Below is Paddy Johnson's review of Cory Arcangel's "...participatory culture" show at Team Gallery last year. While critical, it is ultimately respectful and merely expresses what many thought about the show but were too cautious to say for fear of jinxing the first non-sucky computer artist to break through to art world recognition. Including me, even though I felt the show was a step back to the "BitStreams" era. I'm bringing it up now because recent writing about the artist seems to be adopting a strangely defensive or belligerent tone--it's as if you have declare whether you're for or against him, and I think we need to get over this. This review was not reBlogged by Eyebeam or Rhizome, the main new media sites, which also seems like a partisan and slightly juvenile snub. The issues are worth discussing.
I have been spending a lot of time thinking about how to discuss New Media artist Cory Arcangelís new exhibition, subtractions, modifications, addenda, and other recent contributions to participatory culture at Team Gallery, and itís not the exercise in fun it usually is. Writing about my friends is great when Iíve only got compliments to bestow, but itís another ball of wax when I leave their exhibition with a mental list of artists who have done similar work.
Donít get me wrong, subtractions, modifications, addenda, and other recent contributions to participatory culture, isnít entirely derivative, nor is it a bad show per say, but it does inspire a number of questions, that arenít easily resolved. Probably the strongest work in the show is Untitled Translation Exercise, a modified version of Dazed and Confused, a film by Richard Linklater, which now features the redubbed voices of Indian actors performing the screenplay in English. The original movie is a coming of age story about a group of American high schools students experiencing the anxiety, boredom, and fervor of teenage years, so Arcangelís choice to outsource the dialogue, both heightens the viewerís sense of what it means to be American, and reflects the development of new industries in the United States.
Youíd think these ideas would be enough to stamp the piece as good and be done with it, but I canít reconcile the feeling that the decision to outsource the filmís dialogue isnít entirely resolved. There are simply too many loose ends at play here. What does the work gain by outsourcing labor that has already been completed? Was it necessary to make a feature length movie? Does the filmís narrative support the alteration? These questions donít come up in Woody Allenís similarly conceived, Whatís Up Tiger Lily, a 1966 film whereby the director purchased a Japanese spy movie, removed the sound track and replaced it with his own. Clearly the two films are different, but you canít say the approach doesnít, at the very least, merit comparison.
The other video based works in the exhibition do not invite specific film references the way Untitled Translation Exercise does, but they do seem awfully close to work that has already been made. Arcangelís Colors for example, extends pixels line by line in the Dennis Hopper movie by the same name to create a moving vertical pattern reminiscent of New Media artist Jason Salavonís The Top Grossing Film of All Time 1◊1. Exhibited in 2001 at the Whitneyís exhibition Bitstreams, the artist uses the average color of each frame in the movie Titanic, and arranges them in a digital c-print to follow the narrative sequence they would have appeared in. I suspect the programs each artist wrote to create their work were difficult to execute, but unlike the work of Salavon, those with even a small amount of website construction experience will be familiar with the technique of expanding pixels, and subsequently wonít find the Arcangel manipulation all that interesting. Even without this knowledge, I imagine many viewers will still be left wondering what the point of the alteration is (other than to create a moderately attractive picture).
The reason these issues exist in this work, as with Untitled (After Lucier), a video loop of the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan show which compresses and loses image quality with each repetition, is that in each case, the content is subservient to the technology. And unfortunately, just as painting about painting is dull, so is tech art about tech. The thing is, Arcangel knows this, so despite the fact that some of the work in this show falls short, I have trouble believing that the exhibition is some sort of sign of things to come. Two weeks ago at Vertexlist, the artist performed pieces from his record The Bruce Springsteen ĎBorn To Runí Glockenspiel Addendum (also part of his show), and while, I canít claim to understand why the record needed to be a remix album (the artist composed five Glockenspiel pieces for the Bruce Springsteen album Born to Run, in addition to the three Springsteen had already written, matched them to the time count of the music, and removed the original music), his performance demonstrated his usual brilliance. There was a charming awkwardness to his playing, which made the piece at once humble, moving, and strangely funny. In fact, it was so enjoyable, that the thought occurred to me that while subtractions, modifications, addenda, and other recent contributions to participatory culture, isnít the best thing the artist has ever done, if he had thrown a performance into his show, nobody would have ever known the difference.
