Tag Archives: interview

Fermenting at Flux: Live and Active Cultures (Part 3)

Presented by Christina Freeman, Flux Factory artist-in-residence and Visiting Assistant Professor, Haverford College

Over the course of my residency at Flux Factory in Long Island City, New York, I am recording a series of studio visits with other artists-in-residence (aka Fluxers), as well as outside artists collaborating with Flux for its various public programs. Through its studio residency program, Flux Factory supports approximately 30 emerging artists each year from a range of creative disciplines and international locations. Flux commissions new work through quarterly exhibitions, and residents produce public events at a prolific pace.

For this interview, Christina invited Caitlin Foley and Misha Rabinovich, faculty at UMASS Lowell, to talk about their ongoing project, Total Jump. Artspace in New Haven, CT commissioned Foley and Rabinovich to present Total Jump for Game On! on view at the Goffe Street Armory, October 15 and 16 from 12-6pm.

CF: Tell me about your project for New Haven City-Wide Open Studios

Misha: We are creating a multiplayer game that facilitates a worldwide coordinated jump. This came out of the idea that we could cause a massive earthquake if we organize everyone to land in unison. The near impossibility of accomplishing a Total Jump and the ease and fun of training for it invites the audience to bridge the gap between a postmodern pluralistic world and the necessity of global coordinated actions in the face of the Anthropocene.

Caitlin: The first version of Total Jump Training was a one to two player game where participants time their jump to land on zero. This was included in A Wicked Problem at the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts. To help create a playful energetic environment our friends Gold Bikini wrote Jump Up!, which has lyrics about the concept, specifically for Total Jump. For Game On! we are excited to present an eight player, immersive installation of Total Jump where participants stand in a circle facing both the animated projection and each other.

Misha: We also released the first version of the Total Jump Live phone app (available for iOS/Android) to coincide with City-Wide Open Studios, which people are using to practice jumping, and for us to send notifications for global jumps.

CF: I realize that Total Jump functions as a metaphor. Do you joke about how this technology could be applied to larger societal movements?

Misha: For us it started out as a joke, but since then it has been exhibited at EFA Project Space in NYC, and Boston Cyberarts Gallery, among others.  The fact that people actually want to try it means that it is entering into the non-ironic territory.

Caitlin: In some cases we were amazed that people love this as much as they do. It has been really fun and heartwarming to see.

Misha:  There are also instances where this jump has been attempted. MythBusters organized a group jump at the Stewart & Colbert Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear in 2010 and calculated how much meat would hit the ground, using seismic measurements.

CF: How does this work relate to the rest of your artistic practice and other artists’ work that inspire you?

Caitlin: Total Jump connects to some of the ideas evident in our mobile sauna project. We were thinking about neighborliness and noting that people in our culture often don’t get to know their neighbors unless there is a disaster — whether large or small. We wanted to contribute to creating a culture of neighborliness that is not dependent on calamity. We may be in the midst of the sixth extinction, but people don't necessarily feel the depth of this. This jumping game creates a bonding experience in a fun and playful way that’s accessible and connects these ideas for us.

Misha: The Estonian singing revolution is an historic example. This was a series of events that led to Estonia’s exit from the USSR. People held hands along the Estonian border and sang together, and throughout the country groups would burst out into song to be in solidarity with each other, as a way to remember their heritage. It creatively led them back to independence. Another example is an action by Christoph Schlingensief, the German performance artist & theatre director. He invited people to take part in an anti-chancellor swim in lake Wolfgang, Austria. Four million bathers were organized to enter the water, with the intention of raising the water level and flooding the area. The idea is that the critical mass would overwhelm the conditions, and cause a paradigm shift in some way. Law enforcement prevented the demonstration from taking place.

CF:  A lot of times we talk about future potentiality in a very abstract way. Those historical precedents validate the real possibilities of creative work.  Have you thought about doing any programming along with Total Jump to build on larger ideas of collective action?

