Interview /

#CelebritiesOnDrugs / Cory Arcangel

American artist Cory Arcangel talks with Flash Art about his technological exploration of obsession, obsolescence and the vernacular.

What’s the #CurrentMood?

How do I even answer that? Maybe #CelebritiesOnDrugs?

At Lisson Gallery in London you recently showed a selection of wall-based works, presented in the same format, in carpeted rooms together with a new audio piece. Can you tell me how the exhibition originated?

I’m a digital pack rat. I have every file I made or downloaded off the Internet since I was a teen. And a couple of years ago I finally collected everything — about 750,000 files — in once place. This show came out of that process. More specifically, it came from clicking around in all that stuff. So in the show there are tons of different series I have been working on over the last ten years — “Scanner Paintings,” “Photoshop Gradient Demonstrations,” and “Lakes” — as well as things which were on my drives but not exactly “art” — things like old cell phone photos and random images I downloaded off the net.

Several elements in the exhibition either reactivate existing material or appropriate it for a different purpose. How do you see the notion of the archive in relation to reworking visual imagery you produced and collected over all these years?

I can just talk specifics, as I am sitting here in front of my computer. My archive is literally a twenty-four-terabyte hard drive, and it is fairly organized. I am able to see all the different works I made since the 1990s, and all the research that went into them. When making the show, pretty easily, in an hour or two, I was able to pull up thousands of images and put them into a folder. I started off with a thousand or more images and then I narrowed it down to five hundred, then I narrowed that down to two hundred, then one hundred, then fifty, then thirty and then twenty. Then I made some new things depending on the twenty.

It’s kind of as if I turned my hard drive upside down, dumped everything on the floor, and sifted through the pile until I came up with twenty things I felt represented something.

Some of these images relate back to the clickbait campaign you are running alongside the exhibition. What would you say is your relationship to the vernacular?

It’s about shifting context. By taking images from the show and running them in a clickbait campaign — the really trashy articles that you often see at the end of articles on some websites — it’s just playing around with Lisson, dispersion and context. Is an image more important on the wall of Lisson than next to celebrity trash online? Can it resonate in both spaces? Questions like this.

Your work is often discussed in relation to the obsolescence of technology. I am interested in the way you are appropriating your own work and translating it into an upgraded technological output. I think it’s a very ingenious way of keeping it relevant.

It keeps the work alive. In the show, there is a work from 2005, Mig 29 Soviet Fighter Plane, Clouds, originally a Nintendo game hack, which is now running on a Nintendo emulator on a Macintosh OSX desktop with some other Macintosh programs. It’s quite modern looking. I understand the original work is historically relevant, but it’s important to me to give it some energy and to keep it floating around. Not to mention it’s so easy to pull this stuff off my hard drive and play around with it.

I have been following your work over the years and I’m fascinated by how the context in which you are operating has changed dramatically.

I wouldn’t have been able to do an exhibition like “currentmood” at Lisson ten years ago. I wouldn’t have had the knowledge, and I wouldn’t have had the nerve and it wouldn’t have made sense — which is a lot to do with the context. It would have been completely impossible to understand. When I first showed the “Photoshop Gradient Demonstrations” in 2006–07, people had no way to read that, and when I first showed the Nintendo stuff in galleries, again people had trouble reading it.

I have been thinking about the diagram that Guthrie Lonegan made, “Hacking vs. Defaults,” in relation to your “Photoshop Gradient Demonstrations” series in which you relinquish any knowledge about digital technology by using a default mode.

Guthrie is one of my favorite artists of all time! At a certain point vernacular use of technology was absolutely not a part of my work. Though, it was around 2000, when I first saw Paper Rad’s website, that my thoughts on all that changed. Paper Rad’s website was the first convincing work I saw that dealt with vernacular technology – armature homepages, low rez flash animations, and stuff like that. That site was a masterpiece. I would definitely credit them for opening up that part of my work. And it was through collaborating with them that my work started to move away from coding. Guthrie’s chart is very good in the way it divides those two ways of thinking about technology, which I think is split on a generational line.

Your work is particularly relevant today because it came from within a context of early digital art but it crosses over into post-Internet. I think many younger artists see your work as a point of reference. How do you see that?

The post-Internet question! That word gets used a lot, and everyone has a different meaning for it so it’s hard to talk about it. When I was in school in the late ’90s, art students hated computers. If you were on a computer, you were not making art, and art that did use computers was called “media art” and was seen as techy. I think what happened was, a few generations later, you had kids who were in art school when computers finally became okay, and they graduated and started doing shows.

What would you say it means to be a media artist today?

I think the way that I use the term is old-fashioned — to denote an artist who makes medium-specific, experimental electronic work. There have to be new words because everything has changed, you know? I am clearly tied to early digital work, when there was a clear division between digital and fine art. Things didn’t cross back and forth, and I still consider myself part of that earlier era even though my work ended up crossing over. Even my Lisson show is split down the middle between wall works and real-time software performances. But I don’t know what it means to be a media artist today.

by Silvia Sgualdini

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Review /

Sophia Al-Maria Whitney Museum of American Art / New York

The shopping mall remains a favorite symbol for the forces of cultