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Superscript Keynote: Ben Davis on “Post-Descriptive Criticism”

Throughout its history, art criticism has developed in contexts of relative image scarcity—print publishing—and hence “description” has long been at its core. The Internet, on the other hand, offers a relative surplus of available images, but the way we think about what art writing does hasn’t yet caught up. For his Superscript keynote, Ben Davis […]

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Throughout its history, art criticism has developed in contexts of relative image scarcity—print publishing—and hence “description” has long been at its core. The Internet, on the other hand, offers a relative surplus of available images, but the way we think about what art writing does hasn’t yet caught up. For his Superscript keynote, Ben Davis aims to name, define, and dig into the topic of “Post-Descriptive Criticism,” looking at the history of writing about art and the new opportunities opening up now.

“For me,” he explained in a recent email, “this thought comes out of a very personal experience of working in an evolving online art media over the last 10 years, seeing its intensifying demands, and trying to solve a problem: Why is it that, pragmatically, reviews don’t work online? They simply do not get traffic relative to commentary or news. So, I want to propose that this is partly because we are working with a form that is embedded in a certain kind of expectations about communication, and that there is a need and an imperative to invent a new kind of writing.

“From a very simple pragmatic observation about media, you then expand out into the political dimension of the question. Since this thought is partly about trying to rethink how art criticism functions online, it is also partly about how you preserve critical thought online, with art criticism being just a particularly symptomatic case, because it deals with images. Can you think about forms of criticism that are more image-based, without collapsing into a pure uncritical fascination with the image?”

Ben Davis is the author of 9.5 Theses on Art and Class (Haymarket, 2013), as well as numerous essays on contemporary art that have appeared in venues include Art Papers, Frieze, New York, Slate.com, and The Village Voice. He is currently critic-in-residence at Montclair State University, and National Art Critic for artnet News. He delivers his keynote for Superscript: Arts Journalism and Criticism in a Digital Age on Friday, May 29 at 5 pm. To participate, register for the conference or tune in to the livestream.

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Switching Screens: Taking a Break in the Mediatheque

As the Walker’s social media manager (and a longtime internet obsessive) I live my life online, and it’s not much of an exaggeration to say that the small screen is my everything. In my off hours I usually juggle a phone and tablet while streaming Netflix or Hulu on my TV. This habit of layering my media consumption […]

People sitting in the Mediatheque watching the screen.

As the Walker’s social media manager (and a longtime internet obsessive) I live my life online, and it’s not much of an exaggeration to say that the small screen is my everything. In my off hours I usually juggle a phone and tablet while streaming Netflix or Hulu on my TV. This habit of layering my media consumption is exhilarating and exhausting, and yes, I frequently miss key plot points because I was distracted by a conversation someone sparked on Twitter. For instance, last night I cued up the latest episode of a TV show and realized I had no idea how a main character ended up in the hospital.

When news started spreading about a new way to access the Walker’s Ruben/Bentson Moving Image Collection, it sounded like something a device-addicted content consumer like me could get really excited about. With a touch screen remote, a large (but manageable) selection of films and videos, and comfy seats, the Mediatheque might be enough to get me to put down my phone and eschew the small screen for the big screen.

As a Walker staffer I was able to get a sneak preview, but starting today anyone has access the Mediatheque. You don’t even need to pay admission. Just walk right in, choose a film, find a seat, and imagine you’re in a private screening room as the opening credits start to roll.

My preview session started with a quick introduction, but the menus are simple enough that anyone familiar with Netflix or YouTube will quickly learn to navigate from playlists to search screens to the queue. Curated playlists with topics like “Icons and Iconography” and “Dreamscapes” are one option—touch a few buttons and a selection of films will be added to the queue and seamlessly play.

I chose “Cinemas of Resistance” and the theater screen transitioned from a preview trailer as the first film began playing.

Mediatheque touch screen

I was torn between taking my seat and standing near the wall-mounted iPad to read the descriptions of each film. They take Netflix and IMDB summaries to the next level: like wall labels for cinema, you get a taste of history, context, and plot, plus a preview clip.

Mediatheque film preview screen

Some films are as short as a few minutes, others are feature length. Since I hadn’t allowed enough time for a marathon, I quickly cleared my queue and selected a Buster Keaton short. Alone in the dark theater, I put my phone away and settled in for six minute break from small screens.

 

AWP 2015: Off-Site Events

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Minneapolis is about to be flooded with more than 15,000 writers, editors, and publishers. The Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) conference and book fair takes place this Wednesday through Saturday. Although it costs about $200, it is akin to SXSW, in which there are plenty of off-site events that will offer comparable content with an intimacy that the Convention Center does not offer. These are all from my Facebook and (*) denotes my picks. (more…)

Announcing the Superscript Blog Mentorship Program, presented in partnership with Hyperallergic

Update 05.22.15: Congratulations to Merray Gerges, Ryohei Ozaki, and Sam Wisneski, the bloggers selected to provide live response to Superscript. Learn about them at Hyperallergic, and follow their work on May 29 and 30 at Superscript Reader. To put ideas discussed at the Superscript online arts journalism conference into practice, we announce the Superscript Blog […]

Screen shot 2015-04-08 at 9.25.30 AM

Update 05.22.15: Congratulations to Merray Gerges, Ryohei Ozaki, and Sam Wisneski, the bloggers selected to provide live response to Superscript. Learn about them at Hyperallergic, and follow their work on May 29 and 30 at Superscript Reader.