Caitlin: For me there is still enough openness in the piece that it can be ironic while it is also sincere. In one of the animations for Total Jump characters surround the world, jump and then the world breaks. Joint action can be a powerful and positive tool, however, one of the reasons we are experiencing climate change is mass action. For example, there are an immense number of people driving cars and contributing to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. There is a dual interpretation: the jump can symbolize coming together for the greater good and also the impact we as a species are having on the earth.

Misha: The anthropocene has come, but we don’t really know what that is. Intellectually we can know it, but we don’t feel the power of that collective agency. It reminds me of Player Piano, by Kurt Vonnegut. It takes place in a techno-dystopia, inspired by his work at GE. At the end there is a cataclysm. Everyone destroys the technology and then out of this total revolt, people are bored. One of the characters starts to fiddle around with broken pieces of technology and makes a little automated thing for entertainment, and everyone is really into it, starting the cycle again. In our animation the earth cracks and then another earth comes out of it. We wanted to stage a poetic interpretation of the anthropocene, and ask where our cultural power is leading us.

CF: Earlier this summer we talked about the debate between Claire Bishop and Grant Kester regarding antagonism. For a work to be successful does it need to be shocking or aggressive?

Misha: Well everyone jumping at once and causing an earthquake could be pretty catastrophic. The geologists we have spoken with say it is unlikely, unless we lined everyone up at the San Andreas and other fault lines. From the Grant Kester point of view, maybe it could lead to advocating for other actions that bring us all together. Any infrastructure that builds synchronicity, like the one enabled via our app, could easily be instrumentalized for different goals, however. We are open to that though, and people should get in touch if they want to schedule a global jump to coincide with their needs, for example during an event, and hopefully get a worldwide audience.

CF: Technology can have a way of over-inflating how important we feel socially, and yet we still might not believe that we can affect anything within a political spectrum. The proposed image of people lining up on a fault line is really powerful. It reminds me of the Francis Alÿs piece, When Faith Move Mountains. It’s exciting to think that something very physical could result from the otherwise intangible experience of engaging with tech.

Caitlin: The phone app offers the possibility for people to jump no matter where they are. People around the world can jump simultaneously.  Potentially they can jump across the room from each other and see each other in the real world, therefore forming a bond. We are interested in the complex social issues within this intersection of physical and technological experience. Even during an installation of the training game, one of the gallery assistants was a little nervous about jumping and seemed to feel ridiculous. People have reservations about how they appear taking an action. The way people use the app could be really interesting. If you get a notification when you are walking down the street, would you stop and jump?

CF: I think this brings up the public/private dichotomy. We live so much of our lives online- we might feel comfortable engaging politically in the online realm, but hesitate to go out and protest in the street. The two actions feel really different, but one can affect the other. There is still a certain power and presence to the physical world.

Caitlin: What’s exciting in the phone app is the possibility of existing in both spaces simultaneously.

BIO
Caitlin Foley and Misha Rabinovich work collaboratively as artists and curators to create works which engage ideas and practices involving sharing communities, livable ecologies, and the transmutation of waste. Among other things they create interactive games, installations, and happenings where audience participation is a key component of the work and its message. Projects such as their DS Institute Sweat Battery actively creates/engages a sharing community through the collection of sweat from participants using our mobile sauna, presents an alternative ecology for energy production, and transforms sweat “waste” into power to charge cell phones and symbolize collective energy. Their work has been exhibited in the US, Canada, and Europe at such venues as EFA Project Space (NYC), Flux Factory (NYC), the New Museum’s Ideas City Festival (NYC), Marymount California University (LA), the Torrance Art Museum in (LA), the Everson Museum of Art (Syracuse, NY), SIGGRAPH (LA), High Desert Test Sites HQ (Joshua Tree), Prague Biennale (Czech Republic), KCHUNG Radio (LA) and the Arts Center of the Capital Region (Troy, NY). Misha is an Assistant Professor of Interactive Media and Caitlin is part-time faculty in the Art and Design Department at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.

