New Article on the Art + Politics of Signals, Noises, + Silences


 
A*DESK website landing page (Magazine, 5 August 2019):  https://a-desk.org

A*DESK website landing page (Magazine, 5 August 2019): https://a-desk.org

 

Below find links for the second of four short articles I wrote to be published this summer in A*DESK, a trilingual contemporary art journal produced in Barcelona. Each of these four texts revisits and reframes a previously published article from the A*DESK archive.

TEXT #2: “BACKGROUND SILENCE” BY ANNA DOT (SEPT 2017) (English)
TEXTO NÚMERO 2: «SILENCIO DE FONDO» DE ANNA DOT (SEPTIEMBRE, 2017) (Spanish)
TEXT NÚMERO 2: «SILENCI DE FONS» D’ANNA DOT (SETEMBRE, 2017) (Catalan)

With help borrowed from Ana Dot’s essay “Background Silence,” my introduction aims briefly to invert the celebrated Cagean dogma on the impossibility of silence.

Excerpt from my article:
“If read precisely, Dot’s is not a simple ethics or politics of liberatory difference. It is one that confronts the paradoxical and structural role of negation. Her essay closes: “To remain silent is a right. Personally, day by day I am less able to fill the silences of others with words of my own because I am deafened by the noises they contain.” Silence exists as the force of the negative within noise. In a time when border walls are being planned to support transnational capital, the question to ask is not if there is noise in the clamoring silence at the border. Surely there is. The question is rather: Whose noise is it really? (That is, for whom is it “noise”?) Clearly it is not the noise of the so-called noisy. In the end, the question is not simply a matter of liberating noise from silence but rather of liberating, at least conceptually, the silence from the noise. For we cannot hear noise without its determinative silence.”

New Article on the Political Economy of the Digital Image


 

A*DESK website landing page (Magazine, 5 August 2019): https://a-desk.org

 


This is the first of four short articles I wrote to be published this summer in A*DESK, a trilingual contemporary art journal produced in Barcelona. Each of these four texts revisits and reframes a previously published article from the A*DESK archive.

TEXT NUMBER 1: “FLYING OVER THE DETRITUS OF THE GIF” BY ELOI PUIG (JULY 2016) (English)
TEXTO NÚMERO 1: “SOBREVOLANDO SOBRE LOS DETRITOS DEL GIF” DE ELOI PUIG (JULIO 2016) (Spanish)
TEXTO NÚMERO 1: “SOBREVOLANT SOBRE ELS DETRITS DEL GIF” D’ELOI PUIG (JULIOL 2016) (Catalan)

In a compressed and incomplete way, the article attempts to pose the (political) question of contingency in the digital image by linking Hito Steyerl’s well-known argument in her 2012 essay “In Defense of the Poor Image” to a subtlety in Eloi Puig’s article “Flying over the Detritus of the GIF” (2016).

Excerpt from my article:
“Alongside this potentiality, data analytics will show the opposite dynamic embodied in the person of the “influencer” – those online personalities whose very lack of ambition or pretense defines their public appeal, not only for their followers but also for the corporate brands that recruit them as targeted creators.[2] In sum, the low-res and the glitch – in the broadest sense of these terms – express an unsettled compromise-formation between contradictory interests in postdigital capitalism.”

Lost Grids Update #2: Hex Books


Marcel (Taller Estampa) talking with L’Automàtica master printer

Marcel (Taller Estampa) talking with L’Automàtica master printer

 

Yesterday I visited the BCN printer L’Automàtica in Gràcia with Taller Estampa members Marcel + Roc. Terrific to see these beautiful off-set and letter-set machines! (Click video below.) Am considering enlisting these folks to help produce my Hex Books.

 
 
L’Automatica Sample 1

L’Automatica Sample 1

Entry to L’Automàtica, C/Legalitat, Gràcia

Entry to L’Automàtica, C/Legalitat, Gràcia

L’Automatica Sample 2

L’Automatica Sample 2

L’Automatica Sample 3

L’Automatica Sample 3


I’ve begun printing the contents for the Hex Books, while still deciding on the cover/box design and the printer for the booklet containing the color grids and statement. Below you see the 560 pages of code for the first grid: < 000_MARX’S_BEARD >.

