Friday, December 27, 2013

My book review: Talk To Me, Design and the Communication between People and Objects

I wrote this back in May, but it didn't seem relevant until I realized that I have to brush up on my knowledge of design for a 2D Design class I'll be teaching in January at EMU. This is going to be my last review of 2013 on the catalog/book for the exhibition "Talk to Me: Communication Between People and Objects" which was actually published back in 2011.

What stands for great design today doesn't usually translate into what interests me most at the moment: conceptual works that reflect on life.

A digital projection makes it easier to read the news, to say hello, to evoke your emotions, to play games, makes it easier to pray, to spray graffiti, to make cute hybrid animals, (and by easier I mean kind of expensive) so what? Somehow a device that is a metaphor for transferring useful information (it's meaningfulness is questionable) is meant to be lauded as progress. I see it as invention-porn, the excitement of being able to sell a million units to some people somewhere.

I think there's a problem here because all of the examples in the book assume that they represent a kind of consensus on problems and their solutions, but really it's use and audience is quite a narrow point of view. Not only that, but all of the ideas are in some way are about being so unique that it's patent is really really important. The distribution of the ideas that it contains is such that although it could inspire lots of useful applications, 99% of the time that will never happen because you'll have to pay someone for that idea that most likely came from somewhere else but was packaged better by them. If it's free that means that most likely it will ask to brand you, but most likely will do something along the lines of tracking your purchases to sell to companies. 

I'm hope that I don't come off as being anti-design or technology, I am interested in the collective aspects of both design and technology. I'm interested in objects that help us pause for reflection and honestly, I would probably like every product in this book if it somehow was made by someone anonymously and it gave names to people and companies that are willing to produce products similar to it. I like different design products, but I'm very practical in a radical way. I like computers that allow me to steal software and do my work and doesn't become obsolete after 3 years. I like that my iPhone allowed me to take video, track its whereabouts when I lost it and transfers my contacts to the next phone. In effect that means it allowed me to make art, make up for my regular difficulties in life but also to allow a semblance of its use (as an address book) to be able to be transferred easily. This is not how I define good design/technology, but what I do with this object is treat it as a different kind of tool, one which I don't mind if it tracked my every move since it could find its way back to me if I lost it, that seems like a fair trade (an iPhone is very expensive). If I don't want to be tracked, I just won't bring my phone with me, problem solved.

Perhaps what I'm trying to say is that we've got bigger problems. At this moment (I was applying to be a volunteer for GalGael in Glasgow) I have to prove that I should be able to volunteer for an organisation that I believe provides me with more meaning than any job I can apply for and yet I still have to be just as professional sans pay. Perhaps it is more important for people to take calculated risks bringing me on, than it is important for people like me to be able to take calculated risks. 

Or perhaps what most people dislike about 'design' is how it is advertised for maximum consumption, but should we be so offended by marketing? I might agree that it's appropriate to be angry at the ways that one can turn a phrase so that a 'want' appears to be a 'need' or fein that a physical product offers nothing short of 'happiness' with a dash of the 'american dream', but shouldn't we be spending our time thinking about how it's equally plausible to leverage something against itself, perhaps judo-like (trust-o-corp)? Or knowing the enemy better and through education/parenting do something that is equally powerful rendering oneself and others to be immune? And perhaps if there really was an issue with an advertisement (such as that it for example provokes subtle xenophobia) then we should instate our rights to make a response to be held up to the same volume level so that a conversation about values can take place, and a moment of reflection can occur.

Where I will end this 'review' is on the works that I did like and although I can't put my finger on what separates them from the rest, I do think it has something to do with when the design seems to crossover  into contemporary art that has greater implications, but I'll try to sum up something...

Why: It uses a culturally American angry conversation from a cult-film to affect the shapes of a traditional place setting that you have to see to believe.

Why: It anthropomorphises a picture frame that jealously messes with your other electronics.

Why: This is a small, simple tool that goes a long way to promoting individuals to develop their own business, I actually sold a work of art using this system.

Why: This work seems more like a work of art than a work of design as I'm sure these products exist already, so it must be more about the experience within the exhibition.

Why: It takes in account how technology has already changed our lives (towards artificiality) and uses it to function artificially better. There's a real interest in poetry in this person's work.

Why: This book concept is so good I wish that they could do this for every animal that people consume.

Why: Probably the easiest thing that people could recreate themselves and it almost seems like it doesn't belong in the book, but it's perhaps because it's so lo-fi.

Why: It seems almost strange that it took until 2004 for a project like this to be so popular that he has received half a million secrets, we should call this year the year of hope, because we all know how that turned out.

Why: The game is the application of survival of the fittest taken through its extreme of the cards one is dealt in life (our genes) This game would not nearly be as fun if it included socioeconomics.

Why: Taking the well understood of tracking packages to tracking crimes, it's a nice idea to promote civic participation, I'm also trying to fend off as much cynicism that I could have with this.

Why: This is probably an art exhibition that everyone thinks they thought of it, but was never able to pull it off 

Why: It reminds me of the amazing creativity that teachers can display with having no resources but given the task to explain not only the world, but the universe.
The Sun, 75cm Yoga Ball, Afroworld

Bat Billboard (Chris Woebken and Natalie Jeremijenko) 2008

Why: Imagine if this concept was used also for whales, did they ever end up proving causation between sonar and beaching? 

Why: Now that is effin' cute.

Why: It turns a game of war into pleasure

This book clarifies for me some things about the potential of design, and yet of all of these projects, no one has poetically considered augmented reality or used it in any meaningful way whatsoever. It is neither so basic that my imagination fills in the rest of the information, nor so advanced that I feel like it will change how we see the world. Also, this catalog is presented as a book with a few QR catalogs, really? I mean… really? Talk about missed opportunity.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

My art review: Nicola Kuperus and Adam Lee Miller: Situations/S(h)ituations

"The Mascots" Wood, paint, safety cone, "old pink potty chair" and behind that "Entrance" and "Structure No. 2"

The contemporary art world is becoming infiltrated with talented musicians showing off how much more cool they are than visual artists. (Ever think about how funny it is how some colleges try to claim their bastard spawn ex-students once they drop out and form a successful band? This blog is not about that.) I'm talking though about a trend of musicians utilizing the gallery space as a kind of prop to support an album release, like the Ssion and Jay-Z. And for some reason I've been thinking a lot about the confusingly successful melding of new and old with Bob Dylan's newest music video. That music video also gets at the point of where the concept of making good music and good art dissolves, whatever it is, it should entice multiple readings, multiple plays to appreciate how profound it is in its expansiveness.

Seeing Nicola Kuperus and Adam Lee Miller's show twice is a good idea.

Nicola Kuperus presents Adam Lee Miller for the cleanest show one might find concerning feces. As a follow up to the process based John Cage show at the Center Galleries, S(h)ituations is highly controlled, sometimes neurotic, but tightly executed. Their reputations precede them as these two have worked hard making a name for themselves as the addictively abrasive musical cult ADULT. Nicola in particular is well recognized for her stylistic photography which grew well into collaborative slasher video works. My favorite piece of the show comes out of her newest development into creating self-referential pieces, one in particular where she becomes a very large terse red bow, perfect for the holiday season.

"Angry Bow" (ed. 1 of 5) 

I am deeply intimidated by them when I see them as Musicians. They recently won a Knight Foundation matching grant to bring in guest musicians from around the world into their home as they cram 75 or so days, possibly in a row, to whip out a new album. They are quite the masochists. 

Closeup of "Billboard"

I believe I was talking to the Scottish visual artist Tessa Lynch in regards to her partner Owen who is a drummer, about the jealously that bubbles up when I think about how much fun he looks like he's having while playing drums. (Broad generalizations here about musicians) There also seems to be less assumptions that anything truly "new" is supposed to be created, it is easy enough to jam with a group of people on a whim even if proper instruments aren't handy, and it would not be unusual for ones career to consider going abroad from city to city to showcase their talents. The best part however, is that for most artists that dabble in music and vice versa, you generally find people that are willing to not take themselves too seriously.

"Pulling Wool" (ed. 1 of 3) Looping Video

Looking solely at their visual work I get the feeling that as accomplished as they are in their careers it would seem that they are trying to get their bearings again as visual artists. Besides the one-point perspective in all of the paintings all the pieces are centered. The work is focused and concise, all the subjects are contained. If a piece seems to be edging too close to being a one-liner it may be because it is evident that some of the works are made as efficiently as possible and partially dictated by Home Depot's stock of construction materials. One of them mentioned that sometimes doing art helped them to get out from becoming too burnt out as musicians, I think Jimmy Edgar would suggest that they try some meditation. The only piece that did not have a singular vantage point of sorts was "Vista Point", a fabricated urinal with steps on the side that were not actually meant to be walked upon. It provided them with the joy of watching people climb their sculpture, hear the viewers' disappointment, and come back down to be called out as a Pervert by the artists. There is the sense that they've always wanted to call everybody else out for being weird, and this is something I wish they could have explored even more through their exhibition because the element of alienation works so well in their music, why would they stop there?

They also talked of being more conscious to make the time to see museum shows while they're out touring as a band. I wonder if Nicola has seen Erwin Wurm's one minute sculptures even though some of her photos reminded me more of Abu Ghraib yoga, or if Adam knew that the city of Glasgow has given up on taking down a cone from the Duke of Wellington's head in Glasgow as subversive acts by the public. I wanted to tell them that after seeing an image of work done at the Mattress Factory they'd really love the work of Scottish artist Anthony Schrag

"Table Top (Maine)" (ed. 1 of 3)

As they said in their artist talk they are attempting to find out if this absurd experiment is going to work. They are a married couple trying to marry together all of their interests. Some tensions that were thrown around included:

The Serious vs. Ridiculous
The Individual vs. Collective
Serendipity vs. Branding
Setting something up to be a reversal vs. balance
dehumanizing elements vs. something personal 
working harder vs. anxiety of not working hard enough (but curiously no mention of working less hard)
Barriers vs. Corrals
producing a twist like a magic trick vs. multiple readings

"Vapor Corrals" Acrylic on canvas over panel (triptych) and "Table Top (Maine)" (ed. 1 of 3)

The best work appeared to be neither a reference to their dark aesthetic nor visual supplements to their records, but some of the simple pleasures of being foul. I did actually feel vulnerable staring down into a urinal when I realized that if someone else took a photo of me and cropped out the steps, I simply can't think of a believable explanation. Also again the swearing bow tickled me pink, and the way it shook, it could have been lampooning a cute Pixar character or any number of invented digital characters selling us car insurance.

There is something overly cautious about many of the works needing to be well crafted, or at least fabricated by them, when the previous John Cage show critiqued the space as a neutral white cube. If the paintings were so interested in commenting on the path of the viewer within a piece, wouldn't the next logical step be to actually mess with the viewers and go beyond setting everything up to be a stage for them to enact ridiculous scenarios to be seen by onlookers? The vantage point one sees when immediately entering the gallery seems to the dominating vantage point for the whole time you are in the show. Also, why do they get to have all the fun?

"Suggestive Floor Plan" Acrylic on canvas over panel next to "Vista Point" Wood, fake tile, paint, commercial restroom stall, toilet, toilet paper

Or what if they decided to go off the deep and just go straight dark and make some truly absurdly helpless works of art in lieu of the Bankruptcy? The city has officially been ok'ed to tactfully axe thousands of pensions, to consider selling off works from the DIA (if it can be combined with larger cuts since it's still not enough money) and do whatever it takes to square the city with the banks and creditors. All of this is paving the way for every other American city to follow suit. Someone I can't mention (since I haven't asked them if I can post this information) has said that their pension has been cut in their city by 80%. I didn't want to press the artists more on the issue, but I asked them about advice they would give to all the other artists in Detroit (since Adam also mentioned in their artist talk that one of his paintings was in part of the tiresome masculine painting) and they mentioned a conversation that hangs in the air that artists here sometimes complain about the unromantic side of being an artist: the grant-writing, the failed proposals, dealing with our own personal impatience, but also about accepting having to work really really hard. I think that "hard work" needs to be parsed here. Creative Capital is on point when they say that one needs to work smarter not harder and I would like to see everyone in Detroit more committed to professional development that considers the fluid global art scene. I don't mean that professional development in the stereotypical sense of building a solid "career", but finding a way to do justice to the vision embodied in your practice (or your personal life) and being committed to continually take risks.

This might just be me, but I felt like I saw Nicola seemingly berating herself for being on the internet for too long and having an inner voice telling her to work harder, which is kind of how I see myself, right now, fresh out of graduate school beating myself up in the same way. Nicola mentioned that they already have their own shit to do deal with, so taking a stab about thinking about the greater art context is a bit too much, but I would argue that it's precisely the kind of work that is necessary and it involves exploring a kind of vulnerability that I don't think that they venture into in their musician personae (they only exude badass), as ADULT, but it's the kind of visual work that she's leaning towards. It's beautiful and important and personal and it doesn't come from putting more hours in at the office...

I also read somewhere that if you're wasting time and having fun, then you're not exactly wasting time. 

"Dead End (with Ceiling Fan)" Acrylic on canvas over panel