It would be hard to identify a small town with a bigger history than Marfa, Texas. This little desert town is an artistic oasis and has been a polestar for installation and land art (the Chinati and Judd Foundations reside here), the film community (many a major movie has been filmed here, including most recently No Country For Old Men), and enthusiasts of natural phenomena, for whom the Marfa Lights and Big Bend Natural Park create a mecca. Ballroom Marfa is a diamond in this dust bowl. While Marfa is often visited for its permanent installations, the organization presents temporary exhibitions of newer work by interesting artists from around the world. Their current show is co-organized by power house curators Regine Basha, Lucy Raven, and Rebecca Gates. Entitled "The Marfa Sessions," the show features fifteen artists -- five of whom are presenting original work -- who engage sound as a way to engage and transcend spaces. Rather than being confined to the gallery, their work broadcasts "sounds across town," as the exhibition subtitle advertises, nesting itself into the nooks and crannies of the tiny West Texas city. These artists are Emily Jacir, Nina Katchadourian, Christina Kubisch, Louise Lawler, Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle, Kaffe Matthews, Angel Nevarez & Valerie Tevere, Dario Robleto, Steve Roden & Stephen Vitiello, Steve Rowell & Simparch, Deborah Stratman & Steven Badgett, and Julianne Swartz. Many of them are well-known for their contributions to the field of sound art, while others are best-known for work in other media, which makes their participation in "The Marfa Sessions" so exciting. Their works and associated public programs and performances are documented on the show's blog, in the unfortunate event that you can't make it south in time. - Marisa Olson
In the recent work of Ken Jacobs, showcased this month in an exhibit on tank.tv curated by Mark Webber, the beginning and end of the 20th century ingest one another in a technological uroboros. A central name in American experimental film since the century's middle, Jacobs has now virtually abandoned shooting and editing celluloid in favor of digital production. In works like Capitalism: Child Labor (2006) and New York Ghetto Fishmarket 1903 (2006), Jacobs mines images from near 1900, taking delight in twisting and strobing them using digital editing, creating new works that revive the visual novelty of pre-cinematic optical toys and explore the hidden three-dimensionality of their source materials. The effects mimic similar patterns that Jacobs has executed live for years in his Nervous System performances, using altered projection devices of his own making; some of these epic events he has recreated in fixed form, including Ontic Antics Starring Laurel and Hardy (2005) and Two Wrenching Departures (2006). For tank.tv's exhibit, Jacobs has wisely excerpted ten minutes or less from these and other longer works, which in their originals can run into triple-digit minutes. It's a wisely pragmatic decision to offer only samples online rather than the whole shebang, given the challenged attention span available to the typical internet surfer, but this does mean that the grandly symphonic nature of Jacobs's work is barely conveyed; users are granted but a taste. Jacobs's sampler is rounded out with a selection of early film work, which range from downtown Beatnik romps featuring Jack Smith to the canonical structural film Tom, Tom the Piper's Son (1969-71), a rigorous investigation of Edison's composition, to his exquisite exercise in "found cinema," Perfect Film (1985), which reprints enigmatic lost local TV news fragments from the day ...
"Optimism,", the newest exhibition organized by independent curator Michael Connor takes on the not-so-small task of exploring "the dreams and realities of making progress and changing the world." As everything seems to be crashing all around us, it can be hard--and even risky--to maintain a glass-half-full attitude toward things. Even more challenging is the prospect of making political art that doesn't simply aestheticize politics or that actually makes an impact, rather than simply preaching to the choir of those who already share the artist's beliefs. The work of Becca Albee, Ghana Thinktank Collaborative (John Ewing, Matey Odonkor & Christopher Robbins), Matt Keegan, Zoe Leonard, Tara Mateik, Walid Raad, and Paul Shambroom fleshes-out this tricky conundrum while offering productive and hopeful gestures. The common factor in their work is a frank assessment of a situation and an informed, if humble move to take matters into their own hands--an act which implies a belief in the possibility of change. At times these efforts manifest in almost humorous explorations of failure and impossibility, while at other times they are more explicitly activist and/or hopeful. The exhibit is on view at the Westport Arts Center through November 30th, effectively meaning that it will continue even after the current presidential campaigns hinging on the prospect of change have ceased. While the notion of optimism is often dismissed as Pollyanna, Connor says the show offers an alternate take on the concept, laying out strategies for proactive political engagement and means of future-improving. He suggests, "The glass is not yet half-full, but it will be, once the wine is poured." - Marisa Olson
Image: Matt Keegan, Without touch, we can't connect. Without skin, we can't touch, 2008
In his book, Parables for the Virtual, Brian Massumi calls for "movement, sensation, and qualities of experience" to be put back into our understandings of embodiment. He says that contemporary society comprehends bodies, and by extension the world, almost exclusively through linguistic and visual apprehension. They are defined by their images, their symbols, what they look like and how we write and talk about them. Massumi wants to instead "engage with continuity," to encourage a processual and active approach to embodied experience. In essence, Massumi proposes that our theories "feel" again. "Act/React", curator George Fifield's "dream exhibition" that opened at the Milwaukee Art Museum last week, picks up on these phenomenologist principles. He and his selected artists invite viewer-participants to physically explore their embodied and continuous relationships to each other, the screen, space, biology, art history and perhaps more.
Fifield is quick to point out that all the works on show are unhindered by traditional interface objects such as the mouse and keyboard. Most of them instead employ computer vision technologies, more commonly known as interactive video. Here, the combined use of digital video cameras and custom computer software allows each artwork to "see," and respond to, bodies, colors and/or motion in the space of the museum. The few works not using cameras in this fashion employ similar technologies towards the same end. While this homogeneity means that the works might at first seem too similar in their interactions, their one-to-one responsiveness, and their lack of other new media-specific explorations -- such as networked art or dynamic appropriation and re-mixing systems -- it also accomplishes something most museum-based "state of the digital art" shows don't. It uses just one avenue of interest by contemporary media artists in order to dig much deeper into what their practice means, and why it's important. "Act/React" encourages an extremely varied and nuanced investigation of our embodied experiences in our own surroundings. As the curator himself notes in the Museum's press release, "If in the last century the crisis of representation was resolved by new ways of seeing, then in the twenty-first century the challenge is for artists to suggest new ways of experiencing...This is contemporary art about contemporary existence." This exhibition, in other words, implores us to look at action and reaction, at our embodied relationships, as critical experience. It is a contemporary investigation of phenomenology.