In the early seventies Gerald O'Grady, a professor of English Literature at the State University of New York in Buffalo, was asked to become director of the euphemistically titled "Educational Communications Center." The division was to provide technical support for the entire campus. Sensing a thankless administrative appointment he agreed, but only if he could simultaneously create and direct a department dedicated to the study of emerging media, one that would provide artists and filmmakers access to these technologies and a theoretical basis from which to explore it fully. Thus, the Center for Media Studies (MediaStudy/Buffalo) was formed. Groundbreaking in its scope and focus, the faculty included filmmakers Hollis Frampton, Tony Conrad, Paul Sharits, and James Blue, video artists Steina and Woody Vasulka, and Peter Weibel. The book Buffalo Heads: Media Study, Media Practice, Media Pioneers, 1973-1990, edited by Woody Vasulka and Peter Weibel, thoroughly documents the people and activities that were a part of this highly influential center. Part exhibition catalog (a similarly titled exhibition "Mind Frames: Media Study at Buffalo 1973-1990" was mounted at ZKM in 2007), part catalog raisonné, and part coffee table book, and coming in at 837 pages and almost 10 lbs, it could be called the definitive text on this place and period.
Humor has been a prominent but under-analyzed aspect of art in the past century; the comedy impulse is strongest in the history of media appropriation and conceptual art, beginning with Duchamp's poker-faced readymades and continuing through the work of Bruce Conner, Andy Warhol, Dara Birnbaum, Ant Farm, Jeff Koons and many others. Even the very way we talk about art overlaps with laff-lingo: we call certain pieces "one-liners," value work for being "wry" or "witty," and discuss whether or not a viewer "gets it." And of course, one of the first things someone will ask who doesn't "get it" is: "Is this supposed to be a joke?"
Cory Arcangel's work has almost always played on the logic of the joke in its construction: witness his most recent exhibit, "Adult Contemporary" at Team Gallery, which includes work like Self Playing Sony Playstation 1 Bowling (2008), an old bowling game hacked to only throw gutter-balls, and Permanent Vacation (2008 version), two silver iMacs set to email each other and exchange "out of office" messages until they fill up and crash. But the line between comedy and art more or less dissolved in Arcangel's related event at the New Museum's New Silent Series, Continuous Partial Awareness. In this stand-up-style routine, Arcangel performed an hour-long monologue by reading off a huge list of his unused ideas for new artworks, ranging from "give a boring artist's talk entirely through a vocoder" to "have intern watch Lawnmower Man 10,000 times and then make a website about all the plot inconsistencies."
At the very real risk of ruining humor by critiquing it, Cory and I meet recently to discuss the relationship between comedy and art in both his work and that of others. - Ed Halter
Much like a music video for an artist, Turner Prize Winner Mark Leckey's offbeat performance/interview for the Tate advertises both the artist and his work in a concise and curious 6 minute clip. Dressed in a suit and tie, Leckey walks us through pieces such as Cinema in the Round and Made in 'Eaven while speaking into a concave mirror or while seated on a rotating platform. His intricate explanations carry on like this:
"I'm here now in my flat. Well, it's not actually my flat. It's a set of my flat. Um, but I'm recording and making a new piece of work. Or an old piece of work that I've made new. The piece is called Search Engine and it's a slide projection piece which allows me to enhance photographs, 2 dimensional photographs, so they appear 3 dimensional and allow me to look into corners and rooms within my flat that I wasn't sure existed. This is based upon a scene in Blade Runner with a machine that basically scans a 2 dimensional photograph and kind of renders so it becomes 3 dimensional. It becomes a space that Harrison Ford can then investigate..."
Matthew Higgs once described Leckey as a "part drifter, part dandy, part flaneur-artiste" for ArtForum in 2002, and his mental meanderings follow this portrayal. This wandering is also apparent in his work, such as in his epic montage of found rave footage Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore, a piece that draws on the same pleasure of diversion and voyeuristic viewing practices which drive contemporary platforms such as YouTube. In this clip for the Tate, which is distinctly self-referential and self-aware, one could suggest that in performing his eccentric dandy-ism in such a pronounced way, Leckey is dually channeling ...
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 ...
Jillian McDonald has noticed a zombie trend. Perhaps you've noticed it, too. Zombie walks, zombie novelty stores, and zombie-themed musical lyrics are popping up everywhere and the zombie film persists as the bone chiller par excellence. McDonald's work often deals with popular tropes and genre conventions, in film, and in this sense horror movies are ripe with opportunity for the analytically-inclined. Last weekend, in a project entitled Zombies in Condoland , the artist invited residents of Toronto (incidentally, the setting for director George Romero's latest film, Diary of a Zombie) to join the ranks of the proverbial undead. Working in collaboration with local arts project Nuit Blanche, McDonald established public film sets around town on which locals were invited to act the part in an effort to address the issue of gentrification. If the connection between scary characters and housing development is less than clear to you, consider a world in which you can run but not hide from the creeping threat of being swallowed-up and reprogrammed by a bland aesthetic of sameness and non-individuality. Sounds fun, right? Well, even if you missed last weekend's party, you can peruse McDonald's web-based instructions on how to look and act undead, scroll through her blog on all things zombiephile, or visit her previous horrifically hilarious projects. - Marisa Olson