Posts for August 2011

Aggregates - John Houck (2011)


Excerpt from an interview between John Houck and photographer Matthew Porter in Triple Canopy's twelfth issue, Black Box, which considered how photography is being reframed online.

Matthew Porter: Your photograph,19,682 combinations of a 3x3 grid, 3 colors - B1D2D3, 6F9DA2, E83C2C, is part of a series titled “Aggregates” (2011) that comprises six relatively small, digitally-printed grids striated with fold marks and mounted in white frames. At 15 x 18 inches, the works in this series are relatively modest in size. Were you thinking about the resolution of the ink-jet printer? Or was it the gesture of the folds that determined the size of the works? 

John Houck: The size of the photographs in “Aggregates” was determined by what could fit in a single frame of my camera. The process of making them starts with software that I wrote. I can specify how many rows and columns comprise a grid and select any number of colors to fill it. For example, a grid with four rows, four columns, and two colors results in 65,535 combinations (hence the title of the photograph). I then use another piece of self-authored software to output the combinations as an index print on a single sheet of paper using an inkjet printer. (No commercially available software can do this.) I then crease the paper, light it in a studio, and photograph it from above. I repeat this process three or four times: printing, creasing, and re-photographing. The final print is shown with one or two real creases, and the traces of earlier creases remain as photographic representations. I found that when the paper was too large, I had to take multiple photos then stitch them all back together digitally; but at 15 x 18 inches a single frame would do. 

MP: A lot ...


Before the Demoscene


Face and Body Parts - Ed Parke (1974)

In the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, innovations in computer graphics were pioneered by the University of Utah. Their program generated some of the first algorithms for antialiasing, shading, z-buffering, and texture mapping among many others. They also produced the seminal Utah Teapot and breakthrough demos of rendering and animation such as Halftone Animation by Ed Catmull and Fred Parke. Essentially, the innovations came from a community of developers who shared the same passion in visualizing the world around them in virtual space. This early work, shared by developers at MIT, Harvard, and Bell Labs, established techniques that would be inlcuded in work by the demoscene of the 80s, that we covered last summer

stills from Space++, Judson Rosebush (1974)


Artist Profile: Aram Bartholl


Aram Bartholl is a 2011 Rhizome Commissions winner for his proposal, Dust.

Map, public installation (2006-2010)

Turning a digital object into a physical one is often part of your practice. Dead Drops  and the 2004 version of de_dust blurs the boundaries between the physical environment and digital worlds. Do you think that there is a place anymore where one world 'ends' and the other begins? Can we ever stop playing Counter-Strike?

In 1995, I had to walk over to the Technical University TU-Berlin campus to get my first email address. I was permitted there to use the UNIX computer pool while studying Architecture at the UdK (Art School Berlin). I only had one friend in Hamburg I knew who had an email address I could write to. Back in the day a lot of people were like  “Yes that is cool, but what really do you need the Internet for!?”. Today it is more like  “You are not on Facebook, why?!?” being asked from more or less the same people. Obviously there was a rapid development over the last 2 decades in terms of Internet and Computers. The digital space grew bigger and bigger and takes over big parts of our life today. It becomes more and more the extension of ourselves, like McLuhan put it. And yes, you are right:  One can’t tell anymore today where one space ends and the other one starts. The classic distinction of digital-analog, real-virtual and online-offline doesn’t work anymore. Those worlds mix up and leap into each other and we are in the center of it. Everything I do every day is my reality. 

While studying Architecture in the 90s my focus was bound to the early web, computers and games. Working in these worlds was much more attractive with all ...


A Thing Remade: A Conversation with Paul Chan


burningkindlepointone.gif (2011)

The launch of artist Paul Chan’s publishing company, Badlands Unlimited, in 2010 could have been mistaken for a career non sequitur. His foray into book publishing felt at once completely futile and deliciously subversive—anachronistic in form, and yet prescient in its embrace of technology as a means of interrogating (and thereby furthering) that form. Given the perilous economic prospects for artists and publishers alike, why not simply take matters into one’s own hands? As an online distribution platform for works written by Chan and others, Badlands Unlimited does just that.

In profiling the outfit for a recent issue of Frieze magazine (Off the Page, May, 2010) I realized that I had been watching this seemingly new venture develop for many years: Chan’s personal website, National Philistine, has served as the digital analog to his practice for well over a decade, a fact that many aren’t aware of by his estimation. (“Sometimes I even forget that I have a website,” he said, when asked about the longevity of his domain, which has been active since 1999.) The following conversation attempts to articulate some of that history, while indulging in a few detours along the way, as a means of suggesting iterative possibilities for publishing on the web—and beyond...  



Mining Dwarf Fortress


Image from Dwarf Fortress's intro animation.

