Saturday, November 28, 2015
Thursday, October 15, 2015
I was honoured to curated a video project for Kaleidoscopemagazine to coincide with their Art and Sex issue (I've interviewed Celia Hempton in the mag itself and I'm also doing a talk at Frieze Art Fair Reading Room Friday 530pm with her and Julie Verhoeven)
It's called Cocksandcunts Here are more details!
The selected works by The ARKA group, Adham Faramawy, Richard Kern, Reija Merlainen, Julie Verhoeven, John Walter and Zoe Williams explore the representation of sexuality and the naked body, veering from fetishism to playful humour, from choreographed performance to an almost abstract approach. Here, ideas of feminism, movement, power and the structure of art manifest into a deeply human form, emphasizing the human sex as something layered with meaning.
PS Longlyst also printed my Top Ten London galleries
Sunday, October 11, 2015
My recommendations leading up to Frieze are up.
Also if you're there Friday, head to the reading room at 530pm to hear me talk with Celia Hempton and Julie Verhoeven for Kaleidoscope. I'll also be posting a VIDEOCLUB project to coincide next week. News to come!
Saturday, October 03, 2015
Here is some of the latest work out at the moment
- the cover feature of the Financial Times How To Spend it Magazine
- a six page feature on artists working with poetry and text in Sleek magazine with profiles on David Raymond Conroy, Quinn Latimer, Megan Rooney, Harry Burke and Agnieszka Polska
- lots of top tens for Dazed Digital coming - Art Licks weekend, and pre and post Frieze and Fiac to come
Thursday, July 02, 2015
SPECTRUM at CHART
The performance programme is at the year’s edition of CHART works with demonstrating the vitality of colour and showing how it can be relevant, engaging and complex in a series of conceptual performance art works.
The diverse variety of performance artists is curated by the English curator, writer and editor Francesca Gavin. Gavin has primarily invited Nordic artists who work with different elements such as, architecture, sound, lighting and textile. The artists will create individual performances but are asked to work within the shared thematic of colour in creating their works.
Colour has a bad reputation. From the Grecian concepts of aesthetics though 20th century modernism to contemporary conceptual art, colour is often described as something about spectacle, emotion, expression, the irrational. The responses and experience colour creates in a viewer is often downplayed as simple sensationalism. This programme of performances aims to resist this redundant argument.
The performance programme of CHART draws on David Batchelor’s concept of ‘chromophobia’. He argues, “colour is made out to be the property of some ’foreign’ body – usually the feminine, the oriental, the primitive, the infantile, the vulgar, the queer or the pathological. Colour is relegated to the realm of the superficial, the supplementary, the inessential or the cosmetic… Colour is routinely excluded from the higher concerns of the Mind.”
The aim of these works is to reposition colour as something equally important as line, idea, and form in the creation of art. Show that colour is something important outside of the expected mediums of painting or graphics. That colour can be an intelligent way to engage with politics and meaning, and has an important role in contemporary cultural production and communication.
The artists in this programme will invited to draw on the idea of the spectrum or create a performance around a specific colour (so there could be an excitement amongst viewers to ‘collect’ the experience of different coloured performances).
FRIDAY the 21st of August
Norwegian artist Wrånes creates dramatic aural audio works. Featured in the Sydney biennial and the last Performa, her space-specific performance works that often use hanging elements, props, costume and architecture. For CHART, she will perform a “vision for the future”.
SATURDAY the 22nd of August
Sigurðardóttir’s work focuses on interactive spaces and projects that investigate the idea of the spectrum, space and movement. For CHART, the Icelandic artist will create a Prism performance-installation working with colour as visual information gained from scans of viewers invisible radiant energy.
David Mullett & Duncan Ransom
Director David Mullett is unveiling his first abstract psychedelic virtual reality work as part of the performance programme of CHART. Trained at the Royal College of Art, Mullett is founder of VR agency Virtualize and has written about innovations in Virtual Reality for Dazed, Sleek and Blackbook.
Duncan Ransom is the founder of The Endless, a high-end Virtual Reality content creation studio. With over 10 years experience working for major VFX studios in the feature film industry, he is currently focused on the development of delicious augmented and virtual reality based environments, interactions and applications.
SUNDAY the 23rd of August
Swedish artist Nadine Bryne creates works that reflect an interest in ritual, nature and femininity. Alongside a practise that includes sculpture and film, her performance works have incorporated textiles, dance and fabric elements. For CHART, she will create audio-visual work inspired by the projection and contrast of colour.
Verhoeven’s chaotic performative installation works include objects, sound, sculpture, moving image and painting. She has also created collaborative real time performances at the ICA, London and moving image performance with Jimmy Merris at the Hordaland Arts Centre, Norway. She is creating a new performance inspired by the colour spectrum for CHART.
Peter Jensen was born in Denmark and educated at Central Saint Martins in London. He established his brand in 1999 and is known for a mastery of colour and print, with work that crosses between fashion, art and graphic image. He has collaborated in the past with Tim Walker, Dover Street Market and Topshop, and a retrospective of his work was exhibited at the Copenhagen Arts Museum in 2011.
Spectrum Risograph Print Project
This commissioned project is a series of six limited risograph prints each inspired by a different colour in the spectrum, which will be given away free. The project aims to rethink ideas of value and consumption within the context of the fair with works that explore wider ideas about the colour spectrum. The contributing artists are Alex da Corte, Clare Woods, James Hoff, John Korner, Peter Linde Busk and Richard Coleman.
Gavin is a curator, writer and editor based in London. She has curated international exhibitions including E-Vapor-8 (319 Scholes and Site Sheffield), The Dark Cube (Palais de Tokyo), and The New Psychedelia (Mu). She is also the Visual Arts Editor of Dazed & Confused, Art Editor of Twin and contributing editor at Artsy.net, Sleek, Le Pan and AnOther. She has written five books including ‘The Book of Hearts’, ‘100 New Artists’ and ‘Hell Bound: New Gothic Art’ and is the curator of the Soho House group collection.
Monday, May 25, 2015
Nazafarin Lotfi: Indexical Realness
May 29-July 12015, ClubMonaco, 58 Main St, South Hampton, NY
Curated by Francesca Gavin
Nazafarin Lotfi is an artist with a nuanced approach to abstraction, texture and tone. Born in Iran, Lotfi is based in Chicago where she completed her MFA in Fine Arts. Her work has been exhibited in Milan, Chicago, Seoul, Budapest and New York.
Lofti began working on this series of small-scale paintings in 2010 alongside larger works, increasingly attracted to their intimacy. Part of what makes them so interesting is their focus on texture. “References of time passing on the surfaces of things always intrigued me,” the artist explains. “It was a reward to find the layers of dust in the corners of my bedroom or kitchen, all the places that I didn’t reach. When I rented a studio the marks left from the previous artists or the rubbed and worn floors were always fascinating. They are so much about a lived experience that is not present at the moment and these residues focus your attention to their thing-ness. I wanted to create that in my paintings.”
Her reduced color palette to a spectrum of monochrome tones is part of what makes the results so interesting and surprisingly broad. “I needed to focus and pay attention to what was in front of me. Then all the possibilities of different grays opened up and it became about all the colors between black and white.” When making the work, Lotfi covers her canvases in black and paints over this white, layering and sanding each layer when dried for weeks. Some pieces included found elements from her studio – old drawings, cut papers. Here the image itself reflects the process of addition and removal. As she notes, “I wanted to spend time with the work and do an activity- the traces of my presence and touch is left on the surfaces.”
The presentation of the work was something conceived by the artist. “I like how the paintings coexist together. They are all part of a larger entity but can also function on their own.” Sculpture is the serious focus of Lotfi’s work outside of these paintings – influenced by vessels, ritualistic objects and the work of artists like Franz West and Jessica Jackson Hutchins. Recent piece include paper molds of everyday objects with a surface relating to her textured 2D pieces. Her practice as a whole reflects an intelligent take on the abstract. “Abstraction came to me as a world of possibility, in some ways liberating and opening. We usually tend to go for the narrative, that is how we understood the world at the first place but I think we should move forward and learn to live without it.” This is work about experience itself.
For enquiries contact email@example.com
Sunday, May 24, 2015
Wednesday, April 29, 2015
Originally presented as the keynote lecture at STRP Festival March 2015.
Watch This Space
Text Francesca Gavin
This is an examination about our relationship to screens. How that association is changing our daily experience, our ways of thinking, our ways of looking. Lets start small – with the phone. It is the most intimate example of our relationship to technology. The screen-object we carry with us everyday.
If you search “looking at phone” what comes up is a YouTube clip of people staring at their phones. It is described as “an epidemic of texting while walking” and positioned as something seriously dangerous. Illustrated by funny amateur phone footage, this humorous news excerpt is a perfect example of our relationship with our phones. How we fall into our focus on the screen – forgetting the physical space around us. Forgetting our own physicality. I love the phrase “inattention blindness”. But in fact, it is the opposite. The people featured are consumed with attention – they are just looking down at the object in their hands not at their ‘real’ surroundings.
Where is the screen?
Where is the screen in contemporary life? We wake up and check our screens for messages. If we travel to work on public transport, more than half of us are on our phones. We stare at screens for work, communication, play and diversion throughout the day. Travel home, and watch a screen again for entertainment. Sometimes with a second screen on our lap. Then we go to sleep with our screens next to our beds. We experience screens in advertising – moving alongside us on the escalator, blown up in public space. At music gigs or exhibitions or cultural experiences, everyone is watching things through their screens, capturing the moment in some form. Amateur mobile screen footage is now normal on the news. As James Bridle in his essay ‘The New Aesthetic and Its Politics” writes, “protest, repression, revolt and schism are framed not through the lens of critique, but the lens of iPhones and iPads held aloft.”
In recent years, there has been a wave of literature deconstructing our relationship to technology – often criticising it even from within. Jaron Lanier, an American computer scientist and pioneer of virtual reality, in his book ‘You Are Not A Gadget’ from 2010 criticised the limitations of the structure of programming and how it restricts human expression and communication. Devices, he notes, are “inert tools and are only useful because people have the magical ability to communicate meaning through them… The most important thing to ask about any technology is how it changes people.”
For me the most influential text to sum up our experience with technology and what it means to exist now is Jonathan Crary’s ‘24/7’ that appeared last year. Subtitled ‘Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep’, the book is deeply critical of the political and commercial interests that oversee our relationship to technology. If you’re checking your emails or feeds in the middle of the night on the tablet next to your pillow, this book will make you feel very uncomfortable. In particular much of the focus of the book is on the speed of consumption – the current accelerated formats of image and information absorption. Nothing is ever really off – just resting, waiting to be activated at a single gesture, touch or glance. Here the screen becomes a device that is limiting not increasing our activity. To quote Crary, “Devices are introduced (and no doubt labelled as revolutionary), they will simply be facilitating the perpetuation of the same banal exercise of non-stop consumption, social isolation, and political powerlessness.”
Crary points out how the myths of open source egalitarianism and the empowerment of technology have been cultivated. “The idea of technological change as quasi-autonomous, driven by some process of auto-poesis or self-organisation, allows many aspects of contemporary social reality to be accepted as necessary, unalterable circumstances, akin to facts of nature. In the false placement of today’s most visible products and devices within an explanatory lineage that include the wheel, the pointed arch, movable type and so forth, there is a concealment of the most important techniques invented in the last 150 years: the various systems for the management and control of human beings.” To paraphrase, we voluntarily kettle ourselves in cyberspace.
The screen as interface
My aim here is not to join the choir of criticism. Though my feelings are ambivalent – a midpoint between horror and fascination, admiration and addiction. Rather than the wider discussion around technology, I want to focus on the interface – the screen itself. Many theorists have focused on the content of the screen – the ideas around the network and the effect of technology on our psychology, actions and thinking. Yet there is very little discussion about the black void-like rectangles we stare into so much. To begin with, what is a screen?
When I first started thinking about this topic it was such an easy thing. It was something that grew directly out of the construction and composition of painting – referencing the dimensions and constructions of the canvas. The modern screen was an extension of the cinema screen and the television, which became the monitor, the laptop screen, the phone screen and the flatscreen. Yet, as the academic and writer Peter Lunenfeld pointed out to me, my conception was perhaps limited. “The newest screens really are sort of only pseudo screens.” The screen today is no longer necessarily a black rectangle or square. It is also an a oculus rift headset or a projected surface with moving imagery like the blank tunnels on the London tube system which are transformed into screens between trains. The screen has moved beyond the confines of the screen.
