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Artist and blogger T. Whid, a fellow panelist in the upcoming Rhizome blogging and the arts event, is part of the art duo MTAA, along with M. River (their blog is here.) A Globe and Mail article on MTAA's current online artwork 1 Year Performance Video is here and I reposted it here. 1 Year Performance Video revisits a classic conceptual-era work by Tehching (Sam) Hsieh, where the artist locked himself in a cage-like cell for a year, and arranged for friends to bring him food and take away his body waste for the duration. (Shades of Wladyslaw Szpilman in The Pianist, minus the plumbing.) Recreating the work online, MTAA has made fake cellcams showing the two artists sitting in separate sealed rooms--fake because the pair aren't actually in cells, only posting video loops that show them doing things they might be expected to do at appropriate times of the day. As the artists explain it, they use computer technology to take the suffering out of Hsieh's performance and put the onus of the one-year commitment on the websurfer, who uses a cookie to literally log time watching them.

Pieces that refer so specifically to known, past artworks, satirically or otherwise, are problematic--more on this below--but there's much to think about here. Unlike the Globe and Mail, I'd discuss the work in terms of voyeurism, and artist recuperation of the part-guileless, part-sleazy home webcam phenomenon. In real (Internet) life, the only reason a surfer would stay with a site like this for hours was in the hope that the subjects might do something kinky. I know there are people watching this for art, but why? Perhaps the presence of white plastic buckets in the rooms creates some morbid curiosity about how the artists handle basic elimination needs, but frankly I didn't stick around to find out.

Like Penn and Teller explaining a magic trick, the artists reveal--on a related web page--quite a bit about the scripting and webserving mechanics behind their simulation. This geeks-only backstory actually makes for fairly fascinating reading. One guesses the commercial voyeur sites do something similar--calling up particular loops at particular times of the day to fool the rubes. There is also the cliche of a hundred spy thrillers where fake footage of a surveillance subject is inserted into the bank of video recorders to confound the watchers. For sure the technology changes Hsieh's piece quite a bit, which did allow observers, but only at specified times, like a prison visit. Ultimately the MTAA work's relationship to current tech-shaped behavior patterns and pop culture tropes feels more compelling than its parody of the Hsieh performance, which is almost by definition an art world in-joke, with a singular interpretation: that when computer-age art revisits the physically demanding, emotionally wrenching work of yesteryear, an insincere, fast-food facsimile inevitably results. Sorry to leach the humor out of it, but there it is.

Addendum: And speaking of webcams, dave found this article about "net or remote hunting" of animals, an example of life trumping art for sheer fuX0red weirdness. (Assuming it's not a hoax.)

- tom moody 11-20-2004 7:40 pm [link]