P E R I M E N T A L
M E D I A
C. INTRODUCTION 08
P E G G Y G A L E > A N O P E N F I E L D : E X P E R I M E N TA L M E D I A
F E AT U R E S 14 21 38 48
T O M S H E R M A N > C U LT U R A L E N G I N E E R I N G N I C K Y H A M LY N > M E D I U M P R A C T I C E S K O N R A D B E C K E R > E X C E R P T S F R O M T H E S T R AT E G I C R E A L I T Y D I C T I O N A RY MICHAEL SNOW > ON MEDIUM SPECIFICITY
C H R I S T I N A B AT T L E > W O R D S AT I S S U E JEAN GAGNON > THE TIME OF THE AUDIOVISUAL AND
M U LT I M E D I A A R C H I V E JEAN GAGNON > LE TEMPS DES ARCHIVES AUDIOVISUELLES ET
M U LT I M É D I AT I Q U E S 70
C H R I S T O P H E R E A M O N > T H E C I N E M AT O G R A P H I C I N M U S E U M S PA C E S
P E T E R R I D E > E N T E R T H E G A L L E RY ELLE FLANDERS > FLIES IN THE OINTMENT
91 106 108
P E G G Y G A L E > Y V O N N E R A I N E R : W H E R E ' S T H E PA S S I O N ? M I K E H O O L B O O M > N O T E S O N AT T E N T I O N , P R O J E C T I O N , F O R E P L AY A N D
THE SECOND ENCOUNTER S H A I H E R E D I A > R E P O RT I N G F R O M “ T H E F I E L D ” : E X P E R I M E N TA I N D I A D AV I D T E H > A M O V I N G I M A G E T H AT C A N R E M E M B E R I T S PA S T L I V E S … DONT RHINE > THE SECOND ENCOUNTER: NOTES ON THE
P R O B L E M AT I C O F A RT A N D P O L I T I C A L P R A C T I C E S S T E V E N L O F T > W H O S E T E R R I T O RY ? I N D I A N S 2 . 0
V E R A F R E N K E L > C A P T U R E A N D L O S S : M E M O RY, M E D I A , A R C H I V E
PORTFOLIOS 33 75 119 128
MICHAEL SNOW > *CORPUS CALLOSUM D AV I D R O K E B Y > VA R I O U S P R O J E C T S SHAI HEREDIA + SHUMONA GOEL > I AM MICRO C H R I S T I N E D AV I S > S P L E N D O U R I N T H E G R A S S
C. COLUMN 171
I A N B A L F O U R > C H R I S M A R K E R ’ S O N LY M U S I C V I D E O ( A L M O S T, S T I L L )
C A O I M H E M O R G A N - F E I R > C A N A D I A N A RT I N T H E 1 9 6 0 S A N D 1 9 7 0 S
T H R O U G H T H E L E N S O F C O A C H H O U S E P R E S S , A RT G A L L E RY O F O N TA R I O L A U R A D I M A R C O > U N - H O M E - LY , O A K V I L L E G A L L E R I E S
L . S A S H A G O R A > Y I N K A S H O N I B A R E : E A RT H , W I N D , F I R E , A N D WAT E R ,
THE ISRAEL MUSEUM S A R A L . M A RT E L > T H E C R U E L R A D I A N C E : P H O T O G R A P H Y A N D P O L I T I C A L
VIOLENCE, BY SUSIE LINFIELD
DVD Y V O N N E R A I N E R > W H E R E ’ S T H E PA S S I O N ?
THANK YOU TO OUR DONORS
JOOST BAKKER CHLOË BRUSHWOOD ROSE ROBERT BUCKINGHAM ERIC COLLINS CHRISTINA FORRER RON GILLESPIE ROBERT GRAHAM PHIL HOFFMAN SCOTT LYALL * MICHAEL PROKOPOW GEORGIA SCHERMAN
[ TOM SHERMAN ]
CULTURAL ENGINEERING is a form of social engineering an application of cybernetics, the science of control Positive feedback from a single source, or too limited a set of sources, will influence and shape the behaviour of artists… Funding equals access to superior tools, access to audiences, free time, travel, and professional status… Negative feedback or indifference, fosters little except cynicism and despondency The Canada Council for the Arts and other federal cultural agencies, and provincial and municipal arts councils… 40 years of grants to media arts organizations and individual artists have altered the aesthetic and socio-political landscape in Canada The peer-review, arms-length funding model is seen as the best way to avoid top-down political control of the arts
[ KONRAD BECKER ]
As Brian Holmes writes in his introduction, “Phantasmagoric Systems,” The Strategic Reality Dictionary offers seventy-two keys to the construction, imposition and maintenance of contemporary systems of inclusion and exclusion, which only function for two principle reasons: because of stealth, and because they are able to engineer our own unconscious beliefs. With his seventy-two keys, Konrad Becker aims to unlock the gates of strategic reality: its construction over centuries, its imposition through stealth and force, its dull and laborious maintenance, and its dissolution and destruction by those who can’t take it anymore.
