Analysis of Eduardo Kac's "GFP Bunny"

General / 31 October 2018

This analysis led to a very intriguing art project that I had never heard of nor could I have ever fathomed.  It entails a controversial scientific procedure that has received criticism for its claim as a work of art.  In 2000, Chicago artist Eduardo Kac collaborated with French genetic engineer Louis-Marie Houdebine and coordinated the genetic integration of a green pigment into an albino rabbit, who Kac named Alba.  Once the process had been completed, the glowing rabbit itself was only a small part of the art work that Kac aimed to showcase through what he titled GFP Bunny.  Eduardo used the acronym "GFP" in the title because it stood for "green fluorescent protein", and he also noted that his "transgenic artwork GFP Bunny comprises the creation of a green fluorescent rabbit (Color Plate A No. 2), the public dialogue generated by the project and the integration of the rabbit into a social environment."[1] The culmination of media that it received throughout its controversy and presentation to the public was essentially the bulk of the ongoing documented artwork.  

Link to image of referenced artwork by Eduardo Kac: http://www.ekac.org/gfpbunny.html#gfpbunnyanchor

Kac had first thought to pioneer this effort to initiate inquiry and dialog through a fluorescent dog project in 1998, but it was not realized.[2]  The research documentation did not clarify if this was halted by a response from either the public, government, or scientific community, or if some other factors impacted its feasibility.  However, through the research for this first effort, Kac conceptualized and framed the term "'transgenic art' — art using manipulated genes."[3]  This art project was developed within the time frame when research towards The Genome Project was underway and the implications of genetic engineering was raising questions and debates, so Kac used this as a way of communicating the challenges.  The glowing rabbit was ultimately "realized in 2000 and first introduced to the public at large in Avignon, France."[4]  He had originally set up an agreement with Houdebine and the research laboratory that partook in the project to relinquish the rabbit to Kac, who would ultimately be her caretaker. However, this was not fully settled and it led Kac to spawn a massive media campaign to free the rabbit from the laboratory, which in turn, contributed to the basis of GFP Bunny and his subsequent series of related artwork like Rabbit Remix.[5]  One such art work that was part of Rabbit Remix depicts the placement of the campaign in many different media outlets.

The intervention of genetic engineering in humans, animals, or other living organisms has drawn and continues to draw attention from all ranges of the spectrum.  Some see it as the elixir of youth and health whereas others take issue with its potential for harm.  Kac had intended to showcase the entirety of GFP Bunny by "bringing her to society at large and providing her with a loving, caring and nurturing environment in which she can grow safe and healthy," with the ultimate goal of creating "a social context in which the relationship between the private and the public spheres are negotiated"[6]  This experiential and interactive artwork was meant to go beyond the initial genetic intervention and to exemplify a scenario in which its application could bear the challenges and questions of society.  It could start to resolve debates about the qualms of applied genetic engineering or raise additional questions about life after such a process.  Essentially, Kac's position was to create reaction through such a radical process and its disruptive nature did exactly that, although it may have also contributed to the subsequent death of the rabbit in 2002.  Even though the French researchers who had tended to the rabbit noted that she had died only 2 years after her birth, Kac believes that the typical 12 year lifespan was cut short so that the research laboratory could "put an end to a two-year, unwelcome barrage of media attention."[7] 

Art Historian Jane Blocker makes a unique reference to the story of Frankenstein when analyzing GFP Bunny because of how "its repetitions, multiple voices, lack of origins and hybridity teach us to look for that meaning elsewhere than in the strictly visual."[8]  The genetic intervention could have been anything, but it just happened to be a green pigment applied to an albino rabbit.  Through its scientific research, controversy, and media presence, Kac's project grasps attention and warrants scrutiny.  Conclusively, I do not view GFP Bunny as representative of all recent artwork, but it does highlight the diversity of venues through which art is attempting to permeate and the extremes to which an experience of art might be perceived.  I am also still a bit perplexed about its status as a work of art.  There is a lot of potential in multidisciplinary collaborations by learning from art and how other disciplines can embody its principles and processes to initiate communication and new directions.  Through the ongoing dialogue that emerges, questions will need to be asked and answered, particularly as they tread into unknown and potentially controversial topics.  Nevertheless, there are instances of recent artwork like Kac's GFP Bunny that are disruptive and challenge the nature of art, as well as other disciplines.  They use a certain shock value to grab attention amidst a competitive environment, much like consumer marketing.  With this in mind, caution and restraint should be acknowledged and exercised before exploring frontiers like genetic engineering.

Citations

[1] Eduardo Kac, "GFP Bunny," Leonardo 36, no. 2 (2003): 97.

[2] Mario Savini, "Transgenic art: Creativity in the era of genetic engineering," Technoetic Arts: A Journal of Speculative Research 15, no. 2 (June 2017): 164.

[3] Ronald Bailey, "Arty Biohacking," Reason 42, no. 1 (May 2010): 62.

[4] Eduardo, "GFP Bunny," 97.

[5] Simone Osthoff, "Elsewhere in Contemporary Art: Topologies of Artists' Works, Writings, and Archives," Art Journal 65, no. 4 (Winter 2006): 7.

[6] Eduardo, "GFP Bunny," 99.

[7] Kristen Philipkoski, "RIP: Alba, The Glowing Bunny," Wired, August 12, 2002, accessed October 29, 2018, https://www.wired.com/2002/08/rip-alba-the-glowing-bunny/.

[8] Jane Blocker, "This Being You Must Create: Transgenic Art and Witnessing the Invisible," Cultural Studies 17, no. 2 (March 2003): 205. 

Analysis of Joris Laarman's "Digital Matter"

General / 30 October 2018

Joris Laarman's Digital Matter explores the bridge between digital technology and nature, offering a visualization of natural processes through emerging strategies.  The table designs use the small, basic primitive cube and compound its ability to define volume and surface through a digitally-integrated process.  Laarman’s work extends conceptual designs into fabricated objects through the  programming of software and hardware.  His contribution to the process begins by providing logic to the digital building blocks, which makes way for the autonomous system to generate an experience based on the  predefined rules and constraints.  It reflects a similar process used by Sol LeWitt in his artwork series featuring diverse cube configurations.  The procedural approach behind a small primitive building block opens up the realm of redefining spatial relationships and perceptions.  They exhibit patterns and systems that bridge between digital and natural  environments.

