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: