SPRING 2012: V.08 N.01: CAA Conference Edition 2012
Columbia College Chicago, Illinois.
At the New Media Caucus Showcase during CAA 2012, twenty NMC members presented artworks to a packed house at the Los Angeles Center for Digital Art (LACDA). The Showcase, now in its third year, was a resounding success with over eighty-five in attendance and larger peaks throughout the evening. The event was generously hosted by Rex Bruce, gallery director and principle curator of LACDA, located in the heart of downtown Los Angeles. The showcase featured two hours of back-to-back, intense six-minute presentations that provided an incredible cross-section of the range of artwork being produced by NMC members. Modeled loosely on pecha kucha, artists were given the freedom to present as much as they would like within their allotted six-minutes; some artists focused on a single project, while others packed in dozens in their presentations, lending to a lively atmosphere that revealed the complexity and vibrancy of contemporary new media art practice.
As with past years, members were asked to nominate themselves for a lottery that was held in the fall of 2011. From an initial group of over fifty submissions, the program included presentations by Nadav Assor, Margarita Benitez, Xtine Burrough, Michelle Graves, Reese Inman, Jeanne Jo, Chris Kallmyer, Robert Martin, Gail Rubini & Conrad Gleber, Brittany Ransom, Joyce Rudinsky & Victoria Szabo, Jesse Seay, Kris Schomaker, Daniel Tankersley, Marc Tasman, Gordon Winiemko and Chi-wang Yang. In addition, LACDA had already scheduled a solo exhibition by Pia Myrvold, a Norwegian artist (and NMC member since 2005) who has been working in a highly interdisciplinary manner with various materials including painting, media, performance, clothing and textiles for over twenty years. Therefore, to complete the lineup, Myrvold was invited to deliver the opening presentation. With the entire LACDA space filled with her paintings and the audience sitting within and surrounded by one of her large-scale media installations, Myrvold captivated the audience with a discussion of her work – an impressive launch for the evening.
A true reflection of the NMC Membership, the group of presenting artists is not easily summarized. Emerging and established artists within academia, as well as practicing artists independent of institutions, presented alongside graduate students and faculty (full-time, part-time, tenure-track, tenured). Some presenting artists joined the NMC recently, some within the last few years, and others with a history of service to the organization that rooted in its beginnings ten years ago; there were officers, board members, and individual members. This cross-section of members revealed an expansive range of working methods, varied conceptualizations of new media (as material, process, environment, language, etc.) and diverse orientations such as performance, fashion, fine art, photography, the intersection of art & science, design and engineering. But perhaps you already know this – because this is a real-world snap-shot of the field of artists practicing new media today.
It was invigorating to learn about the work of graduate students studying new media, including Jeanne Jo, a PhD Student in the Media Arts and Practice Program at the University of Southern California who delivered a presentation outlining an expansive number of her artworks including my first punch to the face and Roulette – challenging and provocative works that use video as a site for performance. Or consider the work of Michelle Graves, an MFA Candidate in the Interdisciplinary Arts Department at Columbia College, Chicago, who focused on a detailed discussion of her forthcoming thesis project transgression through your breath, describing both the conceptual and technical underpinnings of this lyrical interactive artwork in which the breath of participants activates the space of her installation. A compelling feature of the NMC Showcase is the interspersion of presentations by artists emerging into the field presented alongside those with established careers. For example, among the presentations of the evening, curator, professor and artist Robert Martin presented excerpts from a exhibition he curated entitled 15 Second of Fame, in which he invited artists to create work that “explores the potential of using the smart phone as a tool for creating and viewing fine art, digital photography, video and music” that was subsequently exhibited at the Luckman Gallery of the California State University at Los Angeles. Later in the evening, a co-presentation by Conrad Gleber and Gail Rubini, who are both board members of the NMC, addressed how they have collaborated for years on a number of conceptual, artistic, curatorial and collective projects that advance new media practice. Gleber and Rubini spoke about their work with Video in the Built Environment (v1b3) – an artists collective of which they are members – and some of the outcomes of that collective including the A Room to View exhibit during the 2011 CAA Conference in NYC, as well as the Scan2Go Catalogue produced in conjunction with the CAA Services to Artists Committee. In the latter, QR codes were published in the context of an exhibition catalog and distributed at CAA, linking to online artworks that intentionally change throughout the year, using new media’s inherent form shifting nature to defy the fixity of the catalogue and the printed artifact.
