooden stage. Someone has to come and activate the phonograph for you. During a few minutes, the time it takes for the needle to go from one end of the cylinder to the other, one can hear the voice of a person speaking in tongues. No sense can be made of what is said in the recording.
When he patented the phonograph in 1877, Thomas A. Edison -who ironically was suffering from increasing deafness- wasn't thinking about musical recordings. He saw the invention as an instrument that would provide a kind of immortality by preserving the human voice well after the person had died. It was a 'machine to record the last words of the dying'.
"My intention," the artist has said in an interview with curator Daniel Baumann, "was not only to transform these questions about the advent of the media into images -- although I do believe that to some extent the questions are being asked in the same way today as they were a hundred years ago -- but also to make the experience of death part of the work. As in a number of my other works, the physical medium is wearing out as we listen and we're witnessing the death of the sound. In a way the viewer remains the sole repository of the memory of the work."
The second work in the exhibition, Lent portrait de Sainte Bernadette ("Slow Portrait of St Bernadette", 2011), is a slow-motion 16 mm film loop with the camera moving across the face of the saint.
Bernadette Soubirous was a miller's daughter who made the fortune of a small market town in the SW of France. In 1858, she reported apparitions of "a small young lady" and required that a chapel was built at the site of her visions. The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes is now a major place of Roman Catholic pilgrimage. It is said that after her death, Bernadette's body has shown no signs of decomposition.
The worked i found most amazing is Minolta Planetarium MS-15, a large-format photograph taken inside the planetarium in Memphis, in the United States. All one can see at first is a starry sky. After a while, the eye wanders and realizes that, in the foreground, there is the dark silhouette of the machine that projects the images of the stars inside the Planetarium.
These works subtly remind us that while technology has provided us with new means of perceiving and representing reality it has not necessarily brought us closer from 'the truth' for it has also given rise to new ways for questioning reality.
Laurent Montaron's work homes in on the paradoxes attendant on our awareness of modernity, and simultaneously on the tools that shape our representations, revealing the sometimes irrational element of belief involved.
The exhibition closes tomorrow. Make haste and visit the galerie schleicher+lange if you're in Paris this weekend.
Yesterday i spent a few hours in Florence to see Emerging Talents at Centre for Contemporary Culture Strozzina (CCCS). The exhibition brings the spotlight on 16 artists nominated to the 2011 Emerging Talents award, created by CCCS to identify, promote and support young Italian art.
The selected artists, aged between 25 and 35 years, are talented Italians whose work has found its way into galleries but has not yet won broad public recognition. I can't applaud enough the initiative, there are plenty of young Italian contemporary artists and most of them don't get half of the support they deserve.
The works on show are radically different from each other and i've discovered a few artists whose career i'm going to follow with much attention from now on. More about them soon. Today, i'm going to introduce the show with an artist many of you probably know.
A few years ago, Alberto Tadiello's work started touring the blogs. The dysfunctional and elegant music boxes of his EPROM piece proved popular with both the media art and the contemporary art world. Quite an achievement in itself.
The piece currently on view in Florence is directly inspired by early prototypes of sound weapons. As the artist explained to Italian mag arte e critica: I found a series of very suggestive images of some real "sound armies" set up by the Japanese army during the Second World War. They were like guns pointing to the sky, conceived for shooting down planes by using particular airwaves. Unlike current acoustic weapons, which are real weapons, those first prototypes have never been activated. Those images fascinated me a lot. This work probably still recalls these suggestions. It is a structure that juts out a lot from the wall, overhanging and conveying a sort of dangerousness. It produces a deep guttural sound and can be "exhibited" in every sense, both from a spatial and a sound viewpoint. It is fixed to and hanging on the wall and sound becomes a physical presence in movement able to sculpt the space.
Tadiello's version of the weapon looks down, it is dark, sleek, mysterious and looks like a commercial device (its name actually refers to an identification code for car horns.)
The "deep guttural sound is triggered by visitors as they draw near the sculpture. Just like the disconcerting noise of the Japanese weapons was engineered to unsettle the enemy, the sound of Tadiello's sculpture hits the visitor in the stomach, becoming a physical presence that shapes the space. Unfortunately or fortunately for me, the installation had been turned off yesterday afternoon which tells you how troubling the sound must have been for the employees who spend the whole day surveying the gallery.
