Sean Dack at Daniel Reich

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"Ghost Hardware," Sean Dack's latest exhibition at New York's Daniel Reich Gallery, builds a visual language, in photography and sculpture, from the limits of technological legibility. Over a series of unique c-prints, thoughtfully hung throughout the gallery, Dack coats a panoply of sourced images with thick layers of digital interference: glitches that "tangle and halt the flow of information," but in so doing also provide the precondition for the exhibited art-objects. Formally, these images are beautiful, their striated lines of pixels at times staining underlying images in cyan and magenta; at others, reducing them to wholly abstract geometries. These techniques prove most effective when echoing the sourced images, as when Dack's pixels form postmodern building block analogues to the structural units of the unfinished, contemporary skyscrapers in Building (Hotel, Pyongyang) (2008) and CCTV #2 (2007). Yet on a broader level, Dack's choice of images risks belaboring his conceptual inquiry. Shots of isolated women, an airborne helicopter, unmarked CIA airplane and a missile test quickly move the exhibition into well-trodden, conspiracy theory terrain. One wonders whether Dack's Pop sensibility - most explicitly manifest in his rubber encasings of obsolete tape decks and CD changers, also on display - extends into the realm of his photographs' subject-matter and thus justifies the indulgence. Whether or not this is the case, the artist's formal investigation of the psychic life of digital technology would be far more interesting without its narrative props. - Tyler Coburn


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Nan Hoover, 1931-2008

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American artist Nan Hoover passed away last week, in Berlin. She left behind a large body of work that has had a pioneering influence on the fields of performance, video, and photography. In a statement about her photos Hoover says, "I am a painter. Everything I do is seen through the eyes of a painter. I only use brushes from time to time." Buried between the lines of this message is an indication of Hoover's tight relationship to her materials--which varied to include not only new media, live performance and photographic media, but also drawing, installation, and perhaps most significantly, light. If there is one thing that cannot go unsaid about her work it's that Hoover owned the light. Indeed, it proved better, more searing, and more beautiful than paint in her many decades of practice, ultimately "shedding light" on the sublime beauty inherent in objects ranging from otherwise banal domestic interiors to majestic outdoor landscapes. In an art world which has, at various times, sought to polarize beauty and intellectual rigor, Hoover consistently proved that the two could live in harmony. An exhibition of her lens-based work just opened at Mannheim's Sebastian Fath Contemporary Art Gallery. The show was in the works before her passing, but is now a retrospective of sorts--a show developed in conversation with Hoover about what it meant to continue her signature first-person visual experiments in a world increasingly mediated by digital experience. A memorial will be held at Amsterdam's Montevideo Institute for Time-Based Art on June 20th. Meanwhile, an online condolence page has been established for the many who were touched by her work to stay in touch. - Marisa Olson


Image credit: Nan Hoover, "Moving Towards 13 degrees," video room installation, Galerie Ulrike BUschlinger Wiesbaden, 2000. Photo: Horst Ziegenfusz

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Into the Void

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Loss, reduction, vacancy and dissolution: all topical buzzwords the New York art world has come to expect from the emergent generation of European artists. After the Vincent Honoré-curated "From a Distance," at Wallspace in 2007, and artist Matt Saunders' group enterprise, Out Riding Fast, this past winter at Harris Lieberman -- both of which tipped the scales towards the Old World -- Foxy Production's current exhibition of seven continental practitioners feels a bit superfluous. Curated by English artist Dick Evans, "Nul" muddles through the post-historical morass, with many of its participants masquerading vintage modes of object- and image-making to little effect. Anders Clausen builds wooden pedestals and sculptural busts, in the fashion of Jacob Epstein, that lack the verve and ingenuity of similar works by contemporaries Steve Claydon and Matthew Monahan. Salvatore Arancio's photo-etchings rehash the type of psychically-fraught Gothic imagery that made its rounds on the market a few years past. More promising is the work of Lars Laumann (here only partially represented by a screen-print, entitled Hatful of Cocteau, of a posthumous article on Jean Cocteau), whose videos about Morrissey, Princess Diana and Eija Riitta Berliner-Mauer drew buzz at White Columns, in 2007, and most recently at this year's Berlin Biennial. Simone Gilges' installation also excites, with its oblique mix of photography and sculpture. Attempting to draw connections between her hanging curtain, framed piece of black silk and ornately framed photograph of a cupid statuette makes for the most interesting -- and irresolvable -- experience in the show. - Tyler Coburn


