“Hill scapes speeding silently along, so dark their only illumination the marbled sky. The harsh blue light of the stereo. The cigarette hole on the back seat and the hesitating silence of the skipping disk. The heater brushing stray hairs, the tears in my tights. Flipping through thoughts, bright as television, draining towards the darkest parts of this car. Somehow our infinite scene continues. We could be anywhere with a quarter tank of gas and a faulty flashlight. We could stop anywhere, forgoing the obligations, the freezing temperatures.

But here we are, footfalls and unyeilding underbrush. Scrambling through solar paneled yards. Scanning the highway. Stumbling across its deceptive ground. The faulty trek, the rickety light. The seconds spent coercing tree trunks. Grasping at bark, pine, and now something that might resemble wheat.

The ringing in my ears. My crystallizing breath. I can feel every inch of my boots, sealed to the shifting ground. Rooted and shivering. Gasping sounds that could only resemble bird calls. I’m laughing, I think.

I’m here. I’m freezing. I’ve forgotten my gloves.

Inches thick. Mirror fogged. Blue. Undeniably blue… or was that the car stereo. Pocketing the flashlight. The lake flickers with the grain of a photograph. Preserved but pulsing with light. My head’s freezing, spinning. Thoughts… left in the car with those gloves. I can only feel my feet.

Footfalls like safety procedures, like packing directions. Here, no there. Not there, go there. Where? Okay there. Got it. Silence. Standstill. Blue light and our foggy shadows. Our visible and unspoken conversation. The language of anything, of shivering adrenaline. Of two trespassers, twenty miles, and a car at the top of the hill.”

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Just saw Uta Barth at Tanya Bonakdar the other day. Pretty much the most moving exhibition I got to see that day… Taking something incredibly mundane and transforming it into a sublime play on light and landscape. I’m especially interested in the figment of a horizon, of a landscape. The fact that we can see it in one line of light, in several images of a household curtain is monumental. (Not only that, but the fact that the photographs fill the entire room of the downstairs gallery really engulfs and transports you. In fact, the whole exhibition had a kind of atmospheric quality to it).

I’ve been thinking a lot about my own role in this project, in this idea of digital art making, of network art… of race and gender. Where do I fit in? Do I make art about gender? Do I make feminist pieces? I think I’ve always considered the body. I think I’ve always considered how I am perceived, how my own (specifically gender, but I’ve started to think about race more) identity not only affects my art but affects the ways in which I go about making. The ways in which I go about researching and starting to come up with projects. And to be honest, coming up with projects is tough when there seem to be one billion ideas floating around in my head and I have to pick one. OR when there are no ideas at all floating around anywhere and I have to come up with something out of thin air.

In the spring I found myself anxious, unsure of how I felt as a woman (and feminist) artist. There’s always the question. Do you make feminist work or do you make work… just work. And you happen to be a woman. And now I’ve started to consider that with race too. Do I include my own cultural identity in my art? And if I do… what are the methods, where do I start?

I just heard about this conference (in Lisbon, Portugal) called The Planetary Collegium’s 12th Annual International Research Conference: Consciousness Reframed: art and consciousness in the post-biological era.

Here’s a quote from the home page of the conference website:
“The conference will look at art as behaviour of mind, embedded in the physical world, but articulating its immateriality. Just as institutionalized art, with its tired orthodoxies of instruction, production and distribution, is challenged by the new technologies of knowing and perception, so our sense of self – its singularity and authenticity – is open to reconstruction and reinterpretation. Transdisciplinary discourse, the adoption of new technologies, the invisible forces and fields of the sciences, the recuperation of abandoned metaphysical and spiritual models of being, can all find expression within the context of this conference.”

– Roy Ascott (an artist whose research is invested in cybernetics, technoetics, telematics, and syncretism)

What I found very interesting about the conference were two things. First, upon trying to navigate the conference website, it became difficult to discern the actual subject of the talks. Which made me realize: this conference (and even this field), which claims to be so inclusive and culturally diverse, bars clarity with the very structure of its website.


Second, (and more interestingly) the page of Guest Speakers is written in both English and Portuguese. This creates several resulting effects: it preserves the original language of the speakers, yet sets their descriptions apart from the otherwise English ones. For me, this simple glitch in the conference website effectively pointed out a disconnect in our supposedly global society. The problem of language still exists. The problem of English as the “master language” not only exists, but is thrown into sharp light when contrasted with an untranslated text.

Muscle Machine

“It is a hybrid human-machine system, pneumatically powered using fluidic muscle actuators. The rubber muscles contract when inflated, and extend when exhausted. This results in a more flexible and compliant mechanism, using a more reliable and robust engineering design.”

Exoskeleton

“The body actuates the walking machine by moving its arms. Different gestures make different motions- a translation of limb to leg motions. The body’s arms guide the choreography of the locomotor’s movements and thus compose the cacophony of pneumatic and mechanical and sensor modulated sounds….”

