Thursday, November 25, 2010

I Don't Get It: Continued

Hey all! Here's the rest of my photos from my I Don't Get It series. I'm hoping to continue this project after taking a break for the holidays. I'm headed to Italy on Monday, so maybe I'll soon be able to provide my own photos for the originals of these works. Keep an eye out for pictures from my trip! We'll see if I can improve my photo skills with a little Italian inspiration.

Monday, November 22, 2010

I Don't Get It: Portraiture and Propaganda

A lion skin draped across your shoulders. Wearing a thick curly beard. A naked baby riding a dolphin. Believe it or not, these are all important symbols used in the propaganda of ancient portraiture. Politicians, celebrities, and other public figures have relied on propaganda for centuries. They project a doctored image of themselves that's conducive to their agenda. They tie themselves to particular ideas in order to garner support or fans, and then count on media to spread this idea to the masses. Now, chances are that the common reader won't understand the significance of the aforementioned symbols. What's missing is the knowledge of the image's cultural context.
As an a student of art history, I'm finding it increasingly easy to see the temporary nature of propaganda. When it takes a term-long class to describe the content of statues and coinage, the image loses impact. In a series of photographs, I recreate several ancient portraits replacing significant symbolism with props that have a similar aesthetic, but have no relevance. Here are a few examples of my recreations along with links to explain a bit of the symbolic and historical significance behind the original masterpieces.

My favorite Augustan portrait, produced by an anonymous sculptor in the 1st century C.E., was especially painful to reduce to meaningless visual cues.
Also produced by an anonymous sculptor, this bust of an elite Flavian woman makes a clown-like impression in the 21st century rather than the original message of economic success.
We take nudity in ancient statues for granted. However, this work by Praxiteles was the first nude depiction of a goddess and was quite controversial at the time.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Webweb, Blagosphere, and Intertubes

Lev Manovich
Of the topics that Lev Manovich discusses in his article "New Media: From Borges to HTML", I found the recognition of the anonymity in regards to software developers of today. Granted there are the front runners with big brand names (Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and the like), but even they mask the massive teams and heads of real innovators. Since exploring the genesis of technology, I've found myself constant irritated with the general ignorance (my own and the public's) knowledge of the roots of all of these items we take for granted. It is by no accident that Gilles Deleuze compares the advancement of technology to the work of the rhizome. The complexity and interconnectivity on the surface is already complex, but what I feel we fail to make note of is that a real person needed to make that complexity functional. Manovich says that some day the real brains behind all this progress will be praised. That has been the case of many great minds, especially artists. I know it is extremely idealist to want such a thing, but I wish we could recognize the "unsung heroes" that have brought us this far.
Here is a recording of Deleuze giving a lecture on his book One Thousand Plateaus. Unfortunately, the video has yet to be translated, but check back on this link from time to time if this interests you!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Allan Kaprow and the Glitter of Machines

As one of the most influential artists of the 20th century, Allan Kaprow experimented with the concept of art and interaction. Strongly opposed to the traditional museum viewer of art, Kaprow developed the idea of the Happening. Kaprow says of this term (which he coined in the late 1950s), " What is a Happening? A game, an adventure, a number of activities engaged in my participants for the sake of playing." The idea behind his art was to involve the audience to the point of making them active participants with the art. His mantra, "art as life", simplifies this for us. Kaprow believed there should be no lines between what we live and what we create because everything we do is a creative act.

In 1968, with the growing availability of video equipment, Kaprow began his own ventures into this new frontier. While acting as an assistant dean at the California Institute for the Arts, Kaprow encouraged his students to explore the medium of video extensively, despite his own reservations. Kaprow published an essay voicing his own opinion of this "new" medium. Here are two quotes from his essay entitled Video Art: Old Wine, New Bottle:

"Intriguing as they are, they are also discouraging... the constant reliance on the glitter of the machines to carry the fantasy-- strike me as simple-minded and sentimental.
The use of Television as an art medium is generally considered experimental... [S]o far, in my opinion, it is only marginally experimental. The hardware is new, to art at least, but the conceptual framework and aesthetic attitudes around most video as an art are quite tame."
Jam, by Allan Kaprow, involved students licking jam off an old car. Interactive indeed.
Kaprow found that what many artists were producing were very theatrical, especially in the sense that they were recorded events to be viewed at a later date. This was all too cinematic, so he developed a proclivity for closed-circuit installations. This way the viewer became an immediate actor in the piece by seeing their face on a screen or using phones to contact other on-camera locations in real time.