To put ideas discussed at the Superscript online arts journalism conference into practice, we announce the Superscript Blog Mentorship, presented in partnership with Hyperallergic. This responsive blogging program will create a pop-up newsroom in the Walker Art Center Library and engage a trio of enterprising bloggers in covering the three-day convening.

We are seeking three bloggers to create live online responses to the conference—under the guidance of three world-class editorial mentors, led by Hyperallergic’s Jillian Steinhauer—through quick-hit blogging, Q&As, profiles, issues essays, and other formats. Each participant will produce a series of blog posts to be published on the Walker blogs and Mn Artists throughout Superscript, leading up to longer piece for publication on Hyperallergic. This program aims to create a dynamic documentation of Superscript 2015, for attendees and online audiences alike, while offering emerging writers invaluable instruction from seasoned arts journalists, publication experience with three digital platforms, and access to the speakers and attendees of Superscript.

Each mentorship participant will receive:

  • Free admission to Superscript (a $200 value)
  • Journalistic mentorship from three top arts editors
  • A $100 publication fee paid by Hyperallergic
  • Publication bylines on Hyperallergic, the Walker Art Center blogs, and Mn Artists
  • Access to the speakers and attendees of Superscript
  • A Superscript tote

Applicants must:

  • be available for a one-hour training session on Thursday evening, May 28 and throughout the duration of the conference,
  • have a fluent command of English (spoken and written),
  • have a working knowledge of key digital tools including WordPress, Skype, Twitter, Instagram, etc.,
  • have knowledge of and interest in contemporary art in all its forms (visual, performing, moving-image art, and new media art; design; architecture; public practice) as well as online cultural publishing,
  • have access to a laptop and camera for use during the conference,
  • be self-motivated, energetic, and open to learning,
  • be calm under pressure, communicative, resourceful, and efficient.

Open Call for Participation

Applicants must be within three years of graduation from college and cannot derive their main source of income from arts writing. They must have a demonstrable interest and commitment to the arts as well as enthusiasm and high energy.

To apply, please email the following to superscript@walkerart.org, with “Superscript Blog Mentorship Application” in the subject line:

  • Cover letter stating in 500 words or fewer why you’re interested in the program and what you hope to gain from it,
  • CV,
  • 2–3 writing samples (published or personal writing accepted)

All application materials must be submitted as a single PDF.

Deadline for applications: Wednesday, May 6, 2015.

Superscript: Arts Journalism and Criticism in a Digital Age is a three-day international conference to be held at the Walker Art Center May 28–30, 2015. Copresented by the Walker and Mn Artists is convenes artists, critics, editors, and writers—including Pitchfork founder Ryan Schreiber, poet-critic Claudia La Rocca, the New Inquiry editor Ayesha Siddiqi, artnet News editor Ben Davis, and many others—for a discussion on digital cultural publishing’s present realities and its possible futures.

About Hyperallergic

Hyperallergic is a forum for playful, serious, and radical perspectives on art and culture in the world today. Since 2009, Hyperallergic has published more than 500 writers and is read by close to 1 million people per month.

@hyperallergic

The Team

jillians-sqJillian Steinhauer, the project’s lead editor, is senior editor of Hyperallergic and a writer living in Brooklyn. Her work has been published in Slate, the Los Angeles Review of Books, The Paris Review Daily, and other publications. A graduate of NYU’s Cultural Reporting & Criticism program, she was recently nominated for a 2014 Best Art Reporting award from the International Association of Art Critics. She’s served as juror/judge for art festivals, cat video festivals, and tote bag competitions.

@jilnotjill

nicolec-sqNicole J. Caruth is the former editorial manager at Art21 and founding editor of the Art21 Magazine (est. 2013). Her writing has appeared in a range of publications, including ARTnewsC MagazineGastronomicaPublic Art ReviewWalker Art Center Magazine, and the Phaidon Press books Vitamin Green and Vitamin D2. She has held positions at the Brooklyn Museum, School of Visual Arts, and Wangechi Mutu Studio. She is currently Artistic Director for Exhibitions and Public Engagement at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts.

@nicolejcaruth

islaly-sqIsla Leaver-Yap works with artists to produce texts, events, and shows. As the Walker’s Bentson Film Scholar, she researches and publishes on works in the Ruben/Bentson Film and Video Study Collection and examines its context and legacy within the field of artists’ moving image in contemporary art. She is currently working with artists Moyra Davey and James Richards on producing new works for the collection. She is based in Glasgow, where she is the Project Director of LUX Scotland, and commutes twice a year to the Walker.

@islaly

Staff

Paul Schmelzer is editor of the Walker homepage and blogs. A past editor at Adbusters, he’s written for Artforum.com, Art 21, Cabinet, Medium.com’s re:form, Raw Vision, and Utne Reader, among others. Former editor of the Minnesota Independent and managing editor of its DC-based nonprofit parent, he’s the first digital journalist in Minnesota history to win a Society of Professional Journalists Page One Award or a University of Minnesota School of Journalism Frank Premack Award for Public Affairs Journalism. He blogs at Eyeteeth.org.

@iteeth @walkermag

Susannah Schouweiler is a writer, arts critic, and editor-in-chief of Mn Artists, an artist-driven, online media platform based at the Walker Art Center covering the art and artists of the Midwest. Before her work with Mn Artists, she served as the editor of Ruminator, a nationally distributed art and literature magazine. She lives and works in St. Paul, Minnesota.

