Posts Tagged ‘covid’

Realities TV

May 23, 2020 Comments off

(During the exhibition the gallery is closed, no. 4 Imperfect Listsicles, May 20, 2020)

We don’t see our faces when talking to others. We hear our voices; we feel our lips moving. At times we can see our hands waving. Mainly we see the faces of our interlocutors. We see the lives of others played out in movies and on television and at times decide to craft ourselves after some of them. But unless we are cast as the stars of reality television we don’t watch ourselves living. Recent technologies gradually have been training us to watch our own lives elapse. Photography documented passing moments of lives, and so did Super 8. There was Kodachrome, the camcorder, Polaroid, and so on. Then self-representation and preservation were digitally accelerated. There came YouTube, then came the iPhone, and then there was Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, whatnot. We became .jpegs and .movs as we scrolled through our photo applications, watching our recent pasts flicker on the screens of our smartphones. While we have shared our lives excessively on social networks, and have become the spectators of others’ lives, until recently we had yet to livestream life in its totality.

It took a pandemic for us to start starring in our own lives. Cruising through video conferencing platforms, from Zoom to Houseparty, Google Hangouts, to Whereby, Instagram Live to FaceTime, we are now seeing ourselves as the protagonists of our lives as never before. In the fiction of our lives, we have often played characters in the wings, understanding life as it is lived by others, through others. We have interiority, but we do not watch ourselves externalized in the world — even though we believe we are there. In memories we see others, and also in our dreams.

Suddenly, we have watched ourselves enter the stage we know we share with others, but this time we see our own representations among them. We see ourselves against the background of our everyday environs, our living quarters turning into the mises-en-scène of the theater of life – and labor. We are going through a planetary mirror stage. Covid, co-vid, together in video.

We are videoing together, on the couch, at the kitchen table, in bed. Walking around the house, making coffee, drinking, eating. We meet strangers on video, we become friends. We lose friends. The fiction of “I” that according to psychoanalysis casts us as the protagonists of our autobiographies after first recognizing ourselves in the mirror, now is finally interspersed as an active participant, an other among others. Stacked in grids, we are watching images of ourselves, floating through screens, sliding against others’ boxed-in “realities.”

But the image that the screen projects of us is not the Ideal-I of the mirror that we have aspired to our whole lives. It’s a pixelated, grotesque, odd, ludicrous, barely recognizable image that we hopelessly try to approximate to the one we see in the mirror. It is the Inferior-I. One that is captured by the shoddy wide-angle camera of a phone or computer and stretched out into a grid. For many of us who were comfortably sitting in the wings of our lives, this new talent show is excruciating. Now the “I” that struggles to self-actualize in the mirror tries to do the same with a poor image of itself – hence the constant twitching, fixing the hair, fishing the lips, changing the angle. We constantly try to adjust our image, to make it look better among all the other subpar-looking talking heads, and we all fail. But this distraction comes at the expense of listening. We used to listen to others talk, now we examine our looks. Just like the supposed “leaders” who are so over-obsessed with their streaming self-image that they no longer listen.

If the movie star dominated the apparatus to create an ideal image for the masses, we obviously are losing it to the video chat. We are all Zoombies (B.H.™) piled up in grids. Over the last many decades, feminist and queer performance/video art have gone after the industry-produced archetype of the star image of the dominant subject. It deconstructed its fable, corroded and spoiled it, perverted it, injected it with multitudes of desires and detourned it into an image that includes many other forms of existence. When our enforced isolation beams out less-than-ideal images of us in our less-than-ideal lives, we can whirl, twist, and gyre in front of our screens. Follow Birnbaum’s Wonder Woman into the hall of mirrors, explode, “come from under,” and resurrect the Zoombies starring in Realities TV.

Today I’m just like
A person with a device
My mind jumps from place
To place, I’m doing karaoke
I make the screen go up
To another thought, oops
I don’t like this one oh
My! Let’s scroll down to
A more Hallmark moment I
Have an app for waterfalls
No I’ll go to my sex app

Bernadette Mayer

Art without people

May 23, 2020 Comments off

(During the exhibition the gallery is closed, no. 2 When You Believe , April 21, 2020)

There are thousands of artworks currently on view in museums that no one goes to. Paintings and photographs on walls, sculptures on plinths and floors, installations immersive and not, videos, films, sounds, etc. These works are joined by millions of others left in climate controlled on- and offshore storage, soft or hard packed, in crates, on shelves, and in drawers. Considering the all-too-familiar Duchampian maxim that the viewer completes the work of art, we have too many works that, in the absence of viewers, are left incomplete. This incomplete art is art without value.