Link to image of referenced artwork by Laarman: https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/907218913/

A programmed robot assembled small cubes using a sequential process into the tables of Digital Matter to mimic the structure of minute voxels defining a three-dimensional object in a digital environment.  Much like square pixels on a computer screen coordinated together to create clear images, these small cubes reflect a three-dimensional version of the pixel used in computer graphics called the voxel, or volumetric pixel.  Similarly, all matter is composed of tightly packed atoms with variations in size, shape, and networks.  Each table within the Digital Matter series showcases the same overall shape but with a different size voxel used to define its structure.  As a result, the smaller the voxel, the more refined the edges and overall profile.  There is a gradation among the three tables with one using large voxels and the others using smaller voxels.  The table made with the largest voxels clearly distinguish each cube and appear to blur the details that are more noticeable in the table with the smaller voxels.  Architect and critic Joseph Giovannini qualifies Laarman's digital practice and his furniture as influential by noting "the computer has made individuality and complexity feasible."[1]  To take this further and composing a table with a higher density of even smaller voxels would generate yet another unique table eventually approaching a smooth surface that obscures perception of the individual building blocks.

Digital Matter draws attention to both the simplicity and complexity of matter as we see it in all of the matter around us.  Visually, the rectilinear profiles is reminiscent of the pixelation in old video games and low resolution images, almost like it is unfinished work or a layer of finish material is missing.  In fact, the objects throughout the tables are three-dimensional versions of ducks, clouds, and other game assets from the Nintendo Mario series.  With greater resolution, the images and profiles become more refined and smoother, but it also hides the very nature of their composition.  The camouflage of precision veils the origin and process, but Laarman's Digital Matter stops short in the manufacturing process to specifically highlight the line between parts and finished assembly.  It presents a perspective of enlarging its atomic level to see the intricate network and systems embedded within.  Artist Janet Zweig mentions that by way of digital technology in the art process, "if all the possibilities of permutations are exhausted, there might be a revelation or a transformation on a larger scale."[2]  The three variations of tables in Digital Matter are significant because they showcase the iterative process and an exploration of all possibilities, as well as the capacity of digital technology to participate in the creation process.  Neri Oxman, a professor in material engineering at MIT, also explores the use of voxels for various applications including artwork and notes an initiative to "define a 3D voxel as a physical entity able to include various performance criteria."[3]  This echos the embedded knowledge and learning capacity for such primitive elements as cubes to guide themselves through a process and into a complex system.  It makes one wonder what each cube already has within itself just waiting to be exposed in the given opportunity.  

The primitive cubes used in each of these artists’ work are overshadowed by the process used to fuse each of them into a collective volume completely different and unexpected from its simple origins.  These geometric elements constitute a language that communicates a rich, embedded knowledge and art form.  One might easily overlook a simple cube because it could lack the form to convey context, but in a composition like Digital Matter, it exemplifies the potential built within itself to be a part of a greater system.  Laarman’s application of computer technology exhibits its capacity to spawn variations beyond what was possible in the past and through manual means.  The density of voxels applied are only limited by the technology used in its manufacture, so a high density could potentially reach the atomic level.  Process is a key element in the development and showcase of the artwork, not just for the artist, but also for the viewer.  This initiative draws focus away from the individual building blocks and to the process in action, which references LeWitt’s process-driven principles to create new experiences, amplified even more through modern technology.  

LeWitt's focus was on the process and as art journalist John Carlin notes, "it is most evident in the relation of his rigorously ordered repetitive series to their unpredictable visual results."[4] Laarman takes a similar approach with the aid of digital technology as a modern medium, achieving the same unpredictability and acknowledgement of the process, which he instills.  The computer by itself it simply a machine that operates based on a set of given directions, and it is Laarman's process that is input to drive the assembly of Digital Matter.  His process continues through to the exhibition where viewers are given the opportunity to experience it.  In an interview with art critic Saul Ostrow, Sol LeWitt stated that "people still see things as visual objects without understanding what they are. They don't understand that the visual part may be boring but its the narrative that's interesting."[5] Although the tables in Digital Matter are visually intriguing, the attention is guided towards the story hidden within each of the voxels that is revealed through the process of assembly.

Citations

[1] Joseph Giovannini. "Furniture’s Brave New Present," The New York Times, December 5, 2017,  https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/05/arts/design/joris-laarman-lab-cooper-hewitt-technology.html.

[2] Janet Zweig. "Ars Combinatoria: Mystical Systems, Procedural Art, and the Computer," Art Journal 56, no. 3 (Autumn, 1997): 20.

[3] Ruairi Glynn and Bob Sheil, eds. Fabricate 2011: Making Digital Architecture. UCL Press, 2017: 150.

[4] John Carlin. "Sol LeWitt wall drawings: 1968-1981 {Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford; exhibit}," Art Journal 42, no. 1 (Spring 1982): 63.

[5] Saul Ostrow & Sol LeWitt, "Sol LeWitt," BOMB, no. 85 (2003): 28. 

Analysis of Maurizio Cattelan's "Bidibidobidiboo"

General / 29 October 2018

Maurizio Cattelan is an Italian artist whose background has led him to develop a large collection of artwork that showcases death in various eclectic ways.  Over the years, his exhibits in London and New York have gained a significant amount of attention because of the bizarre content and methods of display shown in his work.  A notable work is Bidibidobidiboo, which entails a scene of a stuffed squirrel slouching over a table with a gun on the floor nearby.  The apparent suicide in the scene hints at a mystery of the cause, but it also exhibits potential clues scattered around the scene.  Without a doubt, death is a consistent theme in Cattelan's collection of work, as is the use of techniques like taxidermy.  As a result of such a sensitive topic, response to his art has received attention at both ends of the spectrum: praise and disapproval, yet it is truly captivating.