@susannahs @mnartistsdotorg

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<a href="/superscript">Superscript</a>

A screenshot of the Superscript website

 

The Internet has always been an experimental publishing platform.

In contrast to the linear nature of most publishing endeavors in history, the hyperlink was invented in 1965 by Ted Nelson, who was obsessed with keeping track of his neurotic and divergent paths of thinking, and in turn, the publishing of his writing. Superscript, the Walker’s first conference on arts journalism and criticism in a digital age, intentionally puts the hyperlink — one of the definite features of new media — in the forefront of its design. The hyperlink is not simply a software feature; it is telling of our shift in thinking beyond linearity and context to an arena of layered networks and interconnectedness: the medium is the message. The web is a postmodernist tool necessitated by a postmodernist perspective.

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One of Ted Nelson’s mockups of transpointing windows, 1972

Screenshot of the hyperlink working demo, 1998

I. Text

Publishing online ranges from prebuilt platforms with uniform templates and one-click submission buttons to articles that have custom layouts that take months or years to implement. The aesthetic of the Superscript website is intentionally retro, stripped down and typographically emphatic, to pay homage to text as the only necessity in publishing.

We can see this minimalism within modern services such as Readability or Pocket; sometimes we just want to digest the text-as-information like a machine. Text speaks to our modern combinational approach of social communication with computational models:

Text is the most socially useful communication technology. It works well in 1:1, 1:N, and M:N modes. It can be indexed and searched efficiently, even by hand. It can be translated. It can be produced and consumed at variable speeds. It is asynchronous. It can be compared, diffed, clustered, corrected, summarized and filtered algorithmically. It permits multiparty editing. It permits branching conversations, lurking, annotation, quoting, reviewing, summarizing, structured responses, exegesis, even fan fic. The breadth, scale and depth of ways people use text is unmatched by anything. –always bet on text

In digital publishing, text is our data where books are the compiled program. Superscript’s starkness allows for easy consumption as an informational website by foregrounding the letter.

II. Conference Websites

There are limitless examples and templates of typical conference web design. But as a conference that is devoted to digital publishing, it would be a mistake to miss this opportunity for creating something unconventional.

A typical conference will have a navigation bar with multiple items (e.g. Speakers, Schedule, Register, Location). I wanted to call out navigation-as-hyperlink-as-content, so as to not necessarily distinguish between them. This purposely obfuscate details as to create a dialogue between the page and the user. So-called best practices instilled in design to create an interface as no interface creates a one-sided transaction that is hardly memorable. In willfully obscuring, we create conversation. Although there are risks in this approach, such as alienating readers, we know for the most part that those seeking this conference will have both the curiosity and engagement to grapple with a novel display.

III. Page Dimensionality

out

Triple Canopy’s long form layout

A screenshot of the Tankboys website

The horizontal layout of the site is inspired by two publication platforms: Triple Canopy and Tankboys. The landing page serves as a merged Cover and Page 1 with an index and key information. It imitates the format of a book or a magazine, using headings and paragraph blocks, split across two leaves. However, when clicking a link on an index leaf, it branches out. The interacted hyperlink shows its essential function, not necessarily to open another page, but to unfold more information. On this unfolded branch, hyperlink clicks are then used to unfold more information, albeit as toggles that expand vertically. Then, hovering on hyperlinks of names overlays images of those individuals. These three interactions — (1) the vertical extension of the leaf, (2) the horizontal toggling of details, and (3) the hovering of overlay images — create a visual three-dimensionality that encapsulates the networked and stratified modularity of the hyperlink.

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(1) The vertical extension of the leaf

(2) The horizontal toggling of details

(3) The hovering of overlay images

III. Identity

The identity and personality of Superscript was done by Dante Carlos, a senior designer at the Walker. It is his attention to both print and web typographic styling and mixing that is able to demarcate the hyperlink while not backgrounding plain text. Although there was only a postcard designed with this identity in mind before the website was launched, it went through many iterations:

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Two distinct graphical elements that I gleaned from his sketches were the use of spinners and graphs. The spinners serve as a visual cue of process when it comes to producing or publishing. On the web, there is the indeterminate loader when waiting for the design and content elements to load; in print, there is the printing register to align design and content properly. The graphs are arbitrary trend lines. They are telling of the dichotomous cycle of publishing: enduring and disseminable yet ephemeral and disposable.

IV. Outro

Although Superscript is a conference occurring on-site, this does not mean we will be subordinating our virtual audience. The Superscript website will go through two additional phases: a live version and an archival version. As the conference is occurring, a video stream, live stenography embed, and Twitter feed will be added. Once the conference is over, we will be archiving all the live material that was produced. In addition, we will be hosting a second page called Superscript Reader that will aggregate digital keynote commissions, Walker Channel film commissions, and related article and blog entries.

This is a unique conference that coincides overlapping domains of design, curation, editing, publishing, and technology. It is a distinct time to condense and skim this online activity to a singular aggregate reflection. This mirrors our everyday browsing: we consume a neverending flood of hyperlinks that we filter and coalesce internally. The screen emerges outward through us.

Postscript

My personal list of Superscript must-sees include Pitchfork, Rhizome, Hyperallergic, The New Inquiry and e-flux. If you’ve gotten all the way down here, you should probably buy a ticket.

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Two On Kawaras: Yuki Okumura on the Artist and his Twitterbot

Actually, there are two On Kawaras. One is the conceptual artist—or rather, a concept—whose large-scale retrospective is currently on view at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. The other is a Twitterbot—or, rather, a programming code—which has been tweeting “I AM STILL ALIVE” every day since January 2009, even after the artist’s passing last June. […]

On Kawara, "TODAY series," 1989. Collection: Walker Art Center

On Kawara, “TODAY series,” 1989. Collection: Walker Art Center

Actually, there are two On Kawaras.

One is the conceptual artist—or rather, a concept—whose large-scale retrospective is currently on view at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. The other is a Twitterbot—or, rather, a programming code—which has been tweeting “I AM STILL ALIVE” every day since January 2009, even after the artist’s passing last June. Neither of them belong to, yet both are in some way connected to, physical human bodies. I am one of the luckiest people in this sense: I am perhaps the only person who has directly interacted with both of them.

The reason I say the conceptual artist is a pure, immaterial concept himself—or itself, briefly speaking—is not only because he never presented himself publicly between 1966 and his death, but also due to the fact that On Kawara is his artist’s name. The body Kawara was using—or his/its ghostwriter, I would say—had a different, legally registered name, which is most probably Atsushi Kawahara. For more on this point, please read this text I ghostwrote for Lei Yamabe, a fictitious critic.

In February 2012, I went to New York to meet Kawara—or, actually, Kawahara. He had liked Yamabe’s first text, in which I attempted to bridge his early body of work, executed in Japan in the 1950s, with his “Today” series, which he started in New York in 1966, as well as his other conceptual projects, including his series of “I Am Still Alive” telegrams. Kawahara was going to put it in Kawara’s then-upcoming book, and on this occasion he invited me to visit his place for a chat. It was just amazing. He was an elderly, yet extremely vigorous guy, whose topics of discussions ranged from conceptual art to human civilization to quasi-scientific supernatural phenomenon.

On the other hand, the reason why the On Kawara Twitterbot is immaterial is, I guess, very obvious. It is a programming code, not analog at all but purely digital, which posts an automated tweet once a day, at 17:00 GMT, carrying one same message claiming his being “alive.”

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Around the time I first got to know the Twitter account, many people actually thought it was really Kawara doing it. However, as an artist so deeply into Kawara’s practice—which I consider an extremely long-duration performance where the performer remained invisible for nearly 50 years—I knew it wasn’t him. Indeed, I soon discovered this post by Pall Thayer, the Icelandic/American artist who maintains the Twitterbot.

While I appreciated the honesty and sincerity in his post, it did not make me like @On_Kawara because I found it a bit disrespectful: considering the nature of all of his work, Kawara would never disclose his bodily state in real time. But when I noticed that it was still running even after the artist’s “death,” I became fascinated. It now seems to fully represent how he, as a pure consciousness, still conceptually exists, having been disconnected from the body and literally “passing” away from the physical world.

My interest in Thayer grew so much that I traveled all the way from Europe to Connecticut to meet and interview Pall in person. On my journey from New York City, I recalled my meeting with Kawahara—because once again I was going to meet a physical body behind yet another immaterial concept called On Kawara. The biggest difference between the two, however, was that Thayer was totally happy with being filmed and having his interview shared among people, unlike Kawahara, who stayed hidden in order to devote himself to maintain the conceptual structure of the artist.

Here’s my film, which shares Pall’s ideas behind and stories regarding the On Kawara Twitterbot, as well as his own background, while you will also get to know a bit about who I am.

In closing, I’ll quote from my conversation with Thayer about the most compelling aspect, for me, of his Twitterbot: his decision to keep @On_Kawara “alive” after the artist’s reported passing:

Do I stop it? Or, do I keep it running? I spent a good few hours kind of thinking about which to do. Basically what it came down to was, for me, the statement, at least after his passing, referred not to himself but to his body of work. That was my original decision for keeping it running. Even though he has passed, his work is still alive and remains alive.

Walkerart.org: The Best Stories of 2014

As I do my job as editor of the Walker homepage and blogs, I find myself guided by the Walker’s mission. The entire thing is instructive and, frankly, liberating—the dedication to both artists and audiences; the focus on the collection, care, and contextualization of art works; and the “global, multidisciplinary, and diverse approach” we take […]

As I do my job as editor of the Walker homepage and blogs, I find myself guided by the Walker’s mission. The entire thing is instructive and, frankly, liberating—the dedication to both artists and audiences; the focus on the collection, care, and contextualization of art works; and the “global, multidisciplinary, and diverse approach” we take to contemporary art. But, in particular, I’ve been focusing on the last bit of late: “Walker programs examine the questions that shape and inspire us as individuals, cultures, and communities.” Looking back on the most popular stories and blog posts we’ve produced here at the Walker, I gauge our success or failure against that measure: are we engaging not just with what’s within our walls—which we must do well—but also with what’s out there, in the world we live in when we leave work, in the world(s) our artists and audiences live in? I hope so. To help with this mission, we’ve enlisted help, from our own staff and from an array of outside voices, the many guest artists, journalists, and writers who’ve been invited, and in many cases commissioned, to share their thinking here.