If we consider Duchamp’s equation, we realize that the value of a work of art is created by people, by those who pay to fill the galleries of museums, and lend their eyeballs to objects and images, and who, by doing so, evaluate what they encounter. Value is created by the labor of viewership. It is the presence of bodies in a space, in front of and around works of art, that sustains a field that more often than not extracts meaning from interiority and imagines a network of professionals and connoisseurs as appraisers. This is not unlike other spheres of contemporary culture and, more broadly, human activity. The application of the human body, its feelings, and its thoughts to an object, image, or commodity is often what grants it its value. Diedrich Diederichsen applied the labor theory of value to art production by claiming that the total time an artist spends in the art world (from academy to bars to openings, etc.), making art or not, is artistic labor and generates value. To this we might add that once the work is made, it requires bodies. These bodies could congregate around it at the same time, or over a decade or millennia. The value of the work – financial, symbolic, or otherwise – could spike and plateau, or decrease, or it could gradually increase over time as more bodies gather around it and more minds carry its memory, talk about it in public or private, replicate it, etc. Questions of expertise, populism, and management of scarcity aside, any kind of cultural product requires the user, viewer, or consumer to complete the cycle of value production.

In a work of art, the artistic work and that of the viewer/audiences converge. If the artist’s work includes all, or almost all areas of their life, their relationship with the totality of the everyday differs from the regulated time of labor. Similarly, the work of art reaches its constituents in their time out of labor. An artwork generates a relationship with time that contrasts the calendar time that serves accumulation. A work of art expands clock time, deregulates it and desynchronizes the temporality of human experience from that of labor time. If the artist’s primary material is bare time, uncalendared time, that is manifested in the time of the work, in the encounter with a work of art the divergent, disrupting, perverted, deviating, expanded temporalities of the work and its viewer are synchronized. Art therefore works against the clock of globally incorporated machine time. As opposed to the artwork, the culture industry aims to regulate time out of labor as designated leisure time and to synchronize it with the clock.

Now, in times when fully installed exhibitions in public and private art spaces remain closed, it is solely the eyeballs, instead of bodies, that institutions are vying for. Public relations are inundating distanced social platforms, strategizing on how to make their clients visible to the sequestered, cabin fevered audiences and to fill their time. Clickbaiting is institutionally mandated and hypervisibility is prescribed for organizational relevance and fear of digital obscurity. If the jpeg was the mp3 for visual art, quarantine is its Napster moment. But unlike recorded music, contemporary art does not maintain its intrinsic qualities through digital transfiguration, at least not immediately. The crisis of quarantine creates another crisis for the field: the crisis of value. While PR and marketing agencies can equate the value of their work with stats, institutions lose the value of space, time, and labor and risk being replaced by applications and platforms. Hypervisibility equals invisibility in the endless scroll. If we follow the example of music, it is not only institutions that will lose relevance. The primary burden falls on artists as their works become just an instance in the eternal digital flow. This is not to make a case for digital naivete, as contemporary art has used and metabolized the internet as an integral part of its ecology. From e-flux to Contemporary Art Daily, vdrome and other platforms, the art world is alive and well on the web. However, even the most digitally native works of art still often rely on bodies in a space for their completion. The current situation might change that, as more artworks and attempts to replicate the experience of art migrate online. VR could replicate the exhibition experience in the living room. While the current cloud transition prioritizes the retinal experience above all, it also provides extra-institutional access to works of art. But to migrate artworks that were made to be experienced in situ to online viewing rooms overnight is only in the service of an economy of visibility that serves the algorithmic patterns of platforms that mine human intelligence and labor to generate IPO value. All of a sudden, it appears that the work of artists, institutions, and viewers are now all in the service of speculative evaluation of web-based platforms, facilitated via marketing schemes that harvest optical engagement with content into quantifiable metrics of labor time, time of maximizing corporate yields.

Perhaps in anticipation of this wholesale transfer of institutional content to the data industry, artist Bahar Nourizadeh in collaboration with Mahan Moalemi created CAD Conspiracy (2019). The work fed 60,000 installation shots collected from into the machine learning framework of a generative adversarial network (GAN). While “learning” from these images over the course of the exhibition, the software generated its own “new” installation shots. The work shows how a wholesale migration into modes of online display could conflate the operations of the contemporary art institution with those of processing software that generate “autonomous” content and opt for a technocratic machine time over the divergent temporality of art.