o o o Info Warcraft Vannevar Bush is credited with the first visionary outline of electronic information technologies and established the U.S. military research partnership (DARPA and ARPANET) that developed the Internet. A premier twentieth-century technocrat who foresaw the personal computer and invented hypertext, he had a fundamental role in constructing America’s military-industrialacademic complex by channeling billions of dollars into the laboratories that built the information age. As top-ranking cold warrior he brought together the U.S. military and universities with an unprecedented level of funding for rapidly improving military technologies. A prime agent in the militarization of the general intellect, he married science and the state in order to invent new dimensions of destruction. In a system where decisions are transferred to experts beyond the accountability of a voting public, Vannevar Bush saw “populism and the widening participation of citizens in the machinery of government as a recipe for decline” and favored “rule by the well-to-do and highly educated.” The cofounder of Raytheon, one of the largest U.S. defense contractors, he was in charge of weapons development research and supervised the development of the atom bomb. Bush and his colleagues developed the first analogue computer, capable of solving differential equations in 1935, but his most inf luential work was a visionary description of a hypermedia information system called “memex,” short for memory extension. In an Atlantic
College of Art and Design and New York University Press.
fl Michael Snow, Cover to Cover, 1975. Press of the Nova Scotia
[ MICHAEL SNOW ]
SPECIFICITY The following is based on a transcript of Michael Snow’s presentation at the International Experimental Media Congress (April 7-11, 2010) in Toronto, Canada, in a panel addressing the question, “How can an artist work objectively for a generalization?”
I am going to start this way: In 1972 a book which I designed was published called Cover to Cover. When I was contacted about the possibility of doing this book I started thinking about “bookness”: What have books been? What is a book? So I made a singular book, which is very “booky,” and, even though it had its genesis partly from thinking of a definition of “bookness,” it is a unique book; there really isn’t anything else like it. I think this is an interesting paradox. Now, my other work—see particularly the cinema, films—the sources have been similar, in that I really am interested in what a medium can do, and trying to use its special capabilities to make a special experience. Of course, a medium has to exist. Film, being a hundred years old, despite certain variables in its history, such as the arrival of sound and colour, for example, Technicolor and all the rest of it, has had a consistency that makes it definable. So you can say that there is a medium. An aspect of that medium is the presentation of it. Now, I made my first film in 1956, and it has an interesting medium connection too, perhaps, because it was a cut-out animation using drawing. That was my first film. I used drawing as its basis. Anyway, I moved to New York in 1962 and lived there between 1962 and 1972. When I went there I discovered the so called “underground” film, and I started attending screenings and so forth. Everything that was done at that time, and everything that I did at that time, and still do for a cinema situation, is precisely about the theatre situation, which involves a kind of social contract that comes from the theatre presenting plays, which is that you go there and you understand that something of some duration is going to be presented and you say that I will give this a chance because I know that’s what is going to happen. My cinema films all were made
[ C H R I S T I N A B AT T L E ]
fl WORDS AT ISSUE One thing I walked away with from last year’s Experimental Media Congress was a sense of concern over the definitions of the many terms circulating within and related to the media arts. Even the congress itself made a conscious effort to employ the use of the term media in its title as opposed to the previous rendition’s use of film. Although comments made throughout the congress’ five days seemed to point toward the name change as at least partly a way to distance itself from some of the controversies of the previous rendition, it seemed to me to be a no brainer; after all, the moving image arts of today encompass a wide variety of modes and media. But after transcribing audio recordings of the panels for a piece I contributed to INCITE! Journal
of Experimental Media & Radical Aesthetics , and experiencing the congress for a second (and third, and fourth…) time, this focus on semantics seemed even more present than I had initially experienced in person. This preoccupation with defining terms struck me and throughout my transcribing I often found myself thinking about the actual words used to express particular concerns within the current state of media arts. Noticing repetition of particular words within individual conversations I wondered about the space certain terms occupied throughout the panels and the congress overall. In an attempt to summarize my readings of a number of the panels I offer these visualizations based on the frequency particular terms were utilized.
