Day 195 @ ITP: Recurring Concepts in Art

Source: Mirror Lights – Camilla & Jina

Mirror Lights is a two-person performance using light and acoustic sound to create a virtual reality experience.


One person enters a darkened room, sits on a chair and shines a light at a screen suspended in front of them.

A second person shines a light from the other side of the screen, following the first person’s light’s movements, thereby creating the illusion that the first light is guiding the movements of the second.

The first person’s light is attached to a chandelier of bells above their head, which causes it to chime with their movements, creating the soundtrack for the performance.


Materials: mylar sheets, lights, a found metal structure, wind chimes, chair.

Day 181 @ ITP: Recurring Concepts in Art


Mark Hansen, Ben Rubin, “Listening Post: Giving Voice to On-Line Communication,” Proceedings of the 2002 International Conference on Auditory Display, Kyoto, Japan, July 2-5, 2002 (pdf)

Listening Post is a multimedia art installation designed to convey the magnitude and diversity of online communication. This unique space provides a meaningful rendering of a massive data stream consisting of thousands of simultaneous conversations. In this article, we explore specifically how the audio component of the installation provides a structure that enables visitors to make sensible inferences from this complex, dynamic data. Listening Post makes use of a multi-layer audio display consisting of mechanical noises (relay clicks), sampled sounds, and synthesized voices. We illustrate how these components, together with a very simple visual display, combine and interact to give visitors a sense of the topics being discussed in thousands of chat rooms, all in real time. Finally, we discuss some of the systems and software infrastructure necessary to create the complex audio display.
The sequence of tones selected also follows a kind of self-organizing principle. The pattern that emerges is musical, and the visitor can begin to predict likely “next pitches”. This prediction is not completely accurate, however, because we are not simply cycling through a fixed sequence of pitches. The prevalence of topics fuels the rate of matches which in turn drives the rhythm and mix of pitches in the room.

Subjectively, it seemed as though it was possible to selectively attend to a given utterance even when there may have been as many as forty simultaneous voices in the room. This degree of stream segregation was surprising to us, and we suspect it is due to a combination of several factors:
• The pitching of the voices and the musically-arranged sequence in which pitches were chosen;
• The creation of compound events composed of three types of sounds together (click, tone, voice);
• The use of multiple sources of sound in space
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Because of its power as a compositional tool, Max is responsible for determining values for aesthetic parameters governing the audio display. For inter-process communication, we make extensive use of the Open Sound Control (OSC) [10] protocol originally developed for Max. We wrote a general purpose OSC client in Perl [11] so that Max can communicate with the other pieces of the system. We created a sequence of OSC devices that specify scene type and parameter values. Messages sent to Max included start/stop indicators for the scenes, tickers to record specific events within each scene, and activity monitors that kept Max informed of the activity on the display. As an example, consider the “content” scene explained in Section 4. When an agent identifies a sample to display, several events are triggered simultaneously: 1) the relay on the display makes a loud clicking noise; 2) Max generates a pitched tone, and 3) the TTS engine reads the content displayed on the screen in a monotone voice pitched to match that of the introductory tone. Here is the sequence of events that take place to create this. To start the scene, the controller on the Linux PC sends an OSC message to a port on the NT computer corresponding to this scene. The message specifies how long the scene should run for. When the scene starts, the program on the NT computer sends Max an OSC message indicating that the scene has begun. It also starts a single agent scrolling on the display, and gradually introduces more as the scene progresses.

