The digital – conceptual artist has a number of challenges, primary among them are the frustrating and ever-present questions of “What, exactly, do you do?’ and “Does what you do even constitute a body of work?”. ULTRA MEGA NANO META™ forced me to give physical form and space over to these questions. Here is the documentation video and details:
About The Exhibit
The exhibit clarified to me the idea that digital art can help articulate and perhaps even realize conceptual art from the last century and the current one. A body of work indeed emerges: it is the hybrid vocabularies, practices/processes, and forms that result from a fully informed and engaged encounter with the cultural detritus of meaning, delicately or forceably molded into digital form.
One must first examine the notion of ‘hybrid’. In an expressive context, the ongoing evolution of styles, genres, and the technologies that enclose this notion is well-known and well-documented. Our current circumstance requires us to step back and examine a wealth of vocabularies, practices/processes, and forms that slip outside the boundaries of convention and expectation, and hence must be corralled into that shaky holding-pen of the ‘hybrid’. Conventional forms must include narrative film, concert and commercial music, all manner of visual art, and fictive/non-fictive texts. Hybrids (my examples below, but not a comprehensive list) arise from a number of syncretic, subversive and ‘meta’ practices, where I include my teaching and the creation of critical texts .
So, ultimately, this exhibit— ULTRA MEGA NANO META™ (shortened to ULTRA META™ in the popular press) explores how I take digital media and use it to investigate and realize ideas that might usually be called ‘conceptual art’ or ‘experimental art’. I use my own software, as well as commercial hardware, and network technologies (from mobile devices to internet-based applications) to produce and manipulate digitized text, imagery, and sound, in the context of experimental ideas and performances. I only attempt to document how existing vocabularies, processes, and forms can be expanded and pushed into hybrid, uncharted territories.
An increasingly viable approach to contemporary visual expression, placeholder art borrows from a core digital media production technique to substitute a low-cost or no-cost visual for a spectacular object.
Poochin’ Out (1994), a naive early vector-art image, functions as a placeholder for a magnificent densely woven tapestry of fine fabrics, spun gold, silver, palladium, and platinum, as well as only slightly decaying animal parts, and s/m compliant industrial hypoallergenic rubber; misted with a thin layer of Vaseline® petroleum jelly, to fire all the appropriate cultural markers and give the work its 1990s-era imprimatur.
Verbing the noun used to describe the poetry from the now-declining collective of primarily east-of-the-Hudson based poets [fl. 1998 – 2006] who often used the Google word search engine as a starting point for some of their poetry, flarfing now describes any number of digital manipulative practices applied to an extant text, with the intension of employing the collective imagination of networked and AI software to create a poem less lame.
These two examples take poems crafted by Seoul, Korea educator and poet Wilkine Brutus and apply SysTran® language translation software (now available at babelfish.yahoo.com) to run them through a gamut of languages and back to English. When the same process is applied to the poet’s name, it becomes Nations of wilkine Rome.
Although not a new or hybrid form, micronarratives are exerting their presence in the online world (if not always the literary world). Flash fiction is the umbrella term for contemporary micronarrative, and the length of a typical flash fiction work can vary from a few pages to a few paragraphs. Work under 140 characters, however, enters the realm of Twitter fiction or Tweet fiction.
Perennially unstable digi-persona SkyRon™ has contributed his TransMishunz™ (Part 1 and Part 2), a collection of almost 300 micronarratives, crafted as “verbal storyboards, not to be mistaken for prose poetry or anything of an enduring literary quality. They are rough-hewn, sketchy, and deliberately in need of the word-surgeon’s knife.” TransMishunz™ were set as voice-over audio for multiple videojams by the ensemble meme™.
A growing trans-genre pulse is the zero-funded film, a production for which no major grant, loan, or budget was incurred. While the definitions of zero-funding are not universally defined, the spirit of spending as little as necessary to produce contemporary cinema has been adopted by at least one major festival—the Zero Film Festival (Los Angeles and Brooklyn).
Sticky Notes™ (premiered at ZFF-LA, December 2008) is a cinematic to-do list where cryptic drawings penned by SkyRon™ transform into abstract and videojam-inspired imagery which is often oblique or irrelevant to the spoken text, often forming the vague outlines of a micronarrative.
SEARCH ENGINE CINEMA (Database Cinema)
Using Google, Flickr, and Yahoo image-searches on words like punk, cromp, iaght, DJ, hiphop, cool, pimp, playa, party, funk, tatoo, body art, skateboard, and graffiti, Projek Iaght™ (2005) presents over 6,300 individual images, all downloaded from the internet, at 30 images per second for its entire 3 ½ minute length. The soundtrack is a set of pop songs each digitally compressed to no more than 5 seconds in length (microsongs), plus additional electronic elements.
AUTO-STEREOSCOPIC CINEMA (DIY 3D)
The phenomenon of viewing two adjacent and nearly identical images and then allowing one’s eyes to shift slightly out of focus (i.e., “go cross-eyed”) until the two images coincide has been known for thousands of years. While attending the Andy Warhol Retrospective (MOCA Los Angeles, 2002), the visual and interactive possibilities of this technique became apparent to this author.
DISTRIBUTED VISUAL SYSTEM: CROWDSOURCED VECTOR MOSAIC
Elements comprising an art object have forever had the option of being distributed among multiple authors for production. In the digital era, the object can be multipli-subdivided and assigned to dozens (or more) sub-producers or contractors for production. In the visual domain, this is very simple: break an image into a matrix, assign each to an individual to print or produce.