Credit image on the homepage: Alberto Tadiello, E13 000625, 2010. Electric horns, pipes, cables, transformers, metal brackets, steel tie-rods, 60 x 150 x 110 cm. Courtesy T293, Naples.
The line-up of robots, sculptures and installations the New York artist and assistant professor at Union College summoned to his show is pretty impressive: there are suitcases maniacally monitoring the space, dysfunctional toys, a bird that talks in its dreams, people trying to jump the queue, Adam, Eve, even the Spaceman is there. Each of them provided me with the perfect excuse to ask Fernando to tell us about some of his latest pieces.
You currently have a solo show at Texas A&M University-Kingsville. Can you tell me how the exhibition came to be? Is this a solo show with a curator who selectioned existing pieces and commissioned new ones? Or were you the captain of the enterprise?
The story behind the exhibition starts five years ago while I was a graduate student at the Ohio State University. While there, I met Jesse De La Rosa, a gifted painter who is as passionate and crazy about making art as I am. We became fast friends, staying in contact over the years. Last year he approached me to put on an electronic art exhibition at Texas A&M University-Kingsville where he is an Assistant Professor of printmaking. He gave me complete freedom, with the condition that I would send him, in his words, "robots, robots, robots!" Beyond that, I could do whatever I like with the 3000 sq ft. Ben Bailey Art Gallery. Thanks again Jesse!
How come so many works of yours emerged this year? It's only March! Did you get a sudden burst of energy or were you working on the pieces for a long time? Do you see these pieces as a sole body of work or are they all individual and almost unrelated?
Last year was my first sabbatical from Union College, which allowed me lots of time to develop completely new work, travel, and participate in a couple of residencies. I designed the new work for the exhibition in Texas last year during my residencies at the Vermont Studio in Johnson, VT and the Takt Kunstprojektraum in Berlin, Germany. It was all finalized this year during the months of January and February.
I do see these new artworks as one body of work, though it isn't quite done yet. I have three other pieces in the studio that need to be completed and they are of the same vein. Though they do range slightly in conceptual models, I believe that all of this new work shares the same aesthetic in the use of materials, the technology within, and emphasis on minimalism. After these works are complete (by the end of the Summer), I'll be moving on to new ideas, which will involve creating robotic vessels and technological interfaces for the dead. Stay tuned!
I certainly shall. Let's start the tour of the Texas show with Corpus Callosum. What do the birds tell to each other exactly? Where do the words they tell each other come from? Why did you call the work Corpus Callosum?
The artwork Corpus Callosum was born from my research and interest in dreams. I like to believe that we are living two separate lives, one in the dream world, and one in the waking world. I find it fascinating that, for the most part, we forget about our waking-selves in our dreams and forget about our dream-selves in our waking-life. This maybe why we rarely understand our dreams. The narrative inside the dream world is as complex as the one in our waking world. If we could drop a person's consciousness randomly into another person's body for a couple hours, and then, after the fact, asked them what was going on in the life of the body they inhabited, I suspect they wouldn't have a clue what was taking place. They could probably only report bits and pieces of the entire narrative. Especially if all the rules of normal physics did not apply like in our dream universes.
I know the whole thing sounds crazy, I definitely concede that. But once you push through the ridiculous, there are some interesting questions and possibilities that surface. For me, one of the questions I kept returning to was what would our waking self and our dream self talk about if they could have a conversation. My response to this question was creating Corpus Callosum.
Corpus Callosum is the anatomical part of the brain that connects the left hemisphere with the right hemisphere. It is the information superhighway of our minds, pushing data back and forth. I thought that was a nice title to frame the premise of the piece.
The words that the birds speak to each other are a list of phrases I wrote. Each bird has about fifty phrases that it can randomly choose from. Some of the phrases yield specific behaviors and others do not (i.e. if a question comes up, the bird will face the other bird). The waking bird's dialogue is grounded in this world, based on the ego and focusing on daily issues relating to errands, anxiety, and other common real-world problems. The dream bird's phrases branch from the illogical; scenarios that might be found in dreams or are associated with the Id.
Paradiso, a piece where Adam, Eve and an astronaut face tiny tv screens, uses a database of character dialogue. And the result is pretty strange. Where does this database come from? What is the scenario in Paradiso? How did the spaceman come to find himself between Adam and Eve? What did you try to achieve/communicate with this work? I have even more questions but i guess it's better if i stop here!