Scale is something Peter also discussed with me - the emergence of the ‘phablet’. A phone with a bigger screen space to watch things on. In the 21st century we are seeing a move away from mid ‘human’ size towards the tiny or the supersized. The same applies to narrative itself. “The classic Aristotelian dramatic unity of the 90 to the 120 minute theatrical presentation, which moves from Greek theatre into medieval passion plays, into narrative length films - that just disappears in favour of the Vine at six seconds and Game of Thrones at 28 hours.” There is a strong connection between how and what we watch and the changes in our devices.
The New Intimacy
I think one of the most interesting changes in our relationship to the screen is a new sense of intimacy. Screens live in our pockets, our bags. We often touch them or check them for reassurance. Sometimes numerous times per hour. The content of the screen is life. As Baudrillard the postmodern French sociologist and philosopher wrote in his essay ‘Screened Out’ in 1996: “Distance is abolished…. between stage and auditorium, between subject and object, between the real and its double.” He goes on, “There is no separation any longer, no empty space, no absence: you enter the screen and the visual image unhindered… The video image – and the computer screen – induce a kind of immersion, a sort of umbilical relation, of ‘tactile’ interaction as McLuhan in his day said of television…” Here our addiction and relationship to the screen is fuelled partly by a desire for self-immolation. As Baudrillard states, “from the desire to disappear, and the possibility of dissolving oneself into a phantom of conviviality.”
Screens have a bad reputation. They are blamed for eye ache, sleep damage, rewired brains, and social isolation. A recent Norwegian study observed teens slept less when they used computer screens more. The artificial light activated wakefulness and suppressed melatonin. Charles Arthur, in his 2008 article in The Guardian ‘It's the screens, not the internet, that are making us stupid’ wrote, “Low resolution monitors (including all computer screens until now) have poor readability: people read about 25% slower from computer screens that from printed paper.” A study from Manchester University found reading on paper 10-30% faster than on screens. (Interestingly the screen is always being positioned in contrast to the book page – again a throw back to the work of Marshall McLuhan.)
In McLuhan’s ‘The Medium is the Massage’ the focus was the television, yet his ideas could easily be applied to the modern screen. He writes, “In television there occurs an extension of the sense of active, exploratory touch which involves all the senses simultaneously, rather than that of sight phenomena, the visual is only one component in a complex interplay… Television demands participation... It will not work as background. It engages you. Perhaps this is why so many people feel their identity has been threatened.” Its amusing to think anyone would feel this way about TV after so much more invasive technology has been developed.
The screen has increasingly become a space for human psychological expression or dissolution or distrust. Andre Nusselder’s in ‘Interface Fantasy: A Lacanian Cyborg Onotology’ argues that the computer functions in cyberspace as a psychological space – as the screen of fantasy. At one point she mentions the work of MIT professor Jozeph Weizenbaum, who wrote the first computer psychotherapy program ELIZA in 1966 – which Lacan was fascinated by. She explains, “Lacan acknowledged that ELIZA appears to produce some sort of transference relation. People find something (of themselves) in the machine; they unconsciously transfer (fantasmically) the object of their desire onto it. Computers may appear as fellow “humans”: you can talk to them, they can ask you questions, you can play and cooperate with them.” We see our screens as sentient.
Psychologist Sherry Turkle has been strongly critical of the changing emotional fallout from technological developments. In ‘Life on Screen’ (1995) she writes, “We have learned to take things at interface value. We are moving towards a culture of simulation in which people are increasingly uncomfortable with substituting representations of reality for the real”. More recently in her 2012 Ted Talk ‘Connected, but alone?’ she laments the opportunity for self-editing and distance that technology allows us. “Texting, emailing, posting lets us present the self as we want it to be. We get to retouch. Human relationships are messy. We clean them up with technology. We sacrifice conversation for connection.” She notes that the phone presents the fantasy that we are never alone, will always be heard. “Being alone feels like a problem that needs to be solved. I share therefore I am.”
The future looks even crazier. The TV series ‘Wild Palms’ is a great metaphor for the possibilities of what the screen can be. This mini series was released in 1990 – following the avant-garde approach of Twin Peaks. It was based on a comic strip by Bruce Wagner. It was partly created and produced by Oliver Stone with episodes directed by Kathryn Bigelow among others. The series focused on a future Hollywood in a fictionalised 2007 where an underground movement, the Friends, were in resistance to the right wing Fathers who owned the media and had political and religious control. The way the populace were manipulated and controlled was through a virtual reality holographic technique ‘Mimecom’. The protagonist’s son is set to star in a Channel 3 series “Church Windows” using this new media, which would project a holographic character into your domestic space. Here the screen literally broke out of the fourth wall and touched you. This was an exploration of the possibilities of virtual reality (sometimes exaggerated by an addictive drug mimezine).
