Monday, November 22, 2010

Fall Term 2010 Video Showcase

 Digital Processes and Independent Study students presented their projects in Lawrence University's Warch Campus Center Cinema, Tuesday, November 23, 3-5:30 pm:

Tom Coben (IS): Cave Bat Chronicle – A documentary video on the threats facing Phillippine cave bats. (5 mins).
Lawton Hall (IS): Song for Last Autumn – Reflection on the passing of time, the ending of things, the closing of a chapter, etc. using squares, leaves, sandpaper, cassette tape and primary colors (6 mins).
Emily Owens: Video Diary - Whispered inner thoughts and skin.
Maki Miura: GARBEAT - By combining the simple beats improvised on the spot using the found objects around them, the people in this video create a complex rhythm. 
Caitlyn Genovese: Mastication - An exploration of the disturbing and disgusting aspects of eating alluding to the intertwined  idea of love and eroticism 
Kanesha Walker: Back to Natural - A video addressing the issues African-American women encompass with their hair choices.
Evan Tracy: Untitled - A woman, played by Rachelle Krivichi, experiences a bleak anxiety-filled reality and a distanced sense of self.
Jinglei Xiao: A Schizophrenic Man - An experimental video explores what happens when a  schizophrenic man gets super powers and fights evil after taking PCP.
Kate Duncan-Welke: BP Oil Spill Deepwater Horizon Disaster - Video mashup creating a feeling of urgency as the impact of the April 20, 2010 spill continues despite minimal news coverage.
Byte Phichaphop: Mr. Dot - Interactions between objects in the 2nd and 3rd dimensions accessed through a strange hole that opens Mr. Dot's eyes to a new world.
Anam Shahid: Nature versus Technology - A video about society's reliance on technology and how it distracts from the tangible tranquility of nature. 
Kevin Mason: Technology and Identity - An examination of how technology alters our sense of self by enabling us to  create alternate identities or extensions of ourselves existing in a non physical plane.
Alaina Albaugh:Future of our Fears - Digital painting projection about a frightening world in which technology, not us, possesses the power.
Hillary Rogers: Portraiture and Propaganda - Ancient portraits recreated with contemporary people and symbolic props reduced to irrelevant substitutes.
Marvana Avery-Cash: Behind the Scenes - A photographic memoir of a play production.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Deliver us from Evel

Evel Knievel promotional photograph
Evel Knievel's (1938-2007) highly-publicized seven-second motorcycle stunts inspired a generation to embrace risk and value fearlessness as if self-inflicted danger would lead to redemption. "He puts his life on the line with every death defying jump," chant the carnies.  The visual culture of strength and bravery in the face of pain goes back to biblical portrayals of Jesus Christ's crucifixion. The stations of the cross document each step of JC's suffering until his death. The pop culture embrace of EK's televised stunts and press conferences galvanized the mass appetite for such spectacles. Like performance art works such as Marina Abramovic's Rhythm 10 (1973) and Chris Burden's Trans-Fixed (4.23.74) contemporary with EK's work, possible harm to the artist became integral to artistic practice. EK's legendary jump over the Caesar's Palace fountains in Las Vegas on New Year's Eve 1967--where he crashed crushing his pelvis and femur, fractures his hip, wrist and both ankles and sustained a concussion--as documented on film shows a slo-mo ballet of out of control skidding body and machine (see below clip). EK's official website lists his successes and his crashes along with a laundry list of broken bones and a notation that he was born again and baptized by a famous TV preacher. Knievel's "work" has been documented in myriad feature films including Evel Knievel (1971) with George Hamilton playing EK reflecting on his life in a series of reenactments interspersed with archival footage, Viva Knievel (1977) featuring Evel playing himself while delivering anti-drug speeches, The Last of the Gladiators (1988) produced by and narrated by Knievel himself, Evel Knievel The Rock Opera with a myspace page (2007) and most recently a Jackass tribute (2008) which aired after Knievel's death. With the duration of Knievel's works so brief and his hope for infamy and riches so vast, Knievel incorporated a statement of purpose and extensive documentation as part of his routine. "I am the last gladiator in the new Rome. I go into the arena and I compete against destruction and I win. And next week, I go out there and I do it again." He spoke such phrases perhaps mirroring a mass culture hunger for modern day martyrs. 


Saturday, November 13, 2010

Being radical without being sad

Fading Away by Henry Peach Robinson, Albumen Combination Print, 1858 
Lev Manovich set about defining the New Media Field in his introduction to the New Media Reader (MIT, 2003). Pointing to Douglas Engelbart, Ted Nelson and Tim Berners-Lee among others as "the important artists of our time" (15), he challenges our sacrosanct definitions of art. Berners-Lee who submitted his proposal on November 12, 1990 for a "hypertext project" that would become the World Wide Web makes us consider the cultural implications of the Web and how it has changed the way humans live and think as the biggest art project ever attempted. Berners-Lee's proposal reads like an excerpt from Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari's writing on the Rhizome from A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (UMMP, 1987) (e.g. "The texts are known as nodes. The process of proceeding from node to node is called navigation. Nodes do not need to be on the same machine: links may point across machine boundaries."). One thing leads to another and as Deleuze and Guattari write "the rhizome operates by variation, expansion, conquest, capture, offshoots." Manovich's attentions have recently turned to founding a Software Studies Program and Twitter where he has been promoting his Mapping Time exhibition and its intent to visualizing cultural change through video pieces that surveying every cover of Time magazine or changes in Manga over time. In his ruminations on New Media he mentioned briefly the "combination prints" of Henry Peach Robinson. We recall the melancholy mood of Fading Away (1858) depicting the last moment of life of a dying girl made by combing five different negatives. Through the wonders of software and the Net, we can see the contemporary equivalent in video as JibJab's This Land (2004) and its spin off E-cards and wonder what mapping the changes in this montaged imagery would indicate.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Professor McLuhan's World

Professor Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980)
To be fully aware of the media environment that saturates contemporary existence remains as important today as it was when Professor Marshall McLuhan wrote his infamous The Medium is the Massage nearly 50 years ago. He may have been thinking television, newspapers, radio and LP records but his ideas remain applicable to iPads, smart phones and Twitter. Students seem to feel powerless over how social networking sites like Facebook have come to replace face-to-face gatherings around the kitchen table and smart phones have become an extension of the nervous system. McLuhan famously wrote: "there is absolutely no inevitability as long as there is a willingness to contemplate what is happening. All media work us over completely. They are so pervasive in their personal, political, economic, aesthetic, psychological, moral, ethical, and social consequences that they leave no part of us untouched, unaffected, unaltered." His collaborations with book designers such as Quentin Fiore, appearances in mainstream TV talk shows and films such as Woody Allen's Annie Hall and use of the Columbia Records LPs as an "outlet" demonstrates his willingness to use media rather than be used. This morning wondering what he would Tweet and what he would say about our 140 character attention spans, the expanding global village and the power of the constructed self via the Facebook News Feed.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

That was Then, This is Now

With the dawn of the modern age and an increasing appetite for power and speed in the 20th century, photographers documented the worker while reflecting evolving philosophical and political points of view. According to Lawrence University's art historian and curator Frank Lewis (right), in his lecture in the Wriston Auditorium on Friday, October 28, 2010; early photographers' nostalgic portrayals of anonymous laborers rooted in the land and in tradition began fading away as the Modern age took hold. Instead, came pictures of workers blurring into a frenzy of production fueling an increasingly materially-addicted society. Noteworthy were Lewis Hine's photographs of child laborers. Children in mines sorting nuggets of coal virtually disappearing into a cloud of dust. Eventually Hine's photographs raised public awareness and new child labor laws were enacted to protect the health and safety of children.

Lewis Hine, Breakers, Pennsylvania Coal Co. (circa 1908-1912)

Cut to the 21st century. In American cities once known for making things in the 20th century, the factories have faded away or have been turned into monuments or condos. The biggest employers in many cities are hospitals perhaps treating the people who used to make things? The job of making things has moved elsewhere while America's appetite for electronic devices and fast food continues to grow. Where do all those broken cell phones and blown out hard drives and old TVs land? Other than a few obscure documentaries like Ghana: Digital Dumping Ground or Edward Burtynsky's Manufactured Landscapes, the final resting place of digital waste is not discussed often enough. Lewis ended his lecture with an Edward Burtynsky's photograph. A blur of faceless workers clad in pink jumpsuits working in a plant processing chicken in Jilin Province, China maybe to satisfy the ongoing appetite for McNuggets. Burtynsky's ouvre also includes the byproducts of these times. Staggering accumulations of mother boards and computer cables in China forming both landscapes and monuments reminding us of both labor and unchecked consumption.