 

So I thought I’d do a post about Stelarc, primarily because I remember researching him over the summer and now talking about him in class. And secondly because I find what he does to be intriguing, grotesque enough to prevent you from looking away. He uses himself, offering his own body to not only intense physical tests, but to artistic consideration. What does it mean to show the body (your body) in a work of art? And more importantly, what does it mean to show it in direct relation to technology? (… literally merging human and robotic limbs). It seems to comment on transcendence, on the obsolescence of flesh–an almost religious affect. Which reminds me of Richard Dyer’s linkage of whiteness to Christianity… transcendence as related to closer to technology, closer to religiousness, and farther from the bodily.
And because Stelarc is in fact a white male, it is interesting to consider this link between his bodily transcendence, the resulting religious affect, and his use of technology.

Cunnilingus in North Korea

I’m not exactly sure how to characterize this post. It brings up a lot of interesting aspects of gender, national identity, and irony, but I haven’t quite made up my mind as to where it fits culturally. Maybe it’s best to just watch the video for now.

The artist: Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries (Young-Hae, Korean, and Marc Voge, American) uses the medium of the internet to display some pretty evocative text pieces. The works use a simply layout and animation set to a forceful soundtrack of beats and noise. It’s actually hard not to keep watching because they don’t include a pause button… The only way to stop and resume is to close and start the clip over, forcing the mind-numbing statements to cascade once again. (And I believe this is deliberate. Chang Heavy Industries is clearly working with text to show a dynamic relationship between the relatively passive viewer and this bombardment of internet narrative.)

The display of the pieces? A website is the obvious choice. We are enclosed in a pretty private atmosphere when watching, yet the messages are incredibly public. (Especially because they use political text for some of the animations.)

In this one, they ironically animate a (possibly fake… I couldn’t find any evidence of its credibility) speech of Kim Jong Il describing some pretty lewd aspects of North Korean sexuality. When I watched the piece I thought immediately, “This must be a joke. This has got to be ironic.” Just the fact that they’ve included an exaggerated sense of drama pokes fun at Jong Il’s desire to focus on the sex lives of North Koreans, disguising the obvious human rights violations that riddle the nation.

A lot of Chang Heavy Industries’ works are narrative, dramatic, and (let’s face it) entertaining. Who doesn’t want to be fed blocks of jazzy text talking about sex and making fun of Kim Jon Il?

So here’s a quote from an interview with Chang describing these ideas:

“In the beginning of Net art, we were struck by how ineffective Net artists were in communicating information — words, images, sound. This was in the mid-90s, when few people had broadband. Typically, Net art was an image with some words that took an eternity to download and appear in the browser. Music? Forget it, it was too heavy. And when it came to streaming media such as Flash and QuickTime, the image became tiny.

We wanted to use streaming media and audio — to use the Internet to the maximum — probably because we wanted Net art to be as entertaining as TV. The relationship is there and can’t be avoided.”

And here’s the interview that this quote is from.

So once again, dealing with the idea of the internet as a medium. They exploit the potential for web medium to be as passively digested as television (probably as a comment on our occasional passivity, even despite the introduction of Web 2.0 and blogging and interactivity and all that jazz.)

No, I’m not going to talk about Feminism in this post. I’m just going to bring up a quote from Mira Schor’s article The Ism that Dare Not Speak it’s Name. Now, why am I bringing this up? Because I’ve noticed that the body becomes increasingly important when we start to consider technology, when we start to consider our interactions with other people via its medium. So here are her words:

“I think it’s still problematic; as a visual artist, as a woman… where to I put my body? I just want to hear the body talked about… Do we address the body and therefore play into the notions of the essential, of fetish, or do we not address the body and try to make a theoretical model of the body… But where’s the body?”

(Mira Schor – The Ism that Dare Not Speak it’s Name)

So when I originally wrote about this, I had just come off of an intense few months filled with opinions and art criticism. I was ready to put feminism on the back burner, just to save myself the trouble of having to address it in art making. And to be honest, I still don’t really want to tackle it in one post. I just want to talk about the body for now. I just want to talk about how it’s still incredibly relevant, even in this age of virtuality, of abstract networking, of text versus voice. And as Mira notes, the body becomes problematic because no one wants to talk about it. No one wants to make assumptions (about others) or have assumptions made about them (and their art). Even I shy away from talking about it at times (although so many of my posts have to do with the corporeal).

But what I think is important is the fact that people do make assumptions, people do grasp for certain tangible qualities when online, and people do fetishize. So we need to talk about it. In one form or another, we need to be aware that online our bodies still do “appear” in a sense. We are always conscious of gender, race, sexual orientation–this front-stage self that we portray (even in internet communities) is very much tied to our essential notions of identity.