Fermenting at Flux: Live and Active Cultures (Part 2)

Presented by Christina Freeman, Flux Factory artist-in-residence

Over the course of my 5-month residency at Flux Factory in Long Island City, New York, I am recording a series of studio visits with other artists-in-residence (aka Fluxers), as well as outside artists collaborating with Flux for its various public programs. Through its studio residency program, Flux Factory supports approximately 30 emerging artists each year from a range of creative disciplines and international locations. Flux commissions new work through quarterly exhibitions, and residents produce public events at a prolific pace.

For this interview, I invited Maya Jeffereis to talk about her current project, Fallout Shelter which stages a moral values exercise developed by the US Navy. Maya invited visitors to participate in the exercise at Flux Factory on July 14, as one of the featured collaborators for Interdependence DayFallout Shelter is on view at the Soho20 Gallery in Brooklyn until July 25 and the New Britain Museum of American Art through September 11. 

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C: How did your Fallout Shelter project come about?
M: I found a U.S. Navy training manual at an abandoned military site in Puerto Rico. Inside was this exercise on moral values: a hypothetical apocalyptic scenario with ten people occupying a fallout shelter. As participants, you are on a civil defense committee appointed by the President and it's your job to decide which six occupants should remain in the shelter in order to rebuild society and which four have to leave, because there is only space for six. The exercise describes each occupant by very problematic statements that include information about age, race, gender, sexuality, profession, and ideology.

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Text taken from the fallout shelter exercise:

  1. Thirty-six year old female physician, known to be a confirmed racist.
  2. Marine drill instructor, 37, white, accused of brutality to recruits -- has a revolver.
  3. Black militant, 35 year old biological researcher (PhD).
  4. Biochemist, 62 years old, white male.
  5. Olympic athlete, 26, decathlon champion, Asian female.
  6. Hollywood starlet, 27 year old white female, known drug user.
  7. Third year male medical student -- homosexual, 28.
  8. Sixteen year old girl, pregnant, questionable IQ, high school dropout.
  9. Thirty year old Catholic priest, Hispanic.
  10. Thirty-eight year old carpenter, and “Mr. Fix-It” man. Served seven years for pushing narcotics, has been out of jail for 7 months.

C: How did you take the ideas from that document and transform them into a work?
M: The most interesting aspect of the exercise was the conversation about identity politics and values that it opened up. I invited participants to my studio to complete the exercise and make their own decisions about whom to keep and whom to remove. They improvised on camera playing three roles: a member of the civil defense committee discussing their decisions, an occupant they chose to keep, and an occupant they chose to get rid of. In the role of the fallout shelter occupants, they would make a video confessional speech about why they should remain in the shelter, with the idea that their speech would be sent to the civil defense committee making decisions.

C: How does the two-channel format influence our understanding of the content in the speeches?
M: The video is edited together with the civil defense committee members on the left channel and the fallout shelter occupants on the right. By having the same performer play three distinct roles, you get a conflict of interest. For example, you might see a member of the civil defense committee on the left talking about why we should get rid of the Hollywood Starlet but then on the right, you see the same performer making an argument in defense of herself. Many different performers play each of the occupants, so you might see 10 different performers playing the role of the Marine Drill Instructor. I wanted to create a collective identity for each of the 10 occupants that would represent the range of arguments for or against each occupant. This would expose latent biases, because you're having a very direct and open conversation about race and identity politics and your own values. You are also building your own conception of a utopia by doing this thought experiment of what it would mean to rebuild society. What kind of society are you building? What do you hope to bring to a new society and what do you wish to leave behind?

C: How many people participated and did they write their own scripts?
M: About 35 people participated in the video and all of the performers improvised their own parts. When directing the video, I offered some general guidelines but tried not to influence what they said because it was about what each person brought to their own performance.