Edward Burtynsky, Manufacturing #17, China, 2005
Edward Burtynsky, Recycling #9, China, 2004

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

YouTube as Venue

Paul Sharits Shutter Interface film (1975)

Last year the New York Times writer Virginia Heffernan proposed an avant-garde emerging from the mass of video material posted every minute on YouTube in an article titled Uploading the Avant-Garde. Even more recently New York magazine wrote of US soldiers posting videos in The Ke$ha-Loving, Coman-Defying Army Auteur: Generation YouTube at War describing the artistry of Cody Wilson. 21st century upstart artists Ryan Trecartin and Kalup Lindzy (who just started a web series "Melody Set Me free") continue to use YouTube as a venue for their work despite having achieved art world recognition. In our teaching, we find the vast trove of experimental film posted on YouTube from the Paul Sharits structural film Tails  (1976) or Nam June Paik's Fluxus work Zen for Film (circa 1962-4) and interviews with artists such as Marina Aramovic useful especially as we recall how nearly impossible it was to gain access to such material when sequestered in remote locations such as central Wisconsin.

Larry Lessig on the Remix

In his 2008 book Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in a Hybrid Economy, copyright reformer, author and Harvard Professor Larry Lessig wrote:
Larry Lessig
Harvard Law Professor

..."But anyone who thinks remixes or mash-ups are neither original nor creative has very little idea about how they are made or what makes them great. It takes extraordinary knowledge about culture to remix it well. The artist or student training to do it well learns far more about his past than one committed to this (in my view, hopelessly naive) view about "original creativity." And perhaps more important, the audience is constantly looking for more as the audience reads what the remixer has written."... (page 93)
Lessig speaks out frequently on the creative use and cultural function of the remix and the need for copyright reform:

Friday, October 22, 2010

Unforeseen Consequences

William Wegman Deodorant (circa 1972-3)

The thrilling development of early broadcast television brought information and entertainment into individual American homes. A need arose for content and financing the production of content. The solution in America? Advertising. A flow then a flood of social anxieties filled the airwaves as products offered solutions to social nervousness, dull lifeless hair and body odor as seen in the vintage ads easily searchable on YouTube. The noted cultural critic Raymond Williams wrote in "The Technology and The Society" in 1972 of the crisis of "production control and financing" of broadcast television and contemplated at length the social consequences of advertisements. Rather than licensing or subscriptions, "commercial sponsorship" continued as the solution. Out of the cloud of spray deodorant came William Wegman and his video works contemplating the social fall-out of such ads. His early video works often took product claims to absurd levels. In "Deodorant" (1972-3), he applies spray deodorant to his armpit until it fills with a frothy foam while he talks about how fresh it keeps him feeling. In "I got..." and "TV Plunger", both from 1970, he demonstrates inventive and telling uses for common products such as plungers and dutch ovens making them absurd talismans of the complacent consumer culture that emerged mid-century. The advertised construct of high anxiety and worry about "deodorant cutting out" in tough situations may have unforeseen consequences that will take a century to sort out. While Modernists like Stan Brakhage took refuge in film producing sublime and transcendent works using amateur equipment and moth wings as in "Mothlight" (1963) or "Garden of Earthly Delights" (1981). Just a decade later, artists like Wegman confronted everyday experience and the influx of "products" directly and with dumb humor.

