In one of the best eye-tracking technology projects I’ve seen, the folks from the Graffiti Research Lab and FAT Lab have teamed up with Theodore Watson, Zachary Lieberman, and Christine Sugrue to tackle a novel accessibility problem: enabling pioneering graffiti artist Tempt, hospitalized for over two years with the muscle atrophy of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), to be able to tag again. Out of all of the things I heard about at SXSW this year, I think this project was the thing that excited me the most — open source hardware + software hacking, vision work, accessibility concerns, graffiti and a great story!
The system they’re developing is using the excellent openFrameworks library and two small cameras: the left can be used as a “mouse button” event by holding that eye closed, and the right eye’s pupil is tracked for gesture. The result is a simple hands-free drawing app, which they will connect with the GRL’s laser tag tools, giving Tempt the ability to express himself through graf writing again.
You can check out the rest of their videos under the TEMPT1 tag on fffff.at (“Release early, often, and w/ rap music.”), but here’s a good one to get you started:
As reported already by manyotherlocalsources, the Paramount theater will host our latest and greatest mayoral and city council candidates for a public forum to discuss their positions on art and culture in Austin. The event is this Wednesday (April 1), at 7p.m. With politicos slashing budgets left and right to stem the economic crisis (or at least give that appearance) arts funding often gets kicked to the curb, despite the considerable income the creative community generates for the city and state. Robert Faires of the Austin Chronicle says it best:
“But when money gets tight, if anything gets cut faster than library hours, it’s arts and culture. And part of the reason is we don’t show up. Let’s not make that mistake this time. A packed Paramount would send a pretty powerful message to City Hall.”
Might be worth getting to know the folks who are lining up to be Austin’s next mayor (I’ve included their Twitter @name where applicable as it’s hopefully a good way to have a conversation with them directly or at least with their campaign):
David Buttross (and here too): independent candidate, real estate proprietor, @DavidButtross on Twitter, alternate site
Bill Spelman: democrat, unopposed for place 5, PhD in public policy, former council member
That about sums up what I know of the candidates. I’m a bit of a local politics neophyte, so can anyone elaborate for me on what to be looking out for at the forum this Wednesday? For the candidates that already have a local or state-wide history, what do we know about their support for the arts?
Every urban population believes in having its own collective psychology. One can ridicule this belief, but it has produced a lot of poetry, music and cinema that we are accustomed to valuing. The volume of poems about Parisian air or St. Petersburg’s weather is a sufficient justification for their architecture. However, if we don’t speak about art that is stimulated by a city but about art in the public space, then one should be very careful. The chance that any really good artwork can go through all possible channels that evaluate it is minimal. And, in general, art that is exhibited outside of arts institutions has to additionally identify itself as art. That makes art shown in the public space even more conservative than art shown within the framework of institutions.
—Boris Groys, excerpted from “6 Questions for Boris Groys”, Art Lies no. 58, p. 19
It is not important at all to me that you or anyone else should have this or that knowledge of anything written or recorded about my pictures of anyone else’s. It’s about experiencing the pictures, not understanding them. People now tend to think their experience of art is based in understanding the art, whereas in the past people in general understood the art and were maybe more freely able to absorb it intuitively. They understood it because it hadn’t yet separated itself off from the mainstream of culture the way modern art had to do. So I guess it is not surprising that, since that separation has occurred, people try to bridge it through understanding the oddness of the various new art forms. Cinema seems more of less still in the mainstream, as if it never had a ‘secession’ of modern or modernist artists against that mainstream. So people don’t tend to be so emphatic about understanding films, they tend to enjoy them and evaluate them: great, good, not so good, two thumbs up, etc. Although that can be perfunctory and dull, it may be a better form of response. Experience and evaluation — judgment — are richer responses than gestures of understanding or interpretations.