Link to image of referenced artwork by Cattelan: https://www.perrotin.com/artists/Maurizio_Cattelan/2/bidibidobidiboo/5495

Growing up through "economic hardship at home, punishment at school, and a string of unfulfilling, menial jobs,"[1] as noted by Guggenheim curators Nancy Spector and Katherine Brinson, may have had an impact on Cattelan's defiant and brazen approach to his artwork.  Regardless, the display of death is a very evident part of his work whether it is meant to be seen as a horrific reality or bizarre humor.  Many of his works include animals that have died and been stuffed through a taxidermy process, such as the squirrel in Bidibidobidiboo.  His exhibits in galleries, such as the Tate and Whitechapel galleries in London, as well as the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, have been so overwhelming with his display of death that art critics who have visited, like Richard Cork, have noted "death appears inescapable here."[2]  These exhibits also included work with a similar theme by other artists, but it must have been difficult to avoid thinking of mortality and carnage walking amidst Cattelan's exhibitions.

Cattelan's Bidibidobidiboo is a fascinating depiction of death that appears to suggest a mysterious backstory.  All of the scene elements are sized relative to the squirrel's size, so it is a small exhibit and requires viewers to crouch down close to it for further investigation of the details, such as the nearby gun on the ground.  The empty glass on the table is evidence of some consumed beverage, and its small size could reference a shot glass for alcohol.  The empty chair pushed away from the table points to a being that sat there at some point but is now gone.  The dirty dishes in the sink on the wall note either a recent meal with others or the squirrel's disregard to tend to them.  The other wall-mounted feature has the appearance of a water heater, though it is difficult to gauge what it may have contributed to the squirrel's death.  Nevertheless, all of the elements compose a clear scene of a kitchen and dining area where death has made a presence, particularly because of the gun and squirrel's pose.  It may not mean that the squirrel committed suicide, but that in its contemplation of it, it could have ended up in a drunken stupor.

Documented art reviews of his exhibits shed some light on the composition of the scene in Bidibidobidiboo and the response to it.  For instance, art critics Ben Luke and Mark Brown established that Cattelan recalled his childhood table for the one in this exhibit.[3,4]  Others, like Mark Irving referenced the exhibits in which Cattelan partcipated as embodying "fantasy and humour as the vehicles for their personal concerns and experiences."[5]  Even Tate Gallery curator Simon Wilson  mentioned a very similar thought of the same exhibit, noting "fantasy and humour."[6]  When these perspectives are synthesized together, there is a noticeable personal connection of Cattelan with his art that forms his experience.  But for a viewer's experience of his art, the bizarre content often leans toward the surreal so much that it reveals absurdity.  To some, this translates to a sense of forward-looking humor reflecting on memories, but there are others who may render this as "unfunny jokes and juvenile symbolism,"[7] as expressed by art reviewer John Derbyshire in his visit to Cattelan's 2012 exhibit at the Guggenheim in New York City.

The experience by each viewer of Cattelan's Bidibidobidiboo is undoubtedly unique and can span an entire range of emotions because of the intensity that is conveyed through the theme of death.  Nonetheless, it makes one think and reflect on one's own mortality and level of comfort with such thoughts.  Personally, I see Bidibidobidiboo as a amusing joke of death meant to push aside the dark thoughts and memories that typically accompany it.  Furthermore, saying the title when I first encountered this artwork selection resonated with a memory that I could not clearly define until I encountered Mark Brown's reference of "Bidibidobidiboo, the spell used to transform Cinderella."[8] In confirming this, I discovered that the title does resemble it, although Disney titles the song of the spell as "Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo."[9] This may be some strange coincidence not intended by Cattelan, but I can see this as another clue to the mystery of the scene wherein transformation, which was the case in the Cinderella song, contributes to the squirrel's confrontation with death.

Citations

[1] Nancy Spector and Katherine Brinson, "Maurizio Cattelan: All," Exhibitions, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, accessed October 15, 2017, https://www.guggenheim.org/exhibition/maurizio-cattelan-all.

[2] Richard Cork, "Gonna reach out and grab ya," The Times (London), July 14, 1999, Features.

[3] Ben Luke, "An Italian agent provacateur at play," Evening Standard, September 27, 2012, 48.

[4] Mark Brown, "Who dunnit? Classics from art's joker given rare London show," The Guardian, September 26, 2012, 15.

[5] Mark Irving, "Review Abracadabra Tate Gallery, London," The Scotsman, July 22, 1999, 19.

[6] Jackie Burdon, "It's everyday art, says Tate as it tries to flog a dead horse," Birmingham Post, July 13, 1999, 7.

[7] John Derbyshire, "The Higher Silliness," National Review 64, no. 2 (February 2, 2012): 51.

[8] Brown, "Who dunnit?" 15.

[9] Disney, "Cinderella | Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo | Lyric Video | Disney Sing Along," uploaded July 28, 2014, video, 0:44, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iXJvxEHSv5E. 

Analysis of Martin Wattenberg's "Apartment" & Roy Ascott's "La Plissure Du Texte"

General / 28 October 2018

Data visualization artist Martin Wattenberg has capitalized on the expansive availability of data on a global scale to generate interactive art that recalls the processes and visualization strategies associated with artist Sol LeWitt.  Wattenberg's background in mathematics and dynamical systems led him to work with artificial intelligence applications at Google and several collaborative artistic pursuits revolving around data visualizations.[1]  One such art endeavor is Apartment, in which he collaborated with artist Marek Walczak[2] and software engineer Jonathan Feinberg.[3] Essentially, Wattenberg's approach synthesizes acquired data to allow patterns and cognition to arise organically into an art form that can be experienced on a multi-sensory level.  Insights from his background and work in Apartment resonate a strong association with LeWitt's work, particularly in the search for innovative art.

Link to image of referenced artwork by Wattenberg: http://www.bewitched.com/apartment.html

Data resides all around and modern computer and web tools help to capture them for synthesis, which is what Wattenberg does for both analysis and to define the emerging art of data visualizations.  He clarifies this distinction by noting "artistic visualizations are visualizations of data done by artists with the intent of making art."[4] This is not to say that the output is a result of an artist doctoring the data.  Instead, it is a result of defining the system and process allowing the data to transform organically into a unique visualization beyond the artist's expectations.  Wattenberg's multi-disciplinary background and continuous learning give him the vision to identify hidden relationships, particularly "between language, memory, and space."[5] These have been explored by many artists throughout history including Sol LeWitt, but Wattenberg's pool of data and digital framework open up new possibilities.