THE TIME OF THE
AUDIOVISUAL AND MULTIMEDIA
[ JEAN GAGNON ]
The DOCAM research alliance (Documentation and Conservation of the Media Arts Heritage) was active from January 2005 to December 2009. I presented the results of this alliance’s work at the International Experimental Media Congress in Toronto in April 2010 and, as I explained on that occasion, DOCAM gave priority to case studies, which are documented on the group’s web site.1 There one can find cataloguing and conservation tools and guides, a technological timeline, a glossaurus, and a documentation model. My aim here is to ask the question, what’s next? What research should be undertaken after DOCAM? I outline my views on these matters below in a somewhat programmatic manner.
Some General Considerations Before answering these questions I want to posit a philosophical landscape or framework that establishes, or at least outlines, some of the tasks involved in the vast and daunting enterprise of digital preservation and conservation now and in the future. Régis Debray, in his book Introduction à la Médiologie, writes that the library is not only a repository for memory in the material form of books but it is also and especially the matrix of a community of readers, with its rituals, exegeses, compilations, and translations. There are readers in a library who often write about these texts in return. A library gives birth to writers the way filmmakers are born out of cinémathèques.2 Debray points out, in his book Transmitting Culture,3 that every memory tool, such as an archive, is both a means of communication in space and a vector for transmission in time. The metaphor of the library thus brings out the fact that books communicate past ideas to present-day readers. Nevertheless, the advent and gradual spread of digital technology currently taking place in the archival sphere, and particularly in audiovisual archives, enables us to pose questions around short-term collections management that are usually addressed within the longer period of memory and its archives. I will adopt here a precept set forth by Bruno Bachimont, scientific director of the Institut national de l’audiovisuel (INA) in France, to the effect that “we only conserve well what we use.” 4 In this vein, conservation in the digital era is no longer a question of passively conserving content left intact; rather, it is an active practice of interpreting and putting to use the documents in which this content is contained and digitally encoded.
[ D AV I D R O K E B Y ]
fl n-cha(n)t, 2001. Installation shot, Walter Phillips Gallery, Banff Centre for the Arts. Photo: Don Lee. In n-cha(n)t , seven computers form a small community which falls into unison chanting when left alone and scatters into a clatter of independent voices when disrupted by words spoken by gallery visitors. What each computer speaks is meaningless in itself. Taken together, these phrases chart the trajectory of an unfolding narrative of communication…shared nonsense shimmering with a sense of meaning. Commissioned by the Banff Centre
for the Arts.
fl Very Nervous System, 1982-2004. Photographs of interactions at Ace Art Inc. Winnipeg (2003). Photos: William Eakin, Risa Horowitz and Liz Garlicki.
In Very Nervous System I use video cameras, computers
Computer operations unfold on the micro scale of silicon
and a sound system to create a space in which one's body
chips so the encounter should take place in human-scaled
appears to draw sound out of the air. This work was moti-
physical space. And as the computer is objective and
vated by a contrarian impulse. Because the computer is
disinterested, the experience should be intimate. The
purely logical, I worked to make the language of interac-
resulting interactive interface is invisible and diffuse…a
tion intuitive. Since the computer removes you from your
zone of experience, rather than a control device.
body, I felt that the body should be strongly engaged.
[ AUTHOR ]
fl David Rokeby, installation of Machine for Taking Time, 2001. exhibited at Oakville Galleries, Ontario, 2001. Photo: David Rokeby.