Steven Spielberg’s ‘Minority Report’ provides another metaphor of the transformed screen – in the context of marketing, advertising and consumerism. You could literally feel capitalists get turned on the minute that film was released. Both of these examples highlight something central to what a lot of artists and writers are highlighting – the ownership and possible exploitation of technology. (Something Lunenfeld explores very well in his book ‘The Secret War Between Uploading and Downloading’).
There are rumours of Facebook’s messenger app recording people’s conversations and ruffled feathers over Samsung's amended Terms and Conditions warning users of their Smart TVs that [records?] conversations within earshot of their products. The screen is watching us as much as we are watching the screen. Television today is often a two-screen interaction – with phones and tablet interaction encouraged to revive traditional passive media. Sony have just patented methods, systems, and computer programs for converting television commercials into interactive network video games. In one method, a broadcast or streamed commercial is accompanied by an interactive segment. A media player would present users with an enhanced and interactive mini-game commercial that could be played with other ‘viewers’. It could be inserted within the television program, overlaid on frames or last the duration of a commercial spot. Interactive adverts already exist on services like Hulu.
Getting back to the present, it is also important to define what the modern screen’s appearance is. It has its own texture, colour and illumination. Many artists that are making work today reflect this – like Rafaël Rozendaal, who will be talking later today, the digital animations of Daniel Swan, the projections and print work by Travess Smalley. The way images disintegrate on the modern screen is also very important. Laura Marks writes in ‘Touch: Sensuous theory and multisensory media’: “The noise of a failed Internet connection Soundbite? is a declaration of electronic independence. It grabs us back from the virtual space and reminds us of the physicality of our machines.” She emphasises that digital media are in fact analogue. They are unpredictable, make errors, breakdown, connections cut out – these are all things that remind us of technology’s physicality rather than its transcendence. Failure is inbuilt into technology design. As Marks puts it “technologies age and die just as people do.” It is just manufacturers and techno evangelists with vested interest that make us want to dream it is superhuman.
Esther Leslie in her Slade Contemporary Lecture of 2010 questioned “Is there a liquid crystalaesthetic?” For Leslie, HD screens are the new contemporary media in themselves. The ability of LCD and plasma screens to be flicker free, still at any moment and negate the time progression of narrative is influencing creative content. Here art’s progress is bound up with the imitation of nature – depth, perspective etc. The definition of mimesis. Today’s photorealistic 3D animation attempts to do the same thing – to make fiction invisible. Yet at the same time digitization is a simulation. A computer transforms an image into pixels, code, a language – the result is a version of something.
We can conclude that the screen is complex. It is becoming the focus for all kinds of issues of modern life. Physical, psychological, cultural, political. We have never been more obsessed with looking at the moving or still image in screen space. Nathan Jeurgenson notes in ‘The IRL Fetish’ “the plain fact that our lived reality is the result of the constant interpenetration of the online and offline.”
Between the Passive and the Active
So how are artists addressing this relationship? I think this can be positioned between the idea of the passive and active screen. The passive screen is one observed, a screen as object. In its most simple form, this is a screen we watch. CamilleHenrot ‘Grosse Fatigue’ (2013) is a beautiful example of a film, which documents our computer screen relationship. The piece examines the way we look and accumulate information. There is a strong sense of rhythm and editing in the work, which was developed during a residency fellowship at the Smithsonian.
She discussed the project with me in 2013. “I was doing a lot of Internet research on the Smithsonian database. I often had a lot of windows open on my desktop. When you look at a cluster of windows on a desktop and try to find reason, it results in a kind of primitive thinking – a sort of ultra rationality. You see the images together and then your mind makes these connections, not because there is a connection but because your brain needs to resolve the images.”
Here the screen becomes the subject of work itself. Shown as a projection, nonetheless our engagement is one of observer watching the film from the point of a relatively passive audience. Another contemporary example of this passive, observant screen relationship is Dis’ #Artselfie project, which was recently released as a book.
Part art project, part viral meme, the artselfie revealed the audience’s desire to capture themselves alongside the artwork, even inside the artwork. The subjects become temporary collectors who are able to have their experience intertwined with a digital ownership of the work in some form – even if only within the screenscape. The results feel like a prosaic take on performance documentation. In this way the art object becomes something communal, sharable and conceptual rather than physical.
