Mishka Henner has a solo show at the Carroll/Fletcher gallery right now. How come i never paid more attention to his work so far? Just like Edward Burtynsky, he looks at how industries shape landscapes. Like Trevor Paglen and Omer Fast, he is interested in (overt and covert) sites that the U.S. military deploys outside of its own borders. Just like Michael Wolf and Jon Rafman, he is a photographer using google mapping instruments instead of a camera. Yet, comparing his work to the one of some of the artists i admire the most is pointless. Henner is his own man slash artist. He uses contemporary technology to give a new twist on artistic appropriation and redefines the role of the photographer, the meaning of the photography medium and the representation of the landscape. Without ever using a photo camera.
The Black Diamond exhibition brings together four series of work, based on the collection and mediation of publicly available information sourced through the internet. Henner explains: 'I'm exploiting loopholes in the vast archives of data, imagery and information that are now accessible to us, connecting the dots to reveal things that surround us but which we rarely see or don't want to see.'
Feedlots are cattle-feeding operations used in factory farming to 'finish off' livestock. Almost all the beef consumed in the United States will have been finished on a feedlot where up to 100,000 steers at a time spend the last months of their lives gaining up to 4 pounds a day on a diet of corn, protein supplements, and antibiotics. Everything on these farms is calculated to maximise meat yield; from the mixture in cattle's feed to the size of run-off channels carrying the animal's waste into giant toxic lagoons.
In certain parts of the USA, natural features have long been supplanted by man-made marks and structures reflecting the complex infrastructural logic of oil exploration, extraction and distribution. The result is stunning. The prints look fake, painted over and heavily retouched. The exhibition essay compares the images to the work of abstract expressionists.
Fifty-One US Military Outposts presents overt and covert military outposts used by the United States in 51 countries across the world. Once again, the sites were gathered and located using data which exists in the public domain, including official US military and veterans' websites, news articles, and both leaked and official government documents and reports.
"The internet is full of loopholes and leaks," the artist said. "I remember one day Hilary Clinton had categorically stated: 'we have no US military presence in Honduras.' However, the next day I was on Panoramio and was looking around pictures from Honduras - sure enough there was a photograph of a native Honduran worker with his arm around a sergeant major from the US cavalry regiment. The Honduran had even written to all his mates talking about how happy was to have got a job on this US military base. So the internet is full of these really simple leaks that completely contradict statements made by very powerful organisations."
The prints are displayed on plinths filling the rear gallery space, allowing visitors to walk around and watch the images from above, as if we were satellites. Or drones.
The walls of the space downstairs are covered with Henner's ongoing Scam Baiters series. Scam baiters are internet vigilantes who pose as a potential victims in order to waste scammer's time and potentially expose their identity,. They respond to their email, pretend to go along with the scammer's demands in exchange for time-consuming requests supposed to ensure that the money transaction will be successful. Henner is showing cardboard signs that various scammers were asked to make as a result of email conversations, negotiation of fraudulent documents and bogus websites. One case involved an almost four-month long correspondence between Henner's associate, 'Condo Rice' and a trio of scammers spread across Libya and the United Arab Emirates. In one of his final message, the scam baiter asks the scammer for proof of identity. He asks for a photo containing a U.S. flag held on a stick, a sign with SKAMMERZ ISHU, and 'to be absolutely certain this is a genuine photograph", the scammer has to wear an Obama mask.
Sound recordings of the scammers singing popular songs permeate the space.
Henner is currently shortlisted for Consumption, the Fifth Prix Pictet Award. The exhibition of finalists will be on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London in May 2014, where Henner will show a selection of works from his "Oil Fields" and "Feedlots" series.
In the early 1920s, painter and photographer László Moholy-Nagy started creating artworks through instructions he gave over the phone:
In 1922 I ordered by telephone from a sign factory five paintings in porcelain enamel. I had the factory's color chart before me and I sketched my paintings on graph paper. At the other end of the telephone the factory supervisor had the same kind of paper, divided into squares. He took down the dictated shapes in the correct position. (It was like playing chess by correspondence.) One of the pictures was delivered in three different sizes, so that I could study the subtle differences in the color relations caused by the enlargement and reduction. (via)
With this series of paintings, Moholy-Nagy presents the artist as a producer of ideas rather than objects.