C: You don’t guide them as to whether they should use their own value system or approach it like a philosophical exercise?
M: I’m interested in this gray area between the performance of the self and the performance of a character. Where do you draw the line between the two? When performing a character, you are calling on personal experiences and external experiences that you have observed or absorbed through culture and media and these experiences become internalized. When performing your own identity, I think of Erving Goffman’s research on how an individual acts differently in different contexts, constantly adapting to various situations. The question of real versus fictional can be asked of both the performer and the performed.

C: In reading the document, there is an absurdity to the exercise that makes it hard to take seriously, but there is something about watching people act it out that feels surreal and frightening in its plausibility.
M: I think of the occupants of the fallout shelter as archetypes: you have The Doctor, The Soldier, the Academic, The Athlete, The Movie Star, and so on. Each archetype may have varying degrees of relatability, depending on your own background. For example, the Female Physician is described as a “confirmed racist.” How do we interpret this information, especially when it seems to present a conflict of interest between a doctor who swears the Hippocratic Oath and a confirmed racist who may refuse to treat certain patients? When the participants play the occupants, they begin to humanize these characters, giving insight into their personalities, their flaws, and their motivations. Perhaps it’s this sense of empathy imbued in the performance or conveyed to the viewer that is unsettling, because we’re confronting morally ambiguous and ambivalent issues. But that’s the great thing about this thought experiment: it gets us to have very frank and candid discussions about difficult topics, like race, policing, and gun control--issues that we’re facing right at this very moment.

Maya Jeffereis is a video, performance, and installation artist based in New York. Her work has been shown most recently at SOHO20 Gallery, Flux Factory, and NARS Foundation. She holds a MFA from Hunter College and a BFA and BA from the University of Washington. Maya is also the Public Engagement Associate of Adult and Access Programs at the Guggenheim.

Christina Freeman is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Fine Arts at Haverford College in Pennsylvania and currently an artist-in-residence at Flux Factory in New York.

 

Fermenting at Flux: Live & Active Cultures (Part 1)

Presented by Christina Freeman, Flux Factory artist-in-residence

Over the course of my 5-month residency at Flux Factory I will be recording a series of studio visits with other artists-in-residence (aka Fluxers). Through its studio residency program in Long Island City, NY, Flux Factory supports approximately 30 emerging artists each year from a range of creative disciplines and international locations. Flux commissions new work through quarterly exhibitions, and residents produce public events at a prolific pace.  The next exhibition opening on July 20th in Flux's gallery is "Thinking Like a Machine," by Niki Passath.

Interview with Niki Passath

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C: Tell me about your opening on July 20th.

N: It’s a hybrid event, both workshop and exhibition. The robotics workshop starts at noon and finishes when the opening reception begins, at 6pm. We will experiment with the machines we have made as a performance during the opening.

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C: What are the materials you are using?

N: Styrofoam, wooden skewers, straws, mobile phone batteries, and e-waste.

[Recently Niki has been making robots that paint]

C: How do you see the action of the robot painting as cultural critique?

N: I propose new ways for looking at technology.  For example, a lot of people think, you can do anything with a good programming language. In reality, you are limited to what the producer of that language could conceptualize.

C: The robot acts as an intermediary, creating distance between you and the final painting. I assume you are thinking about technology mediating relationships and how we connect emotionally or disconnect.

N:  How we communicate and use technology nowadays, is the wrong way because we connect, mainly over software which has a reason. That reason is to make money. It might be a social software but the intention is different. There used to be couch surfing for free. The next idea was Airbnb, which was a good idea, but businesses were destroyed and in many cities the rents have increased.

C: It points to a global issue, of prioritizing short term consumer experience over long term sustainability.

N: It’s subjectivism, vs objectivism. The idea that everything that I would like to have and consume is inherently good.

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C: The lines these days are a bit blurred, but a lack of specific function is often inherent to what defines art, as opposed to design or craft. How do you think about the function of your robots? Aren’t they unnecessary?

N: I come from the classical music world. An instrument is a very elaborate technological device. Even when you use that machine to create music, you interpret the composition. The musician, is a very small element in the whole system. There could be a billion musicians, but the way they interpret the work is special.

C: The point is not to make a painting.

N: I tried it, it’s not something that I like. I really enjoy the traces of the robots, they take two to three hours. It might be the same amount of time for me to make it myself, but I prefer if the robot makes it. It’s a very intense, emotional time for me. The reason for having the robots paint, is the connection to the idea of trace and cave painting. Everything the robots do is recorded by the trace, it is the abstract form of each robot's movement.

C: You create the robots with some intentional element of failure?

N: Yes, I realized that if there are small mistakes in the form, the behavior changes and it becomes very lifelike. My theory is that every great idea came out of a misunderstanding of something.

C: Are you open about the code and the technical process?

N: I come out of the open source world. If you look at the score for a piece of music, that is the source code of the piece. In some cases, I write code onto the gallery wall. Calling it a score can help you see code differently. It’s more interesting to create scores for machines, than a very dry, technical code.

Niki_paint_robot2

C: The world of technology is still very male dominated, and your robots are working with the abstract expressionist language, which is also a male dominated language. Specifically this idea of the paintbrush as phallus is a reminder of this.

N: I’m looking forward to the conversation here in the United States, because Jackson Pollock is not so important in my world and I’m not coming out of that tradition. I was never a painter. I’m interested in the gesture, but not what a painter thinks is a gesture.

C: Your work reminds me of Yves Klein, with the traces of  bodies on canvas, performance in the gallery space, musical scores, neo-dada style happenings; also Nam June Paik releasing a robot into the street to be hit by a car.  It’s an event, alive and organic.

N: There’s no instructions for the evening. If you don’t look closely it would seem like a normal opening reception, with the artist present. It’s more subtle and I wouldn’t want it to be otherwise.

Niki Passath teaches Interface Design at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna. Christina Freeman is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Fine Arts at Haverford College in Pennsylvania. Both are currently artists-in-residence at Flux Factory in New York, where Niki will be leading a robotics workshop on Wednesday, July 20, 2016, followed by an opening reception and exhibition: http://www.fluxfactory.org/events/robot-making-workshop/

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A Normal Future – Interview with NORMALS

