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.
I'm just back from the Galleria Franco Soffiantino in Turin where i saw a pretty amazing creepy thought-provoking drama by Melanie Gilligan, an artist whose previous 4 part video Crisis in the Credit System received much attention back in 2008. I've just discovered that the 5 episodes of Popular Unrest are available online too. I wish i'd known before because the screening at the Turin gallery was as uncomfortable as humanly possible.
Popular Unrest is set in a fictional future that looks very much like today's London. The drama explores a world in which the self is reduced to physical biology, directly subject to the needs of capital. All exchange transactions and social interactions are overseen by a system called 'the Spirit'. Hotels offer bed-warming servants with every room, people are fined for not preventing foreseeable illness, weight watching foods eat the digester from the inside and the unemployed repay their debt to society in physical energy.
The film starts at the moment when things start to go wrong in the world that was so far impeccably controlled by 'The Spirit.' Unexplained killings are taking place across the globe. Sometimes the assailant strikes in public but no one has ever seen it/him. Just as mysteriously, groups of unrelated people are suddenly coming together everywhere, forming groups that are becoming bigger by the day. They feel a deep and inexplicable sense of connection to one another.
Shot in London with a cast of twelve main actors, the film is inspired by the current state of politics, technology as well as public debates about privacy, capitalism and societal organization. Popular Unrest owes also a lot to David Cronenberg's 'body horror' and American television dramas CSI, Dexter and Bones, where reality is perceived through a pornographic forensics of empirical and visceral phenomena.
If you have to see one exhibition in London...
Let it be whiteonwhite:algorithmicthriller at Haunch of Venison. Bonus! You can then climb up the stairs and see Places,strange and quiet, some 40 large-scale and spectacular photos that filmmaker Wim Wenders shot between 1983 and 2011.
The exhibition by artist Eve Sussman and Rufus Corporation centers around whiteonwhite:algorithmicnoir a thriller/scifi movie that follows a geophysicist code writer stuck in a futuristic, cold and unwelcoming city.
If you're afraid of experimental fiction (i know i am), this film should win you over. whiteonwhite:algorithmicnoir runs endlessly, editing live in real time, with no beginning, middle or end, never repeating the same way twice. The movie is so extraordinarily beautiful and puzzling that i will go back and see it today, tomorrow again and probably over the weekend as well.
A level of control is granted to a computer software that edits the film in real time, live as you are sitting in the screening room. The machine culls scenes from a server loaded with 2637 video clips, creating suspense through unexpected juxtapositions. The implied narrative is communicated through voiceovers, wire tapped telephone conversations and snippets of a job interview between Mr. Holz and his prospective employer, Mr. White. It becomes evident that the character is controlled by a city and the code he is working on, as the course of the story is controlled by the code that edits the film.
whiteonwhite:algorithmicnoir was created on an "expedition to unravel utopian promise" with a small crew, one American actor and local actors hired en route. The fictional location is named - in a nod to Godard's 1965 science fiction film Alphaville - City-A. The place is a fusion of many places (mostly Soviet era (dys)utopian cities) encountered during the artists' journey in European Eastern countries.
This improvised film noir is accompanied by where the future throws a shadow over the land, a series of photographs shot by Simon Lee during production of whiteonwhite. These photos exemplify the idea of 'archival footage from the future' and contain a sense of time speeding by, as the impending future - implied through a contradictory metaphor of darkness as the past blows out to white - throws a shadow over the land.
Laboral Centro de Arte y Creación Industrial in Gijón, Spain, is going to celebrate its 4th birthday this week. Since its opening, the art center has exhibited over 850 artworks, 108 of which were created by artists from the Asturian region. Quite an achievement for such a young institution. Over the years, Laboral had also become a trusted harbour for new media art works. The space's audacious programme gave artists working with new technologies the opportunity to exhibit their pieces in the best possible conditions and over a period of time that extends way beyond the one allocated by new media art festivals.
This doesn't seem to be the case anymore. I don't know how long Laboral's new love story with video art will last but judging from the delight of the crowd that came to the opening last week, the Laboral exhibition team is clearly onto something. I can't remember seeing visitors so charmed and fascinated by an exhibition. As much as it pains me to see that another door might be closing for new media art, i must admit that i completely share their enthusiasm for the show. Noches Electricas, featuring mostly videos, is one the most breath-taking and audacious i've seen so far in Gijón.
The title of the new exhibition, Electric Nights, is directly inspired by Les nuits électriques, a short film directed by Eugene Deslaw in 1928, in which city lights at night-time around European cities are presented like a fireworks show.
