Brandon Morse, Static @ Connor Contemporary
Brandon Morse’s installation of system-derived video work was an aesthetic treat. The systems driving the generation of these videos create nearly biological rhythms that can’t help but enthrall the viewer, despite their basic visual simplicity.
Static in this sense can refer to a few different coexisting ideas in this work – static in the variant sense that, while the videos are not directed in the orchestral sense, they are nonetheless frozen for viewing – come back a day later and the same futile affectations will be made by that little dot at (315, 213) as it angles towards (314, 212). Static in the sense that it’s a black and white issue. Static in that they’re equally trapped in their respective placements in the installation.
My two primary sticking points were purely technical, and most likely noticed by almost no one. In Spinnaker, the mass of unwoven lines at the bottom of the projection flickers as polygons are culled from the viewspace, creating a noticeable change in the mass. Due to their piling up in the first place, this seems a purely technical issue and distracts because of it. In the pieces presented on monitors, the video compression of DVDs causes artifacts of color on the black and white image that, while also only noticeable to the excessively pedantic, do create a complete change in the way the video is read, once noticed. While one piece (the hairlike wisps undulating across the screen) seems to be improved because of the hidden color bands the compression creates, for the most part it’s a distraction.
Mark Amerika’s talk on his digital work was at the same time new and yet old to me. Having come from a technology background prior to my entering the world of “high” art, the ideas manifested in his work felt familiar to me as something particularly comfortable to consider – that comfort being rooted in the dictums of neo-whatever, generation 0x00, digital/virtual/simulated life that drive counter-culture techie life. Not that that’s a bad thing – science fiction, cyberpunk, horrific visions of future society devolvement – I love that stuff.
Nonetheless, the usual conflict in addressing these topics as new media art is the moving target of – what part is art, what part is technology? I don’t mean to say that the distinction between the two must exist or should exist, but that the use of technology continues to present the problem of integration – does the use support the work, or enhance it BEYOND the shock and awe factor of technology?
To use the online distribution of ebooks as an example – is there really merit in crediting ebooks as being spectacularly beyond the printed word when for the most part – projects like Amerika’s Grammatron aside – ebooks are simply a PDF copy of a book put online? Contrarily of course, one could say coveting the printed copy is it’s own type of shock and awe used for publishing, but visuals aside the utilitarian aspects of having a physical copy to read are tremendous. It then comes down to ebooks being primarily a social and commercial contradiction to established publication chains, which for the most part is a wholly different issue than the books themselves address. Wonderful for it to be addressed and dissemination of ideas to be engendered like this, but rarely of artistic import.
The digital persona, then, is like the ebook – on a surface a disjointed jump in evolution, but subsurface, outliers aside, a retread of visited ideas. My views may seem jaded but being of an age and background that I held similar views growing up as regards technology, I feel to an extent privileged to hold that position because of my personal involvement. The digital persona continues to be, in the majority of cases, a vicarious dilettante of pseudo-expression.
(Note that these opinions are not directed at Mark Amerika’s work as written, but are a general thinking on work of the genre.
Remaining blogs will be posted by noon today.
Reading Assignment: Fantasy Beyond Control
Lynn Hershman's essay ("Fantasy Beyond Control") poses interesting comments regarding the value of viewer-driven, interactive pieces - particularly in the form of video where playback and sequencing is affected by viewer decisions.
The following notable points occured to me while reading the essay:
- At what point does viewer-driven work go beyond the assignation of control from artist to audience to substantially become a tool for escapism in the audience?
- Does interactivity change the action of a piece significantly from sequential presentation when there's still an underlying rhetoric to the piece?
- What is the true value of virtual reality?
Addressing the first point.... To what end does art in general fulfill the role of escapism? Balancing the demonstrative values of art to influence audience towards the artist's end versus satisfying a presumed void which that artwork fills in the audience, is there a clear line between the two? If the desired purpose is to give freedom to the audience, should we give more credence to pieces presented in a decidedly artworld context - such as Hershman's pieces - versus the countless people who are addicted to games like The Sims or Everquest? Going with Hershman's thoughts, one might make the distinction that pieces such as hers operate differently because the interactivity is an exercise in shifted perceptions on the part of the audience, but is that collateral purpose overriden by the direct (or indirect) content of the piece? On a higher level one might say the heightening of perception is a sublimated effect of the interaction, but what significantly differs in that from the changes in perception experienced by people addicted to mass role playing games such as the ones previously mentioned? The high minded view of contextual associations increasing the value of the interaction in Hershman's pieces seems elitist, to put it one way - though the time lapse between her work and computer simulations does give the aura of validity.
