"Schematic: New Media Art From Canada" at [ space ] London

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Image: Peter Flemming, Canoe, 2008

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Image: Norman White, The Helpless Robot, 2008 (Photo by Michelle Kasprzak)

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Image: Joe McKay, The Big Job, 2008 (Photo by Michelle Kasprzak)

Bringing together five Canadian machine-makers, Schematic: New Media Art From Canada is a group show currently on view at London's [ space ] gallery. Curator Michelle Kasprzak begins her essay accompanying the show with a description of Jacques de Vaucanson's duck. Citing the appeal of this quirky and captivating invention within its time, she argues that machines today continue to instigate the same degree of fascination, a response to enduring questions of representation and behavior. The show also claims that the group of artists selected -- Peter Flemming, Germaine Koh, Joe Mckay, Nicholas Stedman, and Norman White -- draw on their particular experience as Canadians in their exploration of such themes as weather, the environment, and craftsmanship. I don't know if those topics are necessarily "Canadian", but I had to chuckle a little bit at the explicit play on the rugged frontiersmen stereotype. That aside, the most compelling strand in the show seems to be that of futility and failure. Three works -- Joe McKay's The Big Job, Peter Flemming's Canoe, and Norman White's The Helpless Robot -- engage in actions that reflect the limitations of machines and often their inutility. The Big Job is a mechanical progress bar that moves in accordance to a loading webpage. Repeating infinitely as the page reloads over and over again, it serves as both documentation and a representation of frustration. Similarly, Peter Flemming's Canoe paddles itself to nowhere, while The Helpless Robot relies entirely on the aide of visitors to move about the gallery, actions which are dictated by a synthesized voice. Rather than cater to the "gee whiz" quality of machines, these projects elicit ...

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Loop (2007) - Zoro Feigl

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More work by Zoro Feigl

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Dialogue (1999) - Kumi Yamashita

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Light, Motor, Styrene, Shadow

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Machines by Michael Kontopoulos

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Machines that Almost Fall Over from Michael Kontopoulos on Vimeo.


Machine that Tries to Draw Circles from Michael Kontopoulos on Vimeo.

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Slow Inevitable Death of American Muscle (2008) - Jonathan Schipper

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Slow Motion Car Crash

LAUNCH

This sculpture is a machine that advances two full sized automobiles slowly into one another over a period of 6 days, simulating a head on automobile collision. Each car moves about three feet into the other. The movement is so slow as to be invisible.

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Tools of the Trade: Umwelt III (HOME) at 119 Chambers

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Here tech writer Melody Chamlee describes Rob Seward's work Umwelt III (HOME) for Rhizome's ongoing series "Tools of the Trade." - Ceci Moss

Currently on display at 119 Chambers Street is kinetic sculpture Umwelt III (HOME) by artist Rob Seward. Using common fluorescent vacuum tubes to light the sign, Seward says he referenced the Jakob von Uexküll and Thomas A. Sebeok definition of an umwelt, a subjective universe which includes meaning producing aspects for all life forms - in this case the narrative of the building inhabitant to the sidewalk passer-by.


On a quiet night, the gliding mechanical display of short white tubes rotates in a seemingly chaotic pattern out the window, slowly aligning and deconstructing the word "home" in bright white fluorescent fashion. The tubes meet and slowly scatter in clockwork formation, generating a slow animation of random pattern display that floats back together in a clear display of the word "home." What seems at first chaotic movement becomes a perfectly formed idea in alignment with viewer recognition. The concept of "home" is presented much the same way a disoriented traveler recognizes a familiar place.


Says Seward, "Before Umwelt III (HOME), I made pieces that spelled KILL and RUN. These where based on flight or fight instincts. The Umwelt III (HOME) piece is part of an earlier series to play on simple, old emotions. Umwelt III (HOME) is inspired by the need for shelter and feelings associated with it."


Rather than compromise between empiricism and rationalism, the sculpture continues to scatter and realign without adding additional context, leaving the viewer to complete the semiosphere with personal significance.


Seward says he was inspired by the idea of an umwelt to display these ideas, and is already working on a new sculpture, entitled WORK WORK WORK. In the new concept ...