— Jeff Wall, excerpted from ‘An email exchange between Jeff Wall and Mike Figgis’, Contemporary, no. 65, 2005
There’s been plenty of talk lately in the news about the role of public art as Olafur Eliasson’s quartet of waterfalls were turned on last week. Some see the display as a way for the public to newly experience their urban surrounding (Mr. Eliasson has said that his intention was to draw fresh attention to the NYC’s waterways more than to himself or the art). Others questions the price tag: a bit over $15 million of privately-donated funds, although the money generated for the city by the tourism could well exceed that amount according to some sources.
As someone who doesn’t know very much about the critical discourse on public art (heck, I barely claim to understand “institutional” art), I find it useful to gauge the art by how the people who live around it interact with it. My first visit to Chicago coincided with the opening of Millennium Park, and I was engrossed by the sculptures, even if they are more “conservative” than the works shown in the nearby Art Institute. Perhaps not because of any transcendent message or societal insight, but because the crowd that had gathered there both day and night were having such a good time enjoying the works on display. Seeing kids laughing and playing around the Crown Fountain, adults smooshing their faces up against Anish Kapoor’s still partly-under-wraps Cloud Gate, it was all very fun and engaging. Not like other sculpture gardens I had been to! (Check out this relevant 37Signals article to see what I mean…) Another good example is Richard Serra’s Vortex at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth: it’s beautiful visually, but step inside and the sculpture takes on a totally different level of interactivity, with museum-goers quickly discovering the loud reverberations they can make by clapping, jumping, shouting, screaming.
Public art seems to draw suspicion from both the citizens that pay for it and live around it as well as the art critics — is that suspicion unfounded? Does public art suffer from those who regard it too highly (the “don’t touch!” signs at the Seattle garden) or from those who feel that art has to be understood rather than experienced? I’m glad that we have the AIPP here in Austin, and it’s good to see their map dotted with “in progress” works, I just hope they don’t turn out like the ill-fated and much-maligned Moments project.
I like this quote from Sports Illustrated writer Peter King that S.C. Squibb brought up on the ArtCal Zine blog:
Saw The Gates… Nice. Unusual. Great to see Central Park so packed with people and transformed into a pretty sight in the middle of a harsh winter. An enjoyable experience. But art? I don’t see it.
Even though the fogged photograph is not in itself pure absence, but rather the eclipsing of an image, we know that what we are seeing is a representation that has been spoilt, a calamity that no technology can ever repair. The image is there, but hidden, ‘fogged’, concealed forever by a curtain of shadow, which no one is capable of raising.
— A Short History of the Shadow by Victor Stoichita, in reference to an 1839 cartoon by Cham (Amédée de Noé) from the book L’Histoire de Monsieur Jobard
Segueing nicely from their book on Gothic literature and art, I’ve been plowing through another great edition from Whitechapel’s Documents of Contemporary Art series: The Cinematic. The editor has assembled critical essays on photography, its relation to cinema and video, to temporality, to narrative, to contemporary art practices — all with a fluid sense of motion conducive to making connections across the gamut of the 20th Century art world. Many of the essays touch on photography’s nature as a perverse mirror capable only of capturing what was, the inherent implications about death and impermanence corresponding to much of the Western catalog of art from the past couple hundred years. Other essays deal with the conflict and interaction between still photography and the re-playable, less-bounded world arising from Sergei Eisenstein and his early modernist contemporaries. In short, it’s right up my alley, and I hope the library here gets more from this series soon.
With these thoughts in mind, I was pleased last weekend to find the theater series of photographs by Hiroshi Sugimoto sitting quietly by themselves on a side wall in the otherwise colorful LEWITT×2 show at the Austin Museum of Art. These photographs, seemingly simple shots of the interiors of old American movie palaces, speak volumes about these issues of time, death, photography, cinema, and reflection. The burning white oblivion central to the frame, created by setting up a large format camera with its shutter open through the duration of a feature film, softly illuminates the space surrounding it, highlighting the emptiness as though time itself has run its course. The blur of human motion on the screen over time adds up to a brilliant nothingness, irretrievable. Somewhere on the boundary between conceptualism and zen meditation, these were easily my favorite pieces in the show.