Jamie Allen and Bernhard Garnicnig were inspired by Moholy-Nagy's telephone pictures. They are using the internet this time but also the gaps in communications that happen via electronic media. The title of the work itself is the result of a misunderstanding: Austrian artist Bernhard mis-hearing of the name Moholy-Nagy when it was pronounced with a Canadian accent by Jamie in a noisy pub in Northern England.
That's how Moholy-Nagy became My Holy Nacho. In this work in progress, a single object is traveling to manufacturers and workshops to have various physical fabrication 'processes' applied to it via online services. Each process is chosen, in secret and in turn, by the collaborating artists, Jamie Allen and Bernhard Garnicnig. After 10 processes, the final sculptural object -- whatever it turns out to look like -- will be exhibited, alongside the documentation of process and dialog with manufacturers and shipment companies.
The piece reveals the materiality of networks and the power of information infrastructures to enact physical change.
What exactly is it that happens when you click the 'submit' button on a browser? Will a factory worker be set to action in distant land? Will a power outage be caused in a small town near a datacenter? Will the global economies be affected? Will it make someone smile? Will a long-lost friend come and visit? There is so much power in the action of a 'click', to move people, money, mountains, art.
For MHN, a single object was sent to different manufacturers and workshops to have various 'processes' applied to it. Each process is chosen, in secret and in turn, by Jamie Allen and Bernhard Garnicnig. What is the object like now? And what did it look like at the beginning of the project? Did you chose that original object at least?
No one involved with initiating the project has much idea what the object is like right now, actually. What we think we need to know, but do not know and can not know, is one of the things we are learning about as we work on My Holy Nacho. The title, in fact comes from a moment of cracked communication between us, when we were tired, shiftless and in a noisy pub in the UK. I was attempting to say something smart about famed Bauhaus professor Moholy-Nagy, in mumbled north american English, to Bernhard. So Bernhard's misheard citation created this weird, divine mexican corn snack -- a stand in for all the things we think we know, but don't, in language, collaboration, fabrication and exhibition.
Anyway, the beginning of the project involved the selection of three objects by each artist, and the actual starting point was chosen by the project administrator, so neither Bernhard nor I know what the precise starting point was. In this aspect the work shows our love for Moholy-Nagy's telephone paintings, where he called in instructions to a sign fabricator of how to make one of his works. The starting point is more the entire framework and network of digitally-available, material-industrial, process available at the click of a mouse.
It's a work you developed almost completely in the dark and had no control over, right? So how can you say you collaborated on it once the idea of how the work would evolve was established? it could have been Jamie working with a random person met on the street or Bernhard with a random cat met on the same street?
There are inherent contradiction in trying to control any process. The more noise there is, in a sense, the more predictable something is: It will always be noise. And processes you think you have complete control over are always the ones that bite back hardest, generating more "WTF" moments and leaving people wondering how someone could not have understood something the way they do. So the process -- this kind of ping-pong of process selection that we have embarked on -- is in one sense highly specific, and in another sense entirely outside of our control.
Actual collaboration is in many ways impossible. Collaboration is more about the love of misunderstanding and the impossibility of knowing than most people think. It's not about feedback, but pushing each others ideas and intuitions forward, developing unique things together. Imagine two people cooking together, for example, discussing each condiment and about whether now is a good moment to stir -- that's not really how it works. Someone nudges ideas and materials this way or that, and then someone else comes along and nudges it some other way. That's just how bodies, brains and time work. So the "artwork" or object in My Holy Nacho is not what's being collaborated on, but there are ideas and processes set in motion, suggesting a whole bunch of gaps innate to (particularly digital) collaborations: The gap between actuality and language, the gap between idea and implementation, and the gap between people in collaboration. The work is "about" those gaps as much as anything else. And yes, we could each have collaborated with a random person on the street, but there seems to be something about our (Bernhard and I's) ways of communicating that lend themselves to productive misunderstandings.
The top entry of http://myholynacho.tumblr.com/ is legible but i don't understand a word of what comes below it. what are these texts? How were they generated?
We've been trying to develop ways of communicating a piece that essentially all process, without disclosing any information about the object or the processes. So one of the things you'll see on the project website is a realtime feed of messages sent between the administrator and the contractors, automatically garbled by a trivial word replacement algorithm that keeps us (amongst others) from understanding what's actually going on. There are also images that we come across in our research and other links, all designed to abstractly represent the potential transformations that an object can undergo via online order form, but without disclosing anything about what might be happening to the object, or what it might look like *right now*. We occasionally ask our administrator for a screenshot (appropriately sensored) of the building that the physical piece might find itself in, just to pique curiosity and emphasize where (not what) fabrication is taking place.
How did the manufacturers and workshops react to the instructions you sent? Did you document the exchange of messages?
All of the contact and coordination correspondence and ordering "paperwork" (it's all electronic) are part of the project. The whole archive (consisting of emails between the project administrator and industrial manufacturers and each of the artists communication with the administrator) will be included in exhibitions that take place once ten processes have been completed.
Our administrator reports that even though you would think that a project like this would generate questions and commentary from the people doing the various steps, that actually they're quite happy to participate, and interpret what must seem like a rather strange request however they see fit -- as long as they are paid as normal for these services. The details of how different people react is unknown to both of us, and they will see the documentation of these interactions at the opening of the upcoming exhibition, along with everyone else.
If i remember well, an 'administrator' was following the whole process and he/she was the only person who knew what was going on, is that correct? Was his/her role only one of control and management or did it go beyond that?
At the beginning of the project it became obvious that we'd need someone to move the project along, and keep anyone involved from knowing anything about the object or prior processes. We couldn't necessarily entrust the various manufacturers with shipping the object to the next stage, so our administrator is taking care of that. Beyond that the assistant also selected the initial object from the object each one of the artists proposed.
The role of the project administrator became essential rather early on, is to ensure that neither one of us is aware of the processes of the other, and that the processes are completed, the object shipped to the next location.
The project 'uses the gaps in communications via electronic media to create an artwork.' What characterize the gaps in communications via electronic media? How different are they from other gaps in communication?
The gaps we are looking at are inherent to an increasingly common, and particularly Internetty workflow. The process of the todays artistic practices of creating and exhibiting work globally involves a lot more email, digital document creating and coordination than people like to admit. So, as well as artistic reception occurring mostly online these days (trolling for images of artworks and exhibition photos on tumblr), works are also themselves also created at-a-distance: involving 'ordering', production processes, tools for fabrication. So the artistic medium actually looks more and more like an abstract software specification, where in some ways the artistic 'practice' is specification and coordination itself.
And, as mentioned this retains always a double-bind: Asking someone to perform what might seem highly specific actions (e.g.: coat this object with chrome) actually highlights the many, many potentials for ambiguity that exist. In a culture of technical documents, the assumptions and interpretations required become greater, not less, in many instances. My Holy Nacho tries to exacerbate the situation, maximizing and highlighting these "uhm what the fuck?" and "oh, you did it like THAT..." moments.
Artists like Takashi Murakami and Damien Hirst are famous for not painting or sculpting themselves, they have staff who do that following their instructions. Did you have in mind to do something similar, only pushed to the extreme?
These kinds of investor-artists were not really what we were thinking about at the outset, but of course when you highlight gaps between idea and realisation, you're also pointing out the people that exist at either end. Some person specifies, and some other person makes, according to specification. This is a power relation, as much as it is a kind and often generous relation of intense trust, endearment and mutual admiration. The artists you mention are notable partially because they frustrate certain romantic notions of the artist-as-artisan, but they are more of an effect of an industrialised potential than they are the cause of any particular creative or artistic impulse. There are very few things you cannot get made or done if you have the resources to pay for it. Without all the layers of standardization, specification and abstraction that industrial (and now digital and algorithmic) culture has allowed, phenomena like Murakami and Hirst could not exist. The kind of art they make is somewhat about this historical, and developmental, contingency, despite most people thinking its still about sculpture or objects or something. This is something My Holy Nacho shares with their work, I suppose.
But we are not trying to make the point that "artists should make their own work" by hand, or whatever, but that the perceived abstractions allowed for via the online culture make this action at a distance something we take for granted.
The agreed upon rules for the piece stipulate that the processes must be available via "online order." This sometimes devolves to coordinating via email, but the initial research and information about each process always takes place through web and online research. Otherwise the selection is completely up to us, individually, and something that gets even more meaning through its arbitrariness.
As we're not aware of the process that came before, we suppose that the processes will get ever-more ridiculous and hard to interpret. Amongst other things (the object will likely get larger in size, for example) the physical piece itself will gain a kind of troublesome complexity, there may be issues with chemical decomposition or temperature and structural integrity... as well as the more fundamental problems of someone we've ordered a process from understanding why any of this would be going on in the first place. On this point it should be said that oftentimes the manufacturers choose us, as we have compiled a much longer list of potential processes we want to have applied, but receive no replies from people who think the whole thing is a scam or something. But once they agree to it, the work seems to get done without too many questions, oddly enough.
Anything coming up for MHN?
In a few months, the finalised object will be shipped right to the gallery -- just in time for a vernissage, so we can involve the deliveryperson somewhat -- where we will stage an "unboxing" (inspired by this fantastically strange phenomenon of online unboxing videos people make after something gets delivered).
Right now the process, as a whole, is more or less at its middle stage and we're discussing different possible places for this unboxing ceremony to place in the Autumn of 2014. There's a main project site at http://myholynacho.net, and you can track progress and activity on the project tumblr at http://myholynacho.tumblr.com.
Thanks Jamie and Bernhard!
The new episode of #A.I.L - artists in laboratories, the weekly radio programme about art and science i present on Resonance104.4fm, London's favourite radio art station, is aired tomorrow Wednesday afternoon at 4pm.
My guest will be artist and 'videosmith' Sam Meech whose work explores the role of analogue technologies in a digital landscape, and the potential to fuse the two in production, projection and performance.
I discovered Sam's work in Liverpool a few weeks ago, it was part of Time & Motion: Redefining Working Life, an exhibition at FACT that explores how the working day has evolved from the industrial revolution to the digital age. Sam Meech has hung over the gallery a banner which translates into a knitting design the working hours patterns of people active in the 'creative industry' and they are, as you suspect, radically (depressingly??) different from the traditional 8 hour shift.
Sam is also a co-director of Re-Dock - a not-for-profit arts organisation, developing projects that explore ways in which communities relate to digital media, ideas and public space.
The new episode of #A.I.L - artists in laboratories, the weekly radio programme about art and science i present on Resonance104.4fm, London's favourite radio art station, is aired tomorrow Wednesday afternoon at 4pm.
My guest in the studio will be Matthew Plummer-Fernandez. The designer and artist gained fame recently when he released The Disarming Corruptor, a free encryption software application that scrambles 3D objects and allows authorized users to repair them with a key. Which means that we're going to talk about 3D-printed objects & the freedom but also the patent trolls and censorship that accompany them.
Plummer-Fernandez received his MA from the Royal College of Art in 2009, after a BEng in Computer-Aided Mechanical Engineering at Kings College London and an unfinished BA in Graphic Design from UCCA.
He is currently based in South East London, working in research at the Interaction Research Studio, Goldsmiths, University of London.
Plummer-Fernandez also runs the tumblr blog #algopop on algorithmic culture.
The radio show will be aired this Wednesday 12 February at 16:00, London time. Early risers can catch the repeat next Tuesday at 6.30 am. If you don't live in London, you can listen to the online stream or wait till we upload the episodes on soundcloud one day.
Finally! A few words about FACT's ongoing exhibition, Time & Motion: Redefining Working Life....
The title of the show is a direct reference to the Time & Motion Study, a method developed by Frederick Taylor (and later by Frank and Lillian Gilbreth) in the early 20th century to analyse work procedures and determine workers' optimal productivity standards.
By bringing side by side archive material and contemporary artworks to explore how the working day has evolved from the industrial revolution to the digital age, Time & Motion: Redefining Working Life makes it quite clear that a lot has changed since the days of the good mister Taylor. Digital technology has brought numerous work opportunities, but also new rhythms: work accompanies freelances and employees whether they're in an office, at home or in transit from one to the other and back. Some people juggle several jobs (no wonder at a time when a London flat earns more than a professional writer) and zero hour contracts are the ultimate expression of work 'flexibility'.
Our economy has changed too, it is now mostly characterized by services and knowledge (whether they are outsourced or crowdsourced) and mass consumption coexists with models in which we are both consumers and producers.