Samara Scott is an artist better known for her work in 2D space – sculptures, paintings and installation pieces. However, she created a fascinating web project for Legion TV that I think is of note as an example of an artist drawing on ideas of the passive screen interaction. Scott is interested in how the screen perverts gaze – “shifts and melts and inverts natural legibility”. Her work was an attempt to make a narrative film but this emerged as a diary of snapchats and scenes she had casually collected placed together on the screen, which popped up over whatever was on the viewer’s desktop. Playing with the logic of collage, this moving image was largely footage of textures, soft things, hard things, woven objects. “Textual encounters” as she puts it. The result was a very visceral experience to watch – a digital creation of sensation. She is currently making a body of work photographing and filming sanitising hand gel on an iPad.
The Screen as Object
The next stage of the passive screen is one where the screen is embedded in the work – often within the sculptural or painting field. Ken Okiishi does this by making the screen into a canvas for paintings. Nate Boyce does this by making sculptural plinth part of a work holding a screen. The work of British based artist Adham Faramawy is a great example, placing screens within complex sculptural objects. Based in the UK, originally from Egypt and is a graduate of the RA schools. He was originally influenced by the arrival of flat screen TVs and how they were replacing cathode ray monitors and the way this changed how we receive and perceive an image.
His use of the embedded screen emerged after he began working with animators to produce sculptural computer programs and later particle animation. “I started to get familiar with the logics and the languages of the interfaces to the programs producing these moving images. They're inherited from analogue, physical traditions like film editing, clay modelling and masonry, but unlike the given conditions of these traditions, with computer modelling you can't make assumptions, you have to assign physical conditions and physics to an object.” contained within highly textured cases and plinth structures. Often the screen is upturned in his work. He explains, “Shifting the angles at which a viewer receives an image was, for me, intended to point at the physicality of the image, thinking about the substrata carrying that image as a sculptural body, a form within a composition.”
Another passive example of screen use is deconstructed and taken apart but still functions in some way as a screen. One example would be the work of Yuri Pattison, an artist who is currently in residence at the Chisenhale Gallery and was part of the collective Lucky PDF. He has used digital signage monitors, which present self shot iPhone footage – commenting on our consumption of screen based information. His current interest is in e-ink panels. Pattison often takes apart screens and displays their inner workings, revealing the mechanisms of display. As a result, we can see a small number of manufacturers are making these parts – Samsung panels are being used by numerous brands for example. He removes the façade of slick design and marketing. “The stripping of the screens cosmetic body and branding also highlights the mechanisms that support the display of the image – these mechanisms are normally invisible, deliberately hidden by the manufacturer to present a seamless experience.” Pattison notes. “We view screens as a window on to something, so in the way we don't think of the glass in the window we don't think of the processes behind the representation on the screen. There are numerous layers we don't perceive, or barely perceive, in the act of viewing something on a screen.”
Berlin-based artist Simon Denny who is representing New Zealand in the next Venice Biennale is very interested in a deconstructed screen. His work has examined TV hacking, the thinning of monitor, how we receive information, the design, packaging and structure of the companies behind the consumption of technology, and conferences that promote and position devices in society. Here the screen is printed on panels. Analogue materials replicate the structure and format of the screen. The screen is ripped apart, reimagined and revealed.
Another way the passive screen is explored in artworks is when it is translated into something outside of the screen – the screen space in real space so to speak. Dutch artist Constant Dullaart does this well. “The screen is our contemporary landscape. We spend more time daydreaming and staring at screens then we look out of windows. The screen is a personal experience more and more, which brand, design or lifestyle you subscribe to. This fetishisation of the private experience seems to be a response to knowing most networked screen based communication is not private at all,” he points out. “How private can a screen get, can it get more private then the Oculus Rift, Microsoft Hololens, or Google Glass? If we have these private views, are we leaving our shared experiences to be mediated by commercial companies?”