Although he remained fairly critical and disillusioned with the idea of video as a medium, Allan Kaprow's commentary may very well have pushed the video artists of the time to expand their ideas of what this new tool could create.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Developing New Limbs

In his work The Medium is the Message, Marshall McLuhan compares early technology to the advanced tools of our post-industrial society and how their functions affect society. Simple technology (he uses the example of an electric light) include basic tools that can perform either one exclusive or a very limited number of tasks. McLuhan puts it very well when he says that "it is the medium that shapes and controls the scale and form of human association and action." The point stressed by McLuhan is that the most useful technology is that which supplements the human body or mind. Creative tools, tools for moving freight, tools for spreading information. These are all extensions of work able to be done by people, made easier through the association of those people with the technology. We adapt and learn to use these new appendages just like a child learning to walk.
Beyond making basic use of the new developments at our fingertips, I feel that we are obligated to push the boundaries of their utility. As artists (and, even on a more basic level, as humans) we are able to and driven by our abilities to manipulate what we are given. McLuhan touches on this idea by talking about moving "beyond the obvious." It's the difference between an average person and a prima ballerina. Both have mastered the basic operation of the tools at hand, but the latter has pushed the limits of their body in order to express his or herself in a deeper way than is allowed by just walking.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A Date With The Family

I mentioned in my last blog my dabbling in media remix. I have to say, it was much more of a challenge than I originally anticipated, but I am pleased with the final products of my first attempt. I focused on the idea of intimacy and how technology facilitates interactions even over long distances. I really liked the idea of the "new family dinner", sort of a technologically assisted family reunion. People are able to interact in personal ways without needing the spacial closeness as was needed in the past. Cell phones, Skype, and the like bridge the gap for us and we are able to share and connect like never before. In my series of three videos, I juxtaposed films from the 1950s depicting the very Cleaver-esque family with the modern reality of dependence on digital communication. I seem to center on phone conversations a lot because I believe that there's so much intimacy in being able to just hear another person's voice. I feel that it can transcend physical distance. Take a peek at the fruits of my labor and let me know what you think.

Thursday, October 28, 2010


Remix, by Lawrence Lessig, is a compelling peek into the politics and controversy surrounding the modern form of multimedia collage. I brought this point up in a previous post, however Lessig goes into much greater detail. He includes the origins of citation in text and how that carries (or doesn’t carry) over to the technology and digital arts of today. I see the same contradiction in the rights to cite text versus audio and video use. If students are allowed to quote other literary works without contacting the author, then where is the harm in sampling (mind you, sampling, not using an entire piece) of another form of media? The freedom to do so has come about in this age of read/ write media and technology. The level of ingenuity in some contemporary examples of remixing media does not necessarily surpass the genius of the crafters of the original products. The approaches are significantly different. As Lawrence Lessig mentions, the two spheres of innovation are dependent upon each other in a sense. Without original materials, remixers would have no raw material. Remixes inspire other artists to evolve and create new forms of original work. Also, what I've personally discovered is that many remix artists like Girl Talk, Super Mash Brothers, and Max Tannone (Jaydiohead) offer their end products free of charge. Given the prevalence of the legal system in the music industry since the Napster fiasco, I don't think any remixers would be so foolish as to try to pass off obviously sampled material as original nor would they require payment without seeking legal rights to do so.

The recontextualization of the material is, to both Lessig and I, the most important aspect of remixing. If someone has the ability to alter, pervert, and juxtapose preexisting media to convey an original idea, I believe that artist has a truly original creation on their hands. I'm currently working on my first attempt at video and audio remixing and I must say that I admire those who can make it look easy. It's a delicate process, just like many other art forms. And those who are not aware of the intricacies of the process should not write off the end product as plagiaristic simply because the raw materials used can stand alone as art.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Self Limitation

In his article, The Technology and the Society, Raymond Williams discusses the invention and eventual widespread use of the television in our society. The demand for a way to network entertainment, news, and art that seemed to drive the development of television still is the driving force behind many technological innovations today. The technology of our time, as Williams mentions, can never be ideal to our wants or needs. I agree with this and still see it today as I'm sure Williams saw in his era. Our resources and advancement are almost never at the level that can most efficiently broadcast everything in the way we would like to have it be broadcasted.

