Lecture: Brighton Photo Fringe Open 11

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‘The expressive surface of the world or zone of mere accidents is only the site where relations can take place’

 

Graham Harman Towards a theory of speculative realism. Zero Books p197

Within this lecture I want to highlight some possibilities for the creation of new work on the Internet using the medium of photography. I will highlight some lens-based projects that are created specifically for viewing online and examine the potential of new media forms to disseminate work outside of traditional display and beyond the notion of an online portfolio.

How we view images online is changing the way we consider the potential of photography and indeed the medium is undergoing remarkable transformations. As Andy Adams states  is his essay PHOTO 2.0 — ONLINE PHOTOGRAPHIC THINKING (REVISITED) photography is, “No longer restricted to the gallery wall or the printed page, photography now regularly—and sometimes exclusively—appears on computer screens. In the past decade, photoblogs, online magazines, and digital galleries have revolutionized the way we look at photographs. More significantly, Web 2.0 is influencing contemporary photo culture around the world by connecting international audiences to art experiences, enabling the discovery of new work and presenting never-before-seen channels of expression and communication. These are exciting times for image-makers wishing to publicly show their work: armed with a computer and an Internet connection, the 21st century photographer can share his or her visual ideas with a worldwide audience of peers, fans, and patrons. And these artists are redefining the medium every day”.  These new media forms of communication are still in their infancy so this event is essentially a sketchbook, some suggestions as to how I think we can make the Internet more interesting and engaging through our work.

It is here important to define the ethos of this event, as a lot of the work that I refer to is what Marison Olson defines as ‘Post-internet’. This analysis is explored by Brad Troemel, Peer pressure, 2011 as “Work that acknowledges that internet art can no longer be distinguished as strictly computer/internet based, but rather, can be identified by the internet and digital media Art after the internet: ‘in the style of’ and ‘following’.”

To differentiate the themes of the lecture I have categorized some approaches to photography online that may be of use. Neither these subheadings nor the examples that I am using to illustrate them are designed to be exhaustive or mutually exclusive but rather, as I have previously stated are a starting point for wider inquiry.

Critical comment. Playing with the language and construct of the web.

Chaotic systems: Software-generated work, glitches and random acts of occurrence.

Trawling the Internet. Grab, appropriate, re-contextualise

Audience participation and immersive experience, projects realised through a dialogic process.

Most if not all photographers have some sort of online presence and, more often than not the work is displayed on a portfolio site. These are incredibly useful, creative spaces in which both to disseminate one’s work, engage audiences and experiment, though they could also be perceived as a necessity of the digital age. Whatever approach the artist takes the site is often defined in terms of creating the cleanest platform to display ones work, the most effective way of presenting the images without the distractions normally associated with online experience.  One makes a work and then, uploads the image for our perceived audience. We maintain this website with new images to show our working process, to document the development of our work, the evolution of our projects and current news.

It is important to realize that this process is a conversation between duel forms. Not only do people expect to view the work through this website, but relationship between other representations of it, the print or object in its physical form  are represented herein. The question may be then where does the work lie? Is it in the image represented online or in the object (which in actual fact, and in particular reference to the photographic often only exists on a hard drive or negative box (more often because of the physical cost of making prints for the sake of making prints  but also because of the mass of images that one creates).  For many members of the producers audience, including curators, critics, and other arts professionals, the image of the work on the website is good enough for their purpose. This is exacerbated by the physical impossibility of this myriad global audience viewing the work in the idealized position, for example the white cube space.

Seth Price, Dispersion:

 Does one have an obligation to view the work first-hand? What happens when a more intimate, thoughtful, and enduring understanding comes from mediated discussions of an exhibition, rather than from a direct experience of the work? Is it incumbent upon the consumer to bear witness, or can one’s art experience derive from magazines, the Internet, books, and conversation?

I am not suggesting that for the producer the specific intentionality of the works production and display, the experience of the work are sidelined but that rather we must be aware that the method of experiencing the work is changing through online dissemination and that this may be as relevant to the person who is consuming the image.  On the one had we may not necessarily have the cathedral experience of a Gursky (first name that came to hand) in an online context nor indeed that the impact of seeing a print, feel of the paper and all the fetish that is associated with these visceral and sensual aspects of the work are unimportant but that within the cacophony or even cornucopia of images that proliferate our daily experience the work may be the ‘gem of occurrence’ (to quote Richard Wentworth) that proliferate a viewer’s online experience. Perhaps this experience is as valid and meaningful to the viewer in terms of as the experience of the work in another context. As Seth Price suggests even if one works in traditional media, art is primarily experienced on the Internet. So why not try to seriously engage and acknowledge this approach with the medium in conjunction with one’s other outlets for the work to experiment or perhaps even mediate how the works are viewed?

Critical comment. Playing with the language and construct of the web.

Within everyday life, we tend not to acknowledge things in themselves, but simply register their ascribed meanings. As we focus our attention, multiple aspects of recognition take place. Prior knowledge and cultural reference are engaged in the act of looking, but we are perhaps unaware of how drenched in them we are. The navigation of the net on an everyday basis, feels so familiar to us, the meanings ascribed so simple, that our minds tend to dismiss those meanings before they reach the level of our consciousness.Within the realm of the online and particularly in reference to the portfolio sites we have an instinctive way of navigation, as the computer screen is very much a sequential image-viewing device. My argument then is this that by creating a space where the viewer is coerced into reading the site in a specific way the work may also have potential beyond the individual images depicted.

Heath Bunting’s BorderXing Guide 2002 – 2003 is an artwork that primarily consists of documentation of walks that traverse national boundaries, without interruption from customs, immigration, or border police presented in the context of a website. The website was (is) not available to everyone who has an Internet connection. People wishing to view it throughout the life of the project, had to physically travel to one of the designated locations, or apply to become an ‘authorized client’ themselves.

Bunting collects border experiences, the documentation of his transgressive activities (walking between European countries) within the site in painstakingly detail. The work comments on the way in which movement between borders is restricted by governments and associated bureaucracies. But also challenges the supposed liberties that accompany the concept of the Internet as a borderless space. Borders are there to be crossed but their political significance becomes obvious only when they are violated.

In the sketchbook work Dean Hill I have documented the borders of an Ex-MOD site in the Wiltshire countryside. Here the fences are festooned with plants that are using the wire mess as a trestle to grow. The barrier here is an object that separates two spaces and the work is perhaps a suggestion that supposed boundaries are broken down or softened by organic intervention.

I want to demonstrate how one might consider subverting the structure of Internet navigation, using the process of looking as being a metaphor for the subject matter or rather using the subject matter to highlight the parameters of the site.

When presented with error messages or when the structure of the Internet breaks down our first instinct is to go back, as there is a perceived frontier that is seemingly impassable. However perhaps then there is play within this notion that has resonance with Heidegger’s idea that the ‘tool’ is invisible to its user until it is ‘broken’. In this instance the webpage is a simulacrum where by an act of detection, breaking the perceived boundary of the site one may find oneself in another realm; here depicted by photographs of the interior of a chemical weapons silo reconditioned to accommodate art storage.

Jason Fulford’s website in mid 2000’s was fantastic. In this illustration we see an installation view of Fulfords latest work ‘The mushroom Collector” which gives perhaps a feeling of the experience I first encountered with his work on the net and I think is also explained in the artists references to John Cage.  John Cage, the avant-garde musician, thinker noted in his book For the Birds (1981), “It’s useless to pretend to know mushrooms. They escape your erudition. [The more you know them] the less sure you feel about identifying them.”

The navigation of the previous incarnation of the site had equivalence to the way the images were created. Back and forward buttons often led to unexpected places where images were happened upon, rather than actively sought out. This process was at once frustrating and delightful as the site felt so labyrinthine that on repeat visits it was difficult to return to the same space to re-view the images that had previously caught ones attention.

Chaotic systems: Software-generated work, glitches and random acts of occurrence.

To continue the thread started with the work of Jason Fulford. I’ll start this next section with the work of the artist Tauba Auerbach.  My experience of her website really brought home the potential of the ‘glitch’ or act of occurrence that proliferate the online as being something that should be harnessed in the creation of work. The way that the images download really echo the the work and also literally refer to Auerbach’s notion that she is ‘thinking about systems that take on a character of their own, independent of serving the need they were created to fulfil’. I found these works mesmerising when I encountered them. it was an unexpected consequence that the act of  download would have coherence with the content and construct of the image.

Similarly Wesley Brown’s project ‘Inversion’, 2010 has the sense of the image revealing itself. Originally inspired as a reflection of the process of analogue image creation Inversion is an experiment in creating a body of work designed for screen. It is presented on the web as a series of inanimate, animated GIF files that alternate, between colour positive, colour negative, b/w negative, and b/w positive. These changes occur in varying order and at varying intervals. In ‘Inversion’ Brown sought to explore the notion of a digitally created negative, a process left out of the photographic process with the advent of chip technology. The Graphics Interchange Format (GIF) technology, conceived in the nascent stages of the digital era, allows for comparison and contrast within a single frame. It provides a subliminal, transition from one state to the next. The viewer is invited to determine and question which state is inherent.