The question of interaction's value versus sequential timing opens a rather large can of worms. To analyze just one example cited in Hershman's writing: "Whilst the Demon and Zen Master are played by the same actor, indicating different aspects of our personalities, suggesting that the same even can appear frightening or enlightening, depending upon its context." To extrapolate the message Hershman points out here, is interaction truly necessary? Despite the use of nonsequential access of the images she presents in the piece, does the value of perception increase significantly in making these comparisons when the images given in the piece are necessarily canned previous to viewing? Could alternative presentation methods create the same effect
So, does virtual reality play a truly valuable role in life beyond escapism? The notion that it increases perception is one potential bonus, but does that perception shift translate to real-world changes in the viewer's actions or is the divide too clear between reality and virtual reality, causing the viewer to inherently regard them as different systems? If "[p]erceptions become the key to reality," does perceiving virtual reality truly improve our real world perception? The reality of addiction to immersive, real time computer games suggests that to some extent the boundary can become blurred for many people, unfortunately in favor of virtual reality in some cases - is the difference between the two at the same time both too similar and too distinct? The countless science fiction books that speculate on the matter tend to paint an unpleasant theory of the matter (Dick especially, Noon, Gibson, others). Is interactivity so tempting because it's so dangerous to us?
Cycling74 Artist Interviews
First off: I'm inherently very wary of any kind of "interview" hosted by a software company that has things like "testimonial" in the URL to the video clips, as the three "interviews" of artists using Max/MSP/Jitter on Cycling '74's website do. Furthermore, it only reinforces that bias towards skepticism when the interviewees use phrases like "cultural heroes" to describe the programmers of the software.
That said, it highlights the main problems with the interviews with David Tinapple (video manipulation), Barney Haynes, (machine control), and Ali Momeni (sensor interfaces). Their work is very lightly described beyond what's understandable from the video clips - the "interviews" are predominantly just marketing shill for "look at the crazy things you can do with Max - we're all over the board here." Not that this is a surprising or unwarranted thing considering what the real purpose is for the video clips - to sell Max based on the wide range of things it can process or be connected to. The problem is that it would be much more interesting to see what the actual approaches are that the three interviewees take towards doing something with Max that produces a valued result and is enhanced by using Max, and is not otherwise accomplishable.
David Tinapple's use of Max for video manipulation was certainly atypical of traditional video editing, yet I don't find that his slit scanning recombinant video work is particularly interesting or thought provoking beyond facile reads of unexpected visual interest. How does the horizontal scanning of images particularly relate to the audience's read? In addition, the use of Max as a feeder for Final Cut Pro, while technically interesting for automation, isn't particularly astounding - the same thing could easily be accomplished through a direct visual scan and cropping of the video first hand.
While Barney Haynes' odd contraptions of mechanical and electronic assemblage look fascinating, I was left totally clueless as to what the purpose of any of it was. I'm sure from the look of things that he's doing work using Max that is pretty tightly integrated between real world objects and real world feedback, but I don't have the slightest idea what any of it is, and how much of the interest to the work should be ascribed to the use of Max and how much to his engineering skills. Fairly disappointing.
Ali Momeni's haptic interfaces to Max are interesting again from a technical standpoint. With the exception of the touchscreen sequencer, however, most of the devices seemed to be pretty straightforward inputs with generic data drivers that, while Max may use more liberally than other programs, could be feeding data to a wide variety of programs. Though the sequencer seems like it would be a fun toy, I again was left wondering what the value was in having such a device - sequencers already exist, and what is the driving force for wanting little frictionally affected objects that make noises?
Nam Jun Paik (1932-2005)
For anyone who didn't see... Nam Jun Paik died Sunday. Write-up at: Art Obituary, New York Times (1/31/2006)
In December I had the chance to see one of his pieces (One Candle) at the Palazzo delle Papesse's "Guardami, Percezione del video" show... a single lit candle in a dark room filmed in real time and projected wall size with multiple projectors to create a bizarre, super kaleidoscopic refraction of reds, greens and blues that still managed to give a rather sublime feeling to the viewer.