This issue of technological competence is really only a drawback for news and entertainment, rather than art. In fact, a shortage of material or easy production processes can bring forth a truer sense of artistic vision I think. Stan Brakhage has a series of video consisting of entirely organic materials adhered to film. He literally took parts of his environment and combined them in such a way as to give the viewer the feeling of flight and frenzied movement.
Probably due to my history with graphic design, the Adobe Creative Suite, and the like, I always found my artistic needs to be synonymous with my technological needs. I was inspired by those able to separate the use of tech and their creative prowess.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Evolving Collage

Collagea. An artistic composition of materials and objects pasted over a surface, often with unifying lines and color.
b. A work, such as a literary piece, composed of both borrowed and original material.
Picasso “Still Life with Chair Caning”
What does it mean to collage? Let's examine it's use in a few different contexts. Pablo Picasso was one of the first artists to utilize collage in his art, placing his use under definition a. However, Picasso was using the art and resources of the time. The new mass culture that was readily available was physically tangible. Later in history see the emergence of DJs producing so called "mash-ups", essentially cutting and pasting parts of different songs to create a new overall piece. They use the mass culture (in this case, music as opposed to Picasso's use of advertisements) and create something of their own design. Bill Morrison's film, Decasia, is a film collage. He used pre-produced materials and rearranged them in such a way that they formed a new and unique entity, completely different from their previous incarnations as separate films. Added to the images, Morrison's choice of audio helped further the individualized nature of his film, giving it a distinct eerie tension.

 Each artist has had their own specific way of twisting what is available to them in order to concoct a slightly altered and personalized end product. To bring the art of collage up to speed with the modern age, where do we drawn the line between pirating someone's materials and simply using a small part of their materials in order to birth a new creation? As I mentioned in a previous post, it's hard to make this distinction due to the constant stream of media and the availability of these materials. As the current generation, we have more access than ever to mass culture. We are all potentially one mouse click away from creating a YouTube masterpiece, but that can come with a price. It boils down to the politics of fair use. This trademark law states that individuals are allowed to use copyrighted materials for certain purposes. Personally I find this to be a huge limitation of artists, yet also necessary to make sure the right people get credit for their work. So what do you think is more important, artistic freedom or adhering to the laws of copyright infringement? And,should limitations continue to crop up, do you think these restrictions could effect the future of collaborative art like collage?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Missing: Panopticon

In my study of the panopticon, I found that I was more interested in what people would attempt when they thought they weren't be observed rather than what they attempted while under surveillance. For this reason, I chose to photograph three different, but still interconnected, subjects: drinking, smoking, and partying. As a college student, these activities are something that I and my peers experience on a daily basis. Taking these photos gave me an opportunity to position myself behind the lens and observe the people and activities in a more detached manner.

The nature of my photo shoots displayed a definite progression from formal to informal. The first set of ten photos that I took, 12 Steps, was very contrived and staged. I helped the model pose and essentially fabricated the scenes in order to get the picture that I wanted. My model was also not actually an alcoholic, so there was a certain lack of emotional involvement with the focus of the shoot. The second set of photos, entitled Fixation, dealt with a real person with a real addiction while still being slightly staged. I basically asked him if I could photograph him while he was smoking and he agreed. In this set, I did very little handling of my subject. I think as a result of my distance, the pictures ended up with a more relaxed mood, rather than the structured feeling of my first set. As a side note, I chose to name this set "Fixation" because it is obviously such a thing for my subject, but also by the end I found myself enthralled with photographing the act of smoking. My final set, A Foni Sin (a play on a fraternity's name), was photographed from the kitchen counter of a fraternity house on the night of one of their parties. This was the most candid of my shoots. Subjects, either out of ignorance or inebriation, didn't know or question that they were being photographed. I played around with the shutter speed of my Nikon D40 to achieve the blurred effect. I felt that the look was cohesive with the atmosphere of the party and also drew the viewer into the space by making them an active participant.

Overall I feel that because of the progression of the nature of my sets, my project may lack aesthetic cohesion. Had I planned my shoots more carefully, there might have been a better sense of connection between the sets. However, I feel at the same time that the appearances of the photos are directly related to the environment in which they were taken.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Technological Quicksand
As a society, we're constantly caught in this game of catch-up when it comes to technology. Before your brand new laptop arrives in the mail, there's already a new operating system being released. When discussing her viewpoint of Web 2.0 and technology in general, Rachel Crowl, the New Media Coordinator here at Lawrence University, shared her experiences with the progress she has witnessed in her career.
Rachel started off as a programmer when the internet was a fledgling network with something around 1,500 pages and few embellishments. Roughly 15 years after she started in the media field, Rachel (just like everyone else) is stuck in what I'll call technological quicksand. The rate of progress exceeds our abilities to output products with the new capabilities. By the time the next big thing comes out, there's already buzz about an improved generation on the horizon. This kind of slippery slope of expedited headway has been the trend in many forms of media, making it more difficult to close the gap. Photo editing, video editing, social networking sites, and others have all experienced this boom of progress.
When we combine that with the steady integration of all these technologies and you will find yourself in the very crux of what I mean by "technological quicksand". No matter what we purchase, download, or update, we are perpetually behind simply because there is no way to receive real-time versions of all the emerging technologies and their applications as they are combined with other programs.
Does that mean we should wallow in our eternal technological lag? Rachel says no, and I agree. You have to make due with the tools you have in the moment. You don't have to be loyal to Apple or Windows or Linux. An efficient individual takes what is at hand and makes it work for their purposes. I personally find that trying to keep up with the most current versions of software and hardware is expensive and can be confusing. Using what is familiar, as long as it gets the job done in the manner necessary, is what I find helpful in order to avoid feeling suffocated by the steady flow of new materials.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Impulse vs. Persistance