In this context, what remains of the Eight Hour Day movement preconized by social reformer Robert Owen in the first half of the 19th century? Is there a new definition of 'work life balance'?
Artists, along with anyone working in the cultural sector, have experienced this evolution of working standards perhaps more acutely than most people. It seemed thus natural that FACT, in collaboration with the Royal College of Art, would ask them to explore these questions. The result is timely, thought-provoking and at time, upsetting. Time & Motion will, i am sure, bring a new perspective on your working day.
I've actually already interviewed some of the artists in the show: last year, Revital Cohen and Tuur Van Balen told me about 75 Watt, an object for dancing in the factory line and last week, Oliver Walker explained his One Pound video installation.
Here's a couple of works i found equally interesting:
Sam Meech paid homage to the heritage of the local textile industry, whilst delineating contemporary working patterns in which digital technologies have enabled the blurring of work and private life.
Meech asked people working in the 'creative industry' to log their working hours on the project website. The data collected was compared to the traditional 8 hour shift and translated into a knitting pattern which was used to create a banner based on Owen's '8 hours labour, 8 hours recreation, 8 hours rest' slogan.
The banner was produced on a domestic knitting machine using a combination of digital imaging tools and traditional punchcard systems.
Between 1978 and 1986, Tehching Hsieh did a series of One Year Performances. He lived one year inside a cage, one year completely outdoors, one year tied to another person, one year without making, viewing, discussing, reading about, or in any other way participating in art (and as a consequence this last performance is barely documented.) A photo in the exhibition reminded us that in 1980-1981, the artist spent a whole year punching a workers' time clock in his studio every hour. This last endeavour involved never being able to sleep for more than one hour running or not being allowed to leave his house for longer than 60 minutes.
The Minimum Wage Machine allows visitors to work for minimum wage. Turning the crank will yield one penny every 5.7 seconds, for £6.31 an hour (UK minimum wage). If the participant stops turning the crank, they stop receiving money.
The process couldn't be more transparent: you turn a handle, a clock records your effort and penny fall down as a reward. Ultra simple and cynical!
In the future, I see possibility in a lot of these machines hooked into a grid, with people performing basic human labor for money, Fall-Conroy told Make magazine. Perhaps a new form of renewable energy generation? A new kind of supercomputer with thousands of people performing basic calculations at minimum wage "stations" across the world? Who knows?
Molleindustria's usual neat aesthetics casts a critical eye at the increasing popularity of online management games in which the user performs time-based tasks. The game examines the blurring of work and play and highlights the tensions between labour, automation, unemployment and repression.
Andrew Norman Wilson's short video Workers Leaving the Googleplex draws a direct parallel with what is regarded as the first real motion picture ever made: the Lumière brothers' silent film Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory. Wilson planted his camera in front of two Google locations in California to document the various levels of workers. It turns out that the possession of a badge of a certain colour dictates your place in the Google hierarchy and the amount of privileges you have access to. The artist manage to film very little as his efforts were stopped by Google security and resulted in the termination of his own employment at Google.
Adrian McEwen hacked an antique clock that used to regulate strict time management and remixed it with the retro mathematical Game of Life, created by John Horton Conway in 1970.
Each day a new game plays out, driven by the punch of the time clock. The mechanical action of the clock is combined with a computer which drives a nearby monitor - and also replayed on the LED screen at the front of the FACT building - to visualise the Game of Life grid and move it on a turn every time a timecard is stamped.
More images from the exhibition:
Gregory Barsamian's Die Falle (German for 'The Trap') is a zoetrope of a man's dream-time reality.
Electroboutique, iPaw. Video by FACT
Time & Motion: Redefining Working Life is at FACT in Liverpool until Sunday 9 March 2014. The catalogue of the exhibition contains a series of essays by artists and curators reflecting on topics that range from Video games and the Spirit of Capitalism by Paolo Pedercini to an essay by Harun Farocki examining the cinematographic representation of factory workers (get the Time & Motion: Redefining Working Life book on amazon UK and USA)
Publisher Black Dog Publishing writes: Art and the Internet is a much-needed visual survey of art influenced by, situated on and taking the subject of the internet over the last two and a half decades. From the early 1990s the internet has had multiple roles in art, not least in defining several new genres of practitioners, from early networked art to new forms of interactive and participatory works, but also because it is the great aggregator of all art, past and present. Art and the Internet examines the legacy of the internet on art, and, importantly, illuminates how artists and institutions are using it and why.