Cover page. < 000_MARX’S_BEARD > [click to enlarge]

Facing pages: pp. 176-77. < 000_MARX’S_BEARD > [click to enlarge]

Cover page. < 000_MARX’S_BEARD > [click to enlarge]

4|4<VU (Werner Thöni) opens July 11, runs through July 19


Screen Shot 2019-07-08 at 10.01.15 AM.png
 

This past Thursday (July 11), I presented an “introduction” for the opening of
Werner Thöni’s new work 4|4 (4 bar 4). The exhibit remains open this week.

4|4<VU
C/Pau Gargallo, 4
Sala d’Exposicions (Planta Baja)
Faculty of Fine Arts
University of Barcelona
08028 Barcelona

Opening Reception: Th 11 July, 19h-20h
Preview exhibit will be open the week of 15 July:
Tu 13h-14h, W 13h-14h, Th 16h-17h, F 16h-17h.

For more information about the work, visit Werner’s website.
For my essay on his work, visit Freund on Thöni.

Excerpts from the essay:

”The root of Werner Thöni’s current work presents an ethical withdrawal. From the quotidian to the political, the contemporary fetish of transparency expresses the hopeless utopianism of an administrative discourse. When communication is assessed according to its clarity – based in evidence and explanation as an ingratiating form of intellectual friendliness – any excesses of ornament, allusion, or indirection appear as hostile obfuscation. The proliferation of documentary exposés that showcase the world’s tremendous suffering through lavish photographic and testimonial evidence begins to overlap with the endless advertised promises of commodities and markets to remedy the woes of the day. The unmistakable clarity of message risks obscuring the stakes of enjoyment for those who survive even from a well-informed distance.”

”Werner Thöni’s paintings take obscurantism into their artistic embrace and propose a form of tribute that withdraws from a tragic event into the precise space of its absence. The artist makes no claim to have a relation to the reported victims but rather stipulates personal associations out of the very lack of relationship.”

Installation of UB exhibit: 4|4&lt;VU

Installation of UB exhibit: 4|4<VU

The “Introduction” to 4|4<VU (click to enlarge)

Statement, Booklet, and Opening Text for 4|4<VU (Werner Thöni)

Four paintings, four seats (aka 4|4): new work by Werner Thöni

Four paintings, four seats (aka 4|4): new work by Werner Thöni

Lost Grids Update 1: Hex Books


Tinta Invisible edicions , El Raval, Barcelona

Tinta Invisible edicions, El Raval, Barcelona

Work in Progress (Fall 2018)

In developing my Lost Grids last Fall, I got generous assistance from Hewlett Packard (Roberto Sarasa and Eduardo Fuentes, HP Sant Cugat del Vallès), who test-printed early trials of the grids leading up to my work-in-progress exhibition (December 2018-January 2019) at WTA. These prints were made to scale, conformed to the golden proportion, and laid down on transparent polycarbonate sheets. The collaboration with Roberto (and Eduardo) was a big pleasure - discussing materials and processes, seeing the various tests printed, and getting a glimpse into the R&D department. It was helpful to see my work on transparent surfaces - relating the grids to an idea of transparency, the window, the perspective machine, and so forth - even though ultimately my choices didn’t convince me.

Example of preliminary Grids printed onto polycarbonate sheets. Left: < 000_Marx’s_Beard >. Right: < 005_Portolan Orifice >.

Project Update: “Hex Books”

I’m now looking into the idea of making a set of books for the Lost Grids. Each book would contain the entire underlying hexadecimal code of each grid (up to 600 pages of code per grid) along with the grid print, production materials and artist statement. The beautiful stream of hex code would present page-by-page something approaching an extended series of individual drawings whose patterns ebb and flow between the readable and the visual, between letter/number and texture. My interventions of semantic language into ASCII code would remain essentially untraceable in the pages of hexadecimal code. At the same time, theoretically, a reader - who would (granted) have to be a little nuts - would be able to retrieve the elements of the intervention by scanning back the pages with OCR into a digital file and then by pasting the hex code into an ASCII converter. Theoretically, this ambitious reader could also reproduce the colorful grids using either code series.

Last week, accompanied by friend and artist Werner Thöni, I visited Tinta Invisible edicions, a bookmaking studio in El Raval to discuss options. I presented an early test-print of the book body, which I brought with me, and we discussed a few options. At this point, I’m now leaning toward printing the hex code on newsprint in an unbound form. (See photo below - I love its simple elegance). The stack of printed pages would then be wrapped loose-leaf with a textured cover and stored in a custom handmade box (enclosed sleeve). The color portions (grid print and intervention materials) would be printed on a finer paper stock, along with an artist statement, and made into a separate booklet that would accompany the collated pages of hex code.