Image Credit: Simone Gilges, MATERIALPROBE II (SEIDE), 2008

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The Tomorrow People

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In his 1971 essay on post-Holocaust culture "In Bluebeard's Castle," George Steiner notes that in nineteenth-century Europe "an odd school of painting develops: pictures of London, Paris, or Berlin seen as colossal ruins, famous landmarks burnt, eviscerated, or located in weird emptiness among charred stumps and dead water." Comparing these visions to 20th century photographs of war-ravaged Warsaw and Dresden, he wonders "how strong a part of wish-fulfillment there was in these nineteenth-century intimations." Or self-criticism: Gustav Doré and Blanchard Jerrold's 1872 book London: A Pilgrimage depicts a dark metropolis teeming with the bodies of the poor, then ends with an eerily serene image of a future London, crumbling and overgrown like the remains of ancient Rome-- a urban memento mori. One recalls these European precedents while viewing the exhibit "AMERIKA: Back to the Future" at Postmasters Gallery in New York; the key to this tightly composed set of works lies in Jennifer and Kevin McCoy's Big Box (biosphere), a set of two miniature suburban landscapes. Each one depicts a typical American shopping mall, comprised of the facades of familiar chain stores and restaurants-- Chili's, Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, The Sports Authority and so on-- reconfigured into a circular structure that slowly rotates on a mechanical table (the exact order of the businesses taken directly from a specific mall in Nyack, New York). Tiny cameras feed live images to screens above, enlarging the scale models to strangely lifelike dimensions. In one part of the installation, the mall includes a mesh-wire dome at its center, overgrown with green moss and trees, with small plots of vegetables and flowers planted outside. In the other, the same structure, now hollow at its center, is burned and crumbling, surrounded by bloodstained human figures; letters have been torn off of logos ...

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ANIMALMIXUP! (2008) by Jeff Baij

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ANIMALMIXUP! (2008) by Jeff Baij

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Identity Art: Alive and Flickr'ing

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Identity art long predates electronic art. Even among the avant garde, artists were using their work to sort out their personae long before we plugged-in machines to perform our computations. In many ways, this genre hit its heyday in the 1970s, after the emergence of video, and coasted through the '80s and '90s only to take on a stale whiff in the '00s, particularly after 9/11 and the Iraq War upped the ante for artists to look beyond themselves as subjects. So, if nothing else, it is incredibly bold for this year's EMAF (Electronic Media Arts Festival) to take up "Identity" as its theme. Running April 23-27 in Osnabrueck, Germany, the fest will present the work of a wide range of artists in over 300 installations, films, and videos, host two conferences, and act as a platform for a range of student projects by people apparently just learning about identity. All jesting aside, the festival's organizers have succeeded in arguing that a category of artistic practice previously kicked to the academic recycling bin is still alive and operating under new conditions. Afterall, it's no longer just Bruce Nauman and Cindy Sherman pointing cameras at themselves, but every person who maintains an account with social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace. And, of course, the question of digital reality (even digital indexicality) has taken well-cooked debates about the documentary status of reality TV and similar forms to a new level, when aimed at Second Life and machinima. In a statement signed by "The Festival Team," prospective attendees are asked, "How do digital technologies change all areas of private and public life?" Ralf Bendrath's lecture on "Digital Identity" will respond to this weighty inquiry by investigating "the forms and consequences of the increasing capture of private data ...

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Traces from Memory

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Johannesburg-based artist Marcus Neustetter explores the potential for communication and exchange across a variety of mediums, including digital photography, video and installation, giving particular consideration to how the limits or irregularities of a given medium can constitute new conceptual, aesthetic, and even social territory. This investigation finds its most formal treatment in Disruption (2007), a series of photographs taken with a damaged camera, and Afterimages (2005), in which Neustetter used sensitized paper and an ammonia fume development process to generate analog "scans" of light and space. On the social end of the spectrum is UrbaNET: Hillbrow/Dakar/Hillbrow (2006-7), an ambitious project conceived by Neustetter and frequent collaborator Stephen Hobbs endeavoring to produce a "comparative analysis" of Hillbrow, a depressed neighborhood of Johannesburg with a large population of Senegalese immigrants, and Senegal capital Dakar. In 2006, while preparing for a two-week residency in Dakar and their participation in the Dak'Art Biennale 'Off' Program, the artists asked Hillbrow-based Senegalese immigrants to draw memory maps of their home city, which they would use to navigate the capital during their stay. Over the course of the residency, the artists documented their journey in photographs and video and even visited friends and relatives of the mapmakers. For the 2007 exhibition of their project at University of Johannesburg, Neustetter and Hobbs conducted a twenty-person walk from the campus, in Auckland Park, to a Congolese nightclub in Hillbrow, where the project was discussed by art-goers, neighborhood residents and the mapmakers. Neustetter and Hobbs' project thus does not profess to establish any authoritative study of the respective cities it maps, but rather overlays remembrance, map-making, navigation and the documentary image to tell the specific tales of a group of immigrants and a broader story about home, migration and place. - Tyler Coburn

Image Credit: Ali Jaiteh, Memory ...