The similarity between fireworks and movies is at the very heart of this exhibition. Both are intermittent ephemeral projection of light in the darkness. Fireworks are yesterday's action movies. They used to last 90 minutes and their complex, narrative structures, often told a story of war and chaos upon which the hero would prevail.
The works selected come from the collection of the Centre Georges Pompidou. They include classic photographs, engravings, installations, contemporary videos as well as early experimental and scientific films.
Presented in open plan and conceived both as a parcours and as entertainment, like a classical exhibition, the show follows the principle of fireworks, alternating installations with projections. The moving images are presented on screens in different sizes and formats hanging at varying heights in the space.
Electric Nights attempts to recreate the magic of fireworks and movies through a use of the exhibition space that transcends the usual 'white box' set. In the main room, screens of various sizes are hung on the ceiling, inviting visitors to zigzag through the show but also to keep their head up as if they were attending a firework show. There is very little use of sound, everything is image, mind-blowing image.
Claude Closky's Brrraoumm video illustrates perfectly the spirit of the show. The artist has edited excerpts from films at the moment of the explosion -an obligatory scene of the big budget action movie- and presented them in loop. Each explosion leads silently to another one. Each conflagration annihilating any effect the other might have had.
Anthony McCall strips down the movie experience to the shaft of light from a projector that slices through the dark in a theater hall during screening. White beams of light are coming from the ceiling. Cutting through smoke, they are slowly - so slowly you might not even realize anything is happening - tracing shapes on the floor. The cones of light appear almost solid and tangible. Most visitors seemed to think twice before daring to get their body through the beam.
Curators Philippe-Alain Michaud and Benjamin Weil explained at the press conference that they had conceived the show as an explosion of images that needs little introduction. In fact, the only texts that the captions on the walls contain is the title of the artworks, the name of the artist, the media used and the date. Nothing else. I feel like i've already spoken too much so the rest of this post is going to follow Michaud's stripped-down tactic:
Also part of the exhibition: The Way Things Go.
PDF of the exhibition guide.
Electric Nights - Art and Pyrotechnic, an exhibition conceived by Centre national d'art et de Culture Georges Pompidou and coproduced by LABoral Centro de Arte y Creación Industrial, is open at Laboral Centro de Arte y Creación Industrial in Gijón, Spain, until September 12, 2011.
Last week, i was at Laboral Centro de Arte y Creación Industrial in Gijón for the opening of Electric Nights - Art and Pyrotechnic, an exhibition slash fireworks showcasing works from the collection of the Centre Georges Pompidou. My report is still in its draft stage but i thought i'd share with you the video that got visitors glued in front of a screen on the night of the opening.
Der Lauf der Dinge (The Way Things Go) is a 1987 film by Peter Fischli and David Weiss following a 30 minute long, uninterrupted chain of physical and chemical experiments. One explosion leads to a fire that heats up a teakettle until its steam whistle flies away and hits a bottle that falls and pour its content over a... It goes on and on. One chemical trigger leads to another or sparks a physical phenomenon. The film watches like a thriller (even if you've seen it twice already), every single step can go wrong.
The assembly of everyday objects is set in a warehouse, like a long Rube Goldberg machine.
Honda actually ran into a bit of trouble with a commercial that looked way too much like a polished version of The Way Things Go.
Riley showed me What It Is Without the Hand That Wields It, a piece which has been touring the festivals and exhibitions almost non-stop since 2008. I obviously felt deeply humiliated not to have come across it before.
What It Is Without the Hand That Wields It is one of those game-based pieces where the actions of online players have consequences on the physical space (see Domestic Tension for example or in a more imaginary way, John-Paul Bichard's Evidencia series.) It is also a work that is so simple and effective you wonder why no one thought about it before.
While exonemo's UN-DEAD-LINK translated digitized and symbolized death into the 'screaming' and motion of everyday devices, Riley Harmon went for the visceral and powerful experience. Each time a player dies in a game of Counter-strike, a popular online first person shooter, electronic solenoid valves open up and dispense a small amount of fake blood. The trails left down the wall create a physical manifestation of virtual kills, bridging the two realities. During the show's run players who have a copy of Counter-Strike can join the game and spill more blood over the walls and floor of the exhibition space:
The installation will be on view this Fall at Nikolaj, Copenhagen Contemporary Art Center. It will then travel to Istanbul, location TBA.
Don't miss Harmon's Passengers video series. Some are still works in progress, others are already on the homepage of his website. I laugh each time is see them. Laugh and feel uncomfortable too. The artist cut scenes from Hollywood movies, removed one of the two characters sitting in a car and took his place. Except that he's not participating in the dialogue nor displaying a facial expression that would match the scene in any way. Here's an example: