Nicht What I Hertha

Christopher Eamon, Director of the New Art Trust, San Francisco, and Curator of the Kramlich Collection selected Berlin-based Matt Saunders for the June edition of the Artist of the Month Club at Invisible-Exports. Here, Matt talks about the process behind his Hertha Thiele, a silver-gelatin print on fiber paper, each of which he printed on his own, and each of which responded to the homemade conditions in a unique way.

MB: Did you select the image of Hertha Thiele from a frame enlargement? For an actress now admired for her androgyny, she looks distinctly feminine in your image. I even think of the iconic qualities of Girl with a Pearl Earring.

MS: It’s actually from a collectible publicity image — a “cigarette card” — in fact, I’ve rounded up several based on this particular photo. In some, it’s straight black and white, in others crudely colorized. She’s clasping her hands in her lap and wearing a broadly striped scarf, which I can only imagine was meant to look exotic. I’m not 100% sure she isn’t dressed for a role, but my guess is that this is really a celebrity photo — of Hertha Thiele, but not Hertha Thiele in character. As I said, it’s one I’ve collected in duplicate, wherever I could, because I’m moved by it as a portrait. It’s oddly lovely. And… you hit the nail on the head: it’s almost uncharacteristically feminine. I’m drawn to that, interested in that.

MB: You’ve adopted Hertha as your subject for numerous exhibitions, including a show last year at Andreas Grimm and even more recent shows at Harris Lieberman in New York and the Renaissance Society in Chicago – the latter, your first at a museum. Do you feel kinship with her? How do you identify with her?

MS: The simplest statement is that I’m a fan. I was that first, and she entered my work later. I love both Kuhle Wampe and Mädchen in Uniform, which happen to be Hertha Thiele’s first two films. She’s wonderful in them! Both of these films I had seen before moving to Berlin, so, in my mind, she was one of the great German and Weimar-era actresses. Instead there’s little trace of her. After those films, she clashed with the rising National Socialists and made her way to Switzerland, where she couldn’t work as an actress. Almost by chance, she ended up back in East Germany in the 1960s and acted, mostly on television. Later, she was half-rediscovered, both by the West, in large part for Mädchen in Uniform, now seen as a groundbreaking proto-lesbian film; and the East, for her credentials as an associate of Brecht. A television special on her was called The Heart on the Left Side. She died in 1984.

I became fairly obsessed with finding images of her, and especially with this thirty… almost forty year gap in public images. There are many pictures of her in her 20s, and fewer but still some later in life. This gap came to feel like a huge unconscious in her biography. I like that she is not exactly a tragic figure — like so many of her generation — but rather one who was buffeted by her times. My search for images of her coincided with my life in a new city (Berlin)…thinking about the place and the history. I realized at one point that she had haunted my work for several years, and I tracked down a copy of the little biographical book published (and soon out of print) in 1983 for the Berlin Film Festival. So I remade that book with my searching and my versions of pictures of her. And that turned into a big project where I drew (with ink on mylar) the “negatives” for most of my collection of Hertha Thiele images. Sort of like turning the archive into a tool kit – but passed through my trial and error and hand, trying to remake these things, and I could use these negatives to make an installation, like an ersatz picture gallery. When shown, as much as it was trying to portray her, it was showing my own relationship to this archive – the fits and starts and gaps, and of course the distance.

I’m not sure how to come back and answer your question about kinship. There is certainly some identification. Also, as I’ve done before, I’ve made her a starring character in my work for long enough, that, in a way, she’s becomes almost emblematic of that.

MB: Simultaneously capturing your keen interest in Hertha and your generational distance, the process you chose is compelling. Moreover, it places you within the steadfast history of painting photographs, photographing paintings, recreating creations, and regenerating across media. A few examples might be Gerhard Richter’s paintings of press photos, Thomas Demand’s photos of paper sculptures of photos, Warhol Disasters, and the Pictures Generation, especially Richard Prince and Sherrie Levine. Why did you choose to reproduce a negative by painting it? That adds new levels of mediation, and more specifically, brings “the hand” and its inimitable qualities into the work.