Body All anti-perspirant commercial (circa 1972)

As the 20th century closed and the anxiety of the coming domination of digital technologies grew, some artists turned back to earlier technologies to make their statements. David Lynch directed a 55 second film using 19th century filmmaking equipment in 1995 for the Lumiere & Company centennial anniversary project. The film, sometimes referred to as "Premonitions Following an Evil Deed" was shot in one take using a hand-cranked camera portraying an eerie world of cops, victims and survivors. It should be noted that Lynch, by 2010, has apparently moved all his creative activity to Twitter. Spike Lee used the antique Lumiere camera to film family related subject matter. Viewers hear a male voice repeatedly commanding "Say dada" to a somewhat oblivious toddler making his approach referential also to the "home movie" form increasingly popular throughout the 20th century and the Dada movement in art. As the 21st century got underway, young artists such as Ryan Trecartin embraced social networking culture, chatting and emailing along with the readily available off-the-shelf video production software and hardware. In his YouTube gem "Tommy-Chat Just E-mailed Me" (2006) he deploys the channeling surfing rhythms of the day interspersed with acid colors, effects and net culture buzz phrases to communicate life lived inside an email and punctuated by searches and referred to as "hysterical realism" by the New York Times in 2009. Perhaps it is this hysterical realism that is the "unforeseen consequence" of the technological progress ruminated upon by Williams in 1972.

Tommy-Chat Just E-mailed Me by Ryan Trecartin (2006)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Cut-Ups Are For Everyone

William S. Burroughs, American novelist and poet (1914-1997)
When William S. Burroughs instructed "...the cut-up method could add a new dimension to films. Cut gambling scene in with a thousand gambling scenes all times and places. Cut back. Cut streets of the world. Cut and rearrange the word and image in films" in his essay "The Cut-Up Method of Brion Gysin" from 1961, he seemed to have had an inkling of the volume of visual material to come and also how technologies and media would become increasingly accessible ultimately helping artist to "coax something up from the unconsciousness." There has been a long history of artists rearranging material found close at hand. From Marcel Duchamp defacing a mass produced picture postcard of the Mona Lisa (L.H.O.O.Q., 1919) by drawing a mustache on the iconic painting to Paul Pfeiffer erasing video footage frame-by-frame to create his eerie loop "Fragment of a Crucifixion (After Francis Bacon)" from 1999, artists have taken on the role of editors sorting through the torrent of visual images to point out "the hidden ghosts of the individual and his society" (thanks to Italo Calvino in "Cybernetics and Ghosts").

After two years of scouring a film archive of decaying Fox Movietone reels in Columbia, S.C., filmmaker and director Bill Morrison created a monumental experimental film. The goo of dissolving nitrate stock added poetics to long forgotten documentary footage of "exotic" people and places. Decasia" The State of Decay, the resulting film completed in 2002, begins with a Sufi Whirling Dervish foreshadowing the cycles and endlessness of movie film spinning on reels or fibers being spun on wheels into fabric and yarn which are motifs repeated throughout. A graduate of Reed College in Portland and Cooper Union School of Art in New York, Morrison made a film that was recently described as "the calligraphy of decay growing increasingly hallucinated and catastrophic" by J. Hoberman of the Village Voice (May 2010). The film prompts us to ponder the delicacy of both what is lost and what is saved while considering the endless human struggle and attempts at transcendence. Morrison cared enough to transform the deteriorating found analog material and collaborate with composer Michael Gordon to create a wall-of-sound-track to create an unnerving viewing experience. Through juxtaposition and aesthetics, not just patina, Morrison's fascination with the interaction of decay and film imagery created new meaning. As the digital age progresses and the inevitable loss of digital data becomes more fully realized, the relevance of Morrison's analog project changed as reflected in a Q&A conducted in March 2010 at Stanford

Whrling Dervish still from Bill Morrison's Decasia
Morrison's project is a meaningful addition to the 21st century dialog on the Remix. In "7 Essential Skills You Didn't Learn in College" in the October 2010 Wired, senior editor Jason Tanz gives an "extra credit assignment" in his "Remix Culture" hypothetical course: create a unique work using the Prelinger Archive. Helpful suggestion and great that Harvard professor and chairman of the artist-based Creative CommonsLarry Lessig, continues arguing for copyright reform to protect fair use and creative freedom for artists using Remix strategies in their practice. He speaks of eliminating the "fear of legal liability" with the aim of encouraging the next generation of artists to succeed rather than to fail as he believes the current copyright system tends to do. 