Normals is a collective whose work crosses a number of boundaries. Perhaps their work is a proposal that the boundaries we once found useful in defining creative practice don’t work as well in our connected/networked/hybrid cultures. What do the spaces between design, digital studio practice, networked art, and Internet Art look like? What do the spaces between fiction, abstraction, and social media performance look like? What do the spaces between the real, the virtual, and the augmented look like? It isn’t easy to define through traditional categories what artists create in our contemporary visual culture more broadly and definitely challenging with the work of Normals in particular.
I met Normals in 2012 at the 2nd International Computer Art Congress in Paris, where their physical bodies live and work. Since that time they have continued to produce multifaceted speculative works of multiple disciplinary categories. In the past several months, they have been promoting a new work - APPAREL. Our interview focuses on that work but is ongoing.
# Hi Normals - for our readers not familiar with your work, tell us about APPAREL. The work has a number of parts - how do they fit together?
APPAREL is a piece of clothing designed to co-exist in the digital and physical spaces. It comes as a polygonal black cape, and an iOS application allowing the wearer to see the piece’s digital counterpart, in augmented reality. The cape itself is as minimalistic as its digital overlay is complex and refined. The digital model is generated through a text analysis of the wearer's Twitter feed, evolving in real time, and creates a unique piece of clothing, as an info-graphic, an incarnation of the wearer's online personality.
Being a speculative studio working on anticipation, we like to imagine what a world where our “products” are widespread would look like, and for that specific reason we tend to pair our projects with loads of fiction, describing hypothetical users, and their relationship to theses objects in a future where they have become… well… normal. So, for APPAREL, not only did we make a functional product (with the coding help of Julien “V3ga” Gachadoat), but we also imagined a future fashion show, a fashion contest, in which everybody wears an Apparel and competes over their digital personalities.
This has been the subject to a short story, a video depicting one of the contestants (3PLUS3MAKE5), a soundtrack generated from the contestants’ profiles, and a faux-documentary depicting fashion’s transfer over to the digital realm.
The work is speculative, but it is also about things that are currently happening and developing in Arts/Tech environments.  What do you think are some of the more interesting directions in creative culture today?
Everything speculative is about something currently happening! Honestly, there are many interesting aspects to the evolution of arts, tech, and fashion, but we decided to focus on one question that has driven the entire project: “what would our clothes look like if they became digital?” Considering AR as a potential technology to display a data-based esthetic layer over physical things, it seemed obvious that all things esthetic would transit to this reactive and polymorphous layer of contextual information. On the other hand, the physical piece of clothing had to be reduced to a simple protective piece of fabric, a pedestal for its glorious digital overlay.
But to answer your question, we feel anything can be interesting as long as it doesn’t fall into the trap of “fascination.” The role of artists, designers, or “futurists” is to look at what tomorrow might bring without being so fascinated by their subject that they transform critical thinking into wishful thinking without even knowing it. “What will [insert something] look like in the future?” is always a valid question, as long as the answer isn’t “flying cars” or “eternal life.” No one should look at innovation as something purely good or purely bad: whatever’s interesting lies in the middle.
APPAREL had/has a number of contestants - Users creating and sharing their fashion/design - what are some of your favorites?
We love them all! When imagining a product or an object, it’s always extremely fun to imagine the people interacting with it, whether it is as “hackers” of the system, or people full of admiration for the “progress” it stands for, it is one of the main focuses of our practice: imaginary users for speculative objects.
All the characters described in the story are representative of  an “attitude” towards digital fashion: the main character, Abdlcroco, is a competitor who only runs after achievements, while Mangel is seeking for the perfect performance, and 3PLUS3MAKE5 cultivates eye-candies to satisfy her audience’s craving for fun and cute things. Duall is probably the most intriguing character though, being someone who doesn’t care about this fashion contest, but comes to watch it every day, and is, despite his efforts to make people believe he doesn’t care, part of this system too.
A question for one of the contestants - is AbdlCroco available? 
He is.
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AbdlCroco - you used to be one of the top ranked contestants - tell our readers about one of your most highly rated designs - what was it like? What did the crowd think?
What I do is very personal. Whatever I feel like on the moment, I just turn it into a situational dance that spits epileptic graphics right into the viewer’s ‘i’. But if I have to chose one… I’d say back when I was Number Six or something. There was this one time… See, I made these bunky prisms that would go boom-boom-boom in your face as the bass in the soundtrack — the most epic collection of the deepest, darkest, fattest bass samples you could find on the Stream — also went boom-boom-boom. Even the floor looked like it was shaking, with all the lines blinking up and down looted from SK000N’s template — you know the one I’m talking about, right? So I had all this set up, and as I stepped on stage, there was some kind of power shutdown or something, and all the lights went out, and it was so in sync with my show that every frenz thought it was all planned. But truly it wasn’t. Just got lucky. And frenz digged my stuff so hard they remained silent throughout the whole thing, and I even got a standing ovation — well, the “standing” part doesn’t count though, everyone was standing already. But still got an ovation. That one was the best. Got straight to number 4 after that. But that was another time…
AbdlCroco - what do you think of Mangel’s fashion? His work seems to be on top lately - what does the crowd like about Mangel?
Allow me to speak frankly: Mangel’s a joke! Every single day Trudent welcomes a fashion show, with rules, RULES — you are judged on your LOOKS. The performance has now become a part of the show, and I’m okay with that: you should be able to display your outfit in the best manner possible. But what I HATE is frenz who use the performance to go hypno on the audience, to a point where they’re not even looking at the ONLY thing they should be looking at. Mangel’s just a comedian, he acts, makes people laugh, but no one sees that he just copies everyone else, and never comes up with ANYTHING NEW. Yet people like him, so they vote for him, and he remains there, everyday, trolling his way to the top.
 Normals - Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts with us, we look forward to seeing what happens next!