Archive for the ‘ Art ’ Category

An Interactive “Love” Dumpster

Last week I wrote about Michale Landy’s art dumpster project, where he’s turned the South London Gallery’s floor space into a giant glass walled dumpster where artists can throw away their work. This week, and especially because Valentines Day is fast approaching, I’d like to clue you in to another sort of dumpster- an interactive one that contains what’s left of 20,000 fragile, love-torn teenage hearts.  In the process I’ll introduce you to a destination for interactive creative projects that are sponsored and endorsed by the Tate and the Whitney.

The Dumpster is an online data display that chronicles the breakup comments of 20,000 angst-ridden teenagers, as reported in their own words from their 2005 blog sites. The comments are personal and heartfelt snippets that are irresistible, at least for the first few clicks…then they all start to look and sound the same.

For example, a random click just now gave me this post:

“ok, where should I begin? First of all I put red streaks in my hair last night. They look AWESOME! Ok, now the sad part…my boyfriend Michael, broke up with me this morning…”

The UI for the database is based on semantic queries where the posts are represented by red dots of various sizes and tones. Click on a dot and a blog snippet appears on the screen, keep clicking and the comments stack up in boxes on the right. The dot size and color represent the degree of similarity for the currently selected post to those around it, including author gender, similar issues, tone of voice, etc… There are various timeline and micro/macro views to help you look at and explore the data, and it all has a look and fell that’s very interactive and real-time. You initiate an action and the UI responds. Exploration ensues.

The Dumpster is one of many interactive projects at the Whitney Artport, an online collection of experimental UX creativity founded in 2001.  Many of the projects listed interpret the freeform visual interpretation of data, although it’s interesting to watch the shift to social themes and ideas as the project timeline moves into the latter part of the decade. There are some hits and misses in the project list, but for me, that just indicates that it truly is an experimental space where people can take risks as they try to figure out where interactive is going. There are no commercial constraints here, just the thoughtful pushing of boundaries.

Go check it out, and if you like what you see, you should also take a look at the Tate Online’s Intermedia Art site, which chronicles sound, interactive, and rich media projects, many of which were cosponsored with the Whitney. Oh and BTW, if anyone at the Whitney is reading this, the 2002 design of  the current Artport site is definitely showing it’s age, especially next to the fresh, clean, and supple feel of the Tate site. Time for a redesign guys.

Add your comments…let me know what you think.


A Tool to Deceive and Slaughter…welcome to Abstract Transactionism

It’s a great title for a blog post, and an even better title for a digital work of art. Caleb Larson’s “A Tool To Deceive and Slaughter” is a shiny black box of a sculpture, that has a mind of it’s own. It operates outside of the will of its owner, and posses a wanderlust that makes it constantly seek for greener pastures.

The sculpture is basically a transaction engine with electronics that connect it to the web via an Ethernet cable. It automatically posts itself on eBay every seven days, selling at a price you prescribe (minus eBay fees and 15% which goes to the artist).

It’s as though HAL (the computer from 2001), has been cross-programmed with Billy May to create an insidious rogue computer that just wants sell himself off to the highest bidder. You can buy him, but you only get to keep him for as long as no one else wants him. To me, that’s the most brilliant part of the whole thing… he’s not very desirable when he’s NOT in demand, and that’s precisely when you get to keep him. When he IS in demand, he’s sure to slip through your fingers.

Felix Salmon of Reuters called ATTD&S a work of art “so commercial that it can’t be collected.”, while The Economist is calling it “cooler than a diamond-encrusted skull.”

$10,000 Sculpture (in progress)

At first blush, this piece seems clever, current, and so reflective of its time, but it gets even more interesting when you view it within the context of the rest of Larson’s work, which is currently on display at the Lawrimore Project in Seattle. In addition to a number of Internet inspired works, the show includes a brass donor plaque that lists the names of the people who donated the cash to create the plaque. It also includes a dollar bill changer slot mounted into the wall, titled $10,000 Sculpture (in progress). While all of the work is interesting, the ones that resonate the most revolve around transaction for it’s own sake (and certainly for the artists sake as well).

In another transaction piece, a printed receipt from a collector to the artist allows the collector to subsidize Larson’s studio by paying off his credit card debt. In the description of the work, the gallery writes “The receipt remains, not as the work, but as the residue of the transaction.” Anyone recognize that phrase? It’s a twist on the Harold Rosenberg quote about Abstract Expressionism. Rosenberg said that the artist asserted himself and his presence in front of the canvas with physical gestures, and that the work that remained was a “souvenir of the occasion”.

In going from a “souvenir of the occasion” to the “residue of the transaction”, it seems that Larson is building on the commercial greed and avarice that has led us from Warhol to Koons to the Hirst and Gagosian empires… all the while combining it with the immediate and experiential. Documenting the transaction would seem to be the perfect storm, and I can’t resist calling it Abstract Transactionism.

It will be interesting to see if Larson can continue to hone and sharpen his focus, while sustaining this unique position.

PS- A Tool To deceive and Slaughter was sold to its first owner last week. Lawrence Spies of Palo Alto, CA bought it for $6,350. It’s currently relisted in an eBay auction that will end on February 9th at 6am PST.

Quickpick- Corey Arnold, Gulf Crossing

Corey Arnold Gulf Crossing, 2008 30 x 40 Inches , C-print edition of 6

I’m a sucker for abstract wave photography, so this image stopped me dead in my tracks. I’ve shot many examples in my own work, but unfortunately (fortunately?) I’ve never been on a fishing trawler out as sea with huge 50 ft waves about to crash down on my head.

Great craft + Dramatic scenario= Stunning result.

You gotta click through to see this image full size. You just gotta.

View more of Corey Arnold’s work here, or contact the Richard Heller Gallery for more details.

QuickPicks- Angelo Musco- Progeny

Angelo Musco, Progeny 2010, C-print mounted between aluminum and 1/4 inch Plexiglass

Nice photo…fresh, clean and well-done. Altho it reminds me of those creepy Nisan commercials where the trees and waterfalls are made of people in colored jumpsuits. Playboy also ran an image like this back in the ’80s.

See more of Musco’s work, or contact Carrie Secrist Gallery for more info.

Damien Hirst, Garbage, and the Spirit of the Age

“Each day art further diminishes its self respect by bowing down before external reality.”- Baudelaire

More than a few tweets and blogs are circulating last week’s story of how artist Michale Landy will be trashing the works of Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, and 25 other artists as part of a six-week event at the South London Gallery.  The works will be publicly thrown into a large glass trash bin before they are carted off to the landfill forever (how long does it take for an idea to decompose?). Since I heard the story I’ve been wrestling with how to address this notion of presenting one’s trash to the public as an expression of “reality as art as trash as art.”

Damien Hirst’s involvement in all of this is not surprising, as he has become emblematic of the art world’s tendency to elevate the banality of everyday life to a high form of contemporary art. Hirst once installed an environmental piece consisting of ash trays, empty bottles, cig butts, and other refuse, at the Mayfair Gallery in London. After a VIP viewing, the janitor went through the gallery, cleaned everything up and threw Hirst’s art installation in the trash. Hmm, sounds familiar doesn’t it? Reportedly, Hirst was elated, since his work is about the relation between art and the everyday, and throwing it away was the natural consummation for the piece. Perhaps the incident prompted the idea for this most recent trash dump.

There’s a certain social conformity in all of this, where the artist seems to be aligning himself a bit too closely with the general public, coming alongside the janitor, if you will, and holding the dust pan as he sweeps up the cigarette butts. It’s a notion that could seem altruistic and empowering to the everyman, were it not for the way the postmodern artist dismiss any notion of value and hierarchy. If art were considered as God, this movement would be an insidious form of pantheism, where God/art is in the trees, the cigarette butt, and who knows where else. This is all good if the art serves some sort of purpose. This seems to serve none, other than to attract publicity and bolster someone’s bank account.

In the past the artist’s role was that of antagonist, as they set themselves against the crowd and popular culture, lifting up ideas and concepts that were at least new and progressive if not dangerous. The postmodern artist doesn’t dazzle or even lead the crowd, he merely affirms the crowd by mirroring it.

Donald Kuspit talks about the Ash Tray incident in his book The End Of Art, where he makes the comment that “(Hirst’s) commitment to banality, with its predatory curiosity and uncritical dependence on everydayness, is the kiss of aesthetic death and artistic death, for it makes art just another everyday phenomenon. Parody is the last frontier of novelty, and novelty has run it’s course. (such parody is usually more entertaining than critical, and bounces off other art rather than psychosocial reality.)”

The Event Raises Interesting Questions

Landy seems to be elevating the experience of failure. Is he invalidating the notion that aesthetics matter on any level whatsoever? Even if you say that art is about ideas more than craft, the fact that these painting are “failures” by the artists own standards indicates that they are just as likely to be failed ideas as well as failed executions. Is Landy’s idea a failure? How do you judge…and If it is, how do you throw that in a trash bin?

Perhaps Landy is giving a nod to the studio experience where we all edit and omit as we try to distill our ideas into the ones that really matter. But then, what does it even mean for something to “matter” anymore? If things don’t matter, then are we simply apathetic victims of a literal world without hope?

See, for me, there’s the rub…the artists present failed works as finished art. If the work is judged a “failure” via some personal or ideological standard, by what shifting and elusive standard can it suddenly be deemed a success? ( At least successful enough to be in a widely viewed public display and associated with a number of famous failures.)

Broader issues- the Spirit of the Age

If art is a reflection of trends and ideas within society as a whole, what does this art as garbage movement say about the world in which we live? If we continue to strip the world of meaning and elevate banality to a higher order of truth, we will transform the world into a vacuum where we spend our time, as T.S. Eliot would say, “dodging emptiness.”

In his allegory Pilgrims Regress, CS Lewis tells how the main character is held captive in a dungeon by a loathsome giant called the spirit of the age. Falling under the giants gaze would cause his victims to have a hideous xray vision, with the ability to see through skin and bone, with acute awareness of organs, saliva, flesh, bone, and even disease. They would see things “as they were”, and in a way that was graphic and repulsive.

This acute awareness of banal, literal physicality was accentuated by taunts from the jailer. Each time he would bring them food he would taunt them, reminding them that they were eating corpses of dead animals, and elaborate on their gruesome slaughter & butchering. If he brought eggs he would remind them that they were eating the menstruum of a verminous fowl. The situation finally comes to a head when the jailer taunts them about the milk they were drinking, saying that, as an excretion from a cow, it was no different from any other bovine excretion, such as sweat or dung. With that, John, the main character, laughs and says:

“Oh thank heaven, now at last I know that you’re talking nonsense.”

“What do you mean?” asks the jailer, wheeling around to face him.

“You are trying to pretend that two unlike things are alike. To make us think that milk is the same sort of thing as sweat or dung.”

“And what is the difference, save for custom?”

“Are you a liar, or only a fool that you do not see the difference between what nature casts out as refuse and that which she keeps for food? …Milk feeds calves, and dung does not.”

Real art nourishes, while parody and novelty are left to decompose. I’ve tried to stay brief with this and still unpack a lot of ideas…let me know what you think.

smARThistory…there’s more that’s smart, than just the ART

Pardon me while I take a minute to gush about a new site that takes a fresh approach to art history online… features a fresh open approach to both the design and the content, with great reproductions of artwork arranged by time-period, style or artist. The site is very approachable and explorable with an intuitive layout that makes it quick and easy just jump in and start clicking and exploring. The UI lets you look at lots of art very quickly, and it presents it in a way that you can quickly and intuitively see the connections and influences from one period to the next.

All this is well and good, but the intuitive UI is just the teaser… the insidious “little heroin packet”, if you will, that gets you browsing long enough to reel you in with it’s key differentiator, which is it’s content. See if this was just a well-designed site I would have probably just bookmarked it and been on my way, adding it to my long list of other sites that I appreciate but don’t visit very often. But it’s the content and the philosophy that takes this site to another level.

The site features 275 artworks and 214 informative video clips spanning 11 historical periods from Ancient Cultures to  Post Colonialism. The videos are compelling and really well done; featuring candid and sometimes spirited conversations between Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Stephen Zucker, art historians and founders of the site. They’re shot on location in museums across the world and are of a very high production value, as are all of the images on the site.