I just finished reading through The Gothic, a recent essay collection from the Documents of Contemporary Art series published by MIT Press. The book stitches together a variety of short essays centered on discussion of classic gothic literature and contemporary art, tapping into the thoughts of well-established artists like Damien Hirst and Jeff Wall while also reflecting on younger members of the field like Banks Violette, David Altmejd, Aïda Ruilova, and Sue de Beer. Crammed within its scant 230, large-typeset pages you’ll find writing on Edgar Allen Poe (any book on gothic literature and modernity needs to have lots of Poe!), Michael Jackson’s Thriller, Freud and Lacan’s theories of the uncanny (unheimliche), deconstructions of 1980s slasher movies, psychoanalytic musings on duality and transgression, bits of cyberpunk from William Gibson, and more! When I was younger, I was thrilled reading Poe, Shelley, Baudelaire, et al., without realizing until recently how much of an impact their writings had on art and literature, continuing even today as the art world emerges slowly out of post-modernism and back towards theatricality and the sublime. Highly recommended.
A couple of weeks ago I found a new local arts magazine sitting on the freebie shelf at Flightpath, featuring the William Hundley photo taken in front of the Daniel Johnston “Hi How Are You” frog seen above — surely a cover designed to catch my eye! The newly launched magazine is called Odic Force Magazine, evidently named after the founder poked through his thesaurus and came across the Victorian-era term. At first I was worried that it was going to be another slickly-produced-but-light-on-actual-content local “arts and culture” magazine (I’m looking at you, Tribeza and Rare), but there are some good writers involved (Steve Wilson, Rachel Koper of Gallery Lombardi, et al.) and artists profiled (fun to see the workspaces of folks like ceramacist Ryan McKerley and painter Jennifer Chenoweth). It touches on the local art, music, architecture, writing, and fashion scenes without being too unbalanced or terse. It’s not yet ART LIES but it’s an impressive first issue, and it is attempting to cover far more than just the visual arts.
Odic Force’s first issue is generously available online using one of those crazy sorta-works Flash viewers (I couldn’t get it to spit out the PDF so I could read it offline, your mileage may vary).
PS: On a related note, I’m very glad to report that Cantanker’s website is back from the dead. Their domain lapsed, and I worried that they had succumbed to the fate of most good art magazines. Looking forward to their issue #5!
I know little to nothing about curatorial practice. After reading about the Austin Museum of Art’s new building, I started thinking about the number and type of shows that they put on each year, how many have been retrospectives of well-established artists or “blockbuster” shows designed to lure in the art-timid. That’s probably overly cynical, and I really appreciate their ongoing “20 to Watch / New Art in Austin” triennial series, but we’ve definitely had a healthy dose of traveling Warhols, Lichtensteins, Christo + Jean-Claudes, etc. Who can blame them? With only four shows a year in a rather tiny space, a self-described “modest” permanent collection, and a need to draw visitors from a state where art isn’t exactly on the forefront of civic spending, I’m glad that they feature less-known and local artists at all. Hopefully their new permanent space, smaller than proposed a few years back but still more than double their current size, will help them put on more challenging shows.
An article on Bloomberg.com celebrates the recent resignation of the Guggenheim’s director, Thomas Krens. Under his watch, the museum expanded into “franchises” around the world, from the well-received Guggenheim Bilbao in Spain to the less-appreciated Guggenheim Las Vegas. It sounds like the spreading of their collection worldwide is what did him in, with members of the foundation decrying the lack of attention being paid to New York and their collection there (not to mention the building’s crumbling façade). Also contentious were the party-like exhibits being thrown, and commercial-heavy shows like “The Art of the Motorcycle”. Will toning down the hype help focus on curating good contemporary art? I didn’t get the impression that the other peripheral museums will be closing down, and the one slated for the UAE is still forthcoming, so how will they beef up a collection that’s spread amongst so many campuses?