Paddy's review missed the mark entirely. Her 'derivative' crit simply doesn't hold up. Most egregiously, 'What's Up Tiger Lily' has absolutely nothing to do with 'Untitled Translation Exercise' and I don't see how a comparison is apt at all. Why not compare it to silent movies with unique sound tracks?
That's not to say that Rhiz and Eyebeam shouldn't have covered the review. It would have been nice to have a dicussion about it in the Rhizome forum.
My personal feeling re: these crits is that some folks are uncomfortable with Cory stepping out of his 8-bit roots. IMHO Cory did exactly what he needed to do with this show: he didn't change the core themes in his work but expanded the formal language.
Everyone knows I'm a big fan of Cory (both personally and professionally) so take my comments with that in mind :-)
Everyone knows I'm also a big fan of Cory (both personally and professionally) so take my comments with that in mind :-)
OK, now I've declared. (It won't do any good--I will be punished.)
We're not talking about "these crits," though, we're talking about Johnson's, and nowhere does she mention 8-bit or Cory's roots except to say the work "is not the exercise in fun it usually is." I agree with that. Sans Simon was funny, the Slayer concert cell phone call was funny. "blah blah...participatory culture" was very earnest and dull. The title says it all, it sounds like a Master's thesis and it's not over the top enough to work as irony. And like so much academic conceptualism, each piece required that you go up to the gallery desk to get the back story.
And as for "these crits," which crits? There was no public criticism of the show that I'm aware of.
To me the issue wasn't the loss of the 8-Bit dimension so much as the irreverent dimension. The earlier pieces were "who gives a fuck" versions of more serious new media art (or Douglas Gordon type video art). Fat bits hockey games? A packet sniffer that detects Boo-Yah Tribe? Who has ideas that good?
The Beatles on Ed Sullivan is just square (boomer) subject matter, and why do Lucier again? How many artists have done "xeroxes of xeroxes until you get snow"? Bruce Springsteen is square, too, a middle of the road Seventies rocker--not bad enough to be "good bad." Who cares that Born to Run has glockenspiel? It's nerdy all right, but not worth fetishizing with a limited edition vinyl art piece. The concept required several sentences to explain, in contrast to "Slow Tetris."
When you take away the brilliant humor, you are left with derivative work.
More important than Johnson's Tiger Lily comparison were the questions that preceded it. "What does the work gain by outsourcing labor that has already been completed? Was it necessary to make a feature length movie? Does the filmís narrative support the alteration?" Linklater's Dazed and Confused is superb, an inherently self critiquing, smart film. The out of kilter, dubbed Indian voices made it a travesty--why do that? It may be an asshole gesture, but unlike Total Asshole Compression it isn't funny, it's an ordeal to watch. (I grew to dislike that piece--or my memories of it--even more over time.)
wait a minute, tom i thought you didn't like digital one-liners?
computers are, by nature, really boring - thats why the people that get into them are called nerds. so sometimes humour is there to make work accessible, but jeez not every piece someone makes needs to be a laugh riot.
"take away the brilliant humor, you are left with derivative work." could easily be a diss to the pieces of BEIGE or cory's that you do like.
I was trying to mention a range of past pieces, not all computer-based. It's true that the ones I mentioned were funny, but I suppose I should expand the definition of funny for the art context to include "concise, witty, but also profound in the sense of revealing some insight theretofore unrevealed." The shock of such work is often expressed in yocks.
Excellent critique. Reviewer asks some relevant questions. I still love Arcangel, but the honeymoon's over!
Now if someone would just take that Paul Chan to task......
the shock thats expressed as yocks - its a good thing but i wonder if you are not leaving room for computer works that have a developing shock that might come after a longer/backstory engagement rather than an immediate shock? (assuming there are such things)
take untitled translation - to wonder about conceptual flaws that render the piece questionable is great (i've got one - the indian company got paid a really fair wage, cory's unpaid intern who did a ton of the actual editing got nothin. which country has the exploitive labour practices now??) but - if i'm understanding you correctly - i still think to say that a piece fails because it lacks a certain irreverence/funny/concise profundity/etc that you're used to in his work is a bit thin on the ground.
Many of the pieces pre-"...participatory culture" required some longer/backstory involvement before the pleasure kicked in. "Slow Tetris" obviously not, but most people would have to know something about how Data Diaries or the Boo-Yah counter were made before the light bulb went off.
The critique of Translation Exercise isn't that it isn't per se funny--though it isn't, after the first few lines of dialogue you hear, it gets painful pretty quickly, especially if you like the movie. It's that I have no idea why he did it. Some protest against outsourcing? Then don't outsource! (And/or pay the intern--as you noted.)
Is it to show how imbedded something like Dazed is in American culture, and how mindless that culture is to the rest of the world? (Having a non-American say "throw me a brewski" makes that dialogue sound especially hollow.) But I think you could have made that point with about 10 minutes of the film. Or used some other, worse frat house film--like Weekend at Bernie's.
Linklater's film already undermines itself--it's a fairly melancholy 2 hours, for a comedy--it doesn't need to be deconstructed further, thanks. Paddy's questions about Translation Exercise deserve some answers.
Even the question about Tiger Lily isn't as lame as twhid thinks. Allen chose that Japanese spy film very carefully--it had to work on two levels, as a vehicle for the schtick and as something watchable for 90 minutes. His purpose was entertainment, not torturing an audience in the name of art, but his "translation exercise" is still conceptually more tight. (And I admit I didn't watch Translation Exercise all the way through--if anyone did and can answer Paddy's questions let's hear about it.)
Sorry, I don't understand this. This show was over 9 months ago...why are you bringing it up now? The "recent writings" are from two months ago and are both favorable. The only beligerent writing I've seen recently comes from this website which, at this point, comes across as needlessly hostile toward a fellow peer.
Tom, I'm largely in agreement regarding your thoughts on the AFC review, so I'll offer instead a thought on that "strangely defensive" burn-in review on MTAA's site. What twhid misses when he describes the piece as punk or incendiary is the ambiguity of putting a formal, self-referential work on an uber-expensive plasma screen in an art gallery. Isn't this what happened in the 90s when video art became widely commercially viable? The technology became advanced, portable, and expensive enough to warrant the high-market prices (on infinitely reproducible media) demanded by dealers of contemporary art; the rise of the limited edition video happened in conjunction with this, and so on. So what is it about Arcangel's work here that makes him think it so unequivocally "fucks with consumer dreams"? The work might just as easily be interpreted as a retrograde 90s throwback, a cynical and slightly irrelevant gesture symptomatic of an inflated art market preoccupied with itself.
TWhid: I didn't write that review because I was uncomfortable with Cory leaving his 8-bit roots - I thought the change was necessary too - but I haven't read an answer to the questions posed in that post that makes me think I should reconsider the observation that the show is a rocky transition.
I've noticed you've said a couple of times in comment threads that you don't think derivitative critiques hold up, and to be honest, I've never understood why. I think some distinction has to be made between the importance of being content to create work that is part of a continium (as opposed to feeling like you need to reinvent the wheel everytime you make a piece) and repetition or deriviation that is a direct result of conceptual weakness. Tiger Lily isn't a perfect comparison, but for the same reasons Tom outlines above, I really don't think it's off the mark.
Cory Arcangel is a better artist than Woody Allen!
The reviews I linked to were favorable to Arcangel, but either smacked another artist's work or reacted to perceived "harsh" criticism of Arcangel. Both used the words "fuck" or "FUCK."
As for the timing, you might have noticed an adjacent post on a show by another BEIGE artist. Good time to bring up some lingering BEIGE issues swept under the carpet 9 months ago, or so it seemed to me.
I reworked Dazed and Confused in highchool and got a C.
Anon: "Sorry, I don't understand this. This show was over 9 months ago...why are you bringing it up now? The "recent writings" are from two months ago and are both favorable. The only beligerent writing I've seen recently comes from this website which, at this point, comes across as needlessly hostile toward a fellow peer."
Anon: I really don't buy the thought that because a show occured just under a year ago that it doesn't warrent discussion. It received very little on the web at the time, and personally, I think if something reminds us of issues we feel unresolved we should bring them up.