As we enter the last weeks of summer, take some time off and check out Tarn and Zach Adams’ Dwarf Fortress, an indie game that has earned a cult following and recently garnered some mainstream profiling including an appearance in MoMA’s Talk to Me exhibition.

Developed over the past decade, Dwarf Fortress promotes depth and complexity of game-mechanics over graphics. As an example of this, amidst its ASCII aesthetics, the game includes its own world generator, economics system, three-dimensional world exploration, fluid dynamics, complex names and languages, and character profiles that allow emotional responses to the world you build around them (i.e. the dwarves can appreciate art, but can also hold a grudge.) The game's complexity generates an equal proportion of difficulty that has subsequently produced a community of dedicated followers who share their stories online, donate to Bay 12 Games (Tarn and Zach’s company), and even suggest improvements on the game’s forums. Foremost, playing Dwarf Fortress requires patience - followed by an appreciation for intricate details hidden in primitive graphics. At one glance it's a scrambled mess; at another, it holds a profound resemblance to our own lives.

In-game image of Dwarf Fortress's ASCII aesthetics

Excerpt from the New York Times' profile on the game and its makers:

This bare-bones aesthetic allows Tarn to focus resources not on graphics but on mechanics, which he values much more. Many simulation games offer players a bag of building blocks, but few dangle a bag as deep, or blocks as small and intricately interlocking, as Dwarf Fortress. Beneath the game’s rudimentary facade is a dizzying array of moving parts, algorithms that model everything from dwarves’ personalities (some are depressive; many appreciate art) to the climate and economic patterns ...


Remote Presence: David Horvitz at Adobe Books Backroom Gallery


An image from David Horvitz' Wikipedia intervention

David Horvitz's first solo exhibition in San Francisco opened August 6th at the Adobe Books Backroom Gallery. For the duration of the exhibition Horvitz is guest blogging on the Adobe Books site. He sends frequent updates of images from his daily life and documentation of other projects he's working on - he's also included some posts about the recent hurricane that passed through New York. Since Horvitz has a history of working with ideas of remote connections, temporality, and site-specificity his guest blogging isn't surprising but is a nice compliment to his work in the physical gallery space which also takes on a transience of its own.

Adobe Books Backroom Gallery is pleased to present David Horvitz' first solo exhibition in the Bay Area. Exhibited will be photographs and text that expand on the main ideas of several projects from the last two years. One of these, a project Horvitz first created for a gallery in Den Haag, Holland, has been restaged for the Backroom Gallery. For the original project, Untitled (Flowers), Horvitz spent the day travelling the subway system in Holland gathering flowers from the different flower vendors he encountered. Says the artist, "There was something about a distributed element across the country that was then slowly recollected. Reconcentrated." For the Backroom Gallery, Horvitz purchased red roses from vendors while travelling by car from Oakland to the Mission District of San Francisco, where the gallery is located. The resulting bouquet will be exhibited in the gallery space as a souvenir of his journey across the Bay.

Brooklyn-based David Horvitz's diverse projects utilize the internet (blogs, Twitter, email) and the postal system as tools of connection and expansion. For Public Access, a multi-level project that began in January of ...


Black by Distribution: A Conversation with Martine Syms


Although she identifies as an artist and “conceptual entrepreneur,” Martine Syms is a seasoned essayist. Her combination of personal anecdotes, expository investigation, and academic analysis is enigmatic, drawing the reader into the purpose of her writing and the rich storytelling of her written voice. 

Born in Los Angeles and based in Chicago, Syms received an MFA in Film, Video, and New Media at the School of the Art Institute in 2007.  Syms is the founder and co-director of Golden Age, an artist-run project space, performance venue, and bookshop. Rather than merely sell zines, books, art, and other ephemera from visual artists and critics, Syms – along with her co-director Marco Kane Braunschweiler – uses the space to engage a diverse community of design and art fans and practitioners.

Focusing on race, context, and form in Black cinema, Implications and Distinctions: Format, Content and Context in Contemporary Race Film works in large part due to the simplicity of its words and the depth of its subject matter. Syms’ idea — that race film is both constantly evolving and utilizing methods of exposure implemented decades earlier — is complex, but the clarity in her thesis makes her work digestible.

"My family, my background ... it just parallels really nicely with a lot of social and cultural movements," Syms said during a recent interview. Her writing reflects this connection, using personal anecdotes to highlight the evolution of "race" film from its earliest producers to the more homegrown, independent, and online efforts of emerging filmmakers. 

Implications and Distinctions is one of five recent releases from Future Plan and Program, artist Steffani Jemison’s new project incubated by Project Row Houses that publishes the literary works of emerging visual artists. The clean layout and production of the book only slightly masks its purpose to present one-of-a-kind ideas and experiments combining the written word and emerging artistic practices.

Recently, I met with Martine Syms to talk about some of the points she makes in the book...