Wattenberg's medium expands beyond the computer and into the wider spectrum of digital technology, including programming, data analytics, and web environments.  While many data repositories are static, the dynamic ones add another dimension of interactivity to the process and emergent art form.  For example, census data collected from previous years become static and do not change themselves once that period of data collection is complete.  On the other hand, continuous participant input creates a dynamic database that activates change and responsiveness, and even more so with many participants providing input.  British artist Roy Ascott had previously explored this "distributed authorship" in his 1983 telematic project La Plissure du Texte, which entailed many international participants providing input through a telecommunication network to generate the digital imagery.[6] Wattenberg's Apartment uses a similar strategy crowdsourcing user input through a digital web framework to perpetually transform the art.

Link to image of referenced artwork by Ascott: http://www.medienkunstnetz.de/works/la-plissure-du-texte/

Wattenberg's Apartment "uses the metaphor of apartments and cities as a form of visualization for the semantic relationships between words and sentences typed in by users."[7]  There is one variation of the digital user interface where a participant can input words based on his or her associations with a particular room in the apartment.  For instance, one might align the term make with the kitchen or idea with library.  The participant input undoubtedly varies within the process, but it also draws out consistencies amidst the diversity, such as make for kitchen.  A documented video of the exhibit in action illustrates that when input is added, Wattenberg's algorithm regenerates different floor plans and three-dimensional spatial visualizations reflecting the input.[8]  The installation Apartment was structured in a way so that participants could add input and experience the exhibit both in the physical museum venue and via a website.  Such audience collaboration and participation manifests "Duchamp's dictum that 'the viewer completes the work of art.'"[9]  Wattenberg's process is about structuring and leading the algorithm to respond to participants, who ultimately execute and help realize the final art form.

Aside from the more-than-likely complex algorithm defined by Wattenberg, the participant input is quite intuitive, requiring only typed words into the digital interface.  The variety of words being input link participants to the interface by having them think about associations with rooms of an apartment through their own short- and long-term memories.  This involves them within the process of creating and experiencing the art.  The resulting two- and three-dimensional visualizations react and provide the feedback to participants validating their contribution.  In addition, the participation aspect of Apartment is unique to this emerging art form because of how it increases accessibility through an Internet presence.  Nevertheless, my perspective is that the art of Apartment embodies the entire process, from inception to realization.  Wattenberg and his collaborators, including all of the participants providing input into the algorithm, each contribute to the process, thereby empowering it to spawn an experience for the same participants and any other viewers.

Visually, Apartment clearly resembles the text patterns displayed by Ascott's La Plissure Du Texte, but is a bit distinguished from LeWitt's prominent cubes, yet the fundamental process used by each exhibits a consistency.  It strengthens the potential of a simple logic for diverse applications, regardless of the vehicle used as a building block: cube, alphanumeric character, word, image, or other raw data.  The iterative process implemented throughout each experience is the logic that gives said building blocks a venue to emerge organically into the unforeseen.  Furthermore, the iterations establish a feedback loop that define and enhance the experiences for each artist and viewer.  The experience of the process, rather than the resulting artwork, is the intent. Wattenberg reflects this in stating that "the artworks must be based on actual data, rather than the metaphors or surface appearance of visualization."[10]  He and LeWitt, as well as Ascott, acknowledge the value of the underlying raw data and understand how to use it to build the experience of their art.

Wattenberg uses the infinite data stream of collaborative input as the source for his artwork, and with the guidance of an algorithm in a structured process, works like Apartment can be experienced by all.  Although the source may differ from that of LeWitt, the contextual processes coincide with their self-realization.  At the same time, this emerging art aims to address "a prominent issue in this new medium: the search for visual models that represent a continuously changing flow of data and information."[11] The realm of data visualization relies on the steady influx of data from various sources which can be a challenge to manage, but this also opens up the opportunity to introduce a greater dynamic in the experience of art, and Wattenberg's initiative is to lead the way.

Citations

[1] "About Me," Martin Wattenberg, accessed October 8, 2018, http://www.bewitched.com/about.html.

[2] "Marek Walczak," MW2MW, accessed October 8, 2018, http://mw2mw.com/category/marek-walczak.

[3] "Jonathan Feinberg," Jonathan Feinberg, accessed October 8, 2018, http://mrfeinberg.com/.

[4] Fernanda B. Viegas and Martin Wattenberg. "Artistic data visualization: Beyond visual analytics," Paper presented at the International Conference on Online Communities and Social Computing, July 22-27, 2007, Beijing, China: 183.

[5] Christine Paul. "Renderings of Digital Art," Leonardo 35, no. 5 (2002): 473.

[6] Jan Baetens, "Roy Ascott's La Plissure du Texte: Towards some elements of a user's manual," Metaverse Creativity 2, no. 2 (2012): 193.

[7] Richard K. Merritt, "From Memory Arts to the New Code Paradigm: The Artist as Engineer of Virtual Information Space and Virtual Experience," Leonardo 34, no. 5 (2001): 406.

[8] Turbulence.org, "Turbulence.org Commission: “Apartment” by Marek Walczak, Martin Wattenberg, Jonathan Feinberg (2001)," uploaded May 10, 2015, video, 4:45, https://vimeo.com/127419467.

[9] Kevin F. McCarthy and Elizabeth Heneghan Ondaatje. From Celluloid to Cyberspace: The Media Arts and the Changing Arts World. Rand Corporation, 2002: 29.

[10] Viegas. "Artistic data visualization," 184.

[11] "Data Dynamics," Artport, Whitney Museum of American Art, accessed October 10, 2018, http://artport.whitney.org/artport-version1/currentexhibitions.html. 