Initial test print of “hex book” for the Lost Grids. Sample pages of < 001_Arrival_of_the_Train > laid onto A4 newsprint sheets.

Following the meeting, the Tinta Invisible designer emailed me some additional samples of box and book designs, which I’m now reviewing. Updates to follow.

U.S. Consulate Talk at the American Space


consulate_two.jpg
 

This morning I gave a talk, organized by the U.S. Consulate in Barcelona, to a group of design students from EASD Deià (Escola d'Art i Superior de Disseny. The talk was presented at the American Space BCN in the Biblioteca Ignasi Iglésias-Can Fabra, beside the Fabri i Coats art center in the Sant Andreu neighborhood.

 
 

Aquest matí plujós l’hem passat a l’American Space de la Biblioteca Ignasi Iglésias-Can Fabra en companyia de l’artista estatunidenc Peter Freund, que ha reflexionat sobre les imatges en l’era digital (creació, manipulació i ètica) amb estudiants de batxillerat artístic del Deià Disseny. Aquesta activitat forma part del nostre programa escolar, Connect-US 🇺🇸.

 

The aim of the talk was to give some idea of how digital tools, which (as we know) tend to serve the lie (Fig. 1) - both the big and the little - can be (re)directed in the service of truth via an artistic practice. Here we had to do a bit of careful distinguishing of fact from truth, and for a model of art-making I landed on détournement. I talked first about the power of recontextualization to leverage the internal inconsistencies within representation. In that framework, I touched on the process of image recoding and glitching. To illustrate the points, I shared an online gallery of work by my U.S. students (Fig. 2).

After the presentation, several of the students from this Barcelona design school - some quite excitedly - came up to chat and shared perspectives on the question of art that were a fairly far cry from traditionally restrictive ideas of design. One student, for example, rejected the exclusively decorative and communicative use of design. Another talked urgently about fashion, its real and potential relations to contemporary art, and the importance of critical research, controversy, and debate.

Fig. 1 A digital tool that comes up daily on my Instagram feed, no better or worse than another….

Fig. 1 A digital tool that comes up daily on my Instagram feed, no better or worse than another….

 

Fig 2. Detail from  student web gallery .

Fig 2. Detail from student web gallery.


Fig. 3 U.S. Consulate tweet.

Fig. 3 U.S. Consulate tweet.

 

A Lecture at the Autonomous University of Barcelona


Left: René Magritte,  The Treachery of Images  (1929). Right: René Magritte,  The Key of Dreams  (1930). The problem of image and word.

Left: René Magritte, The Treachery of Images (1929). Right: René Magritte, The Key of Dreams (1930). The problem of image and word.

Left: Marcel Broodthaers,  The Clean Room  (1975). Right: Luis Camnitzer,  The Living Room  (1969). Resonating installations: texts presented as displacements of images

Left: Marcel Broodthaers, The Clean Room (1975). Right: Luis Camnitzer, The Living Room (1969). Resonating installations: texts presented as displacements of images

Today I ventured out for the first time to the Autonomous University of Barcelona (La Autónoma) to lecture for the Departament de Filologia Anglesa (Department of English Studies). Thanks go to Prof. Sara Martín Alegre for the invitation! So many years after jumping the fence from the literary field into the pasture of art, it was a pleasure to talk to literature folks about the image-word problem, its relation to disciplinary balkanization, and how art practices can intervene into what is at stake.

Ut Pictura Poesis

Initially I set out to put the topic in the context of two well-known traditions that prescribe how images and words should behave together. The first, ut pictura poesis, was a familiar framework for me from having studied William Blake with a bit of care years ago for my doctoral dissertation. It was WJT Mitchell’s book on Blake that pointed to this tradition while distinguishing Blake’s image-word dialectics within it. Ut pictura poesis, which by simple translation means “as in a painting, so also in a poem,” names a long-standing dogma dating back at least to Horace that seeks to establish literature and visual art on equal footing as “sister arts.” In his Ars Poetica, Horace aimed to elevate the artistic status of poetry to what painting enjoyed in his day. Plutarch attributed the original sentiment to the ancient Greek lyric poet Simonides of Keos who described painting as mute poetry and poetry as speaking picture. Centuries later, in his Laocoon: An Essay upon the Limits of Poetry and Painting (1766), the German philosopher Lessing extended the disciplinary parallelism, for better or worse, by identifying the powers of image and word with the dimensions of space and time, respectively, and further with the feminine and the masculine. One can easily guess the ideological upshot of such a principle of “separate but equal” mediums: the superiority of text over image.

