Post-internet Curating, Denver Style: An Interview with Carson Chan

Draft Urbanism, the core exhibition program in the latest edition of the Denver-based Biennial of the Americas, brings together practitioners in art, architecture, and film from across the Americas to examine our evolving relationship with the physical and social fabric of our cities. The biennial features a series of newly commissioned works in various public spaces throughout Denver, from breweries to highway medians. Carson Chan, architecture writer and curator, and co-founder of architecture collective Program (Berlin), is Executive Curator of this year’s edition.

Carson Chan in Denver. Photograph: Anthony Camera.

KAREN ARCHEY: Draft Urbanism seems to be more inclusive and unique than your average biennial. Could you describe the curatorial purview and physical format of the biennial, and explain how it is a departure from the standard biennial (i.e. Lyon, Venice)? How does it relate to the biennial you organized in Marrakech last year?

Artist Profile: Lance Wakeling

A Tour of the AC-1 Transatlantic Submarine Cable (2011)

Your videos seem to borrow aspects from narrative filmmaking, the documentary format, amateur travelogues, and even at times experimental cinema. What genre(s) of filmmaking do you see yourself following or challenging?

Well, I don’t really see my videos as being film. One time I tweeted that as an artist I would never let my video work get transferred to film because too much would be lost. It was a joke, but I’m also serious. I mean, it’s hard not to be suspicious of a discipline that has a genre called “experimental.”

From the perspective of how the work is displayed, I feel my videos are not for the cinema. The movie theater flattens space and immobilizes the viewer. I like that people have to stand in a gallery, that they enter and leave the video at random times.

This is quite hypothetical, however, because in practice, most of my work is viewed online, where the artist has even less control.

In your videos you pull images and clips from a variety of sources including Google Street View, web-based image searches, and your own self-shot footage. Your videos range from twenty to thirty minutes in length. How do you structure this footage with the essays that make up your screenplay? How long does it take you to finish a video?

For Christmas my sister gave me an image from a brain scan she took of a human hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for short- and long-term memory and spatial navigation. The hippocampus looks like a sea horse and its etymology reflects this. The functions of the hippocampus intrigue me.

During the making of A Tour of the AC-1 Transatlantic Submarine Cable I researched each location extensively ...


Wired Differently: Joel Holmberg at American Contemporary

Installation View: Joel Holmberg, Soft Laws (2013), American Contemporary, New York

If we look back at the community of artists associated with the surf club Nasty Nets, including John Michael Boling, Michael Bell-Smith, Aleksandra Domanović, Joel Holmberg, and Kevin Bewersdorf, to name a few, we’ll see that they’ve continued on extremely heterogeneous paths. Some, such as John Michael Boling and Kevin Bewersdorf, have slowed down or halted their artistic practices to pursue careers in IT or other ventures, while others—say Aleksandra Domanović and Michael Bell-Smith—have enjoyed considerable success in the art market, both artists being represented by notable commercial galleries. Holmberg, the subject of this article, gained attention in 2010 for his existential-yet-slightly-trolling Legendary Account included in Free, curated by former Rhizome Executive Director Lauren Cornell. For Legendary Account, Holmberg asked the normally utilitarian Yahoo! Answers site questions such as “Does having a crummy day-job help stimulate your creativity?”, “Is it possible to jet ski or sea doo in the dead sea?”, or “How long does post-coital last?”. Holmberg and Cornell exhibited blown-up, printed documentation of the account at the New Museum, and the account is now archived on Rhizome’s Art Base.

Two years later, Holmberg studies at Yale’s Master of Fine Arts Program and has launched his first commercial gallery exhibition in New York at American Contemporary (previously Museum 52) in NoHo. Holmberg’s Soft Laws presents an array of sculpture divergent in size and material. We see a plaster-covered lamp shade, jib crane, fiberglass chair built on top of a filing cabinet, ceramic tile, pencil wall drawings, etc.—these works unified by their almost slapdash handmade nature and implicit sense of humor. While Holmberg’s humor has always been prevalent in his oeuvre, the heightened, studio-born materiality of his newer work may seem something of a new thing. Like his humor, connecting the artist’s process is his tendency to continually relate back to how our identities can be subsumed by clichés, platitudes, and larger systems of thought by the relationships and interactions that they script.