MS: It was a natural step. I’d been moving my paintings to have a more and more seamless surface (painting on the backside of mylar, and so on) and was always wanting the work to be embodied and embedded in the materials. I liked it best when it was somehow mysterious where the image, and even more the facture, was located. The first photos I made were a very simple thought. I was showing a film, and wanted something for the wall outside, like the lobby cards in an old movie theater. I’d collected a set of images, from all kinds of sources. I wasn’t satisfied either with idea of re-photographing them or making simple drawings-from-photos, yet I wanted them all to look like press packet – in the same format. I thought: “If I only had the original negatives…” So I just decided to make them. Those were contact prints — simply putting the drawing (ink on transparent paper) on a piece of photo paper and turning on the lights.

Those precedents you mention are all people who interest me, and I think at the center of what I do is a similar attitude towards media and an interest in translating between different materials and different modes. So of course the possibility of the photos appealed to me. As you say, every translation adds levels of mediation, and I prefer when these are transformative or inscribe themselves in the image. I’m not invested in the idea of “The Hand” as something privileged, but it’s got its good days, and it’s one thing I can bring to bear on the image. Anytime you change the tool it can do something.

That’s another thing which has driven my work: Getting frustrated with habits, and trying to set handicaps or other ways to trip up. Trying to imagine what negative would make an image — inverting the values in my head as I drew — felt challenging, and the outcome at times surprising. So I really got into working this way. Then using the enlarger to make blow-ups… changing the scale of marks… allowing the ink to behave in its own way, and then the material becomes an image of the material… It seemed like the loop — from my original photo source (already captured from a stream of moving images, wrenched into a still) THROUGH painting and back to a seamless photographic space — was a natural, and yet still studio-based, life-cycle for the pictures.

MB: As you mentioned, to loop from the original photo source, through painting, and back to a photographic space is a cyclical return for the image. It also uproots the image from its source – the true, “biological” negative – and transplants it to your analytic estimate of that negative. Thus, it is less of an appropriation, in the end, then a reclamation – or even adoption. You reclaim the title of progenitor. That is a very loaded process for a very loaded figure, someone who navigated through poles of power, by refusing the Nazis and exiling herself in neutral Switzerland; and whose legacy will be posthumously revised and reimagined – a queer icon, a screen icon, an anti-fascist heroine – throughout the future.

MS: “Progenitor” is an awfully loaded word, and I’m not trying to make any big claims; though on the other hand, it’s absolutely legitimate – and nice – that you can talk about what is, or could be, read into Thiele’s legacy. (“Legacy” already seems like an overblown word. She’s a mostly forgotten minor star, who I happen to be charmed by). This balance between the private life and the public figure, who inevitably is more and more abstracted, more and more a screen for projection, is certainly on my mind. One thing to say, maybe, is that I’ve never separated images from their materials (even if those are immaterial, digital, etc.) but I am extremely interested in translating these things. Iterations. She’s reconstituted after time.

This particular image has a long and involved cycle. First, it’s a source photo I’ve used many times. This edition actually started with a painting – oil and ink on mylar – which was painted in positive… that is, meant to be a painting, not a negative to make pictures. It was part of series of fast paintings I made, all variations on that image. I made a contact print of that painting, which of course came out negative, then used that paper print as the “negative” in the edition. So my brushstrokes in the painting, etc., are part of what’s being adopted, they’re already pretty far back in the history of the image.


The Ei Team

Invisible-Export’s Artist of the Month of May is Ei Arakawa. Ei was born in Japan and is an alumnus of School of Visual Arts, the Whitney ISP, and Bard College. Included in Greater New York 2010 at PS1, he was selected by Anthony Huberman, chief curator at the Contemporary Art Museum, St. Louis.

MB: First, can you tell me about the origin of the image used in your print? Is it a photo documenting a performance?

EA: It is a staged photo. Not a performance documentation. I arranged the photo shooting in my installation at PS1 especially for Artist of the Month. There is one projected photo (MB: by Alec Holst) within this photo that is another staged photo shooting with some of my roommates. In my performance, I almost always work in a group, so I staged my “grouping” in the photo. But, we never did a performance together with these roommates, except few of them. In the photo, in front of the projected photo, I am a quasi administrator of the group performance.

The awning above says Greatest Grandest Openings. It’s the collaborative work of Grand Openings, in which I’ve worked with four other artists since 2005. At the PS1, I come to this installation as often as possible, and do a open studio for Grand Openings, showing the documentations of performance, as well as working on the book we are planning to publish later this year.

The font we used for the awning is the famous label inspired from Harrods, the old department store in London. It’s like a grand shopping sign. I like how the awning takes over the conference room of PS1, where they have regular meetings to discuss administration of the museum. The installation is always open to public, but at the same time it’s hidden on the side of the Greater New York show – but when the people are there, they are quite interacting with me talking for a while.

MB: How would you describe the interactions between you and visitors in the conference room at PS1? Do many of the visitors actually speak with you? Or are most of them too shy? If they do speak, what do you discuss with them? I ask because the conditions of this ongoing open studio seem to be very open-ended, so I wonder what patterns might begin to emerge.

EA: We don’t discuss anything.

Basically, I work there to finish a Grand Openings book. I hope that the audience sees me working. Though, the audience keeps interrupting my work. I hope I can finish some of the work…

Also, I hope all Grand Openings members sometimes have a meeting there. Meanwhile, I am adding some extra display materials on the shelf. I am adding a video documentation of Grand Openings performance from Sweden soon. I feel sorry that the audience come to my space expecting some performance happening … so I offer them a candy.

MB: Do you feel sorry for the visitors because you think you are disappointing them? Maybe they should be more wary about bringing their expectations to an exhibition. Either way, if the goal really is to finish the book, why not close the door behind you? Why let anyone in at all?

EA: Yes, I think they are disappointed … I can close the door anytime, which PS1 does when I am not there … but the conference room is also PS1 staff’s kitchen supply, where their fridge is located … so, many staff come there around lunch time.

It is also interesting how some audience trespasses and comes in seemingly not an exhibition space … most people just peek inside from the hallway. They think I am an office worker, which I am. Then, I say hello to them, and introduce little bit about Grand Openings when I feel like … I also tell them actually it is not really anything here, but an awning.

Although when my friends came, I took a group photo with them. I might display that later … Overall, it is nice to have an office for Grand Openings, so I can work differently than being at my home in Bed-Stuy…

MB: It’s interesting that you identify yourself as an “office worker,” because one could argue that working in an office does not make you an office worker. Office workers are in an office because they have to be, and not because they want to be. And incidentally, many of the PS1 visitors are probably office workers on weekdays, and museum visitors only at their leisure. If they are disappointed, it might be because they wanted to see something unfamiliar. Your presence seems to constitute a performance, and it even has an audience – occasionally – yet the illusion of office work makes it slip outside the “standards” of performance.

The book could just be an ostensible reason for you to be there, though it does sound as if you hope to complete it. What will it include?

EA: I am making a book because I got funding from Munich artist residency. It will be a series of documentation materials from the performance collective Grand Openings, and commissioned short writings by numerous contributors who invited and worked with Grand Openings.


‘Lup with People

The Artist of the Month for April is Kalup Linzy, selected by Lisa Anastos. His print, You Say You the Diva? (2010) is an archival frame enlargement from his Labisha’s Bonus Track.

Kalup popped up in 2003 through a group show, All Together Now, curated by artist Derrick Adams for the Rush Arts Gallery. Since then, Kalup’s live performances and videos have circulated through galleries and institutions worldwide, beginning in 2005 with two shows at the Studio Museum in Harlem, curated/co-curated by Thelma Golden, and at P.S.1 – where he is now queen of the quintennial Greater New York 2010.  Kalup is represented in New York by Taxter & Spengemann.

MB: Who is Labisha and what is Labisha’s Bonus Track?