Ekphrasis

Second, the tradition of ekphrasis negotiates the relationship of picture and word specifically by stressing the lavish power of language to describe and reinvent the image. Examples range from the Imagines of Philostratus of Lemnos (c. 190 – c. 230 AD) to Walter Pater’s description (1893) of Da Vinci’s La Gioconda (Mona Lisa) and Walter Benjamin’s meditation (1920) on Paul Klee’s Angelus Novus in “Theses on the Philosophy of History.”


From Blake to Broodthaers and Beyond

William Blake, The Book of Urizen (1794)

Partly following Mitchell, I discussed William Blake as a curious synthesis of these apparently opposite traditions. In Blake, the picture depicts the text but it also reflects the status of the text as text. For example, in The Book of Urizen, the central margin of the poetic text gets aligned with the spine of the depicted book, which is in turn aligned with the division of the Mosaic tablets. In the end, the series of alignments points back to the book in your hands. The recursion in Urizen goes further with the iterative essence of his book itself, for which Blake produced multiple variant versions. By the same token, while the words on the page express the poetic narrative, at certain points the text’s script drifts off into visual ornaments that challenge a strict separation of word and picture.

In my talk, I emphasized that the word-image relationship presents a productive impasse (based on an internal structural dynamic of surplus and lack) that leads from Blake’s Urizen to Rene Magritte’s pipes and Key of Dreams and eventually to Robert Rauschenberg’s Portrait of Iris Clert, Jenny Holzer’s Projections, and Marcel Broodthaers’ The Clean Room. From this point, I was able to demonstrate a continuous movement from my doctoral project, which started from the endeavor to demonstrate the (structural) impossibility of language, to my current work, Lost Grids.


Discussion of Art Criticism

Finally, I was asked to talk about my teaching, particularly the writing of art criticism, and the issue of professionalizing student writers. It’s a fair and useful question, even if the focus of my art criticism course is not the professionalization of writers per se. I laid down a few features of my curriculum and discussed the booklet of student writings (pdf below) we produced last Spring before I left on sabbatical.

art[crit     booklet   of student writings, Saint Mary’s College of California, Spring 2018

art[crit booklet of student writings, Saint Mary’s College of California, Spring 2018

 

A Few Features of My Art Criticism Course:

• Intensive study of art theory + criticism
The students begin the course by studying, reporting on, and discussing in a seminar forum a sampling of key twentieth-century voices in the discipline. These voices range from Clement Greenberg, Harold Rosenberg, Michael Fried, and Leo Steinberg to Joseph Kosuth, Rosalind Krauss, Lucy Lippard, Douglas Crimp, among others. During the second half of the course, the students turn to selected essays and interviews currently published in major journals on contemporary art: Artforum, Art Monthly, Bidoun, Bomb, e-flux, Frieze, Modern Painters, Mousse, and SFAQ, to name a few. To guide the study of both sets of readings, small teams of three students are assembled to distill each text’s basic argument and to stage and facilitate a class discussion with relevant background information and interpretive questions. 

• Intertextuality + discussion
Beyond an engagement with the main argument of each text, the classroom discussions give special attention to the intertextual nature of these writings and to the cross-fertilizing yet often contentious dialogue between art and art criticism implied by each text. At this level, the ongoing classroom conversation that takes place over the fourteen weeks of the semester aims to construct a flexible network of themes, ideas, vocabularies, and frameworks that can distinguish how each individual piece of art criticism speaks within a shifting cultural exchange on art and its contemporary relevance. 

• Weekly group site visits
To complement their traditional academic study of art criticism, the students venture out in study groups every week to Bay Area art galleries, museums, and other cultural centers to research the organizational mission, history, and design of these exhibit venues while highlighting one exhibit or artist within the venue’s current programming. The study groups then meet to prepare a presentation of their field work, which they deliver in a subsequent class session with the aim of prompting discussion and reflection back on the ongoing conversation about course readings. 

• Writing craft
Throughout the semester, the students focus attention on the craft of writing art criticism guided by the process of group critique and by their reading of Gilda Williams’ text, How to Write About Contemporary Art. To materialize their process, students submit weekly entries from a journal notebook they keep throughout the term, in which they enter art-critical drafts, notes and reflections on class discussions and readings, observations on art and art venues, and experiments with ideas, sketches, and writing. For the term each student submits two finished works of art criticism that are workshopped extensively through individual and group peer critiques. These works are submitted for consideration to be published in the annual art[crit student journal. The best works are submitted for campus-wide writing competition.