Analysis of Nam June Paik's "Modulation in Sync: Jacob's Ladder"

General / 27 October 2018

Postmodernism has evolved through an elaborate web of diversity and of the two main viewpoints, Deconstructive and Reconstructive Postmodernism, my personal perspective identifies more with that of Reconstructive Postmodernism.  I have regard for both variations of Postmodernism with their intent of being revolutionary and creating a separation from it predecessors and the past.  But in doing so, they also manifest a level of reliance on these past art movements, including Minimalism, Dadaism, and other Modernist directions. Charles Jencks references the term Postmodernism and notes that its application in art along with other fields like architecture and science "was understood as 'subversion from within' the establishment, using the reigning voice to send a message."[1]  To me, the prominent difference is in how each of the two Postmodernism directions respond to this past and the potential future by way of their present actions.  There is a sense of inspiration and hope in the realization of progress when it does so in a positive, constructive manner, and I experience this more with Reconstructive Postmodernism.  This is best exemplified through an analysis of artist Nam June Paik's alliance with the Fluxus art movement, pioneering of video art, and artwork Modulation in Sync: Jacob's Ladder.  

Link to image of referenced artwork: http://bohen.org/project/nam-june-paik

Nam June Paik's studies and interests spanned a wide range of disciplines and topics, including art, music, performance, and emerging technology.  A multidisciplinary approach to art happens to be a defining principle within my own pursuits, which I truly appreciate.  His background, along with a strong understanding of Modernism and involvement in the Fluxus movement, paved his revolutionary path into the realm of video and interactive art with a goal "to both humanize technology and remake it through a spirit of play and freewheeling invention."[2]  Jacob's Ladder illuminates the atrium of the Guggenheim by redefining the elemental building block of light into a sculptural performance that tempts one to climb.  There is a simplicity in the organization of the installation that hints at Minimalism, yet it challenges it by pushing forward technology's potential value to envision a reminiscent icon, the ecclesiastical Jacob's ladder.  Furthermore, "Paik’s Fluxus vision inclined itself to crossing borders and dissolving difference through the power of televisual flow."[3]  The references and links within Jacob's Ladder traverse cultural differences and embrace the transformational future of technology.  Collectively, this stands out to me as a progressive attitude of extracting multifaceted contexts that simultaneously dispelled conformity to Modernism or its emergent elitism.

Many have titled Paik as "'The Father of Video Art' and 'The George Washington of Video Art' in recognition of the range and quality of his art making and the fact that his support for video art at large created opportunities for other artists."[4]  However, his approach to using technology was not that he used video art as a vehicle to simply showcase the superficiality of emerging technology.  Instead, it provided him the opportunity to unveil the transformation of an object into something more than itself or even a symbol.  Art historian David Joselit clarifies that Paik redefined the categorization of an object by acknowledging its form as an "object", "action" and "network," all three of which would become "manifested as the disruption of the receiver's normal operation."[5]  So in addition to being a symbol, the object takes on meaning as a living entity within diverse context, and is further elevated to become part of an interconnected system beyond its physical constraints.  This dissection of Modernism is inherent to Postmodernism, but the transformative and organic nature of enlightenment is specific to the Reconstructive viewpoint.

Ultimately, my bias adheres to Paik's ability to tame technology by exploring its substructure of forms, or phases, in a constructive manner.   Looking back, progress exhibits a cyclical pattern with each movement emerging as a form of criticizing or reforming previous movements, yet Charles Jencks articulates that "the modern poet has to adopt a double stance, honouring the exemplars while modifying their message."[6]  Postmodernism as a whole looks to subvert many of the driving forces behind Modernism, but it still echoes it in order to even exist. My alignment with Reconstructive Postmodernism is built on its pursuit of radical reformation through meaning and allowing organic transformation to lead the way.

Citations

[1] Charles Jencks, "What is Radical Post-Modernism?" Architectural Design (Special Issue: Radical Post-Modernism) 81, no. 5 (September/October 2011): 17.

[2] John G. Hanhardt, "Nam June Paik (1932–2006): Video Art Pioneer," American Art 20, no. 2 (Summer 2006): 150-151.

[3] Jun Okada, "Nam June Paik and Laurel Nakadate at the Margins of Asian American Film and Video," Cinema Journal 56, no. 3 (Spring 2017): 137 & 139.

[4] Hanhardt, "Nam June Paik," 148.

[5] David Joselit, "No Exit: Video and the Readymade," October 119 (Winter 2007): 38 & 43.

[6] Charles Jencks, "Why Critical Modernism?" Architectural Design (Special Issue: Rationalist Traces) 77, no. 5 (September/October 2007): 145.




Analysis of Robert Smithson's "Floating Island to Travel Around Manhattan Island"

General / 26 October 2018

As art moves beyond traditionally defined media, its identification and classification as art pose challenges, and along with these are the complexities to document, and preserve each as a physical entity.  The creative use of new media in art expand the opportunities for artists to express unique perspectives, but there are many who question its viability as a work of art for various reasons, including its media, method and venue of presentation, and capacity to be documented.  Subsequently, the way it is preserved and exhibited in the future opens up a new set of challenges, namely for those works of art dependent on space, location, or some sort of transient variable.  This is exemplified in artist Robert Smithson's Floating Island to Travel Around Manhattan Island, which was exhibited for only a single week in September 2005 and along with his other work with landscapes and earthen materials, traverses "across orders of time and space."[1] 

Link to image of referenced artwork: https://www.robertsmithson.com/earthworks/floating_island.htm

Steve Dietz, Artistic Director of Zero1: The Art and Technology Network, notes that "new-media art remains an evolving reference with no permanent definition."[2]  So even though the definition of new media art continues in recent discussions, it also relies on a connection to precedents that can help frame the unknown with that which is known.  The intent of creating an experience for the viewer is still an evident focal point for the art of new media just as it is for those clearly categorized within past art movements.  The experience of seeing Smithson's Floating Island with landscape elements being dragged around the paradoxical urban Manhattan environment likely drew attention of sightseers and reflected a likeness to the "artificial model of Central Park."[3] As an installation art, it conveys an intent and creates an experience for the viewer, but based solely on its media and form, is it more aligned with landscape, architecture, or simply an industrial barge hauling earthen materials?
Such questions showcase the challenges of solely using the physical attributes of the new media as a way to identify and classify its artistic value rather than with a more comprehensive approach, such as through art historian Michael Archer's reference to "the Gesamtkunstwerk, the total work of art."[4] The all-inclusive intent of Floating Island clearly aimed to convey an experience.  Another potential resolution to these challenges is by a sort of process of elimination, or as art historian Rosalind Krauss cleverly articulated, "the combination of exclusions."[5] Landscapes and architecture can be interpreted as stationary and permanent, so on the basis of its media, Floating Island distinguishes itself from these exclusions. 