Over in London, the new director of the National Gallery had this to say: “The responsibility of a major gallery is to show people something they haven’t seen before … A major national institution should be one that proves a constant attraction to the public. What is important is encouraging historical and visual curiosity in the general public.” This approach brings up some interesting issues about a museum or gallery’s role in modern life. What’s the right balance of crowd-pleasing and crowd-challenging? There’s an interesting quote from the director in this article in the Times in which he says that 20 years ago people expected to be introduced to new art by an exhibition. How widely spread is that sentiment today, and has it been stymied by these big blockbuster shows, or is contemporary art too alien (unpleasant?) for the public, or is something else at play?
I’ve been surrounded by stories of shadows lately, especially stories of people separated from their shadows. It hasn’t been intentional. I’m midway through Haruki Murakami’s Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, I recently found the Faust-like tale of Peter Schlemihl, and shortly before that, His Dark Materials (I guess “Peter Pan” will have to be added to the list eventually). Figuring that there must be something to this, I checked out a copy of Victor Stoichita’s A Short History of the Shadow for a bit of enlightenment. The writing is at times trying, full of academic language and awkward phrasing (just like my writing!), but that can be forgiven as it’s a translation. The meat of the book is worth the effort.
A Short History presents a compelling look at the development of the Western art tradition, a series of essays framed around artists’ use of shadow and simulacra as allegorical devices. Stoichita wanders from Pliny and Quintilian’s early explications of painting’s history (departing loved ones captured by silhouette traced on the wall) to the optical and philosophical experiments of the Renaissance to the modern investigative works by Kazimir Malevich, Joseph Beuys, and Andy Warhol.
The common threads of these stories are fascinating: shadow as a powerful double of the human form; specular reflection as a evanescent ‘other’; shadows bearing the indication of a man’s true nature; the emptiness of a person bereft of their shadow. All themes I’ve been encountering in other writing lately. Shadows have always been much more than devices for the simple rendering of volumes, and this book is loaded with examples.
A fairly recent interview with Stoichita conducted by Cabinet Magazine is available on their site, summarizing many of these essays.
Just a reminder that the Multiples show is opening tonight at the CRL, 2832 MLK Jr., from 6pm–9pm. I haven’t seen it yet, but the show sounds like a good mix of faculty, staff, alumni, and others scattered across the community, a curatorial approach that I’m seeing more of under Jade Walker’s direction. The faculty show that opened the season there at CRL even included people from the art history and design departments, a welcome addition to the fine arts mix. It’ll be up through November 10, with an artists’ talk scheduled for the 6th.
The piece that Marsha and I made for the show consists of 63 close-cropped drawings of eyes arranged in a grid, all focused on an imaginary center point. I’ve been reading lately about vision research, and this drawing was mostly inspired by the book The Moving Tablet of the Eye. The piece’s title, Saccade and Fixation, is a term that describes the short, rapid motions that our eyes make constantly when surveying a scene. The motion is almost imperceptible, and we don’t notice our own eyes making these movements as our brain compensates for them. Researchers and philosophers have been studying their effects on vision and perception for thousands of years: Aristotle, Ptolemy, and Victorian scientists all wrote on the phenomenon, and they play an important role in modern-day vision research, computer imaging, and artificial vision. This theme of one scene comprised of many discrete images seemed like an appropriate place to start for this Multiples show, and so we set to drawing. It also ties in a bit with some ideas I’ve had about surveillance and the gaze (so very Philosophy 101!). Two weeks later, the piece is hanging at the gallery, so come out and see it while it’s up!
Marsha and I will be in the upcoming show at the Creative Research Lab. The opening reception is on October 13, so come out and enjoy some art + people + wine. More details about our project will be coming soon to a blog post near you.