• Internships
Following each term interested students seek internships with arts organizations, working in the curatorial and publications departments. Students are encouraged to start blogs on contemporary art and to develop relationships with local galleries and museums.


Postscript

Entrance to the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB)

Entrance to the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB)

Open space inside UAB

Open space inside UAB

Open plaza at UAB

Open plaza at UAB

The Space of Education

It was my first time to the Autonomous University (UAB). The beautiful campus, situated outside Barcelona city proper, reminded me of the campus building projects that took place in the US in response to the student unrest of the 1950s and ‘60s. These projects aimed to provide a “safe space” for intellectual inquiry – safe, that is, from any immediate contact and cross-pollinating confluences with urban impulses. UAB is known as a politically active campus (see entrance photo above), while the distance from Barcelona’s city center is unmistakable.

Following my talk, I tried in vain to locate Ed Powell’s study of the University at Buffalo’s architectural project in which the university, which had ample space to expand near its main campus, moved the entire humanities division twenty or so miles out into the countryside (Amherst NY) and established a new campus away from the main campus that houses the scientific disciplines. Friends used to highlight the neutralizing effect of isolating the discourses of scientific and humanistic inquiry in the midst of the expanding military industrial complex. I also recalled two of the construction projects in Oakland’s Peralta Community College system (Merritt and Laney in particular), where campuses were built to withstand or subvert riots. A few Barcelona friends have suggested that the history of the Autonomous universities in Spain resonates with the American equivalents.

Of course such projects recall Michel Foucault’s description of disciplinary architectures. If Deleuze’s reassessment in his 1992 “Postscript” is valid – that contemporary society represents a shift from “disciplinary” to “control” surveillance, from the regulation of enclosure to a regulation of openness, from a localized to a distributed and networked circulation, even from an economy of production to an experience and sharing economy – how do these “architectures” function? As outmoded projects that languish in contemporary irrelevance? Or as memorials and ruins whose very irrelevance physically archives while simultaneously inspiring the real possibility of political change?




 

4|4 (4bar4): New Work by Werner Thöni


Four paintings, four seats (aka 4|4): new work by Werner Thöni

The booklet for Werner Thöni’s new body of work, 4|4, came back from the printer today. I love the work and was delighted when Werner asked me to pen his booklet introduction. Writing this short essay was a great opportunity to clarify and develop what interests me about his paintings and how his work intersects with questions – such as the paradoxical function of transparency and obscurity – related to my own current project. The full text of my introduction, accompanied by photography from the booklet, is reproduced below.

Cover of 4|4 booklet

 

Werner Thöni’s 4|4 (4 bar 4)

The driving aesthetic of Werner Thöni’s new work, 4|4 (“4 bar 4”), inverts the celebrated dictum of fellow Swiss artist Paul Klee, “Art does not reproduce the visible; it makes visible.” Klee’s modernism champions the revelatory power of visual art. Thöni by contrast cuts an expressive path that unifies visible reproduction with its apparent opposite, material concealment.

Four 130-centimeter by 130-centimeter Prussian blue paintings stand directly opposite four prepared, cube-shaped benches upholstered with canvas, also painted Prussian blue. The four painting/bench pairings are marked with a small set of numbers and affixed with sales-like tags which link the wall canvases to their corresponding seats and each pair to the others through a logic of series. The serial logic is sewn through this body of work as a concatenation of integers scattered in a specific pattern across these painted surfaces: 13-16, 26-29, 43-46, and 68-71. Identically positioned in each painting/bench coupling, the four number clusters enter into a larger implied sequence – running from 0 to 71 (perhaps beyond) – in which the spaces between the four pieces convey ellipses of missing numbers.

A seat, a painting

The composition of each painting presents a fundamentally identical geometry that suggests the convention of a three-view plan for building and assembly instructions. Do the paintings hint at plans for the assembly of the benches? Within the repeating geometry, the detailed markings vary, like the numbers and tags, from piece to piece. At first, the sketched views register as figures against a deep blue background; however, closer inspection reveals that these figures are in fact the background over which the blue has been superimposed as mask.

Werner Thöni does not object to explanations of his densely conceived canvases but is quietly indifferent to volunteering any. Is it to give the viewer a greater role in the work? After all, by coupling the paintings with seats, he materially integrates into the work an invitation to the viewer to sit and have a look. Introversion may be the birthright of every artist, but Thöni’s is engaged with a broader problematic animating his project.

Another seat, another painting

4|4 was inspired by a tragic event from 2015 that received widespread international attention. The work pays tribute to 71 migrants and refugees from Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan who died while locked inside a truck traveling on an Austrian motorway towards Germany. This final cause of Thöni’s project remains decidedly absent from the visible surface of the work. Beyond the number sequence, which correlates with the tragic death count, Thöni has otherwise created the work out of an intricate network of contingent, even incidental associations he developed while contemplating the tragedy over time.

The project springs from an impulse that is neither directly empathic nor edifying. Instead it opens up a context for the artist to generate free associations that redirect and refract the public light shone on the tragedy. The associative elements – including the grid and cube (building blocks of design); title labels cited from a 2017 MoCA exhibition, “Axis Mundo: Queer Networks in Chicano L.A.” (statements of desire); IKEA patterns (the hope of a prefabricated life); and Prussian blue (a pigment produced by oxidation, exposure to oxygen) – are transmuted by the artistic process. Some are entirely covered over with the Prussian blue, leaving only hints of an underlying grid, the ragged suggestion of a cube, markings, scribbles, and indeterminate sketches of happenstance objects. And yet all these contingent details are framed within the precise, repeating visual structure and beautiful imposing blue.

A painting (detail)

Contemporary art has long endeavored to burst the unbudgeable nexus between revelation and visibility – between truth and the evidential. The seriality, maskings, and geometries position 4|4 within a particular lineage: Sol Lewitt’s incomplete cubes, the subtractive aesthetics of Gordon Matta Clark and Doris Salcedo, the impenetrable surfacing and memorialist markings of Antoni Tàpies. The work’s installation aspect brings the viewer into the realm of Duchamp’s “reciprocal ready-made,” where by “using a Rembrandt as an ironing board,” an artwork is returned problematically to the status of everyday object. The viewer of 4|4 must confront the awkward prospect of physically trespassing on the art when deciding whether to take a seat. What might this mean that I sit down on the very object depicted in the abstract plan on the wall in front of me?

Four seats (details)

The root of Werner Thöni’s current work presents an ethical withdrawal. From the quotidian to the political, the contemporary fetish of transparency expresses the hopeless utopianism of an administrative discourse. When communication is assessed according to its clarity – based in evidence and explanation as an ingratiating form of intellectual friendliness – any excesses of ornament, allusion, or indirection appear as hostile obfuscation. The proliferation of documentary exposés that showcase the world’s tremendous suffering through lavish photographic and testimonial evidence begins to overlap with the endless advertised promises of commodities and markets to remedy the woes of the day. The unmistakable clarity of message risks obscuring the stakes of enjoyment for those who survive even from a well-informed distance.

A painting (detail)

As equitable as its claims may be, the current ethic of transparency belies the bad faith of every self-righteous complaint against obscurantism. Painting has always been about covering up, hiding, or obscuring the last daub of paint, a flawed rendering, the void of the canvas. Werner Thöni’s paintings take obscurantism into their artistic embrace and propose a form of tribute that withdraws from a tragic event into the precise space of its absence. The artist makes no claim to have a relation to the reported victims but rather stipulates personal associations out of the very lack of relationship. Instead of particularizing the universally-demonstrable tragedy, the essential gesture of 4|4 is to universalize the always yet-to-be-distinguished particularity of such loss. In other words, to face a public tragedy truly one must confront one’s own radical distance from the event. The artist’s quiet indifference to volunteering explanations in this case represents neither a coyness nor a refusal but rather an aesthetic that seeks the basis for authentic expression.


Peter Freund
Barcelona, 2019

 

 






 

New Article on the Use of Conceptual Machines in Art


machine_img.jpg
 

Today I concluded my collaborative writing with artists Eloi Puig and Vitor Magalhães. The invitation to participate came from Eloi Puig, artist and professor who chairs the Faculty of Fine Arts at the University of Barcelona. Vitor Magalhães is an artist, writer, and professor with the Faculty of Fine Arts at the University of Medeira (Portugal).

Our article, entitled “Il n’y a pas de rapport sémiotique: 3 lecturas discontinuas” (“There is no semiotic relation: 3 discontinuous readings”), explores the idea and use of conceptual machines. These machines are designed to consume and reorganize the form and possible meanings of images and texts drawn from the cultural archive. In our writing, we each lay out a theoretical framework and discuss the background and aims of our individual work in this area. The article will be published later this year in a bilingual collection of artist texts. An exhibition will coincide with the book release.