[ PETER RIDE ]
GALLERY A question was posed at the 2010 Experimental Media Congress: “What happens when the moving image enters the gallery?” This question was an enquiry after the ways in which new media artworks de-familiarize the gallery setting. New media—not only produced with digital processes but born out of digital aesthetics and conceptually rooted in computer culture—both confirm and disturb the conventions of gallery practice. We must ask yet further questions about the way we understand the role of arts practice in society and the way we present it within arts organizations like galleries. To my mind, however, the question should be taken a step further. For me, it is not “the media” that enter the gallery (the media are positioned, received or generated there) but it is the audience that enters the gallery. What I find exciting about dealing with new media is the extraordinarily complicated relationship between audience and artwork. It is a relationship that makes us ask the manner in which, say, the cinematic (or indeed any media form) can be read to make sense. Yet we could argue that the experience of the audience is one of the least understood aspects of the gallery system. By ref lecting on my work as a curator and using case studies illustrative of the problems and possibilities embedded within new media projects, I offer in this essay some new ways of thinking about the audience. What constitutes a gallery is contested. The many complex aspects and possibilities of new media—such as social networking, creative-software, multi-user environments, open source structures, data visualization, and ubiquitous computing—have led to new forms of art production. Increasingly, new media practitioners have adopted production frameworks which have less to do with galleries and more to do with creative laboratories, extended communities, and nongeographically-specific spaces.1 However, as Brian O’Doherty continues to remind us, the “white cube” provides the dominant ideology for the presentation of the visual arts.2 As a result, the gallery, in its various forms, offers a space that new media art can challenge and invigorate. It is a space where art can continue its own discourse and test itself. For many new media artists, the organized formality of the gallery space provides a useful context. Within it, material sourced from or generated through online networks gains added meaning and structure when presented as
FLIES IN THE OINTMENT BY ELLE FLANDERS
CHARACTERS: YVONNE — An American dancer, choreographer, and filmmaker. Active in numerous New York vanguard art circles from the 1960s to the present, her work is experimental, challenging and POLITICAL. JOHN — An iconic Canadian gay filmmaker with a penchant for bad boy antics, musicals, opera, Brechtian theatre and POLITICS. DANIEL — A younger video and performance artist living in Toronto. SARA — A Canadian video and performance artist who is currently the president of a major Canadian art school. ANDY — A longtime Canadian video and performance artist, a writer and a waiter. “YVONNE” — Someone playing Yvonne Rainer DIRECTOR — A middle-aged woman
[ PEGGY GALE ]
YVONNE RAINER: WHERE’S THE
fl Film still from MURDER and murder by Yvonne Rainer, 1996. 16mm, colour/b&w, 113 minutes.
Where’s the Passion, Where’s the Politics, or, How I Became Interested in Impersonating, Approximating, and End-Running around my Selves and Others’ Selves, and Where do I Look When You’re Looking at Me? is the full title for this piece, first presented at Tramway in Glasgow and included here as a DVD in the cover pocket. For her keynote presentation at the International Experimental Media Congress in Toronto on 7 April, 2010, Yvonne Rainer engaged in conversation with filmmaker and activist John Greyson, with clips from several of Rainer’s films, Greyson’s music-video spoof prepared for the occasion, and unexpected (pre-scripted) performance interjections from Daniel Cockburn, Sara Diamond, and Andrew James Paterson. The evening was engaging and sometimes rowdy, the audience uninhibited in its comments, but it did not lend itself to excerpting or documentation for the present publication; instead, Rainer proposed Where’s the Passion for this issue as a supplement and replacement. Herein, Rainer reads her text on stage at a lectern, with Sign Language translation at her side. At intervals four of her dancers perform Trio A and Chair-Pillow, and two of them replace her in reading while Rainer interacts with the others. With both verbal and active elements, the recording itself and live audience are further “media” elements. Looking at-and-looked at—the sense of self in performance—is a central issue in the text. Rainer’s talk is incisive and entertaining, and the dance components more than illustrations or mere interludes: event and commentary, discussion and proposal are intertwined. The issues enjoined are directly relevant to “media” issues in the bigger picture. This lecture/performance was presented at Tramway in Glasgow on 8 October 2010, part of a week-long project supported by Creative Scotland and Glasgow Life, and curated by Jason E. Bowman in association with Tramway. We thank them all in generously permitting this re-publication.
[ MIKE HOOLBOOM ]
Cushion For the past few years I have spent some of my happiest hours sitting on a cushion. Perched on this blue rectangle I am wordless and unscreened, without any program of events mustered for distraction. Instead, I am invited to watch my own mind at work. What I can’t help noticing is how this mind likes to jump restlessly from one subject to another, riffing on stories, finding particular enjoyment in attaching old tunes to new faces. In each story, even when I’m asleep, I am the main character, and there are certain stories that allow me to play favourite parts—the wounded lover, for instance, or the good friend. How I love to spin these stories again and again. Deepening the groove, running the stylus into those familiar places. Even when the stories feel bad, they feel good. I return to them again and again, as if they were me.