KL: Labisha is a fictitious character I created in 2002 that hosted my audio CD, Conversations Wit De Churen, which evolved into a video series. She is also the host of my radio show The Kalup Linzy Variety Show on Art International Radio. Her latest endeavour includes rapping and making guest appearances on my music recordings that primarily feature Taiwan, another fictitious character.

MB: How many fictitious characters are there in the Kalup Linzy pantheon? Who are they?

KL: I have provided voices for 53 characters and have physically portrayed 14; Labisha, Taiwan, Leelabell, Nora Lee, Tyrone, Jada, Nucuavia, Katonya, Damsel in Distress, Lily, Patience, KK Queen, Nina, and Katessa, who is in my upcoming feature film.

MB: You often perform on video alongside other actors playing your characters. How do you decide when to take on the role of a character, instead of casting an actor?

KL: It depends. I mostly like the lead, although a few pieces have been ensembles where my role was equal to everyone else’s role, like in the video, Keys To Our Heart (2008). I often like to cast the actors in roles that are opposite of what people are used to seeing them in. As for some of the artists: roles that are opposite of their personality.

MB: How many of the 53 aforementioned characters will be in your upcoming feature film? How many will you play? Will there be new characters?

KL: I will portray Katessa and her mother, Odessa – both new characters. Melody Set Me Free, the series – which features me portraying Patience O’Brien and KK Queen, and providing 16 other voices – will be intercut throughout. Melody Set Me Free is Katessa’s favorite web soap.

MB: Mine, too! Do you have a title for the feature film? Is it already in production?

KL: The film is called Ova Katessa and we are hoping to start filming this summer.


Macchi Talkie

The Artist of the Month for March 2010 is Jorge Macchi (b. 1963), who lives and works in Buenos Aires. He was selected by Jens Hoffman, director of the Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, and his archival inkjet print is Film Noir, 2010.

MB: The clippings you’ve collaged together appear to come from Spanish-language newspapers. Did you select the papers for specific characteristics, such as date, region, or writer? Or did you draw them randomly?
JM: The clippings come from Argentinian newspapers. They are words taken out from articles’ headlines. I didn’t select them for date, region or writer. First of all: the words are nouns. And second: they are nouns that could create a synopsis of a film: who? how much? where? what? are the questions that the words try to answer.
MB: Behind every crime is a motive, coupled with an opportunity. Does your print, Film Noir, tell a story? I see the Spanish words for “assault,” “a man,” and “a billion dollars,” so I’m tempted to link them together as a crime story.
JM: They are placed in a kind of loop as to create the feeling that the story could start in every word. The inclusion of the Statue of Liberty reminds me of the end of Hitchcock’s North by Northwest with the actors going around the heads of the presidents at Mount Rushmore.
JM (continued): But what is more important for me is that in fact the words are clippings from real newspapers creating bridges between fiction and everyday life. If you see carefully almost every clipping has a subtext related to a story that is far away from the possible plot of the unexisting film. For instance the clipping of the Statue of Liberty says in the small text: “the crown of the monument was reopened.”
MB: Is there room for images in this work? Why not include newspaper photos and graphics within the “story?” I’m thinking of Warhol’s Disaster pieces, which harbor several dimensions of meaning by combining images and text. What effect would images have on the piece?
JM: The film exists just in your imagination. This is why I dont include images. On the other hand, there is an image: this loop made out of cut outs, and several formal elements as contrast, colour, transparence. In order to allow imagination to develop from the words, I need to work on formal aspects such as contrast, colour, transparence, which don’t go in the same sense as the images the spectator could produce.
MB: Some of the drawings on your website look diagrammatic, which in the context of print news, endows them with some journalistic qualities. If images could find a place in this news loop, would any of your drawings be candidates?
JM: I insist on this point: other images than the collage itself would go against the film.
MB: Throughout the genre we call “film noir,” we find in almost every film a “femme fatale:” Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity, Mary Astor in Maltese Falcon, Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction, Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct. The story you set up for the viewer to complete seems to omit the femme fatale. Is she hidden between the lines? Or do you have a different motive?
JM: The femme fatale is the Statue of Liberty – or she is the place where the action could be developed.
MB: That sounds subversive. The femme fatale is often seductive, shrewd, and dangerous. The Statue seems to be none of those, except seductive, though more “welcoming” than “seductive.” She is an icon, an immigrant, and her monumental statement is:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”
How do you reconcile the role of the femme fatale with America’s Mother of Refugees?
JM: Complete freedom can be seductive and dangerous.
MB: I can see from the work collected on your website that many of your projects are very responsive to their immediate surroundings. If you could place Film Noir – at its current scale or larger – at any site in the world, and for any eyes in the world, where would that be? On Wall Street? In Dubai? The Statue of Liberty?
JM: It is a film shot in NY and Buenos Aires, with actors speaking in Argentinian Spanish.