As Mark Fisher said, all that is solid melts into PR, and art becomes a decoy for startup cognitive data collection. Art is long and public attention is often short, wrote Gary Indiana in his first column for the Village Voice. Marketing and public relations regulate and yield attention and render the work of viewership into unpaid labor of instant cultural consumption. But the shelf life of art does not follow the immediate response of the media: it is prescient and reflective, oneiric and haunting, subsequent antecedent; it creates its own constituents, and they in response culminate it. To render art into swiped online content is to unmake it into information that machines process for other machines that take our time and fill it up with theirs. Art creates time, it does not take it away.

There is no art left without people.

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Bare Time

May 23, 2020 Comments off

(SculptureCenter, During the exhibition the gallery is closed, no.1 Exhausted in Place , April 3, 2020)

For the first time in contemporary history, everyone – or almost everyone – on the planet is faced with the conditions of being an artist. That is, waking up in the morning and having to invent our lives and make them livable. Or, to put it in other words, we are faced with the daily challenge of making our lives into works of art. Each day we are faced with the questions: how have I been living and how can I live differently, make changes, incrementally, consistently? The hyper-accelerated conditions of life that we were used to, the incessant pressure to perform, produce, post, repost, like, had filled life with content and were abruptly paused to a standstill. Suddenly we are faced with empty time, unscheduled time, deregulated time, time out of content, time without labor, bare time.

Of course, this is a romantic conception of an artist or an artist’s life (as Amy said, an artist’s life might have looked like the quarantine, but life is not always a f**king disaster—at least not for the most part, or for everybody at all times). But we are, for better or for worse, faced with this bare time instead of time scheduled, calendared time. Romantic or not, now we are faced with the imperative to create a livable life, maintain a life and try to make it less dull and wasted, or more fulfilling. Art makes something out of nothing, and we have a lot of the latter at our disposal at the moment. Artists, first and foremost, are people who own their time and claim it for their own, fill it up or empty it out. As pleasurable as it sounds, this is not an easy feat. No one asked them to do it or is going to fill their time for them, no one expects them to succeed or mourns their failure, and yet day after day, they would wake up and propel themselves to engage with an irrational yet logical activity of making and unmaking art.

Klein created The Void (1958), Arman The Full Up (1960); Lozano “dropped out” and Sturtevant “re”-made, and these two approaches could at least metaphorically be instrumentalized to think about what to do with the day and the night. With risk of hyperbolic exaggeration, there are two kinds of artistic approaches in making work. Those who take content out until they are faced with the least possible amount of it, no longer possible to get rid of, and those who accumulate content over content until they reach a point of saturation before everything starts spilling over and out. This is not a matter of minimal and maximal. One can be a reductive maximalist and an aggrandizing minimalist. We are faced with the question of how to fill our days, or how to empty them out.

Like it or not, right now, in a moment of global catastrophe, with death looming behind every touch, everybody (as it has been proclaimed before for other or similar reasons) is an artist—“and everyone hates it.” Artists are best equipped to deal with solitude, a sequestered life, unscheduled time. But this is art without contemporary art, there is no institutional mandate that propels the quotidian, no critical validation of the everyday, there are no deadlines in place to dust off the trivial. There is no contemporary art in quarantine yet there are decisions to be made towards an aesthetics of a tolerable life and to make it better, different, and less intolerable.

We are faced with the question, what kind of life is worth living? (Foucault) We are tasked with the dilemma of how to live a beautiful life. To make a life out of nothing. Out of incompetent governance, dreadful ambivalence, sluggish hourglass, banality of groceries, lethargic anxiety of the threat of furloughs and declined sustenance, out of the fear of not making rent and why to pay it. We are all pondering about the reason and value of what we have been doing, and why have we been doing it the way we did, can we do it differently, can we do it better, should we give it up altogether, jump ship, do something else? Is it satisfying, is it draining, does it give us joy, are we just wasting our lives away doing something we don’t want to do? These are all aesthetic questions. These are all questions that artists face when they get to their studio, or post-studio, when they stare at a blank page or canvas, or open whatever application they design their work in. These questions are fundamental, or existential questions, but we usually don’t bother asking them, because we have to be at the office or at the bar, on the train or the canteen, in a meeting room here or elsewhere.

There are people who are out there making our sequestered living possible by sacrificing theirs. We are nevertheless left with a romantic proposition, perhaps even an obsolete romanticism that could propel a semblance of meaning in the face of a significant loss of human life. What we can or cannot do is a question that we cannot turn away from as we pace around a shrinking life in a shrinking city, in a vanishing neighborhood and a room that is filled with our being and we cannot quite fill it up.

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