What's wrong with a simple stroll through the park?
I don’t mean to be a curmudgeon but all this sensor and virtual reality stuff scares me. On one hand, I do see how nice it would be to have access to so much personalized information but, on the other, it feels like the chance to experience new things would be restricted by your taste. I know that in all this there would be chances for people to share information, that is the point. But in some ways I feel like this constant barrage of information stifles peoples innate curiosity. Again, I see where this could come off as very curmudgeonly. And maybe I am scared of change. That very well may be but in some ways I think it’s very much like the remediation after 9/11 text. In short, the media has made it so we can’t be surprised by an attach like 9/11 again by keeping us constantly at alert. Taking that concept of constant exposure and applying it to social media and taste, you get the same thing. No surprises. We are the people we always were. I must admit, I’m slightly ashamed of myself. I feel like Michael Caine in Children of Men just wanting his record player and house in the woods. I just think if you are on a walk and your phone pings to tell you that the latest book all your friends is reading is in the bookstore around the corner, how are you going to ever enjoy the walk? It is just all too future based for me. We have such a difficult time staying present as is. Which brings me back to art. The pieces that truly resonate with me are the ones that aren’t about my taste or staying up with the trends, they are the ones that take me out of all that and remind me of the presents of now. The things that surprise me. I just hope I can experience that with all these new things going on.
In so many ways I feel like this conversation is like talking about the weather. It’s something that effects us but there isn’t much we can do. The work, like We Cruizin’, seems like some attempt to organize this vast amount of content that is collected about us and that we volunteer to the world, but it starts to get so big that it’s hard to understand. Like in Kevin Salvin’s TED talk, there isn’t a parent in the room to manage it. So what are we left with? We make pieces that speak to the metaphor of the problem. We make work that takes something that is so vast and so overwhelming and try to make it relatable. It’s sort of like what I’ve heard about war: we can understand what it means for one or a few people to be killed, but millions killed is an abstract concept. As an artist, the only thing I feel we can do with this collective intelligence and mass constant communication, is make work that highlights the impact it has on us. That might seem like an obvious statement, but it takes work that is already made, like the mountains with peeks and valleys of the stalk marker, for me to even start to understand the impact algorithms and social media has on my life. And till I have a grasp on it, I wont be able to make work about it. With that, I want to see more. Till I see it, I wont know who I am in relation to it.
My first reaction to these readings is relief. Relief that for once I don’t feel like everything revolves around social media. People’s actual relationships, the economy, political climate, etc. all have to be taken into account before social networks can bear any weight. This is probably a very obvious idea, an idea that for some probably doesn’t have to be explained to many, but seeing it in writing makes me feel liberated from this digital obsession we all have. I especially enjoyed The New Yorker article stating there needs to be strong-tie’s among participants to enact political change. It takes more than just networking with thousands of people online to make anything happen. Again, instinctively I have always known this.
In relationship to my work, I have always been drawn to more personal pieces. Whether it be a photo project and audio documentary, most of the things I’ve made that I am proud of have centered around people’s personal experience and relationships. Coming into this program, I felt some pressure to expand into more broad territory, territory that took more of a networking take on life. In my statement of purpose, I said I wanted to make work on teenagers relationship to social media. And though I find that to be a compelling subject matter, I realize that if I wanted to do something like, it would have to be from the lens of a particular individual to actually have impact. When I met with Alex Harris on my visit to Duke, something he said really stuck with me. He said, “It’s more interesting to look at pictures of a kid obsessed with his game boy than look at a project about the internet.”
The personal is what fuels these networks. I can make work that seems micro in comparison but that work carries more weight in some ways. I’m starting to see the two play off each other.
In undergrad I got two degrees from UGA - one in journalism with a concentration in photojournalism and the other in fine art photography. Both acknowledged the existence of digital manipulation but were treated in very drastic ways. In the journalism school, the subject was handled with a heavy hand. Photoshop was for color correcting and maybe cropping but never anything more intense than that. If you did, you were contributing to the ever growing problem of mistrust of the photojournalism community. Often the Pulitzer winning Kent State shooting image was pointed at as an example of what not to do. In the published version, they burned out the pole coming out of her head. That’s a big issue in photography. You are always supposed to make sure things aren’t growing out of peoples heads in the background so in some way it makes sense that Life would make this choice. But the argument posed to us was, if you start there where do you start? Now the photo is treated in its original form, poles and all.