Mark Beasley on John Russell

British Invasion! John Russell is the Artist of the Month for February 2010, fingered by curator/selektah Mark Beasley.

Russell was most recently praised for his digital collage murals, which The Guardian described as “stupendous cinema-scale, Pollock-wide Photoshopped phantasmagoria…the digital marriage of Peter Paul Rubens and Jeff Koons in the mind of a mad sea god.”

Russell calls his AMC print by the featherweight name Untitled (Abstraction of Labour Time/ External Recurrence/Monad).
The archival ink shimmers on metallic polyester film, and reminds me of some of the “collector’s edition” superhero comics marketed with irresistible “chromium covers.”

John Russell has exhibited work in solo and group shows for over 20 years, and has teamed up with Mark for several projects. Let’s hear from Mark about their knockin’ about…

Michael: In 2004, you worked with John at PS1 on a film and painting project titled ‘The Thinking.’ Was that the first time you worked formally with John Russell?

Mark: That was the first time that we produced a jointly authored work, with the help of cult LA film-maker Damon Packard: the resultant film ‘Lost in the Thinking,’ won mocumentary of the year at the Berkeley Film and Video Festival! I was firstly aware of John through his work with BANK, a cult of another kind. They produced a series of exhibits in London throughout the nineties that were both artwork and group show, with heady titles such as ‘Zombie Golf,’ Cocaine Orgasm’ and ‘Charge of the Light Brigade.’ BANK was a key group for many fledgling curators and artists in Britain at the time, whose story as such hasn’t been fully explored. I was drawn to the work of BANK, and particularly, John, for his irreverent, witty and theoretically savvy, but unleaden approach to art making. It appeared lively and didn’t follow any prescriptive approach, the fact that it was hard to pin down appealed to me; it seemed wonderfully at odds with the one-liner work being produced at the time. Prior to ‘The Thinking,’ John and I worked on a series of co-curated shows, such as ‘Angloponce,’ at the Trade Apartment, London and ‘AXXXPRESHUNIZM’ at Vilma Gold, also in London.

Michael: And you’ve worked with John a few more times since then: ‘Barefoot in the Head’ (2009) and ‘The Prop Makers‘ (2005), for example. This AMC print, along with the mural-scale vinyl prints he has unveiled throughout the last three years or so, adhere to lofty production values. I mean “lofty” when compared to his earlier work with BANK, which coughed up cheaply printed tabloids and posters, handdrawn cartoons, and various figures made of paper, wire, and sometimes wax. The BANK projects often looked decidedly provisional and lo-fi. How do you account for this stylistic transformation? Does it seem to you to be a departure?

Mark: On the face of it, yes, I guess it feels different. But fundamentally, it’s in tune with John’s continued interrogation of the vernacular of the day, whether it’s the Xeroxed zine of the BANK Tabloid or his 800-page anthology ‘Frozen Tears,’ which mimics a Stephen King bestseller. The AMC print allies itself with the explosion of rendered digital imaging. It also riffs on 70s psych poster art and the seventies pomp and prog rock connections with science fantasy – specifically, Tolkein, it seems. It’s an aesthetic that strikes fear into many – Roger Dean meets Dalí by way of Peter Paul Rubens – strictly for the strong of heart. It’s certainly not the Peter Saville studio of clean cut, well-behaved lines.