To be honest, my first reaction when faced with a book dealing with 'internet art' was akin to the cries uttered by a heretic about to find himself into the hands of Tomás de Torquemada (the only thing i can say in my defense is that my job exposes me to an awful amount of really bad online art.) In theory, i'm not a fan. However, a quick look in the book made me realize that i shouldn't be so hasty in my judgement. You see, internet art or net.or or web-based art or however you wish to call it is not monodimensional. It comes with depths and with as many opportunities for interpretations and distortions as its purely 'physical' equivalents. So yes, i was definitely not jumping for joy when i read the words 'art and the internet' but then i opened the pages and they were all there! JODI, Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries, Vuk Cosic (please bribe this man out of his art-retirement), Alexei Shulgin, etc. All of whom i believe are all quite genius. And then there's the new generation of artists, pranksters and activists who like you and i, probably spend far too much time on the internet but have the excuse of turning it into spectacular, thought-provoking or simply amusing works.
Art and the Internet opens with 3 essays. Nicholas Lambert explores how web-based art has been embraced (or rather not really embraced) by art galleries and institutions. Joanne McNeill looks at how moments of intimacy are shared via web cams. Domenico Quaranta takes a more historical approach to net.art and to its relationship with physical space. Each of these essays communicate splendidly the gaiety, wit, diversity and charm of art on the internet.
The book closes on interviews with Attila Fattori Franchini, LuckyPDF, Eva and Franco Mattes and Marisa Olson and on seminal texts about art and/in the internet by some of its most recognised rock stars: Alexei Shulgin, Miltos Manetas, Olia Lialina, John Perry Barlow, etc.
It often seems that internet has been created for the sole purpose of having people droll over cute cats and then stick their head into home appliances to recover from the emotion. Art and the Internet demonstrates not only that there's nothing wrong with that but also that internet art deserves a greater offline exposure.
Now for a couple of remarkable works i discovered or rediscovered in the book:
The very garish, very dazzling 60X1.com throws into a tumble dryer photos of political figures, pop culture icons and images found in cyberspace. The result is as user-unfriendly as possible: the domain name is not catchy, the file size are slow to appear on the screen (at least they were at the time) and it's a struggle to locate the word 'enter' that will lead you to the next page where another word 'enter' will be carefully hidden. After going through a series of splash pages, the visitor realizes that there is no destination to explore, that it's journey ends there as there is in fact no core content.
Directions to Last Visitor demonstrates how easy it is to geographically locate users through their IP address. Log on to the website and it will use the Google Maps API to show you the driving directions to the (physical) address of the last person who visited the website. The project makes you realize how simply typing an url can lead to further dissolution of your privacy.
I'm Unable to Fulfill Your Wish are 'dystopian visualizations' that use a computer program to streamline data from social networking websites and turn them into delicate, basic but also anonymous graph drawings.
Ultimately, the works highlight the inability of interfaces and other digital spaces to represent the complexity of everyday life and question whether technology and open data will ever achieve its utopian promise.
Glyphiti is composed by multiple, anonymous participants who edit a "drawing wall" collaboratively by working on one 32 x 32 pixel section at a time.
Clement Valla fortuitously discovered what he first thought were glitches on Google Earth images. However, these broken images are the result of a constantly of the constant and automated data collection handled by computer algorithms. In these "competing visual inputs", the 3D modellings of Earth's surfaces fail to align with the corresponding aerial photography.
Google Earth is a database disguised as a photographic representation. These uncanny images focus our attention on that process itself, and the network of algorithms, computers, storage systems, automated cameras, maps, pilots, engineers, photographers, surveyors and map-makers that generate them.
Aram Bartholl's iconic Map drags Google Maps red map marker into the street.
David Horvitz's Heads in Freezers is as simple as its title. People are invited to take a picture of their head in freezers. The twist is that they must tag it with "241543903" and uploaded it to social media sites.
Now a quick image search of the number 241543903 shows pages after pages of people shoving their heads into freezers.