I thought it was interesting that The New York Times photography critic predicted: “In the future, readers of newspapers and magazines will probably view news pictures more as illustrations than as reportage, since they will be well aware that they can no longer distinguish between a genuine image and one that has been manipulated. Even if news photographers and editors resist the temptation of electronic manipulation, as they are likely to do, the credibility of all reproduced images will be diminished by a climate of reduced expectations. In short, photographs will not seem as real as they once did.”
I am interested in playing with this concept of illustration for my final project. I plan to take a basic portrait, subject looking straight into the camera from the shoulders up, of students, faculty and workers on campus. I will then make a slide show of these images but the difference is I will use software to morph there faces into each other so at times you are not sure if what you are seeing is a real image of a person or the in between stages of the morphing process. Student will turn into teacher who will turn into employee who will turn into another student. The objective of this is to show what makes up Duke and how fluid the process is.
Eventually, I would like to use the technology used in this photo:
This image is comprised by averaging 500 self portraits this woman took of herself.
Eventually, I would be interested in taking the portraits I take of the Duke community and averaging them to get a composite of what the average Duke community member looks like.
The thing I gained most from these readings, movies and audio clips was a sense of permission to alter and manipulate for the sake of getting to a point. In Children of Men they take these long takes that seem almost more truth than Errol Morris’ reenactments and interviews because they have a cinema-verte quality to them. They gossle and bump with action, they follow the action as if it’s happening in real time, but come to find out they are digitally created in post production. As a documentarian, I watch these movies and feel a sigh of relief that they gave themselves permission to take creative liberties for the sake of the work. In This Blue Line, the reenactments seem a little silly and over the top, but yet they are effective. They get at a truth. I’m impressed with Morris’ creative ability to think outside of the box when it comes to documentary troupes. The interrotron is a great example of this. The combination of the interrotron with the reenactments balance each other out to make the whole thing so believable. The honest of a subject looking straight into the camera and the irony of overblown reenactments, combine to make something so believable. It’s fascinating to thing about really because it’s all tricks of manipulation. Yet, the point is made and it is made well. Watching these things makes me feel like I’ve been given permission to try new things that might not typically be in the canon of documentary but still get at the essence of the subject matter.
First, I want to apologize for being so late with this blog post. Come to find out, weddings take over your life even if you aren’t getting married.
When reading Jean-Francois Lyotard’s “The Post Modern Condition”, I kept trying to apply it to documentary practice. What do the two principal functions of technology - research and the transmission of aquired learning- have to do with my art practice? And how does it’s commercial aspects effect my vision? And my most honest answer to this is that I have no interest in being original anymore because I know that the critique of the world we live in is more important than having something new and exciting. I look at the reading “THe Paradigm of the New Architecture” and I am genuinely excited by the ideas presented. Partially because of the innovation in the aesthetics of the buildings, but I have known for years that Frank Gehry buildings were mostly achievable because of computers rather than some great analog feet. The main reason I am excited by these buildings is they speak to the values of our society and I then reevaluate my values. They critique the logic we have been living by. So they might be original, but they are steeped in a history that makes them actually pretty mundane. So in Lyotard’s world I guess this is sort of an un-idealistic thing that one might be using computers to create something, but I see it as a chance for use to rethink how we have been living. Back to the original question I posed about my own work, I don’t exactly know what form I could look at these issues, but looking at what we create in juxtaposition to our values excites me.
There was something so deeply personal and completely removed about these readings. It’s as if all the writers are talking about a lost civilization. I guess, when I think about it, I always feel that way when the subject of media and society comes up. A few year’s back I had to read Robert Putnam’s book “Bowling Alone” for a journalism class I was taking. The primice of the book is based on the fact that bowling leagues have dramatically decreased in size over the years. In fact, all social outlets have. The book then looks at how social activity effects our notion of civic duty and willingness to seek out information about our communities. The answer being, or at least according to Putnam, the more social we are, the more likely we are willing to engage our communities.
I bring this up because it seems to be in tandem as well as in stark contrast to McLuhan. We are becoming a global village of people that don’t interact. It makes me feel sad, as basic as that might sound. Most of this reading makes me sad. I relate to the wife in one of the audio pieces that gritted her teeth as she listened to McLuhan talk. She said it was like watching someone tear civilization apart and be happy about it. And then you have to read Mark Andrejevic, “The Promise of the Digital Revolution” and he tears apart any hopeful version of a digital world. Maybe it’s because this is the first reading that really hits a personal cord in me, but at times it was hard to take in.