DISTRIBUTED SONIC SYSTEM: THE WALKMAN/IPOD ENSEMBLE
In the sonic (i.e., sound, silence, and organized structures of both, which is often the beginning-point of what we may define as music) realm, the distribution of instructions or notations is often overlooked or ignored as an expressive option, in favor of more simple and established commercial options. If one considers the non-commercial expressive value of networked instructions/notations, a world of possibilities unfolds, including layers of multiple tempi, pitch structures, languages or (if dance or theatre) vocabular spaces. The author’s use of the Walkman (and later the portable CD player, and still later, the iPod or other .mp3 players) dates back to 1983.
INTERVENTIONAL OBJECTS (FOR VIDEOJAM)
Transparent, translucent, patterened, shiny, and broken objects, as well as culturally resonant figure-based models provide rich raw material for intervention between camera and screen for videojamming.
Present plastic models were originally assembled and painted in the mid-to-late 1960’s. They include Revell models from the Universal Studios Monsters (The Wolfman, The Mummy, The Creature, Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Phantom of the Opera); Japanese imports (Godzilla); members of Testors’ WEIRD-OHSSeries (Freddy Flameout, Leaky Boat Louie, Endsville Eddy, and Daddy The Swingin’ Suburbanite); and Ed Roths’s Finks Series (Rat Fink, Scuz Fink, Mr. Gasser, Mother’s Worry, Francis the Foul, etc.). Also among this plastic detritus are the remains of early models of The Beatles, plus injection-molded rubber cowboys from an earlier era.
Those who have been following my work since, like, 1985, know it’s mostly based on the Hexagrams of Trichords™ (1985), a system of non-repeating number sequences I created before many of you were born. The number sequences are used here to create the rhythmic background on the video’s soundtrack.
A number of de-contextualizing processes are easily accessible to artists working in the sonic domain. One such process is pronbient synthesis, where a soundtrack from amateur pornography is captured (pron, in the contemporary nelogism, not related to the generic art-object hypothesized by Kurt Schwitters), and multiple digital sonic processes are applied (especially compression, noise removal, normalization, and reverberation filtering, and phase vocodor time-scaling) to completely transform the track. Pronbience is used throughout the film Sticky Notes™, especially in section #51 and following (“Execute a series of rather well-crafted imitations of greatness”).
Any sound source can be substituted for amateur porn, and as long as there is some degree of human vocalization, the results will be similar to pronbience. The composer used this process in transforming “the world’s oldest audio recording” (dating from 1860; digitally recovered in 2006) in his score for Leon Johnson and John Schmoor’s theatre work Dual Site (2010).
THE UNSTABLE PERSONA †, DIGITAL DISTOPIA †
Performance and other containers to hold digital materials in a temenos (a sacred, defined space, borrowing from the world of theatre) may only achieve a certain distance. To realize the full impact of the instability of our age—its uncertainty, the dissolution of institutions, the certain conceptual, social, and societal ‘givens’ set adrift, the instability and ever-shifting of standards and perceptions—a larger narrative expanse needs to hold these notions. Thus, the persona, set in a world that can only optimistically called a distopia, will be an emerging arena to anticipate.
In the exhibit, an aura of instability and distopia pervades the Zero-Funded film Sticky Notes™ in the form of its protagonist, SkyRon™, The Digital Media Idiot Of Our Age.
As one navigates the multitude of digital vocabularies and processes, one is often drawn to the larger ‘buckets’ within which these elements are combined. While common and mainstream forms persist, such as linear film, conventional fictive narrative, and notation-based music, it is the hybrid forms which will no doubt allow digital materials an idiomatic landscape for expansive realization.
One of the premier expressive forms to emerge from the nascent global consciousness that is the digital age is the videojam (also called, visualism, vidsonics, or scratch cinema). While the practice of live manipulation of digital video and audio usually finds it home in bars and dance clubs, there is a growing presence in galleries and concert venues, as well as in architectural installations, and in larger concert venues. A number of extended media festivals have also blossomed around this confluence of technology, media, and art.
In the video, these elements are mixed:
- meme’s post-modern chorus supplys a sustained, vocal ambience: this is what I call a distributed audio system or walkman/ipod ensemble. The group is following pitch and click tracks playing on their mobile devices, which allows me to craft dense, atonal, and even microtonal vocal textures, similar to what you see in my videowall example online.
- The electronic rhythm track is based on the trans-serial number series (also online). I’m simply translating the number series into a set of rhythmic textures, but the number series also determines when visual elements change on-screen.
- Layered on top of these textures will be solo lines provided by a muted trumpet part – which was to be played by a live performer . The performer would be following notation that’s being generated live, over the internet, with software I’ve created called mNotation™.
- Another solo element I added to the mix (although not seen in this video) as a sort of electronic music commentary is the voice of BeBot, an iPhone app developed by normalware.com. BeBot is a singing robot and hand-held theremin.
- The visual component uses videojam software we developed in my Advanced Interactive Multimedia course last spring —it uses video feedback, which is the classic electronic phenomenon (first explored by the legendary Nam June Paik in the 1960s and 1970s) resulting from pointing a live video camera at its output screen.
- The monster models and broken, shiny CD pieces you see around the gallery will intervene between camera and screen, hence the name intervention objects. There will also be short flash animation clips we developed for the videojam software, also layered between camera and screen.
† Not specifically presented in Ultra Mega Nano Meta™, but included in the introductory essay on the exhibit.