Best Friend The restless mind that I notice on the cushion doesn’t get any quieter when I’m around others, not even when they’re dishing the most white-knuckled, emotional thrill rides of their lives. The interior monologue goes right on like a stock exchange of the heart, providing a steady f low of updates and revisions, ensuring that I am hardly ever here, right here, in this moment. Even when I am listening to my best friend narrate his latest relational arm wrestle, I am only admitting phrases, absorbing moods and gestures, witnessing trends. They say that Wittgenstein could hum an entire symphony after hearing it only once. But I am too busy listening to my private jukebox to be able to absorb the symphonies that are unfolding all around me. And I suspect that I am hardly alone in this, that I am walking around in a city where most everyone is tuned into their own, privately-run radio stations.
Watching Movies As someone who makes movies, I’ve been wondering what happens when I watch them. How much of a movie am I actually seeing? Because I used to love the feeling of emulsion running through my fingers, I know that there are twenty four individual frames rushing by in a single second, each separated by a black bar. But my eyes are too slow to catch the darkness between these frames, or even to see what is actually being presented to me: a series of still photographs. The object that I hold in my hands, the strip of film, is not my experience of the movie at all. Partly this has to do with my dull attention, though my taste for difficult and irritating movies has allowed me to sharpen those edges a little. But even so, the plenitude of each image, as it
f lickers away, is not available to my slow motion seeing. There is already too much, and so I am forced to make a choice, focusing on certain parts of frames as they hurtle past, picking out a spot of light on a couch or an eye’s suspicious glinting, whatever is most likely to attach itself to the story I am already telling myself as the movie thunders overhead, adding its own layers of distraction. Watching a movie is like having my glass filled in the first minute of a meal, and not stopping for an instant, simply pouring that long jug into the already-filled glass. After an hour and a half the jug is finally empty while the glass is still full. In the end, when it’s all over, there is water in the glass all right, no question about it, but is it a reasonable ref lection of what used to be in the jug? If the jug of water is the movie, and my attention is the glass, how much am I really able to retain or recount? Or is this beside the point? And the spill, the overf low, does that settle into what we like to name the unconscious?
The Present Try this experiment at home. Before turning to the next word, the next sentence, just wait for a moment. Close your eyes, and concentrate on your breath. Try not to change your breath, just observe it coming and going, all by itself. If you perform this simple exercise for a minute or two, you’ll soon notice your mind wandering into one thought loop after another, and there are two primary characteristics of these thoughts: they either concern events that have already happened, or things that are going to happen. The future and the past are the primary modes of our restless minds. But movies, for instance, are not being shown in the future and the past, they are being shown now. One of the difficulties of seeing movies is that we aren’t here and now, instead, we are there and then, we’re once and never, or caught up in future fantasies. The science fiction of our lives. How can we concentrate on a movie that is f lowing past when we can’t still our own minds, when we can’t stop ourselves from endlessly digressing, restlessly racing from one disconnected thought to another? The old Yoga joke: where do you hide something to ensure that no one will find it? You hide it in the present.
Projection This is the commonplace. The voice sounds below a whisper and you find your head nodding in agreement to its sub-audible, self-evident truth: if you show your movie, it will be seen. You’ve done the difficult work of manufacture, of turning yourself into a factory, and now that the new line is ready, you roll it out for the gatekeepers of festivals and museums. Eventually, some of them say yes, that’s for us. So you get this opportunity of exhibition, of what psychiatrists like to name “projection.” You are going to project your manufacture into public space, and when you do it will be seen.
REPORTING FROM “THE FIELD”
[ SHAI HEREDIA ]
fl Still from Vijay B. Chandra’s Child on a Chess Board, 1979.