The active screen
The next level artists are engaged with the screen as what I’m going to call the active screen. This is where artists are exploring ideas around interaction and space. I curated a show called ‘Responsive Eyes’ a couple of years ago that I want to bring up at this point. It was inspired by documentation of the opening of ‘The Responsive Eye’ an exhibition held at MOMA in New York in 1965. It brought together artworks by so-called ‘Op’ and minimalist artists such as Bridget Riley, Josef Albers and Viktor Vasarely. The curator William Seitz described the show an “exhibition that would indicate an activity, not a kind of art”. He argued in the exhibition’s catalogue this was “non-objective perceptual art”, art that “exists primarily for its impact on reception rather than for conceptual examination… Ideological focus has moved from the outside world, passed through the work as object, and entered the incompletely explored region area between the cornea and the brain.”
The reason I wanted to highlight this moment in art is because I think our interaction with the screen has decades of legacy of technological advancements that have played with human perception and physicality. I want to connect these ‘retinal’ works with gifs, digital paintings and 3D animation. How we relate and view the constant influx of movement, imagery, sound and informational content in modern screen life.
The exploration of screen interaction can be lo fi. Aram Bartholl’s show which closed earlier this month at Baby Castles in New York questioned the screen perspective. “Most of our reality today is taking place in that phone rectangle. The screen constantly moved closer to our eyes over the past decades (from cinema to phones). The screen will be attached to our eyes soon (glasses or lenses).” Playing on the exchange and selling of imagery though the screen, Bartholl’s exhibition was very much made for interaction and dispersion through social media. He created giant photo picture cut outs so people could pose as if within the phone screenspace for Instagram, Twitter or Facebook. The main aim was to get visitors to interact with each other.
Selfie sticks, head mounted cameras like GoPro or Google Glass played with the idea of the POV image (what is this?). He created head mounted phones during a workshop at the Atlantic Center of the Arts, experimenting with filming POV techniques. “In the end it appeared to me that the picture of someone wearing his/her phone on the forehead obviously filming is even more interesting than the actual clip shot with that head mounted phone.” He explains, “The whole thing is a bit cyborg but in a silly, lite [light?] way.”
The active or living screen can be seen in the work of Antoine Catala. In his video projection works and sculptural installations the screen appears to literally come to life. He uses membranes that appear to be breathing, moving in a techno organic way. He has streamed television into fluid blobs shapes – ‘alive’ in some form. He uses display technology and reflection to create screen-like space. Many of these pieces are a step beyond a mere passive screen as it is one alive, in flux – closer to the conceptual approach of someone like Bruce Nauman and his real time video experiments. Our engagement may still be as observers but the screen itself comes to life in some way.
The Human Touch
The next level of active screen is one that is activated by human touch or a click – such as in the online installation pieces by Brenna Murphy or the websites by Rafaël Rozendaal. Murphy makes immersive installation pieces in real space, often with sound elements and performance, but her interactive pieces are largely based online. The intimacy of the screen relationship is key. “I make art that is meant to be viewed on the Internet by people privately browsing from their own device. I think this is an intimate and powerful way of transmitting and experiencing media.” Here viewers click on audio files so they overlap with rhythmic gifs, video montage and scrolling images she makes from her own video footage. The results are very psychedelic. Clicking on images takes us through a maze of digital collage imagery. The aim of her web ‘Labyrinths’ is to make us conscious of the role of the screen.
Her work is so successful because it relates to how we are used to using our screens for input and interaction. The simple click and arrow (or in some examples touch). Other artists also create active screen works that replicate the interactive pathways and experience of exploring the Internet, such as the online questionnaires and page-to-page pathways of Cecile B Evans’ online project for Serpentine Gallery AGNES. A spambot that generates experiences beyond the virtual, and created a sense of connection and emotion query. Here the screen touches on those sensations of Lacanian transference
The active screen relationship is very clear in artworks that draw on gaming – increasingly a source of inspiration for a generation of artists including Lawrence Lek, Tabor Robak and the Dutch artist Rosa Menkman of whom we will also see work in the Vertical Cinema program tonight. Games give the illusion of interactive but in fact the audience is still largely controlled by the artist, the developer, the structure of the screen – something that metaphorical reflects our relationship to technology and screens as a whole. Devices that, for the majority of users, force us into a passive position.
There are also structural and aesthetic aspects of screen game interactivity that emerge. Jon Rafman and Rosa Aiello’s online film work “Beyond Carthage” was conceived of spaces from “Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception” and “Second Life” to look at ideas around history and self through largely architectural spaces. As Aiello notes, “The decay and historical movement of a digital object occurs laterally, through pixellation and a loss of image quality, rather than by rusting or crumbling or scars.”