Michael: Yes, while looking through his digital images, I had to switch on Emerson, Lake, and Palmer’s Fanfare for the Common Man, which still gets unfairly shunned from most libraries. The BANK stuff felt more like Pavement or even SST records, though that wouldn’t be a parallel timeline. Anyway, the timing of John Russell’s digital, sci-fi pastiche is perfect, given the sensational spectacle of Avatar, the coming Tron remake, and the other epic, digital IMAX features that are imminent. Personally, the print, the vinyl murals, and Avatar all make me wince at their excesses, which more recent art and music have shaven away; but eventually that guarded skepticism can give way to the undeniable sentiment that “this stuff is really cool.” I guess by understanding that Russell’s newer imagery is profligate and over-the-top, we can then permit ourselves to really have fun with it. Of course, the images aren’t thoroughly kitsch; the crucified hands, permeable bodies, and flowing internal organs make things makes things a bit morbid – yet no worse than the maggots and armed Nazi corpses of Jake and Dinos Chapman.

Mark: ‘Fanfare for the Common Man’ is perfect; it is more a knowing banal excess than kitsch. Fantasy is key, not as a function of intuition or in opposition to reality, but rather as something suggested through knowledge, something that grows through montage, citation and digital reproduction. A fantasy let loose from closed and dusty volumes, a liberation of impossible worlds. A form of baroque, digital triumphalism, a becoming aesthetic that as yet isn’t fully understood. The potential appeals to me, rather than simply quoting the past so as to be clearly understood, it presents something of a curveball. What is good or bad taste and who decides?


Slipping Up

The Artist of the Month of February is John Russell, as selected by Performa curator Mark Beasley. His inkjet print on metallic silver polyester is a kitschedelic fantasy vignette called Untitled (Abstraction of Labour Time/External Recurrence/Monad). Here, John talks about his recent, cinema-scale murals within the chronology of his earlier collaborations with the collective BANK and Beasley himself.


MB: Let’s begin with a brief history of Mark Beasley/ John Russell. In 2005, you and Mark co-curated a group show at MOT International called “The Prop Makers.” Was that the first time you worked formally with him?


JR: Actually, in 2004 or maybe 2003 we organised a show called Angloponce at the Trade Apartment in Brixton, London. The invites were these hand-written personalised love letters where we told people we loved them and how we had had a dream about them where we were standing naked in a strange lake together and how we had seen Jesus and got an erection and other stuff. That was a good show. Then after that we organised a show in 2004 called Angloponce at Vilma Gold in London. Then also there was a project at PS1 called The Thinking. We tried to produce a horror film with the Los Angeles-based director Damon Packard. Things didn’t go so well – we got into trouble for filming – and interacting with – other artists work and in the end they confined us to one room after some of Damon’s footage was deemed to be pornography. It proved difficult to make a horror film in one room. Me and mark ended up wearing masks and making paintings of transvestites/shemales and Bambi with a penis – we regressed (I can’t remember why). The film ended up being pretty good – its on Damon’s site.

MB: Evident even in your early years working with BANK, you have maintained a strong interest in working with the human figure. We see this in early work, such as Zombie Golf and Light Brigade, as well as the porn; and in the later work, especially in the new digital murals. What are the origins, if any, of the people who appear in the new work? Are they people you know? Are they allegorical?

JR: I like the way figures, figurative images, especially on a large scale, include the viewer. Or rather predict the viewer perspectivally and/or compositionally in the way they are structured. It’s the way History painting works, for example, David’s Oath of the Horatii. The viewer is kind of positioned or articulated as witness. The other thing that interests me is the way in which in the human figure might be used to act out or perform ideas. In this case there is a perverse relationship between the idea and poses of the figures, that is whether these poses are the result of ‘free-will’ or whether they are fixed as narrative or compositional elements within a wider ‘philosophical context.’ Bit like your drawings: are the figures acting/moving/performing or are they trapped and restricted by a pattern you impose?

