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


Image: Peter Flemming, Canoe, 2008

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

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 ...


Global Encoder, Techno Buddha, Hacker Newbie (1990s) - Nam June Paik


Global Encoder

Techno Buddha

Hacker Newbie

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Social Work for Robots


Jon Rubin's work "explores the social dynamics of public spaces and the lives of ordinary individuals." Often working in collaboration with other artists, institutions, and members of the general public, his projects have included setting up a gallery that exhibits only information about the neighborhood's inhabitants, broadcasting an office's telephone conversations through a talking piano, producing a cable access variety show at a senior center, and a variety of fake businesses that traded on interaction and the art of conversation. The artist's two most recent projects offer a glimpse into the delicate balance of precision and irony that render his work so poignant. Earlier this month, at Los Angeles' Machine Project, Rubin's A Practical Demonstration was "an exercise in suspended orbits, suspended disbelief, and circular group formations." It's the latter, the part about people standing in circles, that is so interesting. As the artist played director, a group of local amateur videographers captured a 360-degree image of a stuntman jumping from the gallery's second floor window. (He was going for "a very clumsy 'Matrix' effect.") Simultaneously, a circle of international collaborators documented the activity of the sun over a 24-hour period. The result of all this participatory documentation was an edited two-channel video in which both the jumper and the sun appear to float in mid-air. On its own, such a video project visually resembles many that have come before it, but Rubin sets his apart by devoting special attention to the details of social collaboration, thus creating a more meaningful experience. The same can be said of his current project taking place on the streets of Pittsburgh, in collaboration with the legendary installation art museum, The Mattress Factory. Like many of his initiatives, Join the Human to Robot Army began with a ...