When Max receives notification that this scene has begun, it sends the TTS engine an OSC message specifying the pitch and volume that the next voice should speak at. These messages are of the form /lp/content/pitchvol p v where p and v are integers. (In terms of the OSC protocol, the first string is a symbolic address that we structure to represent the project, lp, the scene, content, and the parameter names, p and v.) When one of the agents finds a match in the data stream, it sends the message to the display along with the specification that a loud click be issued. It also sends signals to Max and the TTS engine. The latter message consists of the text the TTS engine is to speak (at a pitch and volume previously specified by Max). The notice to Max is of the form /lp/content/pulse. Periodically, Max will also receive messages that record the “activity” on the display; that is the number of text units that currently hold content. Max uses this to adjust the volume of the voices in the room. The OSC message is now of the form /lp/content/activity a, where a is an integer from 0 to 110. When Max receives notice that a match happens, it plays a sample with the pitch sent previously to the TTS engine. It also sends an OSC message to the TTS engine, giving it the volume and pitch of the next voice.

As can be seen from this example, each of the computers involved in creating a Listening Post scene speaks more or less directly to each of the other computers. OSC is the substance of this communication.

Martha Buskirk, “Original Copies,” The Contingent Object of Contemporary Art, MIT Press, 2003, pp. 59-105 (pdf) Further material

Douglas Eklund, “The Pictures Generation,” Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Introductory essay plus slide show entries.

Gary Indiana, “These ‘80s Artists Are More Important Than Ever,” T Magazine, The New York Times, February 13, 2017.

One of the least helpful clichés of recent years has been the declaration that some phenomenon or person is “on the wrong side of history”; the presumption that history is headed, with occasional setbacks, toward a much-improved, even utopian state of things could only be endorsed by someone unfamiliar with history. Mistaking the perfection of our devices for the perfection of ourselves relieves us of responsibility for what happens to the world: It will just naturally turn out O.K., sooner or later. But technology can easily outrun our comprehension of what it does to us, even while it incarnates our wishes, fears and pathologies. (What could be more pathological than a nuclear weapon?)
The Pictures artists, so-called, were born in Cold War America, during the schizoid cultural meshing of unparalleled national prosperity with the daily threat of looming nuclear annihilation. They grew up with Hollywood movies, low-def network television and ad-heavy pictorial magazines like Look and Life as the audiovisual wallpaper of their childhoods, mostly in American suburbs.
They were intellectuals as well as artists, a disfavored combination throughout most of American art history: Artists weren’t supposed to think about the implications of what they were doing, or the overall context in which it appeared.
Above all else, these artists addressed power, especially patriarchal power, at its quotidian level of social engineering, as well as in its grip on art history.
Photographs could be staged to emphasize the look of artfully subtle, unremarked female stereotypes in movies (Cindy Sherman), or to picture toy housewives in miniature home interiors, evoking the pathos of domestic imprisonment (Laurie Simmons). Photos could be excavated from the morgues of bygone magazines and science journals, blown up and bannered with jarring, sardonic captions (Barbara Kruger). Images could be scissored out of National Geographic and Vogue, and repatriated to blocks of strident primary colors, where their fetishistic weirdness became hilariously disturbing (Sarah Charlesworth). A photo could present art in the settings it occupies after it’s sold, on walls of rich collectors, corporate offices and other privileged venues — today, typically, a billionaire’s storage facility (Louise Lawler).
But above all else, the Pictures artists addressed power, especially patriarchal power, at its quotidian level of social engineering, as well as in its grip on art history. If we are to think of the Pictures Generation as an art movement, then it was the first one in history that included a substantial number of women artists. Much of the early resistance to it was flagrantly misogynistic, though its male artists came in for their own share of ridicule from newspaper and magazine critics, whose favorite dismissive word for this art was “brainy.”
It’s no accident that we are giving these artists a careful second look now. Whatever progressiveness was afforded by the Obama era has come full circle to an isolationist longing where an unpredictable celebrity president speaks directly to an electorate that is collectively backlit by technology’s artificial glow. The emotional resonance of the Pictures Generation has accrued over time, strengthened by its curious suitability to the present.

Day 180 @ ITP: Recurring Concepts in Art

Response Paper #2


The Shadow Act: Kara Walker’s Vision by Hilton Als

In Walker’s work, slavery is a nightmare from which no American has yet awakened: bondage, ownership, the selling of bodies for power and cash have made twisted figures of blacks and whites alike, leaving us all scarred, hateful, hated, and diminished.