I personally found Dan Leers's lecture very inspiring and helpful. As an art history major, I have found myself constantly questioning wat I would do with my degree, if I would go to grad school, where I would go to grad school, and so on. I had lunch with Dan and attended his lecture and learned quite a bit that I would not have otherwise known. It was surprising to me that he took almost 4 years off between graduating from Lawrence before deciding to attend Columbia University for his masters in curatorial studies. I was under the impression that most students went more or less straight to graduate school from undergraduate. After talking to Dan, he said that taking time off to discover his passion was one of the most important steps he took in his career path. Now Dan is working at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and recently curated a collection of photographs by Henri Cartier-Bresson, who we read about in class. Cartier-Bresson's main focus was the "decisive moment" in photography, which was the new spontaneity in photography facilitated by  hand-held cameras. I found the obvious patience and calculation Dan put into his life to be a nice contrast to the impulsive nature of Cartier-Bresson, whom he studied so closely.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Orders: Follow with Caution

After viewing Standard Operating Procedure and reading the interviews of Errol Morris, I found my mind as well as my moral compass significantly boggled. We mentioned in class the struggle between what one feels is morally correct versus what an authority figure is telling that individual to do. Many of those interviewed in Morris's film talked about how they were "just following orders", even though they were aware of the inappropriate nature of their behavior at the time. Some, like Sabrina, said they were taking the photos in Abu Ghraib to, in the future, indict those committing the crimes. However, I feel that these individuals should have possessed a higher level of self-awareness which would have prevented them from taking the photos if not committing the acts of abuse in the first place. Then again, these individuals were soldiers and were usually taking direction from superiors. As a soldier in the U.S. Military, one is indeed taught to follow orders and effectively trained to obey all orders of their superiors. It is my feeling, though, that if one was disturbed by the uncouth procedures, one would at least think to question the authority figure.

Philip Agre - author of Surveillance and Capture: Two Models of Privacy

After reading Philip Agre's essay Surveillance and Capture, I think it would be interesting to hear Agre's opinion on modern technology and surveillance methods. Philip Agre published his essay in 1994 and since that time, technology with surveillance capabilities have become more common and more integral to our society and how it functions. Agre mentions the invasive nature of tracking labels on postage and other trivial things that we, now, take for granted or as commonplace. It seems that in today's world versus 1994, our lives are saturated with technology and these "tracking devices" we no longer bat an eyelash at the thought of having our activities observed. Due to this almost constant presence of an observing force, some people alter their behavior. This is most present, in my mind, in the social situations of adolescents and minors. Many underage people drink, yet are careful of hiding photographic evidence by cropping or editing photos from weekends. Those who aren't cautious occasionally get caught and suffer the consequences. This is a much more colloquial situation as compared to the soldiers at Abu Ghraib, but is another example of the level of self-awareness that is necessary in today's society.

I would be intrigued to see Agre's reaction to the Abu Ghraib photo scandal. I look at it as a panopticon example. Effectively  in this case, the guard incites a behavior and then punishes it. Conversely, the prisoner does what is considered wrong merely because the guard instructs it.

Friday, September 17, 2010


After reading Engelbart's Augmenting Human Intellect, I realize how many of us, now in the 21st century and having grown up immersed in technology, take these tools for granted. Admittedly, I got a little lost in the jargon, but I feel that added to my awe for his accomplishments. I find it sad that we pay so little homage to the inventors, like Engelbart, who laid the groundwork for the great technological feats we have achieved so far. Where would our society be without such great minds with even the most basic intent? It was interesting, as well as disorienting, to hear about these objects that we encounter on a daily basis in a theoretical sense or as very basic working plans. That goes back to us taking such advances for granted. How many of us could honestly say that without technology we would maintain our efficiency? Many people are discouraged by man's heavy reliance on technology. In reality, is there really anything to bemoan? Instead of lamenting our dependency on computers, instead perhaps we should applaud Engelbart's success.