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tom moody

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"Creepy Clown" and New Media

I just received a brochure in the mail from Thundergulch, "the new media arts initiative of of the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council." Here are some of the depressing topics from their Spring/Summer 2002 lecture series:

Database Cultures in Collaboration: Panelists discuss the challenges of using databases as the generative engines behind their art work, creating alternative systems that reveal the poetic, metaphoric, critical, and community-building possibilities of manipulating and reconstituting data.

Race in Digital Space: [Panelists] discuss how digital media influences and changes social ideas about race and ethnicity.

Curating New Media--Inside and Outside the Institution: [Panelists] discuss the challenges of organizing, displaying, and distributing new media art...

Fortunately, art gets made and trends emerge at the grassroots level (that is, on the Internet) despite these numbing discussion topics. In this post I discuss two such trends. One is DIY Curating (speaking of databases), and the other is The Stalker Collage.

As William Gibson has said, "We are all curators, in the post-modern world, whether we want to be or not" (for post-modern read "wired"); and anyone with a big enough server can have a library straight out of Borges. As I've mentioned elsewhere, there are bottomless databases of specialized interests, such as this site devoted to "furries," fantasy creatures combining human and animal attributes. Every week of the world, kids and adults upload hundreds of strange, anthropomorphic, sometimes frankly sexual drawings to this site, giving themselves a forum (and perhaps feeding some addictive need on the part of the host?).

Artist Bill Schwarz acts as a curator of curators: his web page, although randomly organized, is a trove of amateur and professional online collections: snowflake photographs, Dymaxion designs, snapshots of trailer homes, audio files of hillbilly "hollers," architect pages, facts about music synthesizers, and more links about shipping containers than anyone would ever need.

The internet fosters other types of collaboration, not in the organized, top-down, intellectual way envisioned by Thundergulch but through the efforts of everyday artists taking an idea and running variations on it. One such genre is what I'm calling the "Stalker Collage." In this "new art form," a character is inserted into all kinds of stock situations using rudimentary paint or imaging programs. One of the funniest is "Creepy Clown" (website).This digitized cousin of John Wayne Gacy lurks behind joggers, picnickers, scuba divers, and young lovers on holiday, usually just standing there like a statue without the other characters being aware of his presence. He is extremely creepy, but also laugh-out-loud funny, and the peculiar genius of the idea is that anyone with a 3-D program can make a successful "Creepy." Just download the character, pick your clip art scenario, and let your own "inner Creepy" guide you to something truly stomach-chilling.

tourist guy 2010

The Tourist Guy (photo added to post in 2010 - the link below is dead)

Another variation of the collective pastiche is the Tourist Guy. This is already pretty dated, but the documentation's worth checking out. The entire project sprang up spontaneously in the aftermath of the World Trade Center disaster, when the image passed from email to email of a tourist posing on the North Tower, oblivious to the airplane zooming in behind him. The image was quickly debunked as a cut-and-pasted fraud, but then people started copying the bland, knit-capped figure of the "Tourist Guy" and dropping him into every imaginable scene, from the assassination of Lincoln to a rooftop in The Matrix. Like Creepy Clown, the Tourist Guy is usually a silent, passive witness to some activity, and the chemistry between his cigar store Indian placidity and rambunctious scenes of murder and violence is often hilarious. And once again, anyone with Photoshop could make a "Tourist Guy" masterpiece. This is real New Media art: "creating alternative systems that reveal the poetic, metaphoric, critical, and community-building possibilities of manipulating and reconstituting data." You aren't likely to hear about Creepy Clown on those panels, though.

UPDATE: More on Creepy here.

UPDATE 2010: Some tourist guys here.

- tom moody 6-06-2002 8:14 am [link] [1 comment]

The following is some historical info on early paint programs, from Dan Rose's DOS® Abandonware site page:

PC Paint - © 1984 Mouse Systems Corp.
This may be the original DOS "paint" program. It is also one of the earliest mouse-driven graphics apps. CGA was the main video format of this time and color graphics were a premium luxury. Using 4-color CGA, this app can make both color and monochrome graphics. It saves files in PIC format and comes with 15 fonts. This version was released on two 360K floppies. Total installed size: 453K

Microsoft Paintbrush 2.0 - © 1987 Microsoft Corp.
Before Paintbrush became a standard feature in Windows 3.x a company called ZSoft Corp. owned the program which was called PC Paintbrush. Microsoft later bought Paintbrush from ZSoft and called it, what else? Microsoft Paintbrush. They soon ported the DOS program to their Windows GUI and later changed the name to Paint when it was ported to 32-bit Windows. This version was released on two 360K floppies. Total installed size: 564K

UPDATE: Link was out. Fixed now. And fixed again.

UPDATE 2: And fixed again. The guy keeps changing his URLs. And screenshots.