Also, there is at least some suggestion in this note that the sentiments expressed in the post are primarly Tom's, when you'll note that in both previous threads there are tons of people who are happy to engage, often offering negative opinions.
I think anon. has posted here before, sifting through all the criticism and ignoring what's possibly thoughtful and supportive and looking for personal animus.
Such partisan behavior isn't doing Arcangel any favors.
Belated note to bxk: we discussed the burn-in piece at length a while back and yeah, I think it's more "art about the art world" than a general statement about consumerism, or "about the presence and impact of light filtered through technological devices" as Marcin claimed in the review linked to above.
Exactly what are the , ..."lingering BEIGE issues swept under the carpet 9 months ago, or so it seemed to me. "
And who " swept them under the rug " exactly ?
We're talking about them, right here, right now.
twhid said: "some folks are uncomfortable with Cory stepping out of his 8-bit roots"
The presence or absence of an 8-Bit sensibility in "...participatory culture"--now there's a topic. It wasn't what Paddy was talking about in her review but if it's the smoldering "hidden agenda" behind all criticism of the show then someone should maybe articulate it. As I recall Artforum thought the absence of an 8-Bit agenda was a good thing.
"Swept them under the rug"--the lack of institutional acknowledgement of Johnson's review. Aren't Eyebeam and Rhizome supposed to be about "work on the cusp of art and technology"? If Johnson was in fact "uncomfortable with Cory stepping out of his 8-bit roots" perhaps a wider audience deserved to know about that and weigh in.
bah! busy -- would like to post more (i know, very lame to cite my personal busy-tude) but...
re: specific questions on UTE
if UTE is, in part, about the out-sourcing hitting US white collar industries then isn't it apt to attach outsourcing to the USA's #1 export: hollywood films? Perhaps better put: the biggest movie industries in the world: bollywood and hollywood -- could UTE be seen as a mash-up of the two? Granted D&C isn't a poster child of the hwood flick, but it's subject matter (adolescent mid-american nostalgia) being outsourced does seem rather pithy to me. Is it a one-liner? Perhaps, but so is "I think therefor I am." (Submitted only to illustrate that one-liners aren't necessarily always one inch deep not to compare Arcangel to Descartes or UTE to the famous quote.)
re: the WUTL and UTE comparison.
I don't feel the comparison is illustrative because the agendas are completely different. Allen uses it as a comic device to tell a completely different story. The comedy comes from the wacky plot and dialogue transposed against the earnest Japaneses b-movie actors. The gestures are completely different IMHO but inspired by dubbed foreign films however.
i live in austin, tx, where dazed and confused 'takes place.'
cory's piece is actually a pretty great commentary on the economy here. austin has a huge tech industry, and it's crashed before. it's constantly under the threat of getting outsourced to india. pairing the video track from dazed and confused, an artifact of 'old austin,' pre-tech boom, with outsourced indian voices is pretty brilliant if you know that context.
i completely understand paddy's issues with the piece, tho. it doesn't need to be feature-length, the narrative doesn't support it too much (without knowing the context of the city it represents and its economy), but excessiveness in art isn't anything new. it's a high-concept piece, the concept is a huge part of it,. and like a lot of conncept-driven work, tedium is important. cf almost anything by james benning.
T.Whid: I think you make a good point when you say the gestures of the two films are different. I suppose if I were to write the review again, I would either be more specific with what I was comparing, or leave it out all together.
Slacker was Austin; Dazed was supposed to be the smaller East Texas town where Linklater grew up, as I recall. It may have been filmed in Austin but isn't notable for its Austin locations, is it?
I don't get how it's a comment on outsourcing. Dubbing films into other languages is done all the time--that's not outsourcing. This was English to English--the accents are jarring, so what?
Dazed definitely isn't Hollywood, it's Indy. It's not some trash--it's a good movie. Why ruin it? Again, all I get out of it is how important sound is to the feel of a film, in this case, it's American-ness and sense of melancholy. When you change it, you ruin the film.
Is it supposed to be funny is or is it supposed to be a grueling ordeal? We ought to be able to answer this.
