Through October 4, the Laguna Art Museum in Laguna Beach is presenting “WoW: Emergent Media Phenomenon”, an exhibition that considers the fantasy environment of the massively multiplayer online role-playing game World of Warcraft and its broader cultural impact. It includes works by gaming-conscious artists like Tale of Tales and Radical Software Group as well as pieces produced by staff at the company that develops WoW, Blizzard Entertainment. Curator Grace Kook Anderson answered a few questions about the show.
What aspects of World of Warcraft as an emergent media phenomenon do you find most interesting as a curator?
WoW has been a rich subject. What I find compelling in this game is that the narrative lineage passing through J.R.R. Tolkien and Dungeons and Dragons sets the framework of the game, but the players add that extra narrative layer. Another aspect that is remarkable is the democratic nature of cultural production that a game like WoW stimulates, such as the enormous volume of fan art and machinima to artists working in different media. And as an MMORPG, WoW is also a network and a community for so many people. It is amazing how game culture and reality interact.
Could you discuss a few of the artworks you selected and how they expand on these aspects of gaming in general and massively multiplayer gaming in particular?
In the case of quite a few of the artists, WoW imagery or content is used to point to greater issues, such as questioning the idea of networking and community or looking at the implications of globalization and the threat of terrorism. Aram Bartholl led a workshop and performance takes an aspect from the ...!--more-->
A year ago the Museum of Modern Art’s media galleries hosted “Looking at Music,” an exhibition of process-based work from the 1960s and 1970s that included music videos by pop icons like David Bowie and The Beatles (as well as cult favorites Captain Beefheart and Devo) amid works by Nam June Paik, Joan Jonas, and other avant-garde heroes. Caitlin Jones expanded on the inclusions and their mutual connections in a review on Rhizome; I also wrote about how it traced two paths in process art, which were exemplified by the music of John Cage and Steve Reich. Whatever a viewer brought to the show, it’s safe to say that everyone felt a thrill from the incongruity of watching Bowie’s Space Oddity in MoMA’s white boxes. The approach helped tear Cage, Paik, and their cohorts out of the textbook, and demonstrated that while ideas germinated in strongholds of the creative intellect like Darmstadt or E.A.T.’s “9 Evenings: Theatre & Engineering,” art did not exist in a vacuum. With “Looking at Music,” curator Barbara London set an agenda continued in an essay published in the March 2009 issue of Artforum, making a case for the study of music video in terms of process art in the late twentieth century.
Now “Looking at Music: Side 2,” on view through November 30, offers the flip side as it takes the exploration of the topic into the late 1970s and early ‘80s. If art-world favorites set the tone in last year’s exhibition, “Side 2” is dominated by album covers and concert posters. A sprawling mural of work by rock’n’roll photographer Bob Gruen overlooks a monitor showing a grainy video ...
I don’t remember exactly how I first came across Random Butler’s YouTube channel, besides seeing a video from it in the “Related Videos” sidebar when I was watching something else, and while I can’t say I know much about YouTube’s algorithm for selecting “Related Videos” I suspect the sheer number of videos on the channel helped it get in my window. Since creating his YouTube account on April 24, 2006, Butler has uploaded 1,219 videos—an average of about one a day. And while there are many YouTube users who maintain frequently updated vlogs, Butler’s is the only one I’ve encountered that shifts the video diary’s role from an emotional outlet to a creative one. Instead of focusing on the user’s persona, it presents a direct record of what he sees and what goes on in his inner world. Butler has pointed his web cam at the television as he wins Zelda, and uploaded several “multimedia messages” that show views of a computer screen or out a car window, taken on a Nokia 6102. In recent months, he has been uploading fewer web cam and cell phone videos and spending more time on experiments that distort clips from games and cartoons. A favorite source has been King of the Hill. Like any diary, Butler’s YouTube channel is composed of incremental fragments and best considered as a whole, but nonetheless, I’ll offer a few highlights here.
Michael Guidetti recently released the fifth edition of Skeleton Sweep, a collaborative podcast collage of field recordings and found sound. The project’s poetic title accommodates an array of meanings, from the artist’s embrace of the fleshless quality of sound on an mp3 to the wide-ranging breadth of the material’s origins. Volume 5 includes recordings as diverse as a mother’s affectionate voicemail message, wind chimes, percussive music made with knives, and black boxes of crashed planes.
Skeleton Sweep grew out of Guidetti’s longtime interest in field recordings. Before compiling Volume 1 in March 2007, he mailed a micro-recorder back and forth with a friend living in Japan, to share the sounds of their surroundings. As a serious hobbyist, Guidetti uses high-quality equipment for his own recordings—a Sony DAT walkman with an Audio-Technica stereo mic—but relishes juxtapositions of various qualities of sound. Skeleton Sweep welcomes unsolicited submissions from amateurs but also includes the work of experts, so a volume might take sound off lo-fi cassettes and cell phones as well as pieces by Chris Watson or Toshiya Tsunoda; Volume 4 even has excerpts of compositions by David Tudor and Robert Ashley. Contributors are given credit on the Skeleton Sweep site in a list labeled “Info,” though the term is a bit of an exaggeration, as the barebones descriptions of content on the list often generate more questions than they answer. In any case, when a chorus of witch cackles, a blanket of crickets, and chirping ringtones succeed each other in an early stretch of Volume 5, the connections an active listener draws between those noises—and the nuanced differences of each file’s silence—matter more than the relationship between a sound and ...
From its beginnings ten years ago, e-flux has been an unconventional media model, one that aggregates and distributes announcements for contemporary art exhibitions and events for a fee and uses its profits to fund artist-directed projects. Last November e-flux introduced an online journal with essays by artists and critics. The advertisement-free publication filled a position similar to that of ads in magazines—an appendage that subscribers to the e-flux brand may or may not find useful. To increase the journal’s autonomy from the announcement service—and also to get it off the internet, which is not a favorable environment for long and complex theoretical essays—e-flux announced its plans for a “print-on-demand” feature in February (noted on Rhizome). To get the word out about this new service, e-flux put excerpts of essays from its fourth issue in the summer issues of Parkett, Artforum, Bidoun, Cabinet, Texte Zur Kunst, Afterall, Flash Art, and Frieze. Besides addressing the obstacles an online journal faces in specialized art media, where print still holds a privileged position, the use of editorial as advertising in e-flux’s summer campaign anticipates the shift that will accompany the launch of their print on-demand service this fall, when the journal’s readers can also become its publishers.