In addition to Jeanne Jo’s artwork, a significant number of presentations were delivered by artists investigating connections between new media and performance-oriented practice. For example, Chi-wang Yang gave an excellent presentation about a number of theatrical as well as musical and sonic productions in which new media plays an important role (as set piece, media element, instrument, etc.). He consistently supported his message that the use of media in his work is inherent, but that the degree to which it is high-tech is always dictated by concept – that there is a conceptual gravity that pulls towards lower-tech solutions when possible. Meanwhile, Kristine Schomaker’s presentation was delivered by Gracie Kendall – a Second-Life based persona that the artist created as a foil to her identity. From a pre-recorded virtual room, Gracie articulated the project in conceptual and practical terms, which included a real-world transformation of Schomaker into Gracie. Mark Tasman also focused on presenting a single project that stems from his own personal history, featuring an actual news report from the early 1980’s on a young Tasman depicting him as a “whiz kid” that he posted on Youtube, and which has elicited a dramatic range of reactions. From that vantage, Tasman went on to deliver a presentation, which became apparent was a performance, using the original video and the Youtube comments as a scripting device.
Continuing a theme of artists creating works activated by the integration of new media and performance, Xtine Burrough discussed a number of her artworks including Mechanical Olympics, which leverages the potential of Amazon’s Mechanical Turk to engage crowd-sourcing as a generator for video-based performance. Her presentation included a candid outline of the some of the dimensions of success of this project (55 performances created via crowd sourcing), but also addressed the unanticipated issues surrounding the difficulties of spam interference within system, as well as the difficulty of motivating individuals to transition from viewer to participant (4500 unique visits, but only 200 votes on the largest poll). The audience was also treated to learn about the work of Chris Kallmyer, who presented a number of exceptional projects, including work he has created in conjunction with Machine Project, as well as projects he has created on his own. Several of the artworks he presented examine sound as an ambulatory element to otherwise banal environments, or utilize custom electronics for sonic excavation or site-specific intervention, whereas others, such as the american lawn, and ways to cut it, presented at the Walker Art Center, included diverse elements such as a herd of amplified sheep grazing the grounds of the museum.
The interdisciplinary nature of artists working with new media was quite apparent within many of the presentations. For example, Gordon Winiemko presented a series of works created in collaboration with Jeff Foye under the name Jeff&Gordon. These include video works that function almost as “still films” where social customs are exposed in uncomfortable and unsettling ways. For example, in Temporarily Embarassed, what first appear as photographs of iconic surburban action (two men barbequing, mowing the lawn, washing the car, etc.) over time reveal themselves as extremely slowly performed but real time simulations of these events told on the doorsteps of foreclosed properties. Whereas Winiemko’s relationship with new media, photography and performance is intertwined, Reese Inman showed a number of works in which the moving image, software analysis, the gesture of drawing and painting are conceptually and technically fused. Inman’s video works, such as Discovery Channel Super Mario and Times Square Garden, utilize image resynthesis to construct moving landscapes that are at once symbolic and painterly, whereas her acrylic paintings and drawings formally reference the bitmap and the vector line respectively. The moving image was equally critical in the artwork of Nadav Assor, who presented several projects including the ongoing Strip Series – a large-scale video installation with a highly exaggerated horizontal format that presents a photographic landscape unfolding in time. Other artists were highly focused on sound and the sculptural. In Jesse Seay’s presentation of her artwork Mechanical Tide, we learned about a project in which the artist constructed a kinetic sculpture that generates acoustic sound through the gentle rolling motion of an enormous table covered with tiny steel ball bearings. Compare this to the work of Brittany Ransom, who showed her sculpture We Are All Pests, in which the sounds of termites sequestered within a her artwork are amplified as they consume human paper waste and subsequently create hydrogen gas. Contrast these with the practice of Margarita Benitez, who describes herself as a fashion technologist (working with fabric, custom software/soft computing, interaction, and CAD/CAM). Her projects include custom software for coded fashion as well as OSLOOM, an open-source Jaquard Loom, among others. Or consider the work of Joyce Rudinsky and Victoria Szabo whose research inhabits a space of experiment at the intersection of art and science as presented through their immersive 3D interactive environment Psychasthenia 2, which “operates allegedly as a psychological diagnostic environment.”.In terms of crossovers of science, engineering and art, Daniel Tankersley’s fascinating artwork from 2010 entitled Riddle combined personal MRI data from his own body, including his brain, to create rapid prototyped 3D sculptures.
The incredibly diverse cross-section of artwork created by the membership presented during the NMC Showcase was most certainly one of the highlights of the conference. After the presentations, the evening transitioned into a reception in the gallery. Special thanks to Mat Rappaport for his assistance during the evening, as well as Frank Tamez, Sarah Brin, Chi-wang Yang, Chris Kallmyer and all the other individuals who helped with cleanup of the space. We are especially grateful for the generosity of the Los Angeles Center for Digital Art and would particularly like to thank Rex Bruce for all his help in supporting the NMC Showcase and reception.