Traditionally defined media has long since had a well-defined method for its exhibition, documentation, and preservation, but installation art since the late 1960s have set precedents that "'broke' the frame and challenged the strictures of modernist art exhibit conventions."[6] These initiatives to explore unconventional media go beyond the traditional media exhibited in museums and many lead to unique locations, spatial requirements, and time constraints.  Floating Island embodied each of these additional traits and the only evidence that remains now of its realization are the photograph and video documentation preserved by the viewers present at the event.  The ephemeral nature of many installation art work like this prompted the use of photography for both archival documentation and exhibition, but it also impacted "the viewer's presence in and direct experience of the space" as defined by the art in situ.[7]  Some might see Floating Island as having been only truly experienced by those standing on the banks and looking at the barge pass by, with the documentation as just a record of the event.  However to others, the documentation may be more than a simple account of the exhibit; it becomes a portal for a new experience to envision its intent.  Ultimately, the questions and challenges posed by art that explore nontraditional media will continue to be a topic of conversation and debate, particularly as new media emerges in the future.

Citations

[1] Yusoff Kathryn & Jennifer Gabrys, "Time Lapses: Robert Smithson's Mobile Landscapes," Cultural Geographies 13, no. 3 (July 2006): 444.

[2] Steve Dietz, "Collecting New-Media Art: Just Like Anything Else, Only Different," in Collecting the New: Museums and Contemporary Art, ed. Bruce Altshuler (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2005), 86-89.

[3] Catherine Slessor, "Delight," Architectural Review 219, no. 1312 (June 2006): 98.

[4] Michael Archer, "Towards Installation" in Installation Art, ed. Nicolas De Oliveria, Nicola Oxley, Michael Petry (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1994), 14.

[5] Rosalind Krauss, "Sculpture in the Expanded Field," October 8 (Spring 1979): 36.

[6] Monica E. McTighe, Framed Spaces: Photography and Memory in Contemporary Installation Art (New Hampshire: Dartmouth College Press, 2012), 23.

[7] McTighe, Framed Spaces, 94.

Analysis of Mel Bochner's "If / And / Either / Both (Or)"

General / 25 October 2018

Mel Bochner's application of logic to a collection of measurements and colored rectangles in If / And / Either / Both (Or) redefines the spatial relationships of the environment for each viewer.  Its abstract qualities slightly cloak the methodical process used to divert attention away from each object and towards the experience. Moreover, his artwork has an unmistakable connection to the precedents demonstrated by Sol LeWitt, as well as other artists from the 1960s, who applied rationalization of systems to their processes.

Link to image of referenced artwork: http://www.melbochner.net/exhibitions/if-the-color-changes-2012-2013-whitechapel-gallery-haus-der-kunst-serralves-/

The exhibition If The Color Changes in 2013 at the Whitechapel Gallery in London showcased If / And / Either / Both (Or) along with some of Bochner's other artworks.  It capitalized on the gallery space to redefine its experience for the user through the use of measurements and text, themes that resonate throughout his artwork.  Reviews of his exhibitions, such as that by journalist Anna Richardson, frequently mention measurements and text "used to convey the personal, social or political, or in a notational and calligraphic way."[1]  Art writer Barry Schwabsky further supports the qualification of these units of language by referencing how Bochner exemplifies "the relation of language to representation and the manifold ways language can be a medium for artistic work."[2] These all point to Bochner's resourcefulness in employing elementary alphanumeric characters, refining their presentation, and allowing the emerging forms and patterns to express something more than the individual characters.  

The variations in vibrant colors and sizes of rectangles in If / And / Either / Both (Or) contrast with the white wall behind, but they also become the background for the white dimensions that span in distinct directions throughout the arrangement.  It depicts an "'exhaustion' of the complete set of permutations of directions and orientation," a strategy defined by Bochner.[3]  In addition to these forms, the perception experienced by a viewer through this artwork fuses elements of both the visual revelation within its spatial context and the hidden knowledge.[4]  Acknowledgment of the process and context become the critical guides for deciphering the logic within the abstract and prompts each viewer's unique experience of the artwork.  Artist and writer Mark Prince also describes Bochner's artwork with the term "perspectival illusionism."[5] It suggests that the artwork If / And / Either / Both (Or) uses perspective to draw the viewer into the illusion of its own physical space, regardless of whether the viewer is physically in the gallery space or simply viewing a photograph of the exhibit.

Bochner's philosophy is to divert attention from each individual element and he asserts this "by collapsing the space between the artwork and the viewer."[6]  In doing so, there is a greater opportunity for the viewer to navigate through the artwork discovering the relationships, patterns, and aesthetic, such as the aforementioned illusion.  An interview with Bochner notes his fascination with "how the mind represents such relations in distinct formats (e.g., boundaries, numbers, words)."[7]  An up-close look of the artwork If / And / Either / Both (Or) highlights the measurements that create an interdependence among the various colors and rectangles.  In some cases, there are well-defined boundaries whereas others are overridden by the traversing lines of the measurements.  When viewed from afar however, the numbers become indiscernible but the lines naturally guide the eye like a highway across the map of a colored landscape.  Furthermore, it takes into consideration the context and generates its own relationships with surrounding elements.  The stark boundaries between the vibrant colors and white background rely on the wall itself, its size, and barrenness.  Even the floor tiles in the White Chapel Gallery appear to make an attempt at bridging the artwork to the ground plane, stimulating the viewer to mentally draw measurements throughout the rest of the space.  Bochner echoes this intent by stating, "When I put the measurements on the wall, Iʼm forcing the architecture to reveal itself, to surrender its transparency." [8]

Naturally, the artwork by Bochner parallels the fundamentals of Sol LeWitt's Minimalism, but it also exhibits an evolution to explore new relationships and experiences.  In another interview with Bochner, he specifically referenced an affinity for LeWitt's work and ideas about process while stating that "art is about knowledge, not about objects."[9]  LeWitt also employed the bond between elementary building blocks and the complex systems they are capable of generating.  His focus was on the process of defining, generating, and experiencing the system, not necessarily on the actual objects.  And like Bochner, LeWitt strategically understood the spatial context of his artwork, incorporating it in such a way that it would become part of each viewer's individual experience.  When asked about his understanding of space, Bochner referenced a statement he recalled from memory and expressed his thoughts on it: "'You can't make space, you can only divide space.' This was a revelation."[10]  Conclusively, Bochner's process references that of LeWitt and exemplifies a methodical use of measurements, text, and shapes as tools for generating complex systems that restructure an existing space into a new experience.