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Mr. Roboto

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Machines have assisted people in creating images for centuries. From the camera obscura to the overhead and slide projectors to the photocopier, these mostly light-based tools have helped make light work of creating mimetic images. More recently, artists have started focusing on the machines themselves (this includes algorithmic software bots), letting them make the work, rather than simply assisting in the process. Of course, this all depends on how you define the work and the act of making it. Jürg Lehni has begun creating robotic spraypainting machines with names like Hector, Rita, or Viktor, anthropomorphic monikers that recall early fantasies -- or anxieties -- about the robots that would eventually replace human workers. The Swiss artist doesn't seem worried about losing his job. In fact, he's a master delegator, collaborating with (one might even say outsourcing to) others who help determine the form and content of the drawings that his machines will make. A show open July 9 - August 31 at the London ICA, entitled "A Recent History of Writing and Drawing," will display a variety of mechanical devices for art-making, centering around Viktor. Lehni has teamed-up with British graphic designer Alex Rich to program Viktor's mark-makings in such a way as to initiate a conversation about the role of technologies in expression, primarily by inviting the public to join workshops which allow them to participate in the drawings and to view demonstrations by other practitioners who'll use Viktor to make their own work. This overlapping melange of users gets to the heart of the project. As curator Emily King says, "Moving away from the blunt duality of man vs. machine, it is now possible to appreciate the particular qualities of various forms of mechanical and digital mark-making." This all begs the question of whether it's ...

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This is Not a Game

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Among the random fringe benefits of the Beijing Olympics bonanza are not only a big international platform for the protest of China-related issues like human rights, Tibetan independence, or the responsibility of big trading nations to intervene in the Darfur scenario, but also a big international platform for the presentation of contemporary art. The games have brought an influx of attention and funding for "cultural projects," and thankfully for new media artists and their followers, Beijing's prestigious National Art Museum of China has used the windfall to present "Synthetic Times," one of the most impressive and widely-anticipated exhibitions of the last decade. Spread out over 48,000 interior square feet and another 22,000 square feet of outdoor space is an exhibition huge in stature and big in scope, presenting a survey of contemporary electronic art. The selected works imagine how the plastic arts have evolved into new forms of synthesis, with the advent of programming, physical computing, interactive media, and all kinds of fancy new lights, lasers, and whirlygigs now being put to varying conceptual and beautiful uses by those in the field. Singling-out just a few works here would almost be a disservice to the others, but if you care to peruse an ambitious sampling of great works and read critical essays on their work, by rock stars in the field of media theory, you're highly advised to surf the show's content-rich site. To the credit of the show's organizers (and also their collaborators MoMA, Eyebeam, and Parsons, who put on thoughtful events in New York as a precursor to the show's opening), this is not the kind of big-budget, low-impact show that these surveys often turn out to be. In fact, if anything it picks up and runs with the ball of ...

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Math Goddess

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Despite the fact the art world is rife with gender discrimination, a situation only compounded by historic barriers thwarting women's entree to computing, the title "Grande Dame of Digital Art" is one for which a host of pioneering artists could vie. Nonetheless, Berlin gallery [DAM] believes this designation belongs to Vera Molnar, whose experimental Plotter drawings will be exhibited at the space May 30th-July 12th. Made between 1969-1990, these color and black and white geometric images were preceded by her invention, in 1959, of a "Machine Imaginaire," a surreal algorithmic generator that presaged aesthetic computing by many years. The artist was a contemporary of Paul Klee and shared in his generation's fascination with systems. However, in a witty essay entitled "1% Disorder," she made clear that there is always an open space for chaos and creativity-- not unlike what Freud called "the naval" of the dream. It is this open space that allowed her to bring a human warmth to the rigidity of the mathematical languages she admired, like her own fever dream resulting from infection by what she called the "virus of visual experimentation." - Marisa Olson


Image: Vera Molnar, (Des)Ordres ((Un)Ordnungen), 1974

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Makers of the World, Unite!

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Proof against the claim of declining handyman skills in younger generations of Americans, this weekend's Maker Faire will turn over the Bay Area's San Mateo Fairgrounds to the unusual inventions of the country's amateur artisans, do-it-yourself tinkerers and precocious tech-heads. Already in its third year (the first, held in San Mateo in 2006, drew 20,000 people, and the 2007 Austin edition 45,000), the fair has shown a continuing desire on the part of the populous to not only concoct innovative, low-fi alternatives to mass-produced commodities, but to also make the skills acquired through such production available to the broader community. To this end, MAKE and CRAFT magazines, published by the fair's organizers, offer in-depth instructions for building everything from the practical (an in-car camcorder mount) to the far-fetched (a PVC air cannon). The fair itself will follow suit, particularly in the realm of engineering. Highlights include an amateur radio demonstration, offering details on radios, antennas, local repeaters and FCC practicalities; the cerviScope, a portable colposcope, specifically designed for low-resource settings in the developing world, that detects HPV lesions on the cervix towards preventing cancer in women; CUBIT, created by Stefan Hechenberger and Addie Wagenknecht, which "depart[s] from the mouse pointer paradigm" by employing an open-source, multi-touch platform for computing; and Compubeaver, a taxidermy beaver retrofit as a cover for your desktop computer. - Tyler Coburn

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