Together we produced more than 70 essays, slideshows, interviews, and news stories in 2014, with help from contributors including: Ta-coumba Aiken, Kate Bernheimer & Laird Hunt, James Bridle, Nicole J. Caruth, Jeff Chang, Catherine Damman, Chris Fischbach, Kristina Fong, Shannon Gibney, Saidiya Hartman, Jeff Huebner, Julie Lasky, Martin Friedman, Joan Frosch, James Norton, Okwui Okpokwasili, Ana Tijoux, Susan Rosenberg, Joan Rothfuss, Dread Scott, and Ben Valentine, as well as the many Walker staffers who’ve shared their research and insights.

Below is a selection from our most popular articles of the past 12 months. (Click here to see the best of our blogs.) To keep up with all that we publish at walkerart.org in 2015, follow us on Twitter at @walkermag or subscribe to Walker Reader, our monthly editorial newsletter.

10.

Kris Martin, Bee, 2009

Kris Martin, Bee, 2009

Laugh at Death: Kris Martin on Time, Absence, and Humor

“We’re all goldfish.” In this interview from April, Belgian artist Kris Martin discusses his favorite movie scene, the goldfish scene that opens Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, as well as his works that explore—and ridicule—death, from a cast gold bee to a 2D work in which the word “SOMEBODY” is written in human ashes (“We’re all somebody on paper.”) to For Whom … (2012), the silent swinging bell in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden that takes its name from John Donne’s famous for-whom-the-bell-tolls meditation.

9.

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Edward Hopper, Village Person

“Hopper was a poet of the abyss, a chronicler of discontinuity and disruption, who seemed to need a static environment from which he could take inventory of what was emotionally solid and measure the distance to the nearest patch of null.” In a photoessay illustrated by Duane Michals, Julie Lasky shared her experience visiting 1 Washington Square North, Edward Hopper’s home and studio for some five decades (now home to New York University’s School of Social Work). Of the setting, she noted: “Hopper admitted the southern light from his studio windows but ignored the pleasant scene, instead consulting the anomie behind his eyelids.”

8.

Mickey Friedman in the Walker design studio, photo contact sheet, 1979

Mickey Friedman in the Walker design studio, photo contact sheet, 1979

Design for Explication not Veneration: Remembering Mickey Friedman

“In Mickey’s hands, a design show was never simply about a subject, but drew upon the principles and power of design itself to create a compelling experience. ” For Mildred “Mickey” Friedman, curating design was less about acquiring objects than letting such artifacts tell stories within the galleries, “not for veneration but explication,” wrote architecture and design curator Andrew Blauvelt of Friedman, who passed away Sept. 3. As Design Quarterly editor and design curator for nearly 23 years, she consistently “drew upon the power of design itself to create a compelling experience.” The wife of former Walker director Martin Friedman, she worked with Walker architect Edward Larrabee Barnes to create the building’s interiors, gave Frank Gehry a prescient solo show in 1986, and inspired a generation of designers.

7.

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Beyoncé the Readymade: A Conversation around Ralph Lemon’s Scaffold Room

“A machine, a high-powered Porsche, hip-hop technology. She consumes everything around her.” In Ralph Lemon’s Scaffold Room (commissioned by the Walker and premiered in October), Beyoncé is discussed as an overwhelming force of capital that takes over our senses. With Lemon’s work as a jumping-off point, performer Okwui Okpokwasili met with author and Columbia scholar Saidiya Hartman to discuss the iconography and cultural consumption of black women’s bodies.

6.

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Choreographing Experiences in Space: Olga Viso Interviews Jim Hodges

“I’m interested in theatrical moments and choreographing experiences in space. I think as a drawer and make as a sculptor.” In an interview with Walker director Olga Viso (who curated Jim Hodges: Give More Than You Take), Jim Hodges discussed his art practice, life, and influences, touching on themes from love and loss to politics, spirituality, and mortality.

 

5.

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La Cultura de la Basura: Ana Tijoux on Misogyny and Pop Music

“Where are the videos showing a woman in her role as sister—or protector, or economic head of family, or devoted daughter, or grandmother dignified in her old age?” In her Walker Artist Op-Ed, our ongoing series of opinion pieces by global artists, Chilean hip-hop MC and activist Ana Tijoux looks at la violencia del cuerpo en la musica: the objectification of female pop stars, which she likens to “visual punches: it’s about snatching away the very beauty of women.”

4.

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The Siege on Citizenship: James Bridle on “The Right to Have Rights”

“The cloud renders geography irrelevant—until you realize that everything that matters, everything that means you don’t die, is based not only on which passport you possess, but on a complex web of definitions of what constitutes that passport.” Launching our series of Artist Op-Eds, UK-based artist and writer James Bridle shared the case of Mohamed Sakr, a man deprived of his UK citizenship and later killed by a US drone, to show how such definitions are under attack.

 

3.

“Hands up, don’t shoot!” Demonstrators protest the killing of teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 12, 2014. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

“Hands up, don’t shoot!” Demonstrators protest the killing of teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 12, 2014.
Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

“Illegitimate”: Dread Scott on the Killing of Michael Brown

“If you’re the head of an empire and see that an unarmed youth is gunned down by the police and your advice is for people to be calm, your rule is illegitimate.” In an urgent essay in August, artist Dread Scott used our Artist Op-Ed platform to address the killing of Michael Brown by Ferguson, Missouri police and the crackdown on dissent that followed. Mixing anger and disbelief, he saluted protesters in Ferguson while decrying those who aim to control them through force. “If a Black boy can’t walk down the streets of his town without fear of being executed by the police,” he wrote, “what rights do we have?”