Why did you stop?! More! More! More!
Paradiso stems from my childhood. As a toddler, I remember my mother telling me the story of Genesis, specifically the fable of paradise and the Garden of Eden. To a kid, with a hyperactive imagination, this story was really fun to entertain and explore. Amongst other things, what I wondered then, and still do now, is what Adam and Eve talked about before they were expelled from paradise.
At the same time, for a couple years, I have wanted to make a piece that generatively made a television show; specifically a reality television show. I'm not sure why, I guess I just thought it would be funny. In the story of paradise I discovered my reality-tv actors. In Adam's character I imagined the beta human, completely satisfied and accepting his surroundings, and yet, confused and bewildered by everything. With Eve I found the desperate scientist, thirsting for knowledge and answers to her endless stream of questions and criticism. Together I found them to be an interesting whole, comprised of what is in all of us.
Then there is the spaceman. The mysterious spaceman, who tries to relate, but is out of touch or perhaps too busy to really connect. Yet, he is completely enamored with both of them, always encouraging them to move forward, and helping in unrelated ways. With one unbending truth: his spacesuit is totally awesome.
I wrote a good portion of the dialogue for all three actors myself. The rest of it came from a brainstorming session with my wife, Melinda McDaniel, and four of our artist friends, Heather Willems, Seamus Liam O'Brien, Nora Herting, and Gregor Wynnyczuk. I asked them all, "What would Adam, Eve, and the Spaceman talk to each other about"? After a couple hours of deliberating, one or two bottles of wine, and some technology clarifications, we came up with a list of phrases. We then took turns acting out the scripts, embodying the characters, and noting if the phrases worked with each other. The exercise was great, allowing me to see the script live, much like a director of a television program does.
The whole thing is works using a Mac-mini, Processing, and some flavor of an Arduino. The computer program I wrote decides at random who will speak, what direction they will face, and what they will say. The resulting real-time show can only be described as surreal and a bit creepy. There are long moments in the show in which the doll's avatars sync up in dialogue perfectly. Much like dada poetry, they arrive at insightful windows into the nature of our relationship with one another, and, perhaps, with the spaceman who we may or may not branch from.
In the future, I plan on broadcasting the live video feed through the internet so people can tune in whenever they like. That will likely happen the next time I exhibit the work.
There's no description of The Little Houses and The Living on your website as i'm writing. They both look great. Really great (note that my enthusiasm is sincere.) I know you're busy updating the website but if you find time to tell me something about them i'd be very grateful....
The Living draws inspiration from Plato's Allegory of the Cave, which speaks of the nature of our perception and delusion with reality. The six large heads in this sculpture cannot look behind themselves. Speaking to each other with bursts of light emanating from their mouth, they can only look forward and side-to-side. The large light bulbs on their heads are symbolic of both their consciousness and the sun that blinds them from truth. The wheels that are fastened to their cribs allow them the potential to escape at any moment, and yet, they do not; they remain happily anxious in the bliss of ignorance.
In many ways, The Living is a sketch for a much larger piece I have planned. The subject matter of that future piece will be different, but the use of materials and stylization will likely remain the same. I also think that it is one of my first successful attempts at blending my painting imagery with my sculpture. If you ask me what my sculpture will look like in five years, I would point to this piece.
The Little Houses is a piece about the dwellings we all live in. In some ways it is a continuation of my piece 8520 S.W. 27th Pl.. We live out our lives in enclosed spaces, looking out through our windows and our doors and our peepholes and our video screens. Inside we live in separate but intertwined universes, completely aware that we are helplessly out of control. We distract ourselves just enough with different flavors of pleasure and erotica, so as not to be driven mad by the desperation of it all. Tomorrow, we fall away into our appointment with oblivion. We might as well tune in the Disney channel to pass the time. Again.
While clicking around your website i came upon Elevator's Music which isn't included in the exhibition at Texas A&M University in Kingsville, Texas but i'm still curious about it. I read on the project page that you installed the work in an elevator of the Tang Teaching Museum at Skidmore College. How did people react to the robots? Didn't they feel threatened? Did you have to warn elevator-goers of their presence or could you leave them the surprise? Btw, do they still put music in elevators? Or is this just a legend?
In Manhattan, a couple days ago, I saw a DJ playing records in an elevator, so yes, I think they still put music in elevators.
