Magic, Habitat, Art and the Guggenheim


Tonight I went to the Guggenheim to listen to Gordon White and D.W. Pasulka talk about Magic, technology, art, UFOS and other things. It was super fun. Some of my main take aways are :

  1. Where do ideas come from?  Answer: not us (maybe aliens, another universe, spirits what have you)

I have been thinking a lot about this lately, since listening to a vox podcast Lian sent me, and reading Alan Moore’s Promethea. And it seems, for Moore, ideas come from idea space, or the immateria. Perhaps we can call it the noosphere. Basically ideas come from something, like gas comes from distilling oil. I am down with this idea.  For me the key is to connect the idea with the body, and for this I have a friend to thank, but I’m not sure if I can link to his blog. We can have all these ideas running around in ideaspace but until they are affirmed by the body and perhaps manifested in physical space who cares. And even more radical, what if the ideas are themselves material, what if material is not even material, but immaterial or ideas. This is all very confusing.

2. Our environment is technology. Gordon sort of mentioned this and I wish this was discussed a bit more, but this is about the whole fake distinction between nature and culture. That there is something pure that is nature, and something artificial that is culture. Well no. We are in a cybernetic relationship with nature and we are using technology to shape nature, shape our environment. We live in tech, we live in praxis. Also there is the idea that we think with objects. Pasulka told a story about someone who visited a friend with some sort of Roswell like object in his backpack and his friend had dreams about this object. There is a relationship about being in proximity to objects (ie habitat) that works on consciousness. The body matters and the material matter.

3. There are protocols for accessing idea space – they are probably related to ascetic practices, but who knows maybe tantra too. In any case, they are antithetical to how most people in the west live life, and they definitely fall along class lines.  My take away- we need to support body practice education so that everyone can access the ideaspace. (This was related to an amazing question and it completely spot on).  In part, that is what RuneSoup is doing – democratizing the protocols for this sort of immateria contact. But there is really a lot more to be done. It is sort of frightening.

4. Art – why and why are we having this discussion in an art museum. There was a notion that artists are at the forefront of these ideas, or that art can put us into a psychic state that helps us absorb these ideas.  This was not fleshed out as much.

There were some art pieces presented during the talk. Most of the art pieces were technological creations and I could not help but think of  Flusser’s Philosophy of Photography book. For him, an imagistic world (world of the cave paintings) works by magic. That is the logic. Symbols have/are power. In the written world, images are demystified and explained through words. Now words have power (codes of laws and so forth, think of performative speech).  In the technological world, images come back but they are part of a discourse created by apparatuses.  We absorb images. Apparatuses (like the iphone) work on us in a sort of somatic/neurochemical way. (I’m taking liberties) The point is to reflect on what the apparatus wants you to experience, and what discourse is the image part of.

I think about this and Gordon’s notion of the campfire’s edge – where the shaman keeps the other world at bay at the edge of the campfire, but that is where the potentially interesting things (the Gnarl in the worlds of Rudy Rucker) are.  The technological image exists at the campfires edge.  The goal of art in the technological age, when all art are products of an apparatus within a discourse (even painting), is to push the boundaries of the edge (of the apparatus and perhaps the discourse). This is sort of depressing for me. I always like to think of art as something beautiful and personally expressive, but perhaps that is just an artistic discourse. And perhaps within that discourse an artist can continue to push the boundaries.

In thinking of my class on Robots, Computers, and Film, I am thinking about why this class is interesting. What can we learn from it? What is the boundary that each film is pushing? What discourse is it creating?


Luxury Kitsch


These are some meditations on readings I am doing for a book group around David Geer’s paper on Luxury Kitsch. The gist – art world people must allow people to create art that is dark and offensive. But let me take you through the whole story.

What is luxury kitsch?  It is artisinal items. The original argument around kitsch was that it was a mass produced replacement object for people who have lost their folk items. That is produces only effect apart from cause and that it is all spectacle. Now there are different interpretations of kitsch, arguments for an against kitsch. But it does exist, e.g., a mass market snowglobe souvenir.

Kitsch is art that has overshot the mark,” writes the artist and writer David Robbins. “Kitsch is marked by an overearnestness, a pretentious overripeness, a sense of creativity gone sentimental on itself, and a complete absence of self-criticality […]

Today we have a new category of kitsch, luxury kitsch. This is for people that have more money, are looking at their objects to designate a status and some sort of value. Think hipsterism or artisinal snowglobes handcrafted by someone.

There is also the problem of pattern and ornament. It is kitsch – unless of course you are pondering higher mathematics like the 4 colorability problem. And the problem of worn textures – think antique finishes.

Luxury kitsch is almost always a humorless art and thus distinct from camp—a knowing kitsch—that revels in transgressing taste. In contrast, luxury kitsch is manifestly paranoid about such transgressions. Its goal is to foreground taste, but it falters in doing so excessively.

There is perhaps a brief notion that kitsch can also be too many historical or theoretical references, which I would wholehardedly agree with. Luxury Kitsch is perhaps the shadow of kitsch. It is the Kitsch that will not revel it its kitschiness.

