"Time doesn't exist when you're... just chilling!" Topping an administrative page on the site of curatorial collective Jstchillin, this slogan rephrases a familiar bit of folk phenomenology: Time flies when you're having fun! But in denying time's existence, rather making its perceived acceleration a metaphor for losing yourself in the moment, the slogan suggests a swap of the trinity of past-present-future for something else -- a sense of time that (until the end of this essay, at least) I will call "chill time." Jstchillin is concerned with the internet, and my description of chill time will be, too. It entails an awareness of parallel threads of messages, ordered by clock-time sequence and subjective assignments of importance (cf. Facebook's feed settings: "Top News" and "Most Recent"), and the knowledge that these messages will wait until you find them (in your e-mail, in your RSS aggregator, etc.) but might be irrelevant when you do if you wait too long. Chill time is simultaneity of the recent past and lagging present, the sum of attempts to track some threads into the past and push others toward the future. Awareness of physical surroundings tends to be fuzzy as you sift through old layers of digital sediment and deposit new ones. Jstchillin founders Caitlyn Denny and Parker Ito describe it like this: "[T]o chill is to live in a constant state of multiplicities, a flow of existence between web and physicality."
Jstchillin encompasses a number of initiatives, including the gallery show "Avatar 4D," but its flagship project is "Serial Chillers in Paradise," an online exhibition that has featured a different artist every other week since October 2009. Chill time, I think, is the central theme of "Serial Chillers," one that many commissioned artists have approached through conventional associations with chilling. Video games were the subject of an illustrated short story/film treatment by Jon Rafman, and Jonathan Vingiano's browser add-on Space Chillers was a game. Ida Lehtonen's contribution folded soothing ocean sounds into a video of exercises that computer laborers can do to stay limber during breaks, while Eilis Mcdonald's sent you scrolling through bits of pat, New-Agey advice and then to a page with equivalent visuals; both artists drew on packaged relaxation. Zach Schipko and Tucker Bennett's feature-length movie Why Are You Weird?, parceled into YouTube uploads, is a story of art-school students who spend almost all of their onscreen time at parties or hanging out in their dorm rooms, rehashing crits.
Found objects have had a place in art for nearly a century, but the practice has seemed particularly pervasive in recent years, as approaches from both contemporary and historical perspectives have attempted to redefine it as appropriation, nonmonumental, unmonumental, or "combining crap with crap." Fascination with old or overlooked marginalia could be regressive melancholia spawned of the Bush era's resigned cynicism, or sympathy for the poor objects in spite of high-tech consumption. Whatever the case, the sensibility saturates Shana Moulton's Whispering Pines, a series of videos and performances. While sculptural assemblage clusters objects in space, Moulton spreads her thrift-store and gift-shop finds over time. Rather than tracing the artist's web of references through stationary contemplation, the viewer of Whispering Pines is led through the process as Cynthia, the heroine, interacts with the things she has chosen to surround herself with. A Magic Eye 3D poster transports her to a zone of free movement. A swamp-colored facial mask opens a green-screen gateway to a forest clearing. If, in a readymade or sculptural assemblage, the artist endows objects with totemic power by isolating and emphasizing their formal properties (or the subjective associations they evoke for her), then Moulton gives that principle a radically literal interpretation in Whispering Pines, where objects' properties and associations acquire the power to shape the narrative.
The ambient noise of common machines and the unexpected sounds that come from familiar objects have been a part of music for some time, but over the last fifteen years French artist Céleste Boursier-Mougenot has been joining the two, using instruments and objects to construct complex, apparently self-sufficient systems that play music without any beginnings, endings, or performers. Videodrones (2001) isolates and amplifies the hum that all video signals make when hooked into audio systems. From Here to Ear (1999) now showing at the Barbican in London, is an aviary that resonates when its finches alight on electric guitars. In Harmonichaos, which was on view at Paula Cooper Gallery until this weekend, Boursier-Mougenot affixes the grooves of harmonicas to the mouths of vacuum cleaners, and the staggered grid of thirteen pairs produces an undulating, reedy drone.
The set-up of Harmonichaos could only be the product of a playful mind, even though its appearance deflects suggestions of human involvement. Both the vacuums and harmonicas have an assembly-line sameness, and while they perform according to design, their functions have been diverted away from the needs for clean homes and entertaining song that they were intended to meet. As a viewer and listener, you're made to feel like a confused outsider: a system of switches modulates the intensity of the air flow, as well as the sound emanating from the vacuum cleaners, but it's nearly impossible to identify the source of these fluctuations. False clues are sent by a randomized blinking of bulbs on the vacuums' bodies. As usual, Boursier-Mougenot brings a sense of humor to his work, from the irony of the hokey harmonica becoming eerie when forced to drone (like the accordion in the music of Pauline Oliveros) to the punning title. He finds both harmony and chaos in ...
Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Grey upset the purpose of portraiture--rather than preserving the memory of its subject in his best light, the painting of the title grew gradually uglier to record Grey's sins, even as he kept the beauty that facilitated his sinning--but left intact art's status as an attribute of rich, leisured living. The arch moral tale is invoked twice in "Virtuoso Illusion: Cross-Dressing and the New Media Avant-Garde," an exhibition currently on view at MIT's List Visual Arts Center. Michelle Handelman's hour-long, four-channel video Dorian, 2009, loosely retells Wilde's novel with club kids standing in for opium eaters. In her ghoulishly lit self-portrait Dorian Grey, Manon appears messily caked in makeup, wearing a baggy gray suit, like the corporate conscience of a hedonist spirit. Both of these works introduce to drag a story about beauty, representation, and pleasure, and the anxieties that attend them. This suggests there's more to "Virtuoso Illusion" than an exercise in gender studies; as exhibition curator Michael Rush writes, "[i]n each major historical advancement of experimental art, cross dressing has been present as a strategy that has expanded the possibilities of the perception-bending intentions of artists (as opposed to merely gender-bending)."
Google's mission "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful" centers around faith in the power of the keyword to unlock its bottomless treasure chest and put the right answer in one window. Years have passed since the company's ranking algorithm outpaced the approach of human navigators filing information into channels -- an approach that Yahoo has been trying to keep alive by farming the digital labor to users themselves. But even as search algorithms make dinosaurs of the Dewey decimal and other brain-powered systems, it might be worth considering the benefits of staying open to a plurality of variously scaled methods.
These issues converge in Danny Snelson's work as a writer, editor, and archivist. His titles increasingly overlap in the internet's library without walls--an environment that often embodies the Foucauldian idea that "one never archives without editorial frames and 'writerly' narratives (or designs)," as Snelson put it in an email. As an archivist, he has made substantial efforts to preserve endangered cultural artifacts -- making them universally accessible and useful, you might say -- on behalf of PennSound, an audio archive specializing in recorded poetry, and UbuWeb, where, at the suggestion of founder Kenneth Goldsmith, he scanned out-of-print titles and reformatted them as PDFs for free distribution via the site's /ubu channel. The PennSounds and UbuWebs of the internet undertake preservation projects that small presses and recording labels can't touch due to financial reasons, thus ensuring that experimental work will continue to reach audiences in years to come. Distribution networks like these matter in an environment where the internet (for those without access to academic libraries, at least) is often the first and last stop for research -- a realization that impelled Goldsmith to formulate a radical ontology in the title of his 2005 essay, "If it doesn't exist on the internet, it doesn't exist."