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Artists and the Social Media Explosion

Rachel Crowl's Facebook Portrait, 2010
Photographer: Unattributed
Lawrence's New Media & Website Coordinator
When we met Rachel Crowl, Lawrence University's New Media and Website Coordinator, last year and found out she'd learned html in 1993 and PhotoShop soon thereafter, we had to invite her to talk with our Digital Processes students about the wild world of the Web as she saw it evolve. When she gave her talk on Wednesday (10.6.2010), she covered digital progress from Desktop Publishing to RSS to Creative Commons. Referencing John Knoll, co-developer of Adobe Photoshop and Mark Zuckerberg, whose Facebook profile proclaims the innocent mantra "I'm trying to make the world a more open place by helping people connect and share," we realized once again that the the digital inventors that are re-wiring the way we think are far from household names like say Edison or Bell. With the release of the movie The Social Network last week,  the FB founder and CEO may become a somewhat more familiar name after getting the Hollywood treatment. Same with Hedy Lamarr, actress/inventor, who may get her due in a rumored Hollywood biopic reminding us of Lamarr's invention of spread-spectrum encryption which lead to the wireless technology we know and use today.

by Ted Nelson
Self-published using
Books like Ted Nelson's Geeks Bearing Gifts review this history too reminding us of the impact of late 20th century inventors on our daily life. Rachel took us through this evolution and ended with Web 2.0, the ultimate 21st century tool. At LU, she uses Web 2.0 platforms including Facebook, YouTube, Flickr and WordPress to get the word out through photos, videos and newsfeeds about what goes on at the college on a more human level than prior static websites and slick brochures perhaps resulting in the college's largest ever Freshman class.

Lev Manovich,
Software Studies Initiative
California Institute for Telecommunications
and Information Technology

That Web 2.0 quickly became a marketing tool enabling anybody to blog about anything or toot their own horn becomes clearer with each passing day. But, what can artists do with the deluge? In the exhibition catalog The Art of Participation, organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 2008, Lev Manovich posed the question, in a now historic essay: "Art after Web 2.0": "Modern artists have thus far succeeded in meeting the challenges of each generation of media technology, but can professional art survive the extreme democratization of media production and access? His answer: "In my view a significant percentage of the work found on these websites represents the most innovative cultural production today...Ultimately, social media's true challenge to art may not be the excellent cultural production of studenets and non professionals that is now readily available online. It may lie in the very dynamics of Web 2.0 culture: its incessant innovation, energy, and unpredictability." Certainly a safe, open-ended answer that points to that next overly obvious but completely new thing that will continue to change everyday life. In his essay, Manovich references the video "Web 2.0...the Machine is Us/ing Us" posted by Michael Wesch a cultural anthropologist who explore the "effects of new media on society and culture." We are left to contemplate the strategies and tactics artists are using to be productive digital citizens helping to form what we now know as Web 2.0. The blog Art Fag City recently ranted about the simultaneous importance/lack of importance of authorship and the rise of collaboration as a start.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Henri Cartier-Bresson: All-Knowing

Dan Leers ('02) talks with LU students about the HCB exhibition @ AIC 10.2.10
Dan Leers (LU '02) spent the last couple years examining the journals and papers of photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004), archived by the Fondation Henri-Cartier Bresson in Paris. As Beaumont and Nancy Newhall Curatorial Fellow at the Museum of Modern Art, Dan tracked on HCB's movement through the space-time continuum as a way to shed light on the photographer's prescient dedication to global travel and to help viewers put HCB's photographs into context. Dan's research became an integral part of the Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Modern Century exhibition and catalog. The show organized by MoMa travelled to the Art Institute of Chicago (closed 10.3.2010) then will go on to San Francisco and Atlanta. Giant maps and color lines at the entrance of the exhibition denote Cartier-Bresson's photographic journey over the course of 50 years, a data visualization helping viewers to contemplate HCB's photographic trajectory.  