2.

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Making the “Best Cat Video on the Internet”

“I’m a proud crazy cat video lady… trapped in a man’s body.” What does it take to make a cat video that becomes a viral sensation? Kristina Fong interviewed Will Braden, whose video Henri 2: Paw de Deux was voted “best cat video on the Internet” at the first ever Internet Cat Video Festival. Now #catvidfest curator, Braden shares his thoughts on the cat video phenomenon, as well as tips on making a videos that’ll be like catnip online.

 

1.

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A Timeline of Design History:
Andrew Blauvelt Highlights the Best of Five Decades of Design Quarterly

For nearly fifty years, the Walker’s Design Quarterly chronicled the changing terrains of architecture, landscape architecture, urban planning, and product and graphic design. Featuring provocative thinkers—including Muriel Cooper, Martin Filler, and Armin Hofmann-—DQ charted design’s history, from a form-follows-function modernism of the ’40s to the affectations of postmodernism in the ’80s and ’90s.

Walkerart.org: The Best Blog Posts of 2014

It might be an understatement to say it’s been a busy year for the Walker blogs: our nine main blogs published 317 posts, racking up more than 525,000 pageviews. Here’s a selection from our most popular posts. (See a selection of our most popular articles here.) 10.   Valentine’s Message: “I’m Your Man! Love, Sufjan” […]

It might be an understatement to say it’s been a busy year for the Walker blogs: our nine main blogs published 317 posts, racking up more than 525,000 pageviews. Here’s a selection from our most popular posts. (See a selection of our most popular articles here.)

10.

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Valentine’s Message: “I’m Your Man! Love, Sufjan”

“You’re making a mistake with this boy Ryan.” Consider it a perfect storm: Walker book specialist Ryan Brink was picking out a Valentine’s Day card for his girlfriend Claire just as Sufjan Stevens, at the Walker to perform with his supergroup Sisyphus, stopped by the Walker Shop. Long story short: Brink scored big points for the card he bought, signed with a personalized message for Claire by Stevens himself.

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Fighting Words: A Public Debate on the Relationship Between Social Practice and Art Institutions

“Does social practice belong in art museums?” Portland-based artist Ariana Jacob shares some of the arguments from a debate on social practice during last summer’s rousing Assembly: A Social Practice Get-together that took place at the Portland Art Museum. Published in early December, it’s already become one of the year’s most-read posts.

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Freezing Man: Putting a Temporary Autonomous Zone on Ice

“Inevitably, upon explaining the idea of the Art Shanty Projects to someone unfamiliar with them, a comparison to Burning Man will be made.” Artist Eric William Carroll visited this distinctly Minnesota event, which brings artist-made icefishing-style shacks to a frozen Twin Cities–area lake every two years, finding comparisons to the Black Rock City extravaganza lacking. “If community is to be understood as the central focus of Burning Man, Art, I would argue, is the focus of the shanties.”

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Living with Pottery: Warren MacKenzie at 90

“MacKenzie challenged the idea that sophisticated art cannot be an everyday object.” Marking Warren MacKenzie’s 90th birthday in February, Alex Lauer dug into the Walker archives, finding photos, clippings, and an issue of Design Quarterly dedicated to the career—including a 1961 Walker solo exhibition—of the legendary Minnesota potter.

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Defining a Vagenre: Categories of Nudity in Feminist Performance

“There are many different vagenres in contemporary performance and dance. It is not just one big category of vaginas on stage.” Despite the punny neologism, performing arts curator Michèle Steinwald offers a serious consideration of nudity in feminist performance, suggesting five levels, from “Performance with ‘frontal’ nudity, completely naked or just bottomless” to “Orgasm as educational tool.”

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All Possible Futures: Experimental Jetset on Speculative Graphic Design

“Nowadays, it might indeed be speculative projects that can give designers some sort of breathing space in an economic and political environment that is becoming increasingly tight and hostile.” While some graphic designers divide their work between “for fun” and “for profit” or “self-initiated” versus “client-driven,” Experimental Jetset avoids such compartmentalization. In this excerpt from Jon Sueda’s book All Possible Futures, members of the Amsterdam-based design studio state, discuss this idea, as well as the term “speculative design”: “We regard all our projects as self-initiated, whether they involve clients or not. The moment we make a choice to involve ourselves in a project, we are, in fact, initiating it. That makes everything that we do self-initiated.”

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Muriel Cooper: Turning Time into Space

“Her enthusiasm for shaking things up was matched by her eagerness for working with emerging technologies, a precursor to our increasingly seamless relationship with information and tech. All while barefoot.” The keeper of MIT’s graphic identity for more than four decades and an innovator in computer interface design, Muriel Cooper (1925–1994) was the subject of the exhibition Messages and Means: Muriel Cooper at MIT in 2014. Here Walker designer Dante Carlos interviews its curators, Robert Wiesenberger and David Reinfurt.

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Exclusive Video: Dessa’s “Fighting Fish” as Remixed by The Hood Internet

“To hear my lyrics delivered in a man’s voice was brain-scrambling. ” For a woman in the male-dominated world of hip hop, poet, Doomtree MC, and rapper Dessa says it was “brain-scrambling” yet gratifying to hear herself as a man—or, rather, to hear her voice slowed to sound like that of a male rapper. That’s what The Hood Internet—one of eight producers asked to remix vocals from her album Parts of Speech—did with “Fighting Fish.” In September, Dessa gave the Walker an exclusive first look at the track’s new video.