I found this piece on Kara Walker’s art, as well as her trajectory that led to making the specific type of work that she became famous for, to be incredibly thought provoking on many levels in relation to racism today in America and also in terms of her role as an artist in creating a new lens with which to view and process our history. On Walker’s piece “The End of Uncle Tom” (pictured above), a commentary on the psychological trauma inflicted on society by the acts described in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 novel, Als remarks that she ties together past and present roots of racism: “Both historical and contemporary, the piece is a critique of slavery, as well as of the casual racism that modern blacks are exposed to on a daily basis in our post-politically correct times. Walker throws hatred back in our faces.”

Though sometimes it is conflated with prejudice or discrimination even in  modern Dictionary definitions (See: Merriam Webster), it seems to me that consensus is becoming (at least on the political left) that the term “racism” is most productively viewed semantically as a cultural term to describe systemic oppression and subjugation of one people by another based on the color of their skin, or their perceived race. Yes, slavery and subjugation has happened in other places to many different kinds of people, but in the United States our framework for the term is clearly rooted in our own history of the European colonizer’s kidnapping and enslavement of African people during the founding of the United States, and there is no way of getting around that in conversation. It seems that in order to talk about it we must recognize this and discuss racism in this country within that context. If we repress its ugliness, and pretend it has gone away it will surely pop out in some other form of violence. Language is a powerful tool, as well as visual language, and Walker confronts the viewer with disturbing, nightmarish parody of our past which creates a visceral effect of discomfort that perhaps provides a lens on our history that words cannot fully convey.

Als describes how essentially views Walker’s themes that she presents in her work as a litmus test for the viewers’ degree of education on racism: “Only the visually illiterate could mistake their post-modern critiques for realistic portrayals, and that is the difference between the racist original and the post-modern, signifying, anti-racist parody that characterizes this genre of artistic expression.” Her work is a challenge to the viewer to elevate their complexity of thinking and use new analytical tools in parsing its meaning and implications.

I found it important to note also how in the ’90s Walker’s work was received as a dangerous threat by other African American artists who viewed her choice to use degrading imagery of slavery. Walker addressed how she views this reaction as problematic and also symptomatic of the same ugliness that she is trying to expose:

“…to dismiss what I do, it basically does what I do: creates a stereotype where once there was a person. Uses all of the accoutrements of that person’s humanity—their skin, their hair, their social life—to construct another character. The only thing that’s missing is the signature, saying, ‘This is my piece. This is my Kara Walker.’”

This points again and highlights the issue of the subjugation of the body, in this case the black body, both in our history as a nation, and also in Walker’s work in order to illustrate and dissect the power struggles that still remain today. Now it seems that the cultural acceptance of the need to discuss these issues is stronger than ever. We must constantly now be reminded of the horrors of World War II, as well as the Cold War, as the threat of another potential catastrophic war is potentially looming on the horizon. Similarly we also need to be reminded of the roots of systemic racism in this country, and of the power structures which were founded upon and still exist that we may take for granted.

Walker’s work invites us to see this history and reexamine how we got here, as well present the need to both look at, acknowledge, and then begin to destroy (possibly heal?) or at least bring into sharp focus the poisonous effects of slavery as a means of confronting them. Walker also does this through claiming a political voice as an African American woman with power in the art world, which also in a way also makes her have to sacrifice herself for consumption by the art market, “…depicted in the press as the art community’s very own Sojourner Truth, a paragon of black righteousness in a corrupt white world—an image that Walker, who has said that she occasionally feels like “somebody’s pet project,” is very much aware of.”

In the article Walker says of own work that she herself wonders where it is all leading, what the next step is beyond the exposing stage:

“And out of this subservient condition…I must escape, go wild, be free, after which I have to confront the questions: How free? How wild? How much further must I go to escape all I’ve internalized?”