MB: Right, I ask myself the same question all the time! It always reminds me of Han Solo being frozen and “Relieved” into that wall. And the free will vs. trapped/restricted figures does also extend to and through the viewers. When you compose a life-size mural, you are trying to foretell the motion of a viewer’s eyes and maybe even attempt a hierarchy of images for the viewer to sequence.

You have exerted great effort in generating “lifelike,” “realistic” images (we know how tricky those terms are, but let’s use them just for convenience). Even though they are surreal, hallucinatory, or implausible, the laws of physics still apply. The unicorn could be a token symbol of this relation: it doesn’t exist, but it seems as if it could, and it isn’t even difficult to envision. As you work, do you wonder whether “realism” and “plausibility” affect a viewer’s response to the imagery? Does more information deprive the viewer of agency? Does less information enable a viewer to apprehend the imagery and add something to it? I guess I’m asking what would happen if one of your murals shared a gallery with a Keith Haring mural.

JR: Yes, I guess the argument goes that realism is a kind of a problem technically (regardless of whether or not it is also a problem philosophically/theoretically etc) because the illusion can never be strong enough. Whereas a less realistic approach (‘less information’ as you put it) leaves space for the viewer to see their own picture and to include themselves in. There’s something in that, although whatever style or format of represention is used from Haring to Pollock and/or wherever/however this is presented (gallery, grafitti, internet, formal, casual, less information, more information etc) we are always already structured/articulated/positioned as viewers by the images.

That is not to suggest there isn’t room for slipping/transformation/re-performance. The type of realism I use (if realism is the right word) is very conventional and stereotyped – tied to the restrictions of 3d modelling which uses conventional preset perspective – modelled on a cinematic camera format. I’m interested in the spacing/spatialising effect this articulates – as the space of the cliche/stereotype/archetype. And the potential of spectacle.

In this respect, technically, I don’t really know what I’m doing, anyway (technically). I use all the cheapest and easiest 3d software and adapt pre-existing 3d models I find on the web (or buy cheaply from 3d sites). And then spend a long time (too long) in Photoshop working on details in hundereds of layers.

All the figures are kind of found objects, or cliches (found objects are a kind of cliche – yes?), including the unicorn for instance. What interests me in this is the way ‘sense’ (in a Deleuzian sense) slips across the surface of these type of objects. So technically/formally 3d objects are wrapped or surfaced by photographs.

With digital imagery and in particular 3d imagery – not only is there a move away from the indexicality of the photograph (Barthes etc) – as a kind of proof of something that ‘happened’. But increasingly imagery (photographic imagery) is used to wrap around 3d forms or models within 3D files, as a kind of surface affect or texture – of ‘shininess’, ‘skin-ness’, ‘wet-ness’, ‘rock-ness’, ‘grass-ness’, ‘face-ness’ and so on – thats how you select which photos to use.

Admittedly, this effect is contained and frozen within a larger image in whatever format it is finally outputted. But the way these wrapped images slip ‘like meaning’ or ideas across the surface of forms or models is reminiscent of Deleuze’s description of the way ‘sense’ slips across the surface of events, passions and forms. The structure is similar in my mind. It’s an effect you see a lot in cinema – think spaghetti westerns – Once Upon a Time in the West or The Good the Bad and the Ugly – the characters abstracted from American Western films operate as archetypes/dead forms – when you watch Clint Eastwood you are watching sense slipping across the surface of a found object. Very exciting/ecstatic as well.



The January Artists of the Month are the duo AIDS-3D.  Watching the videos on the AIDS-3D website, I reminisced about Tron, which might be an ancestor of the phosphorescent nodes and animated, glowing bodies of an AIDS-3D event. Of course, neither Nik Kosmas nor Daniel Keller were even alive when that movie premiered. They were born in 1986, the same year as the first PC virus, the Challenger explosion, and DC Comics’ Watchmen series. Aids-3D were among the youngest participants in Younger Than Jesus, the “generational” survey at the New Museum.