HCB managed to be in the right place at the right time with his basic 35mm camera and black-and-white film.  Always watching and seeing the minutia that reveals the complexity of a specific moment. From the assassination of Ghandi in India to the early information age in America, his wife, Martine Franck, pointed out in an NPR interview in 2003 that "...Henri had an innate intuition of what was going on in the world and what was important."  Long before jet travel, HCB travelled by boat, train and motorcycle. HCB's mythology  looms large in the photography canon from the branding of the "Decisive Moment" to the legendary formation of Magnum, The exhibition partly knocks HCB off his pedestal, according to Leers, by giving viewers a new perspective on the photographer's body of work. We see HCB's obsession with living and looking. We see that long before art museums showed photographs and photography galleries were as commonplace as the Internet, picture magazines where the best way to circulate pictures and that's exactly what HCB did. Through Magnum, he contributed both color and black-and-white photographs to a range of magazines from Sports Illustrated to Life to Paris Match. The exhibition provides a hint of the sheer volume of his output as professional photo-journalist and artist. Eventually giving up photography for drawing, HCB practiced the "journey-form" tas defined by Nicolas Bourriaud in his Alternmodern Manifesto. He did so long before it was as easy as jumping on a jet plane to your latest artist residency. Writes Bourriaud in 2009: "The form of the work expresses a course, a wander, rather than a fixed space-time...Our universe becomes a territory all dimensions of which may be travelled both in space and time." HCB criss-crossed continents to see a changing modern world throughout the 20th century while pining for the traditional old world past and living long enough to catch a vision of the last of the pre-FaceBook 21st century. 
Henri Cartier-Bresson, McCann-Erickson Agency,
Madison Avenue, New York, 1959

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Panopticon vs. Capture

The revelation in a recent New York Times story that a trusted civil rights insider and photographer, Ernest Withers, had been an FBI informant stings while reminding us how much we want to trust perceived insiders. Like Sabrina Harman and the other soldiers at Abu Graib who snapped digital photos and videos to "show what's going on" with the prison conditions that initially shocked them in late 2003, they trusted their friends and they trusted photography. They ended up with prison sentences and dishonorable discharges and left a case study of how photographs could incriminate the watcher rather than the watched. Errol Morris's film, Standard Operating Procedure (2008), puts forth his Interrotron interviews with Harman and others to examine the complexity of perceptions and digital photography and the electronic distribution of digital photography. These examples play into the surveillance model, the deeply engrained notion that some entity is watching everything we do be it parents, teachers, peers or the boss.

Leave Me Alone

P. Agre
For a more subtle aspect of watching, we contemplate the case of former UCLA associate professor Philip Agre's and his ideas about "capture". We consider the many ways our daily activities are "tracked" on from online purchasing to facebook updates to buying gasoline with a credit card. We leave an audit trail. A pile of receipts. As if to put all his theories about "grammars of action" to the ultimate test, he disappeared, walked away from his professor gig  and his apartment a year ago. His disappearance reported by the media and then resolved by the University of California Police leaves the public to ponder how easy it may or may not be for a professor or anyone to disappear. Online discussions bring up his bipolar disorder aor projections that he simply got off the grid. Whatever the case, he has left us with a real life case study of what happens when an expert defies all the capture models he'd studied and referenced in his books and publications particularly "Surveillance and Capture: Two Models of Privacy".

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Progress: Dystopia or Utopia?

The popular conception of computers reflected in the 1964 episode of The Twilight Zone "The Brain center at Whipples" shows us "the machine" as a source of problems thus expressing the anxiety over the prospect of computers displacing workers. It was in this cultural context that Doug Engelbart demonstrated the functions he envisioned a computer might perform. Known as the Mother of All Demos, his Stanford Research Institute's visionary December 9, 1968 presentation of networked computers aimed to improve "the effectiveness of intellectual workers" by helping them "share knowledge." Engelbart shows the public for the first time the functions we take we now take for granted: the mouse, video-conferencing, hyperlinks, digital text editing and online collaboration. Engelbart envisioned a utopian use of technology "toward making the most difference in improving the lot of the human race."

Ted Nelson, best known for coining the term hypertext and conceptualizing what we now know as a link on the Internet, thought computers should go beyond number crunching of IBM. He believed they should be used by all people for all things. In his book, Computer Lib/Dream Machines, he advocates for a deep understanding of computers. They should be fun and not dystopian.