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One Thing and Another in 2007, a top ten from Steve Dietz

I asked Steve Dietz, Artistic Director of ZERO1 and former Walker New Media Curator if he would prepare a top ten list for our roundup. Steve is busy these days, but he managed to indulge and put together a list, if a little late. Thanks, Steve. — Ed. I’ve never really understood Top Ten or […]

I asked Steve Dietz, Artistic Director of ZERO1 and former Walker New Media Curator if he would prepare a top ten list for our roundup. Steve is busy these days, but he managed to indulge and put together a list, if a little late. Thanks, Steve. — Ed.

I’ve never really understood Top Ten or “Best of” lists. Can’t we all just get along? Probably it’s just some kind of Walter Mondale self-loathing gene, but really, who cares if yet another person does – or doesn’t – think Matthew Barney is the greatest living vaseline artist of his generation from Boise? Nevertheless, here is my list of 10 or more of one thing and another in 2007.

Not Exactly Disappointing

Doug Aitken, SleepwalkersDocumenta was disappointing, but Doug Aitken’s Sleepwalkers at the Museum of Modern Art was something else. I went to New York just to see this gargantuan “urban screens” nighttime projection on the museum’s exterior, and I’m glad I did. It was a thrill to have a different kind of content so close, from a Midwestern perspective, to Times Square. In the end, however, the experiment was too hermetic. And not just the content. The context still felt like we were on the outside looking in. The engagement with the city was on the order of scale alone.

Germaine Koh, JournalCompare Sleepwalkers with a project like Germaine Koh’s Journal. For a month she wrote a 40-word daily diary, which was displayed on a large LED ticker sign in downtown Cleveland:

13 July. Lunch with Mom and B. Date with IV really nice: dinner at Bishop’s (so expensive!) then drank port on beach. Good talking. He made me CDs for road trip. I was not too nervous.

The telegraphic tidbits chased the latest quotes from Dow Jones and the interpenetration of public and private information on such a grand scale created a certain disruptive intimacy for the urban flaneur along Euclid Avenue. [Self-exposure: I curated the Koh project for the Cleveland Ingenuityfest.]

I Wish I’d Been There

Faust @ Futuresonic, Manchester, May 2007There was a continuing glut of historical reenactments in 2007, but a couple of straight-forward re-presentations made me understand better – and regret – what I missed at the time. A performance by the 70s “inventors of Krautrock” Faust at Futuresonic in Manchester brought on a hitherto unknown nostalgia for power sawing a hanging sheet of metal in a shower of sparks.

Kit Galloway and Sherrie Rabinowitz, Hole in SpaceA simple installation in the exhibition Outside the Box of Kit Galloway’s and Sherrie Rabinowitz’s seminal 1980 transcontinental Hole In Space put the lie to the idea that their project is commonplace now with video cell phones and networked urban screens. Size does matter and their genious was to make it life size, neither screen-sized nor super-sized. Now I know why I keep describing this piece as seminal.

The Power to Continue to Surprise

Jim Campbell, Home MovieWith some artists, even though their work has a signature familiarity, it seldom feels exploitatively repetitive. Jim Campbell’s San Francisco gallery exhibition of Home Movies displayed on hanging strips of LEDs like an electronic beaded curtain were palimpsests of memories, barely visible but distinctly readable, which were someone else’s but could have been yours.

Jennifer + Kevin McCoy, The Constant WorldJennifer + Kevin McCoy’s installation, The Constant World, which inaugurated the new gallery spaces at the British Film Institute is in one way, I suppose, a move from Godard’s Week End to Alpahville in terms of narrative, but it is also monumentally beautiful, perhaps especially among the Brutalist architecture of London’s South Bank.

Goaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaal!

Speaking of historical reenactments, Gerard Byrne’s 1984 and Beyond was just about the best thing at the Venice Biennial. He filmed Dutch actors disucssing the future from the vantage point of the past based on a 1963 series of interviews in Playboy magazine with 12 leading science fiction authors, including Arthur C. Clark, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, and Robert Heinlein. Set in the Rietveld Pavilion at the Kroller-Muller Sculpture Garden, the venues are as retro future as the conversation without ever becoming cartoony. It’s a beautiful work.

A new work, Blue Hawaii, commissioned for Janet Cardiff and George Burns Miller’s The Killing Machine and Other Stories in Darmstadt was remarkable for allowing visitors to wander alone around an unlit flooded basement of the building, but it is perhaps the least successful of a stunning retrospective exhibition. From the opening room with its eponymous killing machine – a fearsome dentist chair – to early work such as a semi-autobioraphical slide show where Cardiff and Miller at least bicker if not fight to the sonorous 40 Part Motet to a tragicomic Fitzcarraldo meets Paris, Texas set-narrative, Opera for a Small Room, the exhibition is a masterpiece of exquisitely powerful works.

Performance Art

By the time we had a Parkour chase scene with Daniel Craig’s James Bond in Casino Royale – a high budget imitation of Parkour inventor David Belle’s utterly fresh chase scene in Banlieu 13 – “free running” seemed to have been exhausted by its success, just as the urgency of graffiti art dissipated in the 80s. But the artist group Mongrel, which runs Mediashed in Southend on Sea, worked with the parkour group Methods of Movement to choreograph a “duel,” which was filmed in the Manchester (again) Arndale Shopping Centre using only the existing in-house CCTV network of cameras operated from the central control room. Once you get over the sheer exhileration of running around a mall at night alone, the performance is a show stopper. The Duellists. Brilliant.

For Fashionably Late for the Relationship, computer artist and musician-composer turned filmmaker R. Luke DuBois collaborated with Lian Amaris Sifuentes to shoot a 72-hour performance of Sifuentes in her boudoir – on a traffic island at Madison Square Park in New York City – getting ready to go out. DuBois has made a databased installation version and a feature film length cut using a time-lapse algorithm that has also allowed him to compress every Academy Award winning film into 1 minute each for Acadamey. Mesmerizing.

Second Life

Perhaps it is because our First Lives are going down the drain of climate change and war mongering that Second Life is so popular, although it is more likely simply a rerun of Web 1.0 faddishness, confusing specific platforms – Second Life – for general principles – virtuality, sociability, play, for instance. Nevertheless, Adam Nash’s Seventeen Unsung Songs located on East of Odyssey are worth listening to, and while I didn’t think Cao Fei’s Second Life installation at Venice was as convincing as her Whose Utopia? at Tate Liverpool and more recently the Walker, her Second Life machinima films iMirror are compelling.

Doh!

Whatever you think of Diller, Scofidio + Renfro’s ICA Boston – and I think it’s amazing – they “solved” the long running battle of the mediatheque. For years now, institutions have overthought and overthought what the space of new media should be like. ICA Boston tilts it on a 45 degree axis and as you look almost straight down into the evanescent waters of Boston harbor, what is meerely an Apple store on its side becomes a compelling experience. Who needs dialog tables with brilliantly simple architectural solutions?

The Materialization of the Virtual

Finally, more and more art formerly known as new media artists – and curators! – are realizing the virtues of the real. Finally. For example, online Thomson + Craighead’s Beacon has always seemed to me little more than a Google hack – sorry Jon and Ali – but when they convert one of those clacking train signs with the letters flipping over till they form a sentence, to read the the latest queries of the collective unconsious feels more like an adventure or a good mystery than self-gratifying voyeurism.

May we all enjoy one thing and another in 2008.