Meanwhile, in an alternate universe where more than one artist using the computer broke through to staggering international recognition, making new media people all jumpy and feeling like they had to "declare":
PAUL B. DAVIS [BEIGE]I fondly recall the turntable with the 8-Bit Construction Set LP in the front room of the old Team Gallery, crammed with other BEIGE work.
Seventeen Gallery, London, 30th May – 23rd June 2007
Paul B. Davis is obsessed with computers and makes art that helps him understand how they work. He’s a founder member of the pioneering programming ensemble BEIGE along with Cory Arcangel, Joe Beuckman and Joseph Bonn.
This exhibition comprises two large projections. Five in One, 2007 is a new NES hack that takes its form from the pirate video game cartridges that first alerted Davis to the possibility of intervening with games. These ‘multicarts’ often had for or five different games on one cartridge and echoing this, Davis is presenting five different works on one machine. Fittingly these pirated works are not all by Davis’ hand, as he loots excerpts from other BEIGE collective hacks, questioning authorship in the already grey area of software as readymade. The second piece is a new video, a collaboration with the trans-media collective Paper Rad, which accentuates and aesthecises artefacts inherent in video compression formats, particularly MPEG-4 [titled Video Compression Study II, 2007]. A third work, in collaboration with Cory Arcangel, titled Fat Bits, is a triptych of monitors which presents close up images of an NHL ice hockey game, converted into imagery housed in an NES. Reminiscent of the timeless NES Ice Hockey game, these abstracted motions of brawling figures present a bacon-esque scene, groaning and grunting in a slow motion and distorted struggle.
Aesthetically Davis’ images are solid slabs of reordered, pure proto-modernist colour. With his alterations a new game, a new screen and a new surface emerges. The materiality of a hacked game cartridge, set into the instantly recognisable Nintendo console, guarantees that the recession into a purely two-dimension digital fold is never as total as it is in the work of other digital artists, the work remains an object. Further, the dizzying hyper-graphics of many related practitioners are surrendered in favour of the neat, blocky pixilation of the outdated NES operating system. This show also includes an installation featuring 8-bit Construction Set – an art/music/concept work rendered in vinyl which will be mounted on a record deck within the gallery, visitors being invited to play it out to their own satisfaction.
Quoting his influences as ranging from formalised British computing theory (Alan Turing) to the advent of widespread domestic console gaming (Mario), Davis has pioneered a truly unique strategy through a multiplicity of actions, networks and artistic creations. Davis’ practise is at once rigorous, conceptual – even nerdy, while nonetheless fully intimate with the patois, style, attitude and aesthetic of retrogressively inspired, data-bit multi-media contemporary culture, that has recently forced its way into the public consciousness.
(thank god i didn't end up on here as an attack of the clone)
More like attack of the bud, but it's OK, your press release does a good job with the similarities and differences within the BEIGE organism.
t.m. - lingering BEIGE issues per the previous thread...one i'd like to hear your thoughts on is the persistence of pop culture source material. "we grew up on cable tv, thats all we know, so of course we're making blah blah blah". it fuels this notion that existing cultural objects are the end all be all of content - like there's so much stuff out there it's pointless to create your own source or even like some dj spooky style "remix culture" justification bullshit - even when content isn't supposed to matter.
now it feels like that is an excuse. it's like admitting that the only gesture you're capable of making as an artist is actually "the edit", and i really dont want to be an editor. with the computer, when what you're dealing with are formats, it's especially prevelant. you only have to change one bit to bring the whole thing down (existing digital copy of some cultural object)...but which bit is best? once you start thinking like that you're off in the land of XYZ's again.
i knwo you haven't seen it but in my show i think my work failed in this regard. messing with cremaster 3 was obvious and hence accessible, and then also messing with rick james, rihanna, the cranberries, homemade youtube videos and ultimate fighting championships was meant to suggest that specific content didn't matter (even taking into consideration that one of the vids was a jacob/paperrad collab and that's what they do). but the source did matter - no matter how haX0r3d the compression codec was and hence how messed up the picture on the wall looked.
"now it feels like that is an excuse. it's like admitting that the only gesture you're capable of making as an artist is actually "the edit", and i really dont want to be an editor.... you only have to change one bit to bring the whole thing down (existing digital copy of some cultural object)...but which bit is best? once you start thinking like that you're off in the land of XYZ's again."