This theme is also continued in the work of Jordan Tate where the artist creates screen-based images. In New Work # 50, the artist uses the “marching ants”—familiar to anyone with working knowledge of Photoshop— to animate the image. These “selection” lines are usually a momentary visual reference or traces of an artist’s working process are here to highlight the images construction.  A moment of stasis that imply the unfinished nature of a body of work, though depicting a symbol of classical antiquity and referencing the early history of photography, to images such as The bust of Patruclus, 1843 by Fox Talbot.

Thomas Lock’s Breaking Point, 2010 though created as a single screen and stereo sound installation has an intimate relationship with post-internet work and I think is an interesting exploration of the potential of digital, fractal and chaotic artworks. The main content of the work consists of photographic images of bunkers and field recordings. Its primary focus is the physical decay of these bulking solid structures referencing Paul Virillio’s ‘Bunker Archaeology’, 1958 – 65 and reminiscent of Robert Smithson’s  ‘A tour of the Monuments of the prosaic’, 1967, the documentation of an entropic system.

The work is generated rather than played.  The video is programmed to select and display one image at a time from a bank of hundreds, but the narrative, the transition between images is random. In the creation of the sequence each image is broken down and spliced into another using an algorithm similar to the magic wand tool in Photoshop. This ongoing process is affected intermittently by the looped sound system and is an infinite and random process. The work is an attempt to reflect the entropic and ultimately exist within a chaotic space. The work was produced by Le Fresnoy studio National Des Artes Contemporains and in close collaboration with programming designers Hellicar and Lewis and sound artist Robin Rimbaud aka Scanner.

This form of artistic collaboration, as explored by Lock is at the centre of the possibility that the Internet offers to creative people. We should actively seek out cross-disciplinary working relations that enable us to create works beyond the individual skill set of the practitioner.

Trawling the Internet. Grab, appropriate, re-contextualise

I thought it interesting to start this section in reference to Agamben’s exploration of the ‘Wunderkammer’ or cabinet of curiosity; the weird and wonderful group of objects appear chaotic and incongruous, as “one immense tapestry in which vague colours and shapes fluctuate” (Agamben, 1994, p 31). However, within the confines of the cabinet, the culmination of objects were intended to depict a microcosm that reproduced, in all its ‘harmonious confusion’, the edge of knowledge of the known world to the medieval scholar. The individual elements, representations of the varied forms of living and mineral material, become meaningful when referenced to others within the cabinet: “they acquired their truth and their authentic meaning only through their inclusion in the harmonic microcosm of the Wunderkammer” (Agamben, 1994, p 31). The isolated experience of an item from the Wunderkammer outside of this context renders the object meaningless for this intended reading.

The Internet has provided a new creative space for ways of creating images within a construct of what we call photography. Visual artists who work primarily with copy and paste, grab and appropriation are exploring a creative process of editing and engagement with the focus of the Internet as central to the dissemination of the work. It is a slight shift in intentionality that artists centralizes other’s content around themselves, pulling the actual work of its creator’s website and placing it on their own. The difference between links on WordPress or in a blog format is a way of saying ‘I like this’, while placing appropriated Tumblr content next to ones own work is a way of saying, in some capacity, “I am this”. To blog someone else’s work is a method of locating disparity and semblance, a gesture that allows artists the ability to situate their interests in a larger field of production while simultaneously announcing themselves as a distinct creators.

The notion of the artwork created as narrative of ideas and repositions is perfectly suited to Internet viewing creative and wonderful extension of John Berger’s picture essays in Ways of seeing, 1972. An exemplar of which is Roy Ardens’ ongoing blog  “Underthesun”.

The artist is in the privileged position as perpetrator of taste, but also the objects gathered or collected within the online space are part of the definition of a position, an identity or creative discussion. It is an interesting idea that the collector, in this context may dictate the value of an object that they may be transformed both in archival terms and also in terms of alchemy, creating gold from ‘base’ material.

Useful photography presents us with functional images grabbed from, in this instance e-bay users becomes a way of bring the aesthetic of vernacular photography, the ‘outsider art’ of the Internet space into a critical format; in both the book and gallery space. Using the methodology of Mike Mandel and Larry Sultans seminal work ‘Evidence’ the work talks about the relationship we have to the photograph and empirical depictions of the everyday and subjective reality. The seemingly ‘artless’ photograph is here re-positioned.

Similarly the November 2010 issue of European photography  the editors used images harvested from Flikr and presented with specific intention to position the idea of the Netographer outside of the fine art market…

‘The photographers represented in this issue are not artists, nor are they photographers in the traditional sense. They are net photographers. They represent a new type of image-maker, people who use photography to visually explore the world, to present themselves in that world, and to share their findings with everyone in the world, And who invite us, far removed from the museums and art fairs, the curator and critics, to form our own judgement about what is art and what is not- and whether this question still plays a role in the net at all. The interface between the social networking and the image self is defined.’

This polemic is best described by Marisa Olson in reference to ‘pro-surfers’ as…

“engaged in an enterprise distinct from the mere appropriation of found photography. They present us with constellations of uncannily deceive moments, images made perfect by their imperfections, images that add up to a portrait of the web, diaristic photo essays on the part of the surfer, and the images that certainly add up to something greater than the sum of its parts. Taken out of circulation and repurposed, they are ascribed with new value, like the shiny bars locked up in Fort Knox”

 The work of  Penelope Umrico exemplifies this notion as her work based on e-bay, flikr and generic interior magazines is an artful and subtly presented within a gallery context. This is particularly true of her grabbed TV’s from Craig’s List as the frame of the work in a gallery context becomes the plastic surround of the screen. It is the context that creates coherence in the work. The act of curation is translated into an artistic activity.

“I am a documentary photographer looking for specific types of subject matter, which has to do with dematerialization, immateriality, material, technology, dysfunction with technology, the disappearance of the subject”

Penelope Umbrico, Foam issue 29 What’s next? P50

But it is perhaps a new phenomenon that the practitioner positions herself in the tradition of photo documentary. I realise that this statement was perhaps meant as illustrative rather than explicitly literal translation of the artist as documentary photographer. It raises interesting point though about the status of the photographer as editor, as mixologist or hunter-gatherer. This activity is perhaps a mark of individuality in an Internet world where billions of images per year are disseminated on the web, a counter to the intrusive and extensive use by the state and private security of C.C.T.V: hours of anonymous surveillance footage the usage of which is undetermined but ultimately sinister connotations.

Audience participation and immersive experience, projects realised through a dialogic process.

Perhaps web-documentaries such as Prison Valley, 2010 give some insight as to how one may create an online immersive multi-media experience. The project is a depiction through film, stills, web research, text sound of the eerie Cañon City, Colorado, a town with 13 prisons, and 36,000 inhabitants. This labyrinthine project reveals some fascinating insights into the absurdities and intricacies of the American penal system however when engaged with the project we are still aware of the parameters of the structure, that one is being lead through the work and that we are being positioned through the aesthetic and content.

This approach to project creation is in the realm of ‘Interactive fantasy’, which highlights rules for a conceptual structure of gaming. Within this text ways of creating a social experience of the work, co-operative working as part of the gaming experience, putting the viewer as central importance in the evolvement of the project are explored. Narrative experience, all be it an oblique one is better told within an interactive format.

Perhaps there is a possibility to create interesting projects using the model of spaces on the net in interactive social forum dedicated to a specific aesthetic, subject matter or set of response. I take as my starting point, (and in light of the recurring theme within this paper of notions of access and borders), the global phenomenon of Urbex, or UE (Urban Exploration) or the documentation of acts of post-modern rambling:  the examination of the normally unseen or off-limits parts of urban areas or industrial facilities.These forums combine a dedicated and transitory approach to photography with the mantra ‘Take only pictures, leave only footprints’. It is not my intention here to concentrate on the prevailing aesthetic of the work but highlight these sites as a model for a direct way of reaching a target audience. There is a sense that within this space there is a real sharing and inclusive response both to the navigation of space and in the creation of new work, an encouragement to explore and develop the wider field of their concerns and in specific reference to the photograph. It is the combination of an offline activity focused and disseminated in the context of the web to a global audience of like-minded individuals and with the only focus being the extension of the field of knowledge that is so inspirational here.

 

“Artists intuitive relationship with art history is now going beyond what we call, the art of appropriation’, which naturally infers an ideology of ownership, and moving toward a culture of signs based on a collective ideal: Sharing”

Relational Aesthetics P4

Working as part of a collaborative called Latitude Projects I first started to explore collaborative forms of working: both in terms with making work with other artists and attempting to engage a wider public in the creation of the piece.

‘I always knew you’d come back….’ was produced in response to the notion of relationship of cinema and photography, the theme of Format 09 in Derby. Within this context it was our intention to explore how the audience interacts with our work, how contrasts of style and approach to photography may trigger a continuously evolving narrative where the boundaries between individual and collective authorship are blurred.

Each member of Latitude produced a few images in response to the theme. The end project of  ‘I always …’ however relied on audience interaction specifically the viewer’s interpretation of the title in relation to the images exhibited.  By using any of the photographs provided in an acrylic box adjacent to the aluminium display shelf we encouraged the viewer to change the edit of the display. Their choices were documented photographically and through audio recordings of them talking about their edits.

The idea was make visible how new narratives and themes may evolve from existing and seemingly disparate images, approaching these stories as celebrations the moment in which ideas created through a collective response have potential to lead to creation of new works: a sequence of photographs as a constantly evolving story board. This notion of play was designed to echo the approach to photography that is most prevalent within the consumption of mass media forms of communication. Photographs placed in physical vicinity create new visual synergies.   The project culminated in a two-part publication containing the meta-edit made by of the photographers using all the images, and a collection of the narrative sequences made by the audiences with transcripts of their audio recordings.

A similar device is used by the Wandering Bears in their work ‘Sunny Side Up’, particularly in the realisation of the exhibition at Margate Photofest earlier this year. For the project the photographer participants raided their back catalogues or images that sat on hard drives or mobile phones, rarely seen or shared.

The projects aim was to collect and display the everyday snap shots we take which inspire, intrigue but within the re-presentation of the images an alternate cohesion of the work was created. In the configuration of the work in the gallery space new ideas and form new bodies of work were created. Wandering Bears intend to collect these images and share them with a larger audience. At the far end was a brick wall where we invited the audience to select their favourite images from piles of photos on the floor to add to the show.

There is a distinct advantage (not least in this current financial climate) to working collaboratively with your peers. For one thing in a collaborative project you can really stretch the boundaries of your practice without the strict parameters that one perhaps imposes on oneself. Also there may be a direct and serious relation to the people that are consuming the work. The projects are not the easy hit that we are prepared to engage with in our normal usage of the Internet, as they require a degree of dedication and active response. Also there are problems associated with works produced under relational parameters. The imposed aesthetic has simply moved from Facebook or twitter to the ethos and parameters the participants are working with.

The competition between the multi national web 2.0 social communication companies such as Google and Facebook is that they are seeking to create a walled garden, a lens through which everyone views and interacts on the internet at all times. Similarly do artworks that rely on participation and through interface conditions have similar impact; though this rationalisation is only appropriate where the user is trying to ape the conditions of the social media companies.

The most arresting work often happens with the real time. The image has pertinence for the brief moment that it is happening in real time. I first had a really immersive experience with this form of happening was earlier this when the first riots took place in my local area. Tottenham. Having been shopping in town all day and arriving home to find two police cars burning at the end of my road was somewhat of a surprise. I did what most people were doing which was documenting the event on a camera phone, posting the images (both to news agencies and social media sites). I became obsessed (over the following days with the images that were being disseminated, and following people like the guardian’s Paul Lewis and activist ‘The vacuum cleaner’ as they posted, tweeted and updated over the following says. The immediacy of the imagery, contacting friends and family who lived in surrounding areas, seeing the drip through from the first accounts on twitter to other media outlets became a combination of lived and fictional or vicarious experience.

Conclusion

Open-source free-sharing of ideas and a utopian ideal, that in fact is central to the creation of the internet as a space to disseminate scientific results for the betterment of communication research and the advancement of modern knowledge. However the majority of our experiences of work is through the ‘walled garden’ that carriers a degree of service provider’s control over applications, content, and media though we are perhaps unaware of how significantly our actions are being determined by the mediation of different platforms. As MetaFilter user blue_beetle, points out that

‘If you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold’.

I think that the most creative usage of the space and potential of the medium is to establish discursive space outside of a government or economic influence where individuals are able to communicate freely and to create work through inclusive participation. In botany, a rhizome is a characteristically horizontal stem of a plant that is usually found underground, often sending out roots and shoots from its nodes. If a rhizome is separated into pieces, each piece may be able to give rise to a new plant. Perhaps this way of thinking should be central to the productive act in an online context. That the notion of the single artist creator is an anachronism in this space, and that the intention for work to be specifically an act of art creation which is more to do with the financial worth of a product, than the experiential usage of its viewers, a shift not in trading with material objects, but on the exchange of information.

It is in the parameters of the work and the context that it is viewed in, beyond and outside of labels of art that in the future will be most important. It is perhaps in embracing an ‘open system’ and the chaotic nature of its evolution where the social, cultural interests lie on the Internet not in the creation of one autonomous user. The aim for work online should perhaps be that the artwork becomes an organism rather than a product. With each response the work is re-posed and stems outwards from an original digital concept. Creativity in this space and  the oeuvre of the artist is evaluated not on the basis of an individual work, but rather on the basis of the artist’s ongoing, performed net presence.

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