Citations

[1] Anna Richardson. "Naming Game," Design Week 24, no. 30 (July 30, 2009): 28.

[2] Barry Schwabsky. "Words For Art," Art in America 97, no. 2 (February 2009): 39.

[3] Janet Zweig. "Ars Combinatoria: Mystical Systems, Procedural Art, and the Computer," Art Journal 56, no. 3 (Autumn, 1997): 27.

[4] Mark Prince, "If the Colour Changes," Art Monthly 362 (December 2012/January 2013): 25.

[5] Prince, "If the Colour Changes," 26.

[6] Mel Bochner, "Why Would Anyone Want to Draw on the Wall?" October 130 (Fall 2009): 140.

[7] Alexander Kranjec. "Thought Is a Material: Talking with Mel Bochner about Space, Art, and Language," Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 25, no. 25 (December 2013): 2015.

[8] Kranjec. "Thought Is a Material," 2019.

[9] Kranjec. "Thought Is a Material," 2017.

[10] Kranjec. "Thought Is a Material," 2019.

Analysis of Sol LeWitt's Art Process

General / 24 October 2018

The role of process in the art of the 1950s and 1960s was more pronounced than that of previous art movements because of how it not only influenced the rendition of artwork but also became a key part of its experience for the artist and viewer. The art of this period exhibits evidence of both learning and diverging from the past in its consideration of what constituted art through composition, creation, and user experience. In this move towards Minimalism and Conceptual Art, there are semblances to the precedents set forth by Cubism and Constructivism, as well as International Style architecture.[1] Nevertheless, it looked to the fundamentals in just about every aspect: the basic elements of the natural and man-made world, materials beyond the typical media used in the art of the past, and exploring their manipulation and natural inclinations, all of which contribute to the process. Allowing the process to be the driving force behind a work of art gave this time period both newfound challenges, yet fascinating opportunities to exhibit in unconventional venues and engage spectators in ways that had never before been possible.

Link to image of referenced artwork: https://www.moma.org/collection/works/81259

Artist Sol LeWitt and his All Three-Part Variations of Three Different Kind of Cubes exemplify the role of process and its divergence from predecessors. The minimalist sculpture explores variations founded in the basic building blocks of three steel cubes, each with their own variations in the number of sides. The cubes and their combinatoric arrayed configurations define "a decisional procedure for generating the final form of the work as a permutational system," and in doing so, become the pronounced process and focal point of the art.[2]  LeWitt empowered a mundane primitive to elevate itself using elementary concepts and logic, therefore guiding its the system's final form through self-creation. This approach is quite different from those of previous eras because the artist's focus is on the system and its elements, not its resultant form or even visual aesthetic. The end result is a natural course of action for the encapsulated system and process, particularly since there is a finite number of combinations, as is the case for the potential placement of the three cubes. An interview with LeWitt further supports this avant-garde initiative in his statement that "the system is the work of art; the visual work of art is the proof of the system."[3]  As such, viewers are given the opportunity to perceive the process of structuring the system validated by the work's physical manifestation.

The materials and methods used in the art that emerged from these processes also diversified the way that the art is exhibited compared to many previous art forms. Even though many of LeWitt's other works conform to drawings and paintings, this particular sculpture of stacked cubes is a three-dimensional installation that strays from the typical two-dimensional surface of a wall, and as with other sculptural forms, they have very unique requirements and protocol for location and placement. Not only does the exhibit strive to give each spectator the opportunity to envision or experience the process through some form of multisensory interactivity, but the physical act of setting up the installation further pronounces the process. In many cases, it is the artist implementing the setup, but it may also involve the participation of others guided by the artist's instructions, which in turn creates a unique opportunity for others to be involved in the process. For example, the setup of LeWitt's Glossy and Flat Black installation at the Rice University Art Gallery in 2017 involved six art students who "experienced firsthand the meticulous craftsmanship that goes into such a work while developing their own specific physical relationship to it."[4]  Through the participation of others in the installation's setup, its process is reborn by means of new perspectives. So even over the course of time and into the future, the process embedded in the art of the 1950s and 1960s continues to resonate as its self-realization. 

Citations

[1] "Sol LeWitt," MoMA, no. 5 (1978): 1.

[2] Adrian Piper, "The Logic of Modernism: How Greenberg Stole the Americans Away from a Tradition of Euroethnic Social Content," Flash Art International 51, no. 319 (March/April 2018): 54.

[3] Saul Ostrow & Sol LeWitt, "Sol LeWitt," BOMB, no. 85 (2003): 25.

[4] Sandra Zalman, "Sol LeWitt: Glossy and Flat Black Squares," CAA Reviews (March 2018): 3-4.  

Analysis of Alexander Calder's "10-5-4"

General / 23 October 2018

Alexander Calder's sculpture 10-5-4 embodies evidence of both Modern and Postmodern artwork.  Much like his extensive collection of work using hanging mobiles, the simplistic shapes and minimal framework in this piece exude a surreal abstract form, yet hints at resonating nature, namely celestial bodies and leaves on a tree.  Influences to his work range from the pioneering effort to sculpt using such a unique form as the kinetic mobile, a deep interest in understanding the Universe, and collaborating with other like-minded artists including Joan Miro.