“The first time we looked at their website, it was like, “Wow, we feel old, say curator team, the Bengala. “We were lost for an hour. Then we downloaded all the MP3s and listened to them while running or riding our bikes. It sounded like someone dosed you with Robitussin DM and shoved you in the worst Euro rave ever. But we were still listening…”

Currently working (and freezing) in Berlin, Daniel Keller brought me up to date: “We’ve been interested in ‘singularity‘ ideas for a while now: that [humans] are on the verge of creating a greater-than-human artificial intelligence, which will lead to a paradigm shift, and eventually the colonization of the entire universe with life.  In an attempt to understand some of the concepts better, we’ve been reading a few books that use information theory to attempt to explain this ‘cosmic evolution’.”


Singularity describes the outcome of technological advancements, the markers of which seem to be occuring at exponentially greater frequency each year. The acceleration of technology finally culminates at an upright pinnacle of infinity. For some Singularity theorists, the last human invention will be a superintelligent computer that exceeds its human creators, ushering us into a new era no longer governed by humans. It probably won’t happen for another 30 years or so, but the paradigm shift could take just a few hours.

Some of the videos on the AIDS-3D website document performances that often depict nude or partially nude young people dancing with or among luminescent cables, flames, and quasi-mystical symbols. A viewer might think about ancient religious or primitive rituals. Or maybe Mark Leckey’s Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore (1999), minus all the subcultural anthropology. The events, scored with thumping dance music, are dazzling and entertaining, but anticlimactic. There’s a sense of building excitement, but the results withhold any revelation or change, much like New Year’s Eve 1999: computers didn’t crash, nothing exploded, and nobody could find a cab to get home, just like any other New Year’s Eve, so they just kept drinking.

The sparse spaces and forms that AIDS-3D use are coldly austere, often dark, and subliminally post-apocalyptic. Yet, the performers seem to be working with the electronics and media surrounding them, and not in competition. They explore and play with these buzzing toys, or employ them to examine means of communication. That itself seems contrary to many of the more ardent (or paranoid) Singularitarians, who foresee nemesis in our technological advancement – namely, the potential enslavement or destruction of mankind at the hands of our computers. The awkward, but reverent cooperation demonstrated by AIDS-3D says “User Friendly” and may be the way the artists demonstrate an optimistic view of the future.

“We’ve been fascinated with the idea of Emergence: that complex systems seemingly and miraculously form out of simpler components. This is linked symbolically with Logos, an underlying positive force that allows for isolated pockets of increasing order and complexity despite the rise of entropy in the greater environment or universe.”

And how does that relate to your print for AMC?

“We took a super universal, bold (50/50 black and white) symbol of order and change, the spiral, and reduced it with a noise filter until it was far less discernible. We wanted to communicate a feeling of hope and faith in some sort of unifying cosmic order, beneath the seeming chaos – that it’s just a matter of perspective…”

And the title?

It’s called “Info” because there is a message being transmitted through the entropic noise.

Do you believe that order actually permeates the universe?  Or do you think order is just a function of perception?  Is it really there, or do we just think it’s there?  Sometimes, I wonder if my senses impose the illusion of order.

“I think the universe is basically a giant quantum computer which is computing its progression through time and that all interactions can be boiled down to informational exchanges between matter. I think that there is definitely a trend towards increasing complexity and that this seems like some sort of underlying law of computation, that allows for complex systems to form.”

“But I think the whole issue with observation influencing outcome is very interesting. Either way, I do believe that order is real, and that although it doesnt neccesarily permeate the universe, there are little pockets of extreme order that arise at the expense of greater entropy in the universe at large.”

The name “AIDS-3D” was computed through a database, right?  That result seems like an interesting negotiation between order and chaos.

“Yes, it was generated with a sort of rudimentary keyword-based system. It wasn’t random, though; it was pretty calculated and it wasn’t the first name the database generated – but it seemed to work best, so we went with it.”