INDIA The British Council auditorium, Bombay 19-23 February, 2003. Three hundred people gathered to watch 16mm film prints of the first ever screening in India of Michael Snow’s Wavelength, Stan Brakhage’s Mothlight, Peter Gidal’s Room Film, Malcolm Le Grice’s Berlin Horse, Peter Kubelka’s Unsere Afrikareise and ten other classics of the western avant-garde. They are confused, enraged, awe-struck, inspired, and elated by what they are experiencing. There is an understanding in the audience that the mere act of sitting in this auditorium represents individual participation in collective change. This is filmmaking without story, characters, or plot, and the Bombay audience is enthralled by every minute of it. This experience with non-narrative film was called Experimenta, and I had orchestrated it. Eight years hence, Experimenta remains India’s only international festival dedicated to celebrating non-mainstream, artists’ film and video. Experimenta 2003 was conceptualized as a radical response to the cultural hegemony of Bollywood, and the lack of access to new cinema and moving image art. At that time, film festivals were nationalized state-run enterprises concerned only with cultural diplomacy, therefore making Experimenta the first independent Indian film festival with a mind of its own. Interestingly, this was when Indian socialist ideologies had been almost completely discarded to make way for the shallow ideologies of “globalization,” and the right wing mantra of “Shining India.” So, while the Indian nation state began its foray into capitalist systems, a community of artists and filmmakers in Bombay sharing similar sociopolitical and aesthetic concerns had begun to voice their critique through the appreciation and making of experimental, uncompromising, and provocative art. It was through engaging with this critique that I found myself at Films Division India, the Government of India unit for the production and distribution of education films and newsreels —essentially the government’s film propaganda unit that played a key role in the building of the idea of the nation state. While excavating the Films Division archive, my intention was to begin an investigation into experimental ethnographic films. What I discovered took me beyond western art historical constructs of “experimental film” and “experimental ethnography,” and brought me closer to developing a more culturally rooted relationship to film art from India. I began to study the moving image culture of socialist India and a collective of filmmakers from the late 1960s to early 1970s who were concerned with subverting the system and provoking political change through experiments with film form. Some of these revolutionary works of film art continue to be inspirational to me even today.
A MOVING IMAGE THAT CAN REMEMBER ITS PAST LIVES…
[ D AV I D T E H ]
fl Photo: Alex Kershaw.
I. A moving image that can remember its past lives… Thai contemporary art presents something of a problem for the student of new media art, since the most innovative and critical media thinking there tends to adopt media and art forms we would call neither “new” nor “experimental.” Wit Pimkanchanapong’s robotic sculptures, for instance, are made from components found in any hobby store. Navin Rawanchaikul’s media archaeology revives the declining arts of billboard painting and comic illustration. The most thought-provoking artistic peer-to-peer network, authored by Pratchaya Phinthong, was offline: a lounge in a gallery with a stack of art films on DVD, a stack of blanks, and a duplicator. Even Rirkrit Tiravanija, while hardly a “local” artist, seems to fit this mould—his abidingly time-based practice runs the gamut of non-traditional media, but analogue forms (celluloid, performance) lie at the core of his aesthetic. The same tendency applies to the moving image: both the video performances of Araya Rasdjamrearnsook, and the animate cinema of Apichatpong Weerasethakul, show that formal renovation does not imply technical invention.1 It’s little wonder, then, that techno-centric accounts of the field—such as those propagated by Leonardo, ISEA or rhizome.org—have struggled to plot places like Thailand onto their global maps. Access to new technology is hardly a problem for artists in Southeast Asia’s rapidly growing cities, but removed as they are from the cutting edge of IT research and development, their purchase on newer media is more often that of the consumer than that of the developer. Must they therefore be sidelined from the history of media art? Or should this situation prompt a recalibration of media aesthetics? We might, for example, emphasize low-tech over high-tech, remediations of old media over experimentation with the new. We might indeed revisit the question of the medium per se: instead of seeing it as a technical thing, we might consider it as a social process, focus on what it does, rather than what it is. Such an approach would put a medium’s relationship to older media at the centre of the analysis. It would mean attending not just to the contingent, local history of a given medium, but also to histories of mediation and mediumship that reach beyond the bounds of any single medium. It would demonstrate how, in technics, the past is immanent to the mediations of the present, sometimes irrespective of the content. And it would help to explain why the “program” (Vilém Flusser) of this or that medium can be so different in places like Thailand than in the West. For media philosopher Bernard Stiegler, human memory—access to the past—is always already exteriorized, consigned to what Jacques Derrida calls “traces,” marks that are generalizable as writing.2 But is memory exteriorized in this way in all cultures? If Stiegler is right that today’s technologies generalize—and, we might add, tend to globalize—this structure, then what are the implications for cultures differently equipped, as they are brought into the loop by, for example,
Complex, Glasgow (Sunday, 16 May 2010). Photo: Arika.