The goal of luxury kitsch according to Geers is home decor, including (wall) art. But that is really the goal of kitsch in general. According to this, what is called the art market is actually trafficking in luxury kitsch.  Which I would also agree with. But it makes me wonder what is art now? Can there be art in consumerist capitalist society at all.

But the lamentable truth is that not all great art can be lived with; quite the contrary, this is what institutions are and should be for. Certainly, ‘difficult’ art can occupy a prized place on the mantelpiece as a token of prestige, but rarely for its ocular and decorative merits. In the best instances, too, (I think of DADA in particular here) such work is not a palliative, but rather a persistent thorn.

Can art now only be difficult? Is the Sistine Chapel kitsch? Perhaps now but perhaps not in the renaissance.  Difficult art can exist in the living room as an marker or sign as to the ‘good taste’ of the inhabitant.  Does this make it kitsch? Is there any art that is not difficult?  Is art always the shadow of civilization? I have no idea.

I am going to quote the coda in full, since it is beautiful and the point of the essay cum manifesto. Basically we are hiding our shadow, our artistic shadow and we must allow the shadow to flourish until it is able to be expressed to our cultural consciousness.

Ours is a world of Alma-Tademas—a competent painter, perhaps—who imagined the ancient Greeks and Romans much like his bourgeois patrons: shopping and relaxing in an idyll devoid of strife. The world of luxury kitsch is a similar fantasy and the work that increasingly holds sway as the bourgeois ideal of untroubled separation casts all darker visions to the side much like the economically displaced in our cities. But the monsters will perhaps have their day. Consigned to the shadows they might now hold samizdat societies and wait for their time. Our task— that of galleries, collectors, institutions, artists and writers—is to make sure that they can survive until that moment.

I’m going to quickly jot some notes about the other Geers paper – “Neomodern” in OCTOBER 139, Winter 2012.  

Geers makes the observation that art in 2012 was involved in a number of backwards looking practices such as hand made production and  process over product – in a way reminiscent of Action Painting.  He interprets this as a reaction to technological transformation and economic uncertainty.

Thus a work by Josh Smith, Daniel Hesidence, Alex Hubbard, Thomas Haseago, Richard Aldrich, or Gedi Sibony, just to name a few, might juxta- pose a modernist look with a material process, counterbalancing aesthetic delectation with ascetic denial… Incorporating the received values of materialism and context-sensitivity, today’s neo-formalism nevertheless pursues an art of intuitive, aesthetic arrangement that satisfies the need for formal continuities and simple answers during a particularly complex time.

Ouch! Not much different from the earlier essay. However in this case there is the attack of solipsism. That modernism is being reflected through the personal tastes of the artist to create a new work in this echo chamber of inside jokes and personal psychology (I refrain from mythology since mythology is what I consider more universal).

From a structural perspective, this shift in focus from discourse to subjectivity and from representation to thing counters more dematerialized practices such as conceptual and media-based work.


If we consider the formal veneer of the works in question, the structure of today’s art market, and the ornate passivity of its championed prod- ucts, we see a return to a premodern condition, in which the artwork is limited largely to a propagandistic, affirmative, or decorative role, as was the case with eighteenth-century painting. Indeed, one only has to look at Nattier, Fragonard, and Boucher to see the operational horizon and destiny of much of today’s production… it greets a pre-primed spectator, already indoctrinated into the codes and mythologies of the modern, who happily welcomes it as a return to old certainties—an echo of a lost golden age.

Is there any hope? Maybe not in modernism…

Sunday night at the Metrograph


I figured if I was in NYC the night of August 18 I would go to my neighborhood theater and see the Eileen Myles short film and selected longer film The Spook Who Sat by the Door.   I am a super film buff and I have not really indulged in this passion since I had kids. It always surprises me when I watch a (good) film and remember how much I love film.  And then I think, well I was a filmmaker for 8ish years.

The Spook who sat by the door is brave and prescient and funny.  It has a crazy backstory involving spys and being pulled from the theatrical release.  As a film, it does all the “wrong things”, abrupt cuts, too much dialog, some weird storyline twists (weird in that it does not fall into Aristotle’s typologies of entertainment).   These, elements, for me, made the film more amazing.

A few months ago I was thinking about what I considered and valued in art, versus those of my primary partner who is an unabashed aesthete.  For me, what touches me in art. or in representation in general, in art is some sort of vulnerability.  I value this most, opposed to some sort of notion of ‘beauty.’ I sometimes have a strange reaction to art, either books, or music, or film and complain that it is not ‘true’.  This is always a confusing reaction, since fiction is not supposed to be true – maybe truer than true, or a deeper truth, but the judging a creative product by the whether or not it is true – seems incorrect to me. Although this is exactly what I do.