Ben Washington is an incredible British artist using the interactive screen in his exhibitions. He creates sculptural installations in galleries and then recreates these spaces, though often with strange failure and pathways, digital as an interactive game he places within the exhibition space. The viewer (standing behind the controls of an arcade machine) will, for example, find themselves in a virtual version of the exact same physical gallery space in which they are standing.
The result is an experience that contrasts seeing the real and the virtual version of something at the same time. They both become fused and influenced by each other. Washington explained to me, “the interest between screen space and real space arises at the point at which they converge and diverge. The focus in my work has been on these uncanny moments.”
The interactive nature of the screen is of particular note to Washington from a more social perspective. He points out, “How much we are going to let the screen encroach into real space and into our social norms? Already it is evident that socially it is now almost totally acceptable to wander around with your face in a smart phone. And you would expect newer technologies such as Google glass, and interactions such as augmented reality, but interestingly it feels that both these developments have stalled. I’m as interested as much by that which we decide to discard along the way as that which we finally decide to assimilate with.”
Washington was particularly excited by development kits being produced for Oculus Rift and the other contenders in the Virtual Reality market – Sony's ‘Morpheus’, ‘Steam VR’ and the ‘Sulon Cortex’. William Gibson’s version of cyberspace made flesh. Director David Mullett, who is currently working on a VR project and has been writing on the subject, describes the attraction of the VR screen. “VR has a frame in the sense that it is a screen tied to your face – but with a software coding sleight of hand and optics advancements alongside the accelerometers and gyroscopes built into smart phones, it appears as if there is no frame whatsoever. And our relationship to screens is so addictive and obsessive that we need to ramp up our stimulation to tug the emotions or get that dopamine hit we are so hungry for.”
Artists are beginning to experiment with VR itself in a more conceptual way rather than gaming context. The Sundance film festival had a whole VR exhibition project. Oscar Raby’s ‘Assent’ documented the artist’ cathartic exploration of his father’s traumatic memory of a mass execution in Chile in the seventies. Part interactive, part cinematic a physical and poetic journey into trauma. A hybrid between first person gaming and the protagonist in a film narrative. Perspective’ by Morris May and Rose Troche reveals an extremity of first-person filmmaking where the audience is put in the shoes of a teenage girl being date raped at a house party, then in the shoes of the guy doing to raping.
Max Rheiner’s ‘Birdly’ is a flying-simulation installation where your entire body is used to fly like in a dream. As Mullet notes, “With VR immersion, your unconscious brain actually thinks that it is doing these things, indicating that the technology will rewire our brains in critical ways with extent of use and intensity of experience.” He imagines flipping through immersive channels like TV surfing.
As the boundaries of the screen transform the future is looking pretty crazy – though I admit the excitement and fantasy of tech literature over the past twenty or so years always sees wild changes on the near horizon. Writer, curator and artist Sam Hart sees the post screen future for art as something more to do with the structure of the internet itself. In fact a new decentralised Internet. Artwork coming out of the blockchain space.
As Hart explains, “the blockchain is nothing more than a publicly visible, distributed database whose entries are immutable once instantiated. The “blocks,” or records, comprising the database are uniquely addressed and have a cryptographic key which entails ownership.” Hart suggests this space could become a novel medium for digital art by encoding line and colour values, sequences and relationships. The yet to be launched platform for decentralized applications Ethereum (www.ethereum.org), for example, embeds an entire programming language for design. As Hart explains, “I think it represents a significant progression in digital artistry: a uniquely relational medium that circulates through body and network by way of the screen.” The results are unknowable at this time but these new languages point to new screen based structures to create work within and upon. As Lanier points out, the structure of programming has a huge influence on the results we experience. Rethink our entire approach to that and you have a different future in formation.
So where does this leave us and our little black screens? Sam Hart sees the screen as “a hopeful object, representing possibility better than most anything.” Despite the anxiety around them, they are the site of a lot of creativity. It is impossible to be comprehensive in the many ways artists are using the screen in their work – what is so interesting is how varied approaches are. Interactive, passive, three dimensional, flattened, virtual, literal – the screen has a lot more conceptual depth than a void. In fact the void-like nature of the screen can be seen as what makes it so exciting. It is waiting to be filled with imagery, information
(c) Francesca Gavin 2015