 

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“YOU’LL NEVER BELIEVE WHAT FONT THE WESTBORO BAPTISTS USE

“Sometimes sparking a dialogue can be a good thing, as long as the end of it is obedience to God.” Walker design director Emmet Byrne’s research into unexpected self-publishing three years ago put him in touch with Steve Drain, a member of the notoriously anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church. With news of the church founder’s death, he dug out the interview, which sprang from one question: “Is there anything to be learned about design from someone whose values are so radically different from my own?”

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Radiant Discord: Lance Wyman on the ’68 Olympic Design and the Tlatelolco Massacre

“It’s fascinating the way a piece of design can accrete meaning over time, as new contexts are revealed, personal stories come to light, and history slowly reifies our perceptions of an era.” Interviewing the designer of the iconic identity for the 1968 Mexico City Summer Games (and 2014 Insights lecture series participant) design director Emmet Byrne looks at the ideas behind Wyman’s Olympic design and the ways the events on the streets affected its meaning: ten days before the games began the government violently suppressed a student protest in Plaza de las Tres Culturas in what is now known as the Tlatelolco Massacre.

Catalyzing Conversation and Transcending Technology at INST-INT

INST-INT—an international conference of acclaimed creators exploring the intersection of art, technology, and interaction—returned to the Walker for its second year over the weekend. Organized by the same folks responsible for the Eyeo Festival, the September 25 through 27 gathering focused on installation art, interaction, responsive environments, smart objects, public art, and the challenge of creating engaging experiences.  A series […]

Obscura Digital project illUmiNations: Protecting Our Planet, presented by the United Nations Department of Public Information in partnership with the Oceanic Preservation Society and Insurgent Media, New York, 2014

INST-INT—an international conference of acclaimed creators exploring the intersection of art, technology, and interaction—returned to the Walker for its second year over the weekend. Organized by the same folks responsible for the Eyeo Festival, the September 25 through 27 gathering focused on installation art, interaction, responsive environments, smart objects, public art, and the challenge of creating engaging experiences.  A series of amazingly inspirational presentations covered a wide range of topics, from machines conveying sociopolitical messages to public sculptures made with advanced material studies to the use of technology as an extension of the body. The most interesting were those projects that not only made use of technology in creative ways, but also used it to catalyze conversations about social or political issues and examine ideas beyond the technology itself.

Social and Political Interaction

For example, Japanese artist Sputkino presented her Menstruation Machine,  a wearable device fitted with a blood dispensing mechanism and electrodes simulating the lower abdomen that simulates the pain and bleeding of a five-day menstruation process. Sputkino also presented The Moonwalk Machine, a work that reimagines NASA’s Mars Rover to leave female traces on the surface of Mars through the use of new wheel tracks outfitted with high heels. I could not help to draw parallels between these works and a project by Megumi Igarashi (aka Rokudenashi-ko) in which she distributed electronic data that could be used to replicate models of her genitalia using a 3D printer, a project that landed her in jail on charges of obscenity. These projects are inspiring as a form of social activism in the face of the shifting role of women in Japan.

Dan Goods, a visual strategist for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, gave the most inspired talk of the weekend, focused on the “million things that could mess up your visionary project.” Dan talked about how bad wires, Congress, holes in the ionosphere, the Vatican, and other unforeseen circumstances can threaten to derail your project, and he discussed ways to plan for disaster. About his work, he said, “I am passionate about creating moments in peoples lives where they can interact with something beautiful, meaningful, and/or possibly profound,” and expanded on this by saying he wants to, “create experiences where people have a moment of awe about the universe.” This passion really became evident during his presentation on the HI JUNO project, where more than 1,400 ham radio operators collaborated to transmit “HI JUNO” in Morse code, in unison, as the spacecraft made its slingshot pass around earth. The work made it clear that some of the best projects are those that give many people a chance to consider the unknown and to imagine the space beyond our physical world. Goods closed his talk by demonstrating a Muon detector and described how these invisible particles are bits of exploded stars that are moving through all matter on earth, equating our bodies with space matter and recalling the temporality of life.

Considering the recent People’s Climate March, I was also extremely inspired by the Obscura Digital project illUmiNations: Protecting Our Planet, organized in partnership with the Oceanic Preservation Society (OPS) as a lead-up to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Climate Summit. For this project, many organizations collaborated to create a 30-story architectural projection, which lit up the United Nations Headquarters in New York with images of extinct species and a call to make climate action a reality in every society across the globe. As a prelude to the People’s Climate March, which filled the streets of New York with more than 300,000 people who marched to protest international inaction on climate change, the intent of this project was to inspire citizens to take climate action. This theme of social or political action was evident in many of the projects in various forms. This opened up some larger conversations about the role of art in society, need for many different forms of interaction, and the power of participation in public space.

Architecture, Materiality, and Virtualization

The relationship between built form, public space, and our connection an imagined world were important aspects of many of the projects presented by showing how they pushed material limits, reclaimed public space, or questioned our relationship to digital technology. Jen Lewin’s presentation titled Please Touch the Art detailed her large interactive art installations created to activate and connect community. One question she is interested in is, “How can interactive sculpture be used to transform and change public experience?” Looking at projects like The Pool and her Light and Sound Harps, it becomes clear how she has found a way to bring together her interests in painting, light, architecture, and dance. Using specialized rotational molding of plastic and other fabrication techniques her studio creates interactive public art that has withstood the abuse of more than 4,000 people in one day—an effort that requires significant material research.

Janet Echelman Skies Painted with Unnumbered Sparks, Vancouver, Canada, 2014

This need to explore and examine the materality of physical form was no more evident than in the work of Janet Echelman, who discussed her largest most interactive sculpture, Skies Painted with Unnumbered Sparks. In collaboration with artist Aaron Koblin, creative director of the Data Arts Team in Google’s Creative Lab, Studio Echelman developed a massive suspended sculpture of net and mesh for the TED conference’s 30th anniversary in Vancouver. Pushing material boundaries, this project was made possible through the development of custom 3D modeling software that allowed Echelman to simulate environmental conditions and complex geometries. Using Honeywell Spectra fiber, a lightweight, durable material 15 times stronger than steel, this work spans 745 feet between Fairmont Waterfront and the Vancouver Convention Center, and is equipped with an interactive lighting environment that allows visitors to use their phones to interact with the work.

Klaus Obermaier and Ars Electronica Futurelab, Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring) by Igor Stravinsky, 2006

Taking a different approach to interaction, Klaus Obermaier discussed his staging of Igor Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring) in his talk titled Interactive Installations vs. Interactive Performing Arts. Recontextualized for contemporary society, this 1913 ballet and orchestral concert work is transformed by Obermaier into a live 3D projection performance, in which the dancer and the orchestra contribute to the form of the work through real time interaction, generating the viewer experience. Amazingly, this work premiered in 2006, when things like Kinect motion tracking did not even exist. Of course, this work is not just about technology, and that’s what makes it so interesting. “The issue of the day is the authenticity of experience in the light of the ongoing virtualization of our habitats,” Obermaier said. “It is the dissolution of our sensuous perception, of the space-time continuum, the fading dividing line between real and virtual, fact and fake, that takes us to the limits of our existence.” Indeed, we find this struggle in our own lives, all to often consumed with social media and digital culture. By reinterpreting a controversial historic work through the lens of technology, Obermaier asks powerful questions about the effects of technology on humanity and significance of being in relationship to the digital world.

Clearly, many themes emerged during the conference, but the real value was in connecting with such inspiring people. As a rich open-source community, almost every person at this gathering was willing to not just share their greatest ideas, but also give you the building blocks of their projects to use and modify as your own. It was an amazing opportunity that offered a chance to see the most cutting-edge interactive, experience-driven, technological work from artists who traveled the globe to have conversations about the direction of new media, find new ways of collaborating, and to develop methods for making work. Thanks to all the people at INST-INT for another fabulous gathering of minds. I was honored to participate. Be sure keep a lookout for the talks to be posted online, and don’t miss it next year.

See Change 2014: Creative Inspiration

See Change 2014 conference at the University of Minnesota (in its fifth year) brings together another diverse set of creative perspectives on design and the undercurrent of change driven by design. This year was no different. In the five years I have attended See Change, it has consistently given me inspiration and a view into […]

See Change 2014 conference at the University of Minnesota (in its fifth year) brings together another diverse set of creative perspectives on design and the undercurrent of change driven by design. This year was no different. In the five years I have attended See Change, it has consistently given me inspiration and a view into a world of design which I am now entering late in my software development career. As an MFA student in interactive design, I consider attending See Change part of my curriculum. As an artist, I feel a connection with the creative drive of those who have made visual expression their line of gainful employment, sustaining, in a sense, both sides of their lives in one endeavor. All this appeals to my personal sense of holistic integration.

Conference presentations ranged from how we work and interact as individuals to creativity theory. Along this spectrum Aby Wolf lead us through singing exercises, Paul Trani looked at the 3D printing revolution, and two inspiring photographers showing their great work and telling wonderful stories. If any theme stands out among this diversity, it is this: how to find inspiration in your creative work. On that topic, photographer Douglas Kirkland responds, “keep many irons in the fire,” and his vast body of work expresses this passion and sustained inspiration. Annie Griffiths, after recounting her story of engaging in a photographic subject one hurried morning, when she forgot to wear pants, advocates, “find a passion that makes you forget to put your pants on.”

For the finale, genial professor Barry Kudrowitz compared close links between creativity a type of humor based on incongruity, making non-obvious connections (as opposed to slapstick or cathartic types of humor). Making non-obvious associations, Kudrowitz posits, means getting past the obvious ones, which itself seems obvious. But what studies have shown might not be so obvious: it is the simple correlation between the number of ideas and having good ones. This happens because the good ideas are usually found at the tail of the chart—he’s also an engineer, so there were charts! Getting past the usual and obvious means getting past the first ten or so ideas.

If it is possible to summarize See Change 2014 with an agglomeration of quotes (lacking attribution—sorry), here is what that could be: scale is the enemy of doing good work, print is still important, collaboration is a key ingredient, suspend judgment, the quiet power of space, stay open, know your inspiration, just the right amount of wrong, find the creative hook and make bold statements, be comfortable being uncomfortable, silly ideas can be stepping stones, Tigers and Bears (hey, you had to be there!)

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