Link to image of referenced artwork: https://theartstack.com/artist/alexander-calder/artwork-10-5-4-1958

In attempting to understand the motive for Calder's use of mobiles as vehicles for his sculptural artwork, French philosopher and critic Jean-Paul Sartre speculated that "his mobiles signify nothing, refer to nothing other than themselves,"[1] which echoes the characteristic of Modernism that the work stands alone and separate from the world around it.  One can look at Calder's 10-5-4 in its isolated form, align the number of simple, colored shapes with its namesake and watch the pieces sway slightly in any minor flux of air.  It becomes a wonder in itself without having to rely on external influences or context.  The innovative qualities of the mobile as a sculptural form also exemplify Modernism by focusing on the technical expertise to engineer the form and the used materials.  However, "as mobiles swept through commodity culture in the mid-1950's," the challenge arose to distinguish Calder as the innovator behind the mobile.[2]  This avant-garde initiative may have been caught up in a world of replicas and kitsch mobile art, but the ingenuity strengthened the association of Calder to pioneering mobiles as a unique art form, another facet of Modernism.

The alignment of Calder's 10-5-4 to Postmodernism stems from a reference to nature in its notion of a celestial body floating overhead and dynamically changing ever so slightly.  He was "a key proponent of acentric, 'stellar' designs,"[3] which became a framework for his interpretation of the Universe in many of his mobiles and other sculptures.  These imaginative visions of constellations and the like manifest the qualities of Postmodernism.  At the same time, Calder and his close colleague Joan Miro "were influenced by the Surrealist notion of the unconscious as the most authentic source of inspiration, but they rooted their fantasies in recognizable imagery based on personal experience."[4]  The sculpture's title may appear enigmatic as to its true meaning, but the inspiration of natural phenomena in Calder's 10-5-4 is undoubtedly recognizable.  As another nudge towards Postmodernism, the aforementioned dichotomy between independence of and dependence on context attests to its overlapping presence as Modern and Postmodern art.  Both the isolated abstract form of the mobile and its semblance to a constellation or leaves on a tree become prominent forces battling to take precedence in the eyes and mind of a viewer.

Citations

[1] Alex J. Taylor, "Unstable Motives: Propaganda, Politics, and the Late Work of Alexander Calder," The University of Chicago Press Journals 26, no. 1 (Spring 2012): 25, JSTOR.

[2] Alex J. Taylor, "The Calder Problem: Mobiles, Modern Taste, and Mass Culture," Oxford Art Journal 37, issue 1 (March 2014): 27-45, https://doi.org/10.1093/oxartj/kct044.

[3] David Barry & Claus Rerup, "Going Mobile: Aesthetic Design Considerations from Calder and the Constructivists," Organization Science 17, no. 2 (March - April 2006): 266, JSTOR.

[4] Helen A. Harrison, "Calder and Miro: Two Giants in Sync," The New York Times, June 21, 1998, LexisNexis Academic.

Traditional & Interactive Narrative

General / 02 May 2018

My thoughts on differentiating the terms narrative and interactive narrative stem from recalling the personal experiences of viewing and participating in them.  There's a defining line between them, but the evolution of media over the years has attempted to blur that distinction.  To me, a narrative is an author-defined chain of events that is not impacted by an audience.  In contrast, an interactive narrative allows for the audience to redefine the chain of events.


Traditional Narrative
I look to the books and TV show surrounding Game of Thrones as an example of traditional narrative, despite its somewhat ironic title as it relates to the subject of games and interactivity.  It embodies the premise of a story, "a sequence of related events" without "participation on the part of the audience" (Gilbert).  It is also a good example that counters the opinion that this "episodic narrative... doesn't develop story arc to the same depth or breadth that something with more space and time might" (Meadows 60). Having read a few of the books and watched the many episodes multiple times over the years, I can completely relate the immersive experience of this narrative to "a state akin to hypnosis" (Varney).  And its large following of viewers from around the world exhibit a similar fervor through forums, debates, and other heated conversations about every little detail in the narrative. As a result, I would say that the development of its story arc is much stronger that most despite its episodic nature.


This also highlights another interesting observation of audience immersion in the narrative, although it does not imply participation or interactivity as one would in an interactive narrative.  The "intense focus, loss of self, distorted time sense" exhibited by the audience seem to hint at some form of interaction with the narrative.  This would be an instance where the clear line between narrative and interactive narrative appears to challenge perspectives.  The audience may not have a direct impact on the narrative that is already written, but its episodic structure with portions of the story that have yet to be realized or released to the public, makes one wonder if the ardent followers are potentially redefining the outcome of the story (Who is Azor Ahai?).


Interactive Narrative
When I think of interactive narrative, I immediately think back to my early childhood creating stories through Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game, by West End Games.  It was just a book outlined with both popular and obscure characters, vehicles, locations, weapons, and a few other references from the world of Star Wars, but it did not define any story or even a start or end point.  The information included dossiers, schematics, and other graphics for each category and was enough for each participant to define their role, attributes, and goals. As with most RPGs, a selected game master would monitor the game/story and resolve any disputes using the book as a reference.


Unfortunately, we only had the one book, so the setup always took some time, passing the book around and giving each participant a chance to look through it to document their selection.  But after the first few, we all started to get familiar with the options and subsequent narratives tended to be set up much quicker.  In fact, many of them turned out to be continuations of the previous narratives; either we did not finish them previously or they were too exciting to not continue.  It became very immersive taking part in these new universes we were creating.


Without a doubt, I see this experience as an interactive narrative because of how it "allows for multiple perspectives... each of which work together to assemble an overall and cohesive worldview" (Meadows 62).  The narratives had not been written beforehand and the participants defined it along the way, not truly knowing what was going to happen next.  What I find most fascinating is that the dynamic experience of complexity leading to "meaningful play" (Salen 153) emerged from the simple library of resources within the single book.


Works Cited
Gilbert, Sari. "Unit 06: Narrative." ITGM 705 Interactive Design and Media, Savannah College of Art & Design. Blackboard presentation.
Meadows, Mark S. Pause & Effect: Interactive Narrative. New Riders Press, 2002. XanEdu. Accessed 08 April 2018.
Salen, Katie & Eric Zimmerman. Rules of Play. The MIT Press, 2003.
Varney, Allen. "Immersion Explained." The Escapist. 30 August 2006. http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/video-games/issues/issue_57/341-Immersion-Unexplained. Accessed 30 April 2018.