- tom moody 6-02-2002 1:20 am [link] [7 comments]

My friend David Szafranski sent this link for a minimal-music movement (or rather, "loose grouping") called lowercase sound. Dave notes: "Interesting web design based on the Mac System 6 operating system circa 1989, the one that fits entirely on a single floppy disk."

- tom moody 5-30-2002 6:43 am [link] [add a comment]

Carl Fudge's new work at Ronald Feldman gallery in New York was good (the show ended last week). Fudge has a system where he grids a picture, then flips selected squares, creating hundreds of mirror-images of lines and patterns going this way and that within a single image. (He once used a photocopier to make the grids; now he uses a computer.) The effect is that the image--in this case a Transformer robot--looks like it's vibrating in a wormhole; turning into pure iterative mathematics before your eyes. It's interesting to see such a rigorous formal system applied to throwaway pop culture; yet there's actually more sci-fi resonance between system and image here than in his earlier work, which did the same type of "deconstructing" with classic Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock images. The Transformers are even preferable to the Sailor Moon series he did two years ago: possibly because he doesn't coyly hide the robots in abstraction the way he did the female faces. (Also because most are on canvas rather than silkscreen paper.) As usual, his craftsmanship--a combination of silkscreening and masking tape stencilling--is faultless. The new paintings are both elegant and intelligent.

- tom moody 5-28-2002 10:01 pm [link] [10 comments]

Yesterday a friend and I drove down to Philadelphia to see the Barnett Newman retrospective, the Duchamp collection (my first time), and the real, lowbrow impetus for the trip: a rare screening of Dario Argento's 1980 slasher masterpiece Inferno. Here's my Amazon review of the film, from 3 years ago:
Although the acting is fairly poor, the dialogue stilted, and the plot non-existent, this movie--as the Re/Search book Incredibly Strange Films notes--is about as close as one gets to the flow and feel of a dream. I would attribute the mood to the bravura visuals--classically composed still shots a la Peter Greenaway; planes of saturated color winking on and off as characters move through a outrageous deco sets; swooping lens movements worthy of Sam Raimi's "wraithCam"--working in tandem with the gorgeous, occasionally incongruous prog-rock stylings of ELP keyboard whiz Keith Emerson. Scenes of great formal beauty are intermittently jarred by stabbings, immolations, strangulations, eyeball-gougings, and rodent attacks, all fairly gratuitous (just like in real life!), and Emerson's synthesizer flailings are equally prone to erupt without warning--often to miraculous effect. The music that accompanies one woman's taxi ride through the rainswept streets of Rome is wild and offbeat and sticks with you, and the Gregorian finale--the repeated incantation "Suspiriorum, Lachrymarum, Tenebrarum," referring to the "mothers" (all of them witches) who cause the film's mayhem--sounds like a rock opera version of Orff's "Carmina Burana" (it's hokey, but trust me, it works!). I have also seen Suspiria, but prefer this film on the level of pure, macabre experience.
Seeing the film on the big screen for the first time was fun and terrifying, especially in the company of a couple hundred Argentophiles, laughing and screaming in all the right places. The print left something to be desired--the glorious, saturated colors had sadly faded, and the sound was all in the squawky midrange--but that was more than made up for by all the extra detail you just can't see on the video: ghoulish carvings on the walls of Mater Tenebrarum's New York digs, the extent of the decrepitude and ruin in the "hidden" parts of the house, the fleshy reality of Mater Lachrymarum's beautiful, frightening face. Also, seeing the film with a large group made me realize how carefully paced and audience-friendly it is (for a non-linear film depicting bizarre senseless murders). Like Hitchcock, Argento follows super-traumatic scenes with tension-relieving laughs: usually non-sequitur lines or strange behavior from his Euro-weirdo actors. For the record, the strongest audience reaction came in the scene where housecats viciously attack Daria Nicolodi: several moments of utter, primal mayhem as the felines jump on her head and tear at her skin and clothing, accompanied by huge close-ups of claws and teeth and hellish animal screaming on the soundtrack. Why would anyone want to see something like this? To be ready when it happens to you, of course!

- tom moody 5-18-2002 9:49 pm [link] [5 comments]

Revisionism runs rampant these days: first we had Gerhard Richter as loving family man and now we have a non-creepy Spider-Man. (I haven't seen the movie yet, but please let me critique the hype.) First Scintillatin' Stan (Lee), Spidey's co-creator, gets a crack, in a New York Times op-ed: "I have often thought Spider-Man's worldwide appeal also owes something to his costume. Sharp-eyed fans are sure to have noticed that Spider-Man's costume covers every inch of his body. There is absolutely no skin showing beneath his oh-so-trendy red and blue fashion statement. When Steve Ditko first dreamed up our hero's threads, he created one of the most unique designs in comic-book history. But more than that, Spidey's costume is completely user-friendly. Any reader, of any race, in any part of the world, can imagine himself under that costume — and fantasize that he himself is Spider-Man." I'm not sure friendly, user- or otherwise, is the word I would use to describe those malevolent, pupilless eyes, muscle-hugging cobwebs, and black widow between the pecs, but Lee's "big, sloppy heart" (as Jonathan Lethem calls it) tends to make us forget such details. While you wouldn't expect the creator of a lucrative franchise to admit that it has any dark underpinnings, what's critic David Edelstein's excuse? Here's his take in Slate: "The Marvel Spider-Man comic was born at the beginning of the Pop Art era—its colors are primary. Unlike Bruce Wayne's Batman and Bruce Banner's Incredible Hulk, Peter Parker's Spider-Man has no metaphoric component. The spider persona doesn't emanate from any aspect of Parker's troubled psyche—it's just a cool conceit." C'mon, the kid looks like a Mexican Santo wrestler, creeps and crawls around buildings, has connections in the underworld (remember "Patch"?), spurts semen-like goo out of his wrists--sure, Lee and Ditko made him a lovable everyman with personal "hang-ups," but let's face it, the appeal of the strip was the "normal" kid flirting with the Dark Side. This was never stated by the Marvel's merry men (who were ever mindful of the Comics Code) but the message came through loud and clear to us 8-year olds who enjoyed the strip back in the day.

Another early-'60s creation that artfully mixed the heroic with the macabre was The Scarecrow, played by Patrick McGoohan, before he was the Prisoner or even the Secret Agent. This Disney-produced mini-series (later released as the feature Dr. Syn and the Scarecrow) had good guys fighting King George III to save the public from punitive taxation, but in costumes guaranteed to keep sensitive children awake at night. McGoohan's raspy voice and crooked smile, Hellspite's "leatherface" mask, and Johnny Banks' Evil Barn Owl get-up were the stuff of pure black nightmare. By day McGoohan was the mild-mannered Vicar Syn, hanging out with the aristocracy; by night he roamed the marshes on horseback, robbing the King's supply caravans. Today we would call him a terrorist, though all the violence in the show was implicit. The Scarecrow's specialty was psychological warfare: in an unforgettable scene his band of masked men judge and "hang" a traitor: at the last minute he is cut down, his near-asphyxiation serving as a warning. I saw the film in my late teens and was a bit let down but my childhood memories of the show are potent: I recently discovered a website devoted to the character [since disappeared] and got a case of goosebumps that wouldn't go away.

- tom moody 5-08-2002 10:00 am [link] [6 comments]

Installation shots and opening night photos from my exhibition in Munich with Gregor Passens are here (page and text of this post removed for remodeling). The exhibition opened May 3, and runs through June 14, 2002. An earlier homeroom exhibition, "Some Things Matter," is documented here.

- tom moody 5-04-2002 8:35 pm [link] [10 comments]

Scott Speh's review of the Whitney Biennial 2002 is right on, and not just because I'm listed as an also-ran. Yes, the big New York critics all trashed the show, but their reviews aren't helpful because none puts forth an agenda any better than the Whitney's. "Why no Elizabeth Murray instead of Vija Celmins?" asks the Times. Puh-lease. I get the feeling that those bad reviews are curator Larry Rinder's "Welcome to NY" hazing, and now he'll be with us for decades. A few years from now these same critics will be saying "Mr. Rinder got off to a rocky start with his first couple of shows, but he's shown great improvement, blah blah."

What Rinder attempts to do with the show is actually fairly interesting: a kind of Mondo 2000 vibe, emphasizing the high-tech on one hand and the primitive, handmade, and "tribal" on the other. Yet in order for a vision to leap wildly from mind to mind it must have what Robert Storr once called "the juice," and as every critic of the show noted, that's sadly lacking.

Speh has a somewhat different take: he believes there's been an upswing in good, new abstract art that the Whitney flat-out missed. I wish he had made more arguments for that position, but even the long list of people he supports shows more focus than the major media critiques of the show. Also, he's much better than Schjeldahl, et al, in conveying the boredom-bordering-on-disgust the show inspires. Those Detroit banners by Mike Kelley and Jim Shaw are awful, aren't they? Talk about forced zaniness. Two rich art stars reliving their art-garage-band youth, presenting clunky mural-style paintings of John Sinclair, MC5, Grand Funk Railroad, Sun Ra, etc...

And notably, in a show that so badly wants to be current, the boomer-centric time-line in the banners stops about 1982. When many people think of Detroit now, they think of techno pioneers Juan Atkins, Derrick May, Kevin Saunderson (and later, Carl Craig, Underground Resistance, Drexciya, DJ Assault...): all musicians who stayed in the city and created a scene--one that got worldwide attention. Whereas Shaw and Kelley bailed, made it big on the West Coast as artists, and now are getting all nostalgic. They love Motor City, but not enough to live there.

- tom moody 5-02-2002 4:13 am [link] [3 comments]