I don’t know what else to say about this now. I will post this but probably repond in a more thorough way once I can process my emotions. RIght now my gut just wants to make work that revolts against all of this. I want to make work where two people actually have to interact and respond to one another. I just wonder where is the grace in all of this? I’m sure, in another mood, I could see it, but in this moment, these thinkers are the enemy.
“There is no such thing as an empty space or an empty time. There is always something to see, something to hear. In fact, try as we may to make a silence, we cannot. For certain engineering purposes, it is desirable to have as silent a situation as possible. Such a room is called an anechoic chamber, its six walls made of special material, a room without echoes. I entered one at Harvard University several years ago and heard two sounds, one high and one low. When I described them to the engineer in charge, he informed me that the high one was my nervous system in operation, the low one my blood in circulation. Until I die there will be sound. And they will continue following my death. One need not fear about the future of music.”—John Cage
It’s sometimes so hard to figure out what to write in these blog entries, especially when we have so much dynamic material to work off of. So, the way I’ve decided to organize this entry is through my most inspiring idea from the reading.
"Once in Amsterdam, a Dutch musician said to me, ‘It must be very difficult for you in America to write music, for you are so far away from the center of tradition.’I had to say, ‘It must be very difficult for you in Europe to write music, for you are so close to the center of tradition." - John Cage
I went to the art history open house my first week here. There I made small talk with a Finish international student in the program that is taking a class in the Chapel. I immediately said to him, “Oh, the Chapel! What a beautiful building!” His response was, “Yes, but it doesn’t have that grime and dirt of European cathedrals. It feels too pristine. Too clean.” I felt a little naive when he said this to me, but it put a lot of my emotions about Duke into perspective. When I walk around the school, especially West Campus, the architecture has a lot of expectation riding on it. It’s as if the Duke family said if we build a university that looks steeped in tradition, they will come. And by all means they were successful.
But now we are here. 15 MFA students studying Experimental and Documentary Art have landed on a campus that marks its self aesthetically as traditional. In fact, the only class we have on West Campus is Genealogy of the Experimental. I guess what I’m trying to say is what John Cage said in the quote, “…[we] are so close to the center of tradition.”
I guess where I’m going with this is I feel we have a responsibility as experimental artist to use our surroundings as a jumping off points. And from reading John Cage, I feel freedom will come from breaking from these aesthetic traditions. So this is what I propose — use the Chapel as a projection space. Let’s curate a video installation on the surface of the building one evening. I know this is a huge project that would come with a lot of red tape. But isn’t that why we are here? And it’s not like it hasn’t been done before. Laura showed us the Lights to Unite exhibit during her influences in Alex’s class. It would be a way for us to claim this tradition as ours and show that something new and beautiful can come from change and chance. The tension between convention and innovation. Like John Cage says, “‘Why if everything is possible, do we concern ourselves with history (in other words with a sense of what is necessarily to be done at a particular time)?’ And I would answer, ‘In order to thicken the plot’” Let’s collide the two.
“Every reasonable aware person of our time is aware of the obvious fact that art can no longer be justified as a superior activity, or even as a compensatory activity to which one might honorably devote oneself.”—Guy Debord & Gil Wolman
Recently I came across this fact: ”… this year people will upload over 70 billion photos to Facebook, suggesting around 20% of all photos this year will end up there. Already Facebook’s photo collection has a staggering 140 billion photos, that’s over 10,000 times larger than the Library of Congress.” That’s right, the Library of Congress can’t hold a candle to Facebook. The difference being the Library of Congress curates and articulates who we once were but does not connect us on an immediate level. Like the excerpt from The Society of the Spectacle says, “The Spectacle is not a collection of images;rather, it is a social relationship between people that is mediated by images.” Images have never stood alone from personal relationship and once you make that connection with something that’s more powerful than the image itself, ie. social media, it gains greater weight in someone’s life. And by not participating, by rejecting it, you miss out. You don’t feel like a social being. I was talking to my boyfriend about the readings and he made an interesting point. He brought up ”The Rhinoceros” by Eugene Ionesco. In the story, everyone turns into a rhino one by one and the main character gets lonely. At the end he refuses to turn and his last words are “I’m not capitulating!” He does however state that he is lonely. Waaaaaaay lonely. The zinger is the rhinos aren’t just hanging out having a good time, they are Nazis. Which gets to an interesting point, what are we willing to give up just to belong and constantly participating in a visual culture. In a sense we are the snow being picked up as the avalanche rolls down the mountain. We don’t decide what direction it goes once we are in it. As for my work, I am very interested in teenagers relationships to the internet. People, teens particularly, are constantly making databases of information on themselves and I think there must be a way to use this in a documentary fashion. I don’t have a clear vision but these readings ignite my excitement for the concept.