If Holmberg’s Legendary Account sought to de-script the Yahoo! Answers format by introducing the site to an air of jocularity and existentialism, his new sculptural works in Soft Laws exaggerate and re-script common artistic materials as well as the popular characterization of the artist. Take the painterly Emotional Bioré (2012), one piece in a series of five large wall-mounted works using ceramic tile as a base with plaster pushed through back to front—mimicking, the artist says, the functionality of backlit digital screens. Sourcing sheets of tile that have yet to grouted, Holmberg considers the medium of the tile to be a scripted material that prompts the user’s action (i.e., there are grooves between individual tiles, and they will only adhere to a surface if one grouts them, thus one must grout them. This effect isn’t terribly unlike the act of posting a status update to social networking sites in order for it to be liked. For example, I’m going to post a photo of myself smiling on the beach so that my friends will confirm how relaxed and tan I look.) Holmberg douses the plaster composition’s front with printer ink while it sets, imbuing it a saturated, CMYK feel. When splattered, the ink changes the topography of the plaster to appear similar to a lunar surface or Pollock-inspired drip, itself a scripted gesture pointing toward the bravado of the oft-drunk, late-Modernist abstract expressionist painter—perhaps pop culture’s favorite portrayal of the romantic, tortured artist.

Joel Holmberg, Verner Panton Chair with Filing Cabinet (2012)

Between Early, Prime and Afternoon: Omer Fast at the Wexner Center

Installation view of Omer Fast: 2001/11 Wexner Center for the Arts, The Ohio State University
Courtesy of gb agency, Paris, and Arratia Beer, Berlin Photo: Mark Steele

“We were going for the ‘faceless Modernism’ look,” says curator Christopher Bedford during a tour of the two-video exhibition “Omer Fast: 2001/2011” at Ohio State’s Wexner Center. (I’d visited the Columbus museum days before Bedford’s appointment as the Director of the Rose Museum at Brandeis University.)  “We attempted to recreate the environment that one would inhabit while watching primetime news in 2001,” he says, as we peruse the aesthetically innocuous, comically “normal” room surrounding Fast’s 2002 video CNN Concatenated.  “It all comes from Ikea,” explains Bedford, “and we were actually a bit fearful that this lamp may be a bit too tasteful.” The lamp looked like a rolled-up, bioluminescent albino armadillo, though surprisingly slightly tasteful. Nearby, a television sits center stage in a faux-mahogany entertainment set, an oversized silver ampersand “accent piece” next to it. From the television blares a jerky monologue enunciated by varying, always-pristine news anchors. Each individual word is a frame depicting a flash of a different newscaster—some reporting on 9/11—which are strung together to form sentences. (Hence “CNN Concatenated,” the latter word meaning “to link together in a chain or series.”) Fast utilizes a sort of supercut stylistically reminiscent of “The Clock,” yet its source material is hundreds of hours of taped new programs throughout post-9/11 2001. Rapidly oscillating through various TV personalities, the monologue is distinctly divorced from anything a news anchor may usually utter: 

Listen to me I want to tell you something

Come closer

Don't be upset and don't get emotional

Just get near me and pay attention please

Look, I know that you're scared

I know what you're afraid of

You mistrust your body

Lately it has been looking more and more foreign

It's been doing strange things



To Reveal While Veiling: On the 2012 Whitney Biennial

Installation view, Whitney Biennial (2012)

Looking back at the time in which I was beginning to study art, one could describe the motivations I shared with my peers as generally aspirational and humanitarian. We felt different. We wanted to change the world. We thought of the institution of art as a discipline in which alternative personalities flourish, critical thinking is lauded, and that creativity (in all of its various forms) is esteemed far more than financial privilege. Having participated in the art industry for a number of years, these ideas now seem not only naïve, but provide a blueprint for precisely how the art world does not operate; our collective wills becoming inured to the faux-radical, contradictory reality that the institution of art exists in today.

On the occasion of the 2012 Whitney Biennial, Andrea Fraser writes of the crisis of the art institution, “The glaring, persistent, and seemingly ever-growing disjunction between those legitimizing discourses [of art]—above all in their critical and political claims—and the social conditions of art generally…has appeared to me as profoundly and painfully contradictory, even as fraudulent.” Her essay for the Biennial catalogue “There’s no place like home,” painstakingly delineates what she perceives to be the impossibility of participating in the institution of art in good conscience due to its compliant enrichment from the increasing financial inequality of the last decade. Acknowledging the fact that this inequity is precisely what art purports to act against, Fraser considers possible methods through which this quandary may be alleviated. She posits, almost fatalistically, that “Certainly it is less painful to resolve these conflicts symbolically, in artistic, intellectual, and even political gestures and position-takings, than to resolve them materially—to the marginal extent that it is within our power to do so in our own lives—with choices that would entail sacrifices and renunciations. Even these sacrifices may be preferable, for some, to the pain of wanting what we also hate, and hating what we also are and also love...” Heady prose for a biennial catalogue.

Dawn Kasper

K8 Hardy, May 20th, 2012 at 2012 Whitney Biennial

Taking Fraser’s essay as preamble, 2012 Whitney Biennial co-curators Jay Sanders and Elizabeth Sussman have approached the nearly insurmountable task of surveying the art of the last two years by symbolic rather than material means...


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Rhizome Today

Hi Zach -- I'm really enjoying these daily link round-ups, keep 'em coming! I have a question about yesterday's RhizomeToday. Could you please explain what you mean by "If you're not engaged, you're not paying attention" in regard to this --> ? Curious to hear whether you consider this a critical practice or otherwise an "engaging" Instagram feed, or both, etc?


Report from Frieze New York

Yeah, I thought it was a unique work for Thompson! Glad you liked it, too.


JODI: Street Digital

FYI this is the wall text materials line for GEO GOO which states that it is documentation: "GEO GOO, 2008
Video documentation of Web-based work using Google Maps,
Web browser, custom server-based software"

And regarding, "experience, calling attention to the fact": I actually directly quoted the press release, so this isn't my grammar to fix! ;)


London Calling

A couple general thoughts, while I'm not going to respond to anyone
individually, any and everyone is welcome to respond to be personally
via email (karchey at artic dot edu): This article was conceived to
be experimental in tone, and meant to read as semi-narrative and
highly subjective, not to mention lighthearted and somewhat
anti-professional. If that's "grating," so be it. This
subjectivity renders the piece as a story about a trip: its
structure; the people I met and how I met them; what phenomena,
artists, and exhibitions I found to be remarkable; etc. Importantly,
this is not an objective profile about "what is significant in
London." As I mentioned in the article I don't think it's a
generative practice to speak with such authoritative measure in this
instance, especially if refusing the adoption of this authoritative
voice admits the impossibility of encapsulating a scene
journalistically. Thank you, though, to everyone who got up in arms
about the article "missing something," (especially those of
you who knew I was in London and writing something about London…?)
because this reaction proves the common expectation of a journalist
is to be fair and open, socialized, egalitarian, objective and
critical, etc.. These mandated characteristics, upon further
reflection, seem not only silly and conservative but contradictory.
Beyond Furtherfield, I also missed, skipped or omitted Paul Pieroni
of SPACE and the upcoming Rhododendron ii,
Amalia Ulman and Felix Lee's Mawu-Lisa show, Iain Ball, Emily Jones,
Ed Fournieles, Rachel Reupke, Stuart Comer, Seventeen Gallery, Paul B. Davis, etc. etc.,
I could go on for ages. And if you feel a certain space wherever
doesn't get enough play, why not write about it yourself? Personally,
I'm certainly not done writing about my experiences across the pond.

The observation that London seems more politically engaged was purely an
empirical one, and one made apparent by the massive student protests
in London, as well as the many conversations I had there. A
proclivity for thinking critically about social networks signals that
there's a collective awareness about the problematics of Facebook,
etc., and that those critical don't adhere to it blindly. In NY, I've only seen artists proselytizing their own work via Facebook, with little heed paid to the significance of their utilization of that tool. In London, I met a few people, including Ed Fournieles, who have created their own social networks online or IRL in order to study or reflect upon their functionality or maybe even render them obsolete for a small public.

I second Ben that while London "feels" more political,
(and, yes, of course, OBVIOUSLY no one can prove that), NYC also
often feels more theoretically-engaged. And perhaps this is because
of my experience writing for NYC-based publications and my
participation in a NYC-based media theory reading group. But I'd also
argue that these worlds, of course, are incredibly diverse (and I'm
not referring solely [or at all?] to the "internet art scene,"),
NYC for one feels less cognizant of its existence as a cog in the
wheel of the art market compared to London, and maybe even more
desperate. There are many more observations one can make
that may be over generalized or may be felt collectively--but they'll only be rendered substantive through conversation. As
understood by a few people here, this article was written to both
communicate ideas but also hopefully ignite some conversation between
the two cities.

Jennifer Chan, you can find my article on the Piccadillly Community Centre on Art-Agenda.