In this quote Walker asks this question of herself, but also seemingly rhetorically asking the same question of the viewer. As the roots and workings of racism in America become more  exposed and transparent, where will our society take this issue next, both in art, belief and daily practice?

I believe that only when facing the truth is it possible to move forward; if living a lie, the ability to change reality will always be outside of our grasp. Perhaps Walker’s invitation for us to view the truth with new eyes and in discomfort is a challenge to us to unite in acknowledgment, recognition, and ultimately rejection of this past and the path it has taken us on. From here we go forward, somewhere, anywhere else, armed with the truth of the brutality of our history that Walker is depicting. 

Day 169 @ ITP: Recurring Concepts in Art

Shigeko Kubota's Vagina Painting (1965) was a performance in which she crouched over a large sheet of paper on the floor and painted with a red-daubed paintbrush attached to her knickers.   Her video art on EAI website:

Shigeko Kubota's Vagina Painting (1965) was a performance in which she crouched over a large sheet of paper on the floor and painted with a red-daubed paintbrush attached to her knickers.

Her video art on EAI website:

Victor Turner's notion of liminality is a state of 'betwixt and between, a fructile chaos, a storehouse of possibilities' (1982). Other writers have also described some kind of position outside binary thinking, a state disruptive of unity and closure.
 Informe, according to Bataille, has no definition but is performative, like an obscene word. It performs the operation of creating taxonomic disorder and a perpetual maintenance of potentials.
In Purity and Danger anthropologist Mary Douglas discussed pollution taboos concerning the unassimilable waste that is outside the constitution of things that are defined (1966). And the Brazilian artist Helio Oiticica argued that art has no autonomous object state, but is instead a searching process, a constructive nucleus, an enactment (1969).
Whilst Turner's limen is the threshold and a striving after new forms and structures, Bataille's informe is an inchoateness through which meaning briefly emerges, and Douglas describes pollution and dirt as a 'fearful generative site'.
Of course there are many differences between the ideas sketchily outlined above, but the focus of this article is a perception of a shared notion in liminality, informe, pollution and process art of an oscillating flux that does not halt. This is an idea that is also present in contemporary scientific developments in chaos theory and quantum physics. This article discusses this oscillating flux in relation to a range of visual artists using their own bodies in their artworks - in performance, painting, sculpture, photography, film and video.
Visual artists using their own bodies as the site for art wreak havoc with categorisation from several angles. The artist's body is an art object that will not stay put and fixed in its role, it is contingent and gets up and walks back into the artist's life. As art object the artist's body is always ephemeral.
The liminal, the informe, the abject and the taboo undo the work of rationalisation. According to French Fluxus artist Ben Vautier, art is dirty work but somebody has to do it. And 'messy' body artists such as Carolee Schneemann, the Viennese Actionists and Paul McCarthy certainly bear him out. Janine Antoni washed and painted a gallery floor with her hair in the performance, Loving Care (1992). Cheryl Donegan made prints of shamrocks with her green paint-smeared buttocks in the video Kiss My Royal Irish Arse(1993).
Gilles Deleuze's analysis of Francis Bacon's paintings emphasises their depiction of the human body as 'meat' (1981: 197-198). Talking about the effect he wanted in his paintings Bacon said, 'I would like my pictures to look as if a human being had passed between them, like a snail, leaving a trail of the human presence and memory trace of past events, like the snail leaves its slime' (cited in Chipp, 1968: 621).
Marcel Duchamp's Sinning Landscape (1946) was made with semen on black velvet.

Marcel Duchamp's Sinning Landscape (1946) was made with semen on black velvet.