If I had it my way, I would embed robots in all of the elevators! I cannot think of a better place for a robot to live. There is a consistent source of power, the weather never changes, someone is always around to keep an eye on them, and they are far more entertaining than elevator musak. If any elevators out there want a robot, please send me an email. Long live the robots!
I have learned a couple things about installing robots in an elevator. First, I learned that a very small portion of the population is 100% not cool with hanging out in a small enclosed room with four curious robots. This same minority group did feel threatened, but only because they thought big brother was watching them (which he wasn't) or that laser beams were going to disintegrate them (which is crazy). I suspect that these are the same people who are afraid of spilling salt, breaking a mirror, or were very disappointed when they learned Santa Clause was not real.
On the other hand, I learned that most of the population is completely fascinated with robots in elevators, so much so that they tend not to leave the elevator. The people hangout in the elevator, riding along a couple times, until they realize they might be in the way. Perhaps the weirdest part about the whole ordeal is when you enter an occupied elevator at the ground floor and most of the previous passengers do not get out. For a moment, you find yourself wondering why this crowd is loitering inside, why they are all smiling staring at the ceiling, and why not one of them is pressing a button for a destination in the building. Of course, you immediately discover why that is, as those elevator doors slam home and the laser yielding robots emerge.
In our previous email conversation (if you don't mind me reproducing part of it here), when i told you how i felt that your work was not so much about technology anymore, it has its own sculptural quality. You answered that indeed your work had transitioned from tech objects to simply sculptures, that it had been a very conscious effort. Why this transition? Did it occur naturally or it part of a strategy?
I feel like I have done a lot of maturing in my romance with technology and art. When I first met technology, I was completely dumb struck: amazed at the magic and the endless possibility of its applications. I spent years in this infatuation, happy to only use technology for the sake of technology. An old acquaintance of mine called it "technomasturbation". In recent years I have become completely uninterested in this approach. In a way, the magic of technology has faded for me. Perhaps it is because I now feel comfortable using it in my art. Or maybe it is because the process isn't as important anymore. Regardless, what is surfacing now is much more of my classical training in art, with an emphasis on concept, form, material, and design. I like to think that my new work is no longer about advancing technology, using the latest greatest technologies, or discussing the theory. For me, it is now simply about poetry.
I have this theory: when artists first recognize that they can use digital technologies in their artwork (I include myself in this), almost all of them get seduced by this magical medium. They end up making artwork about technology itself, probably because learning the process is such an uphill battle, drawing skills from so many different non-art related disciplines. When they talk and write about the resulting art they have made, they usually focus on the fine details, embellishing on what it took to make the work, what makes it tick, and what special technology they used. Whatever concept they had takes a back seat to this conversation. I see this in my students over and over again. Even the most gifted students, who are well versed in conceptual art, buckle at the knees when they realize the potential of the medium. Soon they too are reinventing the drawing machine (to my credit, I did come up with a unique design for my drawing machine rerun), the super-cool-multi-touch data remix screen saver, or the custom built, Arduino driven, LED matrix display they could have just purchased.
However, this is a just a phase. Perhaps we can see this as the techno-puppy-love stage of electronic art. I think most artists who continue to use digital technologies in their artwork will eventually find their way to a comfort level with the medium. Once there, they can refocus their energy on the poetics and concepts of art, not the tools. Certainly you see this in the traditional mediums. When a painter first starts down his/her path, they usually lose themselves in the process, obsessed with the paints, the canvas, and that funny looking fan brush. Only after some practice and discovery do they arrive at more meaningful subjects.
I think this techno-puppy-love stage also goes for the audience of electronic art. Since the medium is very much in its infancy and many people still have trouble accepting Pop art, I can see why most of the questions are about how the thing works, not what it means. Asking what something means suggests it might be art. Asking how it works keeps it safe in gee-whiz gadget land.
With the audience the transition period from techno-puppy-love to a real relationship is much slower, probably because they aren't in the trenches with the tools. Perhaps this is why so many new media art fairs and conferences are still focused on showcasing the latest greatest technologies and less in the poetry found within it. Certainly that approach is a better marketing tool, considering that this technomasturbation is what the audience is thirsting for.
Fernando Orellana - At the Tone, Please Leave a Message is on view until April 1, 2011 at Texas A&M University-Kingsville.