The Garden of Earthly Delights and the Narrative Structure
"For centuries, a spatialised narrative where all images appear simultaneously dominated European visual culture;then is was delegated to ‘minor’ cultural forms as comics or technical illustration. The ‘real’ culture of the twentieth century came to speak in linear chains, aligning itself with the assembly-line of an industrial society and the Turing machine of a post-industrial era." - Lev Manovich, “Database as Symbolic Form”
I thought of Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights” instantly after reading this segment. Multiple narratives happening at the same time, almost a purging of steam of consciousness associations, in a solid triptych structure, or, for Manovich’s sake, a database. The three panels representing (from left to right) God presents Adam and Eve, a panorama of debautury, and a hellscape. Cleanly presented but multiple narratives and associations can be conjured by the viewer in every inch of the painting. I hadn’t realized it till I read this article, but I have been struggling with database verse narrative in my work. As a photographer, my work initially was about categorization. I photographed teens at the mall, I photographed commercial real estate effected by the economic crisis, I photographed southern culture. But this left me unsatisfied. So I started to make work that felt my instantaneous, work that came from my gut. But I always felt I had to put a category to it so I would slap a title like “Isolation” to it and hoped it worked.
Image from Mall Rats series:
Image from Isolation series:
Both forms of work left me uneasy. The first felt mechanical and confined, the other felt too open-ended. But now that I have read these articles and have started to process the potential for combining them, I feel freed from these restraints. I see where I can tackles both creative impulses in me. I want to take images in the style of kino-eye,raw and viceral, reacting to the world as if the camera has something to say about reality, but I want to lump it into something that makes sense of the world and doesn’t seem unaware of structure. So this is what I propose—I want to use augmented reality to create a work that, when zoomed out, get’s to the same overwhelming expansion as The Garden of Earthly Delights. The painting gives you a landscape that you then get to explore at your own pace, in your own way. The same traits augmented reality has.
Through programs like Layar, an artist can create a world that goes against beginning-middle-end narrative. It can be at the whimsy of the artist or the participant. An artist can make work without worrying about narrative arch and the observer has autonomy. This opens up connotations like the ones in Un Chien Andalou or Kino-Eye but through new technology. I initially see myself photographing without the confines of an artist statement or closed-in project idea. I will take down the locations of where I photograph and my instincts will evolve the project. I will then set the photographs into a Layar program and the viewer can interact with it as they choose. Of course, this is a rough sketch and I hope that it will grow, but it’s a start nonetheless. After all, I think that’s kind of the point.
“The great artists were never those who works embodied style in its least fractured, more perfect form but those who adopted style as a rigor to set against the chaotic expression of suffering, as a negative truth.”—Adorno
In terms of contemporary culture, I found all these articles could be applied to the internet and how media is dispersed today. As a photographer myself, “the Work of Art and the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” made me consider the way photography is displayed on the internet. The article, written in 1968, argues with the invention of photography, the aura of reproduction changed. It could be argued the internet’s relationship to photography (and media in general) could be compared to photography’s impact on the art world. The easiest example of this is the issue of money and media. When money isn’t an issue on the internet, there is something liberating and frightening about internet consumption. That’s why I was so surprised the Adorno’s article, “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception,” was written in 2002. Adorno seems to argue that the Culture Industry is fueled by monetary interest and only interested in producing duplicate copies of work that sells. This point seems easier to apply to an economy of the 90’s, when people could get jobs in media, then now, when no one can get paid. The internet coupled with the economy frees people to make work without the pressure to please the masses for monetary gain. But being exposed to the masses puts a similar pressure on a person. As Habermas states in “The Public Sphere: An Encyclopedia Article”, “The expression of ‘public opinion’ refers to the tasks of criticism and control which public body of citizens informally…practice vis-avis the ruling structure organized in the form of a state.” Tough we might not be tied to a conventional hierarchy for taste and consumption, the public sphere still has complicated tiers of power. Overall, I feel the topics were well worth my time—a good base for looking at what avant-garde is and how it relates to art and media. On a personal note, I have become hyper aware of my predisposition to certain styles and how they might be influences my work.