Since your fellow BEIGE member Cory Arcangel often refers to this in his performances and interviews , especially of late , ( the idea that he is only changing/removing/adding one element, concept, idea, function...ie : Sans Simon, Slow Tetris, TAC, Super Mario Clouds, Sweet Sixteen, Colors, Bruce Springsteen...etc etc ) as his specific motivation and tool for his work are you saying his work is XYZ or unsuccessful in some way ?
M&MA is attempting to provoke a BEIGE intramural argument (Oh, cool, let's stir shit up on Tom's page), but the question was addressed to me and I'd like a chance to answer it in the spirit in which it was asked. Bear with me--I need to have a cup of coffee.
First, M&MA's question:
"the idea that he is only changing/removing/adding one element, concept, idea, function."
That's a lot of things you've just listed. I think it passed XYZ.
Also, Warhol said simplistic things like "I have others paint my paintings"--do you believe him?
Maybe you shouldn't take artist's statements at face value.
p.d.'s question was aimed at what "we artists" do, not what works for a specific artist. If you can do it with one cut, great, you just saved yourself a lot of work. It might take a hundred, though. Or you might do a hundred and lie and say it was only one. Every piece is different.
As far as pop culture or computerized culture as subject matter, that's the ocean we're swimming in. Attempts to step outside of it (realist painting like the old guys did, pure abstraction supposedly outside of history) generally don't ring true. It still ends up being mediated despite attempts to purify yourself.
But there are so many ways to manipulate crap culture--ultimately it's what you invest in it as an artist. You decide the parameters, and whether simplicity or complexity is a virtue. This sounds like a homily, I guess it's my way of saying it's important to have a program but best not to be too doctrinaire.
Please don't tell me what my intention is Tom. It's just a question. Take it easy, please. It's just a blog comment. Who argues on a blog, really ? Seriously. To say that my measly little question has the potentional to " stir shit up " and start an internal BEIGE war is really overestimating this here situation and underestimating the members of BEIGE.
If someone merely is perceived to disagree with you, which I wasn't, you call them belligerant in tone. It's really silly. I know what my intention is because I was the one who wrote the question, you do not. You should be more respectful. I don't understand your defensiveness.
It' s an honest question taking into consideration a few past posts referencing BEIGE member ( Cory Arcangel ) where his work in his recent Team show was compared to BitStreams, a step back you said. You, in a previous post, used BitStreams as an example of unsuccessful XYZ art; unsuccessful digital one-liners. There was a lengthy discussion on VWork, cloning, XYZ art which p.d. was also a part of when Cory was a topic. It was brought up again here and I thought it a relevant question considering the past discussions.
I didn't call you belligerent. It's OK if a BEIGE member wants to comment on another member's work here, but I wouldn't put one of them on the spot by asking if he thought another's work was unsuccessful.
The questions are legitimate. Years ago I did a mock "recurated BitStreams" where I substituted some BEIGE pieces for Jeremy Blake and Jim Campbell: Data Diaries, Super Mario Clouds, Urbandale (ascii hotdogs) would have greatly improved BitStreams.
The thing I always appreciated about Cory's work was they were one liners that somehow commented on the boneheaded one-liner nature of so much new media art, and at the same time had a seductive, homegrown quality. That dimension was missing in the Team show--it was too much like the work he used to satirize. There is practically no space between the Colors piece and Jason Salavon's Titanic piece.
I like the keystoning piece, but its appeal is mainly to curators and preparators who know about keystoning from a "setting up media shows" perspective. It has insider appeal as opposed to the universal appeal of something like Landscape Study--a banal suburban roofscape compressed into a game cartridge, presented on a battered old TV on a stretch of shag carpet.
long live the new flesh
m&ma: i was talking specifically about failures i've found with my own work - so no - but then wondering if they were applicable on a larger scale...in theory to any BEIGE stuff. once a process (i like to say algorithm) Y is set up, you can mess about trying to figure out what X you can put in to get what Z, and then what's the best Z, and then what X will give it to you. these days the Ys interest me, the Xs/Zz do not. so for me, with my set of criteria, had i made super slow tetris then yeah it's XYZ.
but for a corollary let's look at mario clouds, a piece i don't think you understand, because with mario clouds nothing is deleted and there is no removal. mario is not erased from the existing code, he simply isn't drawn to the screen by the new code. the blocks on the bottom of the screen aren't erased to reveal more blue sky, there are tiles of blue sky drawn to those locations on the screen. it's not a tweak, it's a completely original write - albeit a very small and technically simple one. the only argument for a one element tweak is that almost the exact same code runs landscape study, but at the time mario clouds was made i dont think you could consider landscape study a pop culture element waiting to be manipulated. it's not XYZ and to me it's just as bangin' in 2007 as it was in 2003. you should take a look for yourself sometime: an excellent tutorial and all the code, with comments, has been freely available at beigerecords.com/cory for 4 years now.
t.m.: i get what you mean in that mediation is ultimately inescapable, but it feels like that you should at least always be pushing it. hacking cartridges, programming in assembly - we escaped the mediation of consumer software and those pieces served as a critique at/of the time just because they existed alongside all the other macromedia whitewash. but the Nintendo NES imposed it's own structure, and at the first BEIGE show in 2001 cory and i gave a talk at the opening and someone (i think it was joe beuckman, actually) asked us why dont we build our own hardware? our answer was that we weren't smart enough.
why bother to specifically hack a Nintendo if not to comment on some specific aspect of the culture that the Nintendo helped to foster? for me the interest is in the little turing-complete nugget thats sitting inside it, supposedly rendered inaccessable by the proprietary NES hardware, which is then opened up and laid out as a medium. the problem is when it feels as if it's then rendered inaccessible again, to most viewers, by the pop culture references that surround it.
Thanks, that's a great answer (to M&MA--still reading your answer to me).
In support of Super Slow Tetris it's like a thought experiment. You almost don't need the piece, just the title.
It's a bit like John Simon's Every Icon. No one's going to watch it in real time--someone tells you what is happening and you have a mental picture.
It's true at some point someone has to write the "Y" algorithm to have your proof of concept, but it's less about "Y=slow down X to make Z" than a totality, or gestalt to use a fancy term: Super Slow Tetris. It would probably only work with Tetris, which is already kind of a grind and a timewaster--and one many people (who are not hackers) are familiar with, thus your universality.
"the problem is when it feels as if it's then rendered inaccessible again, to most viewers, by the pop culture references that surround it."
Can you elaborate on this a little?
sure. it just feels like that after all the work i did to get the art cracked open, to use the NES console to do what i wanted it to do and not play a pre-programmed cartridge, there's still all the debris leftover from what the Nintendo used to be that clouds the point of the work. Mario is usually a hook to the thing - not the thing - but most ppl really struggle to get past him. using existing cultural references provides an easy access point to work which, otherwise, might be tricky to grasp purely as a concept (the most conceptually difficult thing about computers for an art viewer is that they're boring). but at some point the cultural references actually obscure the real piece, or even become the piece, and i usually find comments on pop culture to be pretty boring as well. for me, there is a conflict between a Nintendo NES's messy cultural patina and its clean internal computational processes that i have not been able to resolve in 8 years.
I have a painting background, and there you just go in and muck about till something starts to take shape. (Then deal with the cultural references emerging or lingering in what you're creating. Does it look too 50s? Too Bart Simpson?)
I would imagine working with the NES would be frustrating in terms of playing around to get spontaneous results. Poke the code, redo the chip, test, repoke...
One reason I always use the patches on the Sidstation is that programming it is frustrating because you can't hear the changes in real time. I guess if I practiced more I'd anticipate what this or that 1-127 parameter would do, but I'd rather turn knobs.
[Update: you can hear the Sidstation changes in real time, this was an error based on my lack of experience.]
Late to the party, but --
Seeing "Slow Tetris" in reality was great. It evoked a very special feeling in me that was a mindboggling amplification of what i suppose every computer user (and tetris player sometimes) knows: Sitting in front of the machine, knowing exactly what has to be done next, just wanting to finish the routine task, but it doesn't work. It's too slow, the user interface sucks (coz almost all interfaces nowadays are made for first time use and not repetitive use) -- i could already have done everything but still there is something in the way, some shitty software design, preventing me from doing the most normal and common thing, that worked already in 1982.
"Slow Tetris" brings this to a spiritual experience. It turned all the frustration, after some time, into something beautiful, that i did not know before existed. Cool art!
Huh, I had posted a reply to this--wonder what happened to it?
Something to the effect of--
Thanks for your thoughts on the piece. I confess I haven't played the game, only watched the projection, so I didn't get the full post-industrial Zen experience.
Unfortunately spammers have found this thread and I'm gonna have to close it for now.