fl Ultra-red, "In The Shadow of Shadow," workshop, Kinning Park
THE SECOND ENCOUNTER: NOTES ON THE PROBLEMATIC OF
AND POLITICAL PRACTICE
[ DONT RHINE ]
Intermedia in North American contemporary art had, as one of its catalytic events, John Cage’s course in experimental composition at The New School in New York, organized from 1957 to 1959. Recalling how Cage was simultaneously celebrated as an inventor and vilified as a charlatan, today we recognize the extent to which he mapped the very transition from modernist essence to postmodern discursiveness. Among the many ideas Cage introduced in his class was a notion of sound not as a medium or a genre of art but as the basis for a series of propositions regarding frequency, duration, and morphology, to name but three. Cage’s experimental composition course had a profound impact on numerous artists, including George Brecht, the Fluxus-affiliated artist most known for his Event Scores. In a notebook entry dated 24 June 1958, Brecht carefully outlines Cage’s lecture on the five dimensions of sound: frequency, duration, amplitude, overtone-structure, and morphology.1 Since each of these dimensions exists in a continuum of degrees—high to low, short to long, soft to loud, etc.—Cage argues that each represents a field of experience. As art historian Liz Kotz has pointed out, Brecht’s lecture notes suggest Cage’s indebtedness at the time to the positivist sonic research prevalent in the Cologne experimental music of Herbert Eimert and Karlheinz Stockhausen.2 However, for my analysis, Cage introduces a sly subversion. Rather than arguing for an aural orthodoxy that defined the medium of sound according to its essential properties, Cage points out that sound makes legible a series of propositions, or fields, that can be translated across the medium. Undermining the very presumption of media specificity, fields such as frequency or duration proposed ways of thinking about art regardless whether its materials are sound, video, performance, dance, photography, or even literature. In the intermedia moment, propositions suggested by one area of perception, such as sound, come to bear on another perceptual apparatus.3
* * * I begin with Cage’s course in experimental composition as an intermedia intervention into cultural practice in order to introduce another question that tends to compartmentalize fields; namely, the problematic of art and political practices. By which I mean the apparent contradictory relationship between the practice of art and the practice of political interests. As a demonstration of the precarious status of that relationship, I can point to a moment on day four of the 2010 International Experimental Media Congress. During a panel conversation on “Institutions and Mythologies in Experimental Media,” the artist and Syracuse University professor Tom Sherman announced that experimental art, like experimentation itself, is of “no good” to politics. One could attempt to qualify this statement by defining politics in such a way that it is only through experimentation that politics exists as a practice of social change. Nevertheless,
[ VERA FRENKEL ]
CAPTURE AND LOSS:
MEMORY , MEDIA,ARCHIVE fl Vera Frenkel, Corner of "…from the Transit Bar" vitrine, in Cartographie d'une pratique/Mapping a Practice , SBC Gallery, Montréal, 2010. Detail. Photo: The artist.
1. Years ago, drawn to the ambiguity of the letter X, the sign that indicates cancellation while at the same time “marking the spot,” I centred a body of work—drawings, collages, performances, and texts—on its contradictory meanings. Now, decades later, thinking about what I find compelling about archives, I see that I’m drawn again to that same oscillating duality and to the notion that a letter, a poem, a photograph, a sketch, can remain evocative while at the same time be relegated to the past and deemed “over,” since the archive, as it is generally understood, cancels as it asserts. For media artists, working inside the kind of transience brought about by exponentially increasing change, especially in the areas of recording and electronic memory, and aware that so-called new media are as fugitive as alizarin crimson in sunlight, a fascination with archives and their aura of absent presence is unsurprising, their parallel uncertainties offering a perfect exchange of allegories. I’m reminded of my first exploration of the archive as both context and form via an exchange of letters between the archivist R. Austen-Marshall, Director of the Cornelia Lumsden Archive, and Peggy Gale, co-editor of the anthology, Museums by Artists.1 Much has happened in the quarter century or so since then but in the delightful way things have of recurring, whether by coincidence or, if you prefer, delayed synchronicity, I find it both comforting and uncanny that I am again writing for Peggy Gale, editor of this issue of PUBLIC, bound once more by a shared consideration of the nature of the archive. It was not generally known that R. Austen-Marshall was as fictive as his expatriate subject, the missing Canadian novelist, Cornelia Lumsden. My invention of the Lumsden figure was disclosed by a journalist a decade or so after a video account of her “Remarkable Story” first appeared. R. Austen-Marshall was not recognized as a pseudonym, and I have not until now discussed this fictive figure of the archivist since the focus had to be on the absent novelist.