Inspired by the permutational writings of OuLiPo, Barcelona artist Eloi Puig’s ongoing Torvix project utilizes an algorithm he has designed for intervening into and transforming existing film materials. The algorithm, applicable to any chunk of time-based media, embodies an intricate set of rules for analyzing and creating transformations in the sequence of the materials selected for the purpose. The original film sequences must contain a spoken text, which the artist transcribes into a written document to be used in the transformational process and which the operation also lays down word by word in subtitles. The algorithm begins by analyzing the duration of the selected film sequence, divides it into 26 equal units (corresponding to the number of letters in the alphabet), and then performs a series of re-edits of the footage based on the correlations in the rule-set between the occurrence of letters, punctuation, line breaks etc in the transcribed vocal track and a specific type of transformation (increase/decrease speed, run in reverse, insert black frame, and so forth). More information about Eloi Puig’s project can be found at Torvix.

Portuguese artist Vitor Magalhães has since 2010 been working with a “transnarrative linguistic-visual device” that he has titled La Máquina de M (The Machine of M). The core of the project is a mechanism by which variant combinations are produced from a collection of cultural materials bearing a name that starts with the letter M, or in a few cases an upside down M, that is, a W. Inspired by the fifth of Italo Calvino’s Six Memos for the Next Millennium, “Multiplicity,” Vitor’s project is a kind of machine for outputting combinations and recombinations of words and pictures. One manifested result, included in an online group show, presented a video diptych of images and words unfolding a series of associations expressed through the parallax view between two juxtaposed screens. This image-text work of expanded montage is organized according to “a principle of friction, distancing or deviations.” A second version, now in preparation, will present a video installation accompanied by prints, diagrams, text and other materials. More information about Vitor Magalhães’ project can be found at La Máquina de M.

Finally, my current project, Lost Grids, which I began in 2017, puts forward an apparatus for manufacturing and juxtaposing two incommensurate planes: a plane of associations forged by citing and pairing pictures and texts from the cultural archive and a plane of corresponding visual surfaces produced by intermixing these citations through a creative misuse of digital code. The latter, which take the form of multi-colored grids, are formed by selecting texts from the plane of associations and by then entering the language of the texts directly into the underlying digital code-bed of the images. The grids are ultimately created from a magnification of the specific visual glitches that result from this technical intervention. In 2019, the work in progress was printed and exhibited as two separate and parallel series (of grids and image-text networks) along opposite walls of a gallery in order to emphasize the interval and incommensurability between the ornamental forms and their corresponding conceptual contents. More information about my project can be found at Lost Grids.

 
[Image from the unpublished manuscript]

[Image from the unpublished manuscript]

 

Research Residency at MACBA CED


Front of MACBA Centre d’Estudis i Documentació (MACBA CED)

View of the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art (MACBA) from MACBA Centre d’Estudis i Documentació (CED)

View of the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art (MACBA) from MACBA Centre d’Estudis i Documentació (CED)

Today (January 11, 2019) I concluded my Fall/Winter residency at the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art Research Center (MACBA CED), which offered a great support for the research side of my Lost Grids project. The residency provided a work space with desk and computer; extensive research support from the MACBA CED library staff; access to the library and archive collections, which have excellent resources related to contemporary and conceptual art; and finally a “friend pass” to the Museum.

MACBA tweet

Project Blurb:

Peter Freund, Lost Grids
Inspired by the incommensurability of surface and depth, Peter Freund generates digital materials by hacking the underlying code of iconic photography with the use of poetic, critical and quotidian texts. His project will ultimately result in a set of variegated grid prints that harness the impulses of conceptual art in exploring the history and politics of the grid, from the renaissance perspective machine and the geometrical configurations of cartography, architecture and design to the abstract, gridded constructions of modern and contemporary art and the pixel system undergirding the raster image. The radical ornamentalism of Freund’s prints presents an interventionist strategy in a politics of enjoyment.

The MACBA CED staff were a tremendous help; big thanks to Noemí Mases, who was always suggesting new materials for research from my vaguest of inquiries! Early on, I asked Andrea Ferraris if she could track down the obscure metagraph, “The Death of J.H.,” by Guy Debord referenced in his and Gil Wolman’s A User’s Guide to Détournement in which “125 classified ads of bars-for-sale express a suicide more strikingly than the newspaper articles that recount it.” For years I’d assumed with some enjoyment that the work was a creative fiction, that it never actually existed outside a conceptual dream. But then, many weeks after my inquiry, at the end of her quiet persistence, Andrea showed up at my desk with two copies of the artwork!