What does this idea of truth of an artwork mean to me, what am I really trying to communicate. Perhaps it is this idea of vulnerability of experiencing the subjective experience of another being.  Art is one of the last domains of subjective experience. I create something that is subjective, and then it either speaks to my subjective experience (I like it) or I do not. My knowledge, personality, sensitivities all come into play in my subjective experience of another work of art.  And if it touches me, if it provides a connection between my interface and the interface of a remote autonomous being, than that feels like the truth.

All of this is to say, that if the Spook who sat by the door was a high concept Hollywood film (even an indie film workshopped in film school), it would not have the same impact for me. The way the film breaks from the ‘commodity’ film/the stylized film is part of the meaning of the the film, creates energy and power and makes the film true.

Porras-Kim Whitney Biennial

Whitney Biennial – Art Etc


Yesterday Lian and I went to the Whitney Biennial.  We did not discuss much of the work after, and I asked Lian why he did not want to talk about it.

He said that most of the works did not resonate with him (my words not his). That he can understand modern or contemporary art within the context of art history, but most of these works did not seem to be in dialogue with that history.

This to me was an interesting statement. It made me think about concepts like fracture, fragmentation, and order. In “The Thought of the Heart and the Soul of the World” , James Hillman talks about the greek word kosmos as meaning order, arrangement, and adornment. He connects the greek kosmos with the English word cosmetic, a word that keeps this etymological sense more than the English word cosmos.

There is something in art or beauty that is about adornment and arrangement. This is both the surface arrangement for our sense perception, but also I also think we can talk about adornment and arrangement in terms of a lineage.   How does an artwork fall into an order or arrangement of other artworks.   We talk about a great work as a ‘crowning’ achievement – a description about adornment. What is a crowning achievement for an artwork as standing in its lineage.

A lot of the work was conceptual in nature in that the idea in many respects drove the production and was perhaps more important than the production. The work was an index into the idea, rather than an idea that could only be expressed through matter, adornment, or what we would call art.  My favorite pieces were the works that seemed to create a new material language: the sculptural works of Ragen Moss and Daniel Lind-Ramos and installation of Gala Porras-Kim(who i saw last year talk at the Guggenheim and blogged about as well).  These were pieces that created worlds of their own that did not have analogs in simple conceptual descriptions.  There was a generative power to these works, a certain aliveness, that perhaps all creations have but the richness of the material representation makes it easier to construct more (and more intense) sites of communion.

A lot of the work reminded me of the Duchamp ready made, the act of an artist that disintegrated the category of art, like Wittgenstein removed the category of metaphysics from philosophy (and Kant before him did as well).

But we still have art – although this sort of cynical capitalist consumerist art is something I think about in relationship to the image of the Magician. It is a trick. The art of the Renaissance I think about in terms of the Priest or the Church – a mode of devotion.  The art of the industrial age (impressionism, cubeism, dada, everything upto the readymade) I think of in terms of the sun, as illumination, art as science, as an alternate mode of perception. What is next art after its ready made turn, once it has been valorized at the cost of content?

When I ask this question I imagine the wheel of fortune. A monte carlo simulation, an engine, or a mechanism that powers possible choices.  It is the creation of domain spaces from which we can build our reality.  Hopefully it is not a bunch of junk that we buy from cvs.


Meditation on Anni Albers’ Notebooks


I was hanging out at the McNally Jackson bookstore in NoLiTa NYC, when I started leafing through a reproduction of Anni Albers’ Notebooks.  I had seen some Anni Albers at Mast Books on Avenue A, so I was ready to appreciate it.

First off, Anni Albers was a textile artist, bauhaus student, black mountain college teacher, and wife of artist and educator Josef Albers. You can check out her wikipedia page and some great pinterest boards. What interests in these notebooks are the way she is constructing the patterns off a grid. There is something very mathematical and repetitive. But even still, there are slight changes and differences. In this piece even though everything is of a piece, there does not seem to be a repetitive unit except for the diagonal or rhombus.

I am very drawn to them, it is like doing excel art or something, or fractals or emergent designs from simple rules – generate art.  The textile is unlike painting is discrete. You essential have a bunch of small knots or loops, you can count the number of times this happens. You can count the warp and weft threads.  Paint is continuous. It washes over the surface. You do not count the paint strokes or paint molecules.

By now it is common knowledge that the Jaquard loom was the first computer. But, looking at these studies for fabric, I think we can say the first generative art was also a textile, probably because unique among the arts it is a discrete art.

Musical Interfaces


There are a few interactive music design exhibitions at the Museum of Art and Design in NY.   I thought it was very well curated and the pieces were thoughtful rather than gimmicky.  My personal favorite were the musical instrument/jewelry pieces, probably because I am obsessed with ceramics.  Why do I like it? It was well constructed, that may be a bourgeoisie value, but there it is. The inputs and outputs did not seem random, but were the exploration of a single concept or gesture.

For me it is ok if a mapping is not necessary –  I dont think mappings can be necessary or imperatives – but if they reveal something about the concept they are exploring then I am satisfied.  And in this case, I believe the artists succeed.  Plus, its fun for the kids!