Chilean artists Diamela Eltit and Raul Zurita made performances in the 80s using their own bodies, protesting against inhumanity in an oppressive regime. Critic Nelly Richard comments on their work,
The threshold of pain enables the mutilated subject to enter areas of
collective identification, sharing in one's own flesh the same signs of
social disadvantage as the other unfortunates. Voluntary pain simply
legitimates one's incorporation into the community of those who have
been harmed in some way - as if the self-inflicted marks of chastisement
in the artist's body and the marks of suffering in the national body, as
if pain and its subject could unite in the same scar
(1986: 66, 68).
Filmmaker David Cronenberg has described the basis of horror as the fact that we cannot comprehend how we can die (cited in Kaufmann, 1998). At the same time medical, scientific and technological advances relating to the body's health, reproductive function and death, seem to make the body's functions increasingly conceptual and euphemised.
Mircea Eliade writes that, 'The archaic and Oriental cultures succeeded in conferring positive values on anxiety, death, self-abasement and upon chaos' (1960: 14). But in Western culture death and the body as flux is still a taboo vision. Most critiques of this type of body art cannot get past the Western cultural obsession with the central, terminal, cumulative self - the individual ego, to see beyond to a use of the self as universal. Talking about Dada dance, Hugo Ball commented that 'Dance … is very close to the art of tattooing and to all primitive representative efforts that aim at personification' (1996). With his use of the word 'personification' Ball seems to be getting at a notion of the individual body inscribed, carrying the weight of collective ideas, rather than the individual engaged in self-expression.
Marina Abramovic and Ulay sat opposite each other across a table for a total of 90 days, not moving, not speaking and fasting. The complete performance was undertaken over several chunks of time in different cities around the world. Their longest continuous presentation lasted 16 days. The artists presented themselves as embodied consciousnesses, in the process of being. For Abramovic the job of the artist is to reveal the mystery of existence and to act as a transmittor of energy. 'The deeper you go into yourself, the more universal you come out on the other side' (quoted in Pijnappel, 1995).
Susan Hiller's Draw Together (1972) was an experiment in telepathy and Dream Mapping (1974) was an experiment in group dreaming. Hiller describes art ideas as existing below a verbal recognition level where artists grab on to them (see Einzig, 1996). James Turrell's work experiments with perceptual psychology, light and states of being. He has remarked that art is about bringing images back from the dream world to here. Shelley Sacks' Thought Bank (1994) was based on the idea that water remembers and that thought can be imprinted on water. In live performances Bruce Gilchrist has attempted to externalise images and sounds from the interior of his sleeping body (Divided by Resistance, 1996) (see Keidon, 1996 and Warr, 1996). Working with a BBC Outside Broadcast Unit, a group of mediums, a thermal camera and sound equipment, Kathleen Rogers' PsiNet (1994) set up a parallel between psychic transmission and reception and technological transmission and reception (see La Frenais, 1994).
Speech has been over-emphasised as the privileged means of human
communication, and the body neglected. It is time to rectify this
neglect and to become aware of the body as the physical channel of
(Douglas, 1978: 298)
Janine Antoni washed and painted a gallery floor with her hair in the performance, Loving Care (1992).

Janine Antoni washed and painted a gallery floor with her hair in the performance, Loving Care (1992).


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The body is the proof of identity. The body is language. My consciousness of the body as such became so strong that it became a pressure I couldn't get rid of. I wanted to grasp this consciousness and get rid of the pressure in my painting, but I found that painting for me lacked the possibility of expressing the directness that I felt through contact with the body. Furthermore, painting could not make me feel the existence of my body in my work. I realized that any medium beyond my body seemed too remote from myself. Thus, I decided that the only way I could be an artist was by using my body as the basic medium and language of my art.

...the tendency of self-torturing is not just a personal problem. It is a common phenomenon, especially so in the present circumstances of China today. In the suburban area of Beijing where we live, there also live thousands of peasants who come from all over the country to make a living selling vegetables. Every morning they have to get up at four o'clock for their work. I believe they wish they could have more time for sleep, like the rest of us. But they can't. If one has t o do something one doesn't want t o do, that is a kind
of self-torturing. Everybody has this tendency. Some are conscious of it, while others don't want to admit it. 
—Zhang Huan

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Day 160 @ ITP: Recurring Concepts in Art