[ LAURA DIMARCO, OCAD University ]
fl Video still from Lucy Gunning’s Climbing Around My Room, 1993. Courtesy of the artist, Matt’s Gallery London, and Oakville Galleries.
Un-home-ly Oakville Galleries curated by Matthew Hyland 27 November 2010 – 16 February 2011
Un-home-ly attests to the prevalence of the uncanny in feminist art practices since the 1970s and provides evidence of its continued relevance as a vehicle to critique the ideologies of patriarchy and femininity. Curator and Director Matthew Hyland debuted the exhibition as the first of a series dedicated to raising public recognition of the currency of feminist artistic production. Thoughtfully organized in the separate gallery spaces of Centennial Square and Gairloch Gardens, Hyland contends that in “mining the tension between the familiar and the strange, the attractive and the repulsive, these artists deploy an uncanny that is visceral and critical in equal measure, raising vital questions about the structure and substance of gendered existence.” 1 The exhibition presented an international survey of work by twelve feminist artists to reveal the diverse uses of the uncanny to challenge social structures that confine women to the expectations and “nature” of their gender. The works collectively function to critique and exploit the primary role of women and the female body in Sigmund Freud’s “Das Unheimliche” (1919). Defined as an aesthetic experience, he argued that the eyes play a pivotal role in eliciting this disquieting sensation of uncertainty in one’s familiar, everyday life. Freud further allies the threat of blindness to the threat of castra-
[ S A R A L . M A RT E L , Yo r k U n i v e r s i t y ]
The Cruel Radiance: Photography and Political Violence By Susie Linfield The University of Chicago Press, 2010
In reflecting on a book about photography and political violence, there is no better place to start than with the image adorning the book’s cover. In the case of Susie Linfield’s latest work, the image in question is a black and white photograph of a young girl. It is almost impossible to contextualize the photo, although her sad but indignant expression and the lack of catch-light in her eyes suggest it is not a formal portrait. The photo is not unpleasant to look at; in fact, it is somehow comely. Then, in the middle of the book’s second chapter, Linfield reproduces the image again with a caption explaining the photo is from a Khmer Rouge torture centre where “[c]hildren, like the nameless girl here, were executed as presumed counterrevolutionaries.” The complexity of this image’s aesthetics, origins, and our resulting response perfectly encapsulates The Cruel Radiance—a book that contemplates how photographs of violence and suffering help us to understand such experiences even as they confound and disgust us. Ultimately, this book urges us not to look away. Linfield is Director of the Cultural Reporting and Criticism program at New York University, as well as past editor and still long-standing contributor to a host of prominent journalistic and scholarly publications. Yet, by beginning with an anecdote about her childhood encounters with troubling Holocaust photos, it is clear Linfield’s connection to photography is not borne out of a career, but rather that her intellectual work seems borne out of her passion for photographs. The book’s emotional tone animates Linfield’s writing with notes of intimacy, inviting the reader to feel (and then act on?) the discomfort of the ethical questions surrounding photojournalism. This sensibility further grounds the author’s argument for photography criticism to abandon its postmodern fear of sentimentality, romanticism, and emotional response. Linfield values the critical approach she considers to be “at the center of the modern tradition,” which “sought, and achieved, a fertile dialectic between ideas and emotions”; such critics, Linfield proposes, “were able to think and feel at the same time, or at least within the same essay.” Linfield specifies this is a work of criticism and not theory, aiming to rethink a criticism that respects and responds to, rather than disparages or deconstructs photography. The book’s title references critic James Agee who phrased the idea of looking at “the cruel radiance of what is” in his work with photographer Walker Evans titled Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. Following Agee, Linfield states: “Photographs help us do that; so would the kind of criticism that believed in their worth.” The project is set out in three well-organized parts: Polemics, Places, and People. In line with its title, Part One lays out an argument against existing photography criticism. Linfield claims other art forms such as dance, film, or painting are afforded a criticism allowing for—indeed
Published on Dec 12, 2011
Sneak peek of issue 44 of PUBLIC: Experimental Media. Edited by Peggy Gale. Contributions from Ian Balfour, Christina Battle, Konrad Becker...