To quote from the site’s About page:

“Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker began smARThistory in 2005 by creating a blog featuring free audio guides in the form of podcasts for use in The Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Soon after, we embedded the audio files in our online survey courses. The response from our students was so positive that we decided to create a multi-media survey of art history web-book. We created audios and videos about works of art found in standard art history survey texts, organized the files stylistically and chronologically, and added text and still images.

We are interested in delivering the narratives of art history using the read-write web’s interactivity and capacity for authoring and remixing. … We believe that Smarthistory is broadly applicable to our discipline and is a first step toward understanding how art history can fit into the new collaborative culture created by web 2.0 technologies.”

It’s Art History with an entertaining 2.0 spirit and an NPR feel, where you’re even encouraged to submit your own additions to the site material wiki style, with tutorials that show you how to make your own rich media submissions. It stands out as an awesome example of  how the web can make materials and information interesting, interactive, and compelling. So what are you waiting for? Go there…now.

Creative Decisions by Committee…

I was working in my studio this week and began thinking about the series I’m currently exploring, including common themes between individual paintings and new areas for exploration. It’s always a bit perilous, not unlike walking through a mine field where one wrong step could end up blowing your legs off. OK, It’s really not THAT bad, but it DOES make you second guess yourself and take a circuitous path through the creative process. And in the end, it gets me thinking about what, and why, I make the art that I do.

The ideas that surface are diverse, and it’s interesting to consider where they come from. I find my thoughts bouncing between considering the subject matter, emotional impact, personal messaging, technique, current trends, format and media types, and overt vs intuitive content.  I ask myself random questions such as ‘why my color palette is so dark and muted’,  ‘does it matter how big I’m working?’, and am I hurting my career to be focusing on photographs as much as I am, when painting is viewed as being much more substantial?’. This collection of divergent voices begins to resemble a large stakeholders meeting in a business settings where multiple factions lobby for their individual interests; “What about the revenue deficit?” “Are we focusing on our core audience”, “Are we being too myopic/global in our approach?” In the end, if there’s not a strong leader with vision, the group will always pull the ship off course.

The ideas raised by my “group” tend to align themselves around a series of “if / then” statements:

  • IF self expression is central to art, then emotional impact and personal messaging are paramount concerns.
  • IF it’s important to be noticed and recognized for what you do, THEN trends, techniques, and media formats will be more important.
  • IF telling a story and delivering a message are important, THEN subject matter and an emphasis that’s more overt than intuitive will carry the day.

The problem of course is that most of us would identify with several of these statements, and they do tend to conflict with each other. When I was young I used to think that a great artist was someone who could deliver meaning on multiple levels, encompassing as many of these IF / THEN statements as possible. As I’m getting older, I’m starting to think that the recognized artists of our day are simply adept at ignoring entire areas of thought and aesthetic criticism, while focusing on a single thread.

I’m not sure everyone goes through this ‘creation by committee’ deluge, but I’ve come to accept it as part of my creative process. As the visionary leader, as well as the source of the divergent voices, I find I’m the self-imposed arbiter of myself.

To organize and facilitate this process I try to keep stacks of a few dozen smaller canvases at the ready to serve as sketchbooks, allowing me to quickly paint a phrase, image, or symbol that I can reconsider at a later time. The canvases range in size from 4″ x 4″ t0 8″ x 10″ and are an easy way to document fleeting ideas, as well as to keep me focused on core concepts and objectives.

I have a shelf that’s currently littered with paints sketched from drawings, small objects that have caught my eye, and words, such as “humble” and “cry”. Two days ago I sat down and painted the phrase:

What does it mean

to be true to yourself ?

…and I can’t stop thinking about it. This phrase resonates on so many levels that it’s almost unsettling. It’s helping me to focus on the core issues in my work, while deemphasizing or excluding the areas that are less important. (which assumes that focusing on core issues is important). I’m not going to elaborate on what the phrase might mean, as that would be different for everyone, but I will say that it’s given me a very clear focus this week.