-i live in austin, tx, where dazed and confused 'takes place.' cory's piece is actually a pretty great commentary on the economy here. austin has a huge tech industry, and it's crashed before. it's constantly under the threat of getting outsourced to india.-
I would hope that's not the case. That could easily done with text and very quickly... I can't imagine anybody spending over five minutes to make that point, which of course doesn't only apply to Austin, but Waco as well. My thought is that the piece is probably about Ben Affleck's personal journey and his potential as a presidential candidate if the Dems blow this one. He's anti-war but tough on terror and freshmen.
paddy raises a point we should spend more time on. It's relatively straightforward to produce work that is slightly different or vaguely interesting and attractive but the technologies we're dealing with here are transforming society in very fundamental ways - I think we are still at the begining of the information revolution - and exploring the impact of these new forms communciations on our minds has hardly begun at all. When I look at this work I want a dailogue with the artist so i can chip in with a few ideas - now that's what social media is about and art should reflect the fact that we need to hunt down wider perspectives.
With the exception of the overt pun of "Colors," using the film of the same name as source material, I had a lot of difficulty for finding any solid conceptual ties with the original material and the resultant pieces produced. To expand on Paddy saying, "the content is subservient to the technology": Maybe Cory was attempting a non-sequitur form of appropriation implying that all seemingly relevant conclusions of "material" and "use" are hijacked by the ubiquity of the source and the fetish of the tech. Long stretch, I know.
When seeing "Untitled (After Lucier)" I thought it was a disservice to Lucier, who's original piece, if I remember correctly, was about Lucier finding a way to acoustically blend away his speech impediment... of which he was very self-conscious. I'm not sure what that has to do with the Beatles on Sullivan.
Ok, yeah? I just read the linked-to-posts about the keystone and burn-in pieces. I'm guessing Tom's worried (as most might be) that "Fuck," is the new catch-phrase to describe media art, and nihilism is the way to approach it: from MTAA-RR, "Ďfuck you, Iím fucking up this expensive piece of equipment. Why? Because Iím motherfucking Cory Arcangel thatís why!Ē" This is not good.
We had a long discussion of that very topic here.
I didn't know that about the Lucier piece.
To preface: a curator recently told me that the context is forgotten in the (unconscious) attempt to level all in the playing field of content. Meaning that mediality does not matter.
As a tangent from the bubble... Let us get away from "media art" and talk about the conceptualist's idea of the one-liner: Justin Lieberman being the most outspoken, successful proponent.
If this is applied to Cory's work... what does it mean?
Hey guys. I can't speak for Eyebeam's guest reblogger or why none of the other site editors who were reblogging for Rhizome, at the time, saw fit to publish this. I can say that I personally took issue with the arguments about derivation, which have already been laid on the table here. I agree with TWhid, though... It would've been nice to see some discussion of this on Rhizome. Paddy (and Tom, et al), the best way to actually have a real conversation on Rhizome is to sign up for our Raw discussion list and start posting. The folks there are just as thirsty for meaningful discussion of new media art as you are. They'd be happy to hear from you.
Thanks for your comments, Marisa. A brief reply is here.
As long as we're in a re-posting, re-flame-Cory-Arcangel mode, I'll share a discussion between Pat Litchy I, and initiated by myself (Sean) several months ago on Rhizome, following some the opening of Cory's show in question.
It was a broader venting of my own mounting frustrations on so-called new media art in general, further exacerbated by the (what I thought) mostly scattershot quality of the show...
P.S. I'll add that this conversation (posted as '8-Bit Aesthetics: Hackers or Hacks?'), which was posted to Rhizome Raw, and talked about Cory's work & practices quite a bit, *did* get sent out later that week in the Rhizome Digest mass email! So some discussion did take place on this channel, in defence of Marisa's comments.
Thanks. I'm glad there was some discussion on Rhizome. Just for the record, the purpose of Paddy's review (and my reblogging of it) wasn't to "flame Cory" but to discuss his work.
Re: purpose wasn't to 'flame Cory'; lol, nor was it mine. Or to paraphrase Cory "to discuss as little work as possible." haha.
Having now had a chance to peruse that Rhizome thread, I think Patrick Lichty sums up the BEIGE aesthetic (of a few years ago) pretty well.
Sorry to have to close this thread due to spam.