Cover image,  A User’s Guide to Détournement

Cover image, A User’s Guide to Détournement

Guy Debord, The Death of J.H.

Over the course of my MACBA CED residency, the project progressed in conjunction with an artist residency at the Werner Thöni Artspace in Gracia that provided me with a studio. The research process produced several intricate networks of associations based on dialectical pairings of images and texts from disparate sources. For my work-in-progress exhibit at the WTA gallery, these networks were displayed along one wall and the corresponding grid visuals for each network on the other. The project concept developed to this point:

< LOST GRIDS

The Lost Grids comprise, first and foremost, a generative apparatus (or “conceptual machine”) for producing and juxtaposing two incommensurate planes: a plane of associations forged by citing and pairing pictures and texts from the cultural archive and a plane of corresponding visual surfaces produced by intermixing these citations through a creative misuse of digital code.

The first plane is made up of curated networks of image-text associations organized into thematic sets. Each set’s coherence ranges from argumentative assertions to ideas that drift in and out of oblique and problematic linkages. In this way, each associative ensemble presents a connective logic intended to mimic without credibly delivering the lucid and over-reasoned bond of illustration or explication. The overarching aim is to loosen, recalibrate, and overcharge the valences of each element and to assert their altered potentiality within a larger associative network in which the elements have been positioned.

The second plane consists of visual surfaces that take the form of variegated grids. Each grid – neither text nor quite image – is produced by a process in which a text – philosophical, poetic, critical, or quotidian – is selected from the associative network and then entered directly into the underlying code-bed of its corresponding image. A disruption in the image consequently results, and out of this visible glitch a palette of pixel patterns is assembled, from which the final grid is ultimately created. Standing opposite the grid as its progeny, this privileged image-text pair, plucked from its network, indicates the single point of contact with the larger associative network, which otherwise remains aloof from the colorful grid. Such is the wide interval between the parallel series of grids and corresponding networks that presents the project’s conceptual core.

The Lost Grids machinery begins its series of productions with picture citations loosely associated with hair: Marx’s beard, Ana Mendieta’s cosmetic hair implants, Julia Pastrana (the “bearded lady”), contemporary beard fashion, the 1967 Patterson/Gimlin Sasquatch film, Pierre Huyghe’s “Untitled (Human Mask),” Jeff Koons’ “Michael Jackson and Bubbles,” the Bolivian military’s hand stroking the head of Che Guevara’s corpse, Joseph Beuys’s intimate handling of the dead hare, Méret Oppenheim’s fur cup, a hairy exchange from An Andalusian Dog, Courbet’s “Origin of the World.”

The first three grids:

&lt; 000_Marx’s_Beard &gt;

< 000_Marx’s_Beard >

&lt; 001_Arrival_of_the_Train &gt;

< 001_Arrival_of_the_Train >

&lt; 002_The_House_Is_Black &gt;

< 002_The_House_Is_Black >

A sampling of the artists and writers whose work I wove into my project, based largely on the research I did at MACBA CED:

Ana Mendieta
Carl Andre
Pierre Huyghe
Carolee Schneeman
Gordon Matta-Clark
Absalon
Eyal Weisman (Forensic Architecture)
Lim Tsay Chuen
Fred Wilson
Andrea Pozzo
Gregor Schneider
Forough Farrokhzad
Joseph Beuys
Vito Acconci
Filippo Brunelleschi
Hanne Darboven
Jane Benson
Jordi Colomer
Hito Steyerl
Sol Lewitt
Anni Albers
Abby Warburg

Marcel Duchamp
Emily Dickenson
Gaston Bachelard
Superstudio
Le Corbusier
The Situationist International
Costant
Rem Koolhaas
Ildefons Cerdà i Sunyer
René Magritte
Albrecht Dürer
Bertolt Brecht
Rossalind Krauss
Jacques Lacan
Jean-Luc Godard
Girard Desargues
Abraham Artelius
Martin Cortes
John Rennie Short
Hélène Cixous
Georges Didi-Huberman
Giuseppe Pinot-Gallizio

In addition to the research experience at the fabulous MACBA CED library, I enjoyed interactions with the other resident artists, including Joan Morey and Blanca Garcia, who had exhibitions I was able to attend during our overlapping time at MACBA.