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Life Transformations

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There's a very nepotistic event happening tonight at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies (the new venue with a whopper of a name presenting great science-related art), and it looks good! Chris, Birgitta, and Geoff Bjornsson happen to be siblings with some shared interests--go figure, maybe they had similar childhoods--but they are each making distinct "artworks that represent living biological systems." The common thread in the work they'll present at tonight's panel, "Essence: Transfigure," is an interest in "transformation from one state to another," whether that shift happens in a single cell, an entire organism, or a larger ecosystem. The Bjornssons use a variety of media to address and imagine these transfigurations. Birgitta Bjornsson's project, The Space of Disgust employs photography, film, sculpture, installation, and drawing to explore the terrain between the idealized no-place of utopian environments and the reality of the disorder and decay wrought by the very nature of our own biological existence, if not our culture's compulsion to pollute. Real-life scientist Chris Bjornsson's The Illuminated Veil, uses "immunohistochemistry and spectral confocal microscopy to highlight specific cells within the brain." The end result is a series of large-scale microscopic images that seek to map and pinpoint the identifying characteristics and relationships between every cell of our brain. If Chris's creative impetus seems to entail an almost impossible feat, his brother Geoff Bjornsson's work is more fantastical. Inspired by a constellation of interests in minimal Japanese animation, science fiction, and the tradition of hand-crafting, his sculpture, Sleeping golem II, is a vessel made with the potential to "enshrine a spirit." The container sleeps until aroused by a spirit, though that spirit will suffer karmic damage by choosing the vessel as its home. Obvious mechanical challenges ensue... Each ...

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Mixing It Up at Eyebeam's MIXER

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In New York or any other busy urban nexus, it's all too easy to submit to the tyranny of rushing from one destination to another. How much more pleasant -- and artistically fruitful -- it can be to drift through one's environment, sampling its many sensory experiences at leisure. Last Saturday, at Manhattan's Eyebeam, a new media art party called MIXER offered many delights, from cerebral to bawdy, for those who took the time to explore and savor them. First launched in November last year, MIXER is the art-and-technology center's quarterly event featuring performances by acclaimed video and audio artists, as well as interactive installations inviting creative play by the attendees.



One highlight on Saturday was London-based VJ group D-Fuse's performance of "Latitude", an ambient cinematic exploration of everyday life in the rapidly developing Chinese cities of Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Chongqing. Inspired by the Situationists' notion of "la dérive" (drifting through cities in response to their emotional impacts), the piece wanders among all sorts of urban tableaux, from the mundane and intimate to the grandiose. Fragments of conversations, shots of crowds, and architectural forms such as the vein-like loops of a Shanghai overpass combine to create an evocative portrait of cities in growth.




D-Fuse, Overpass, 2007


In one stunning opening clip, we see a girl emerging onto her apartment balcony -- then the camera slowly (and vertiginously) pulls back in midair, gradually revealing the immense grids of her high-rise and the construction sites that make up her neighborhood. In another shot, kids perform a dance routine on a dull green field, their sheer numbers and the vivid blue-and-white colors of their uniforms forming a kaleidoscopic pop of energy. While many scenes of street life and urban architecture might recall U.S. cities, other footage is suffused with ...

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Desire in Digital

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Pornography was one of the internet's earliest forms of content and has arguably propelled the development of online imaging and video formats. Consistently the net's most financially viable material, the heavy presence of online porn has also contributed to the social formation of desire. Despite the growth of Porn Studies as an academic field of inquiry, creative and intellectual studies of digital porn are scarce. Digitalia: Intimacy in the Hyperreal is a group exhibition curated by Evan J. Garza at Houston's Deborah Colton Gallery to address this gap. Artists Charles Cohen (pictured), Graham Guerra, Tracey Emin, Daniel Handal, Sean Johnson, Steven Miller, Ray Ogar, Alexander Reyna, and Robert Yarber present work drawing on the broad spectrum of online sites of desire, moving beyond the hardcore to also consider internet dating services, social networking sites, and even instant messaging applications in order to articulate the role of these technologies in constructing intimacy, and the shape that these shared connections might take. Underlying the show's organizational logic is an interest in questions of reality as they relate to the supposed intangibility of the electronic currents and pixels that comprise the source material at hand. But just as theorists have demonstrated the corporeal aspects of fantasy, the work selected for Digitalia ultimately points to an important sense of materiality in relation to web surfing, image downloading, and other aspects of situational voyeurism. If intimacy is about the space between people, Digitalia carves out a markedly poignant space for considering the libidinal realities of digital culture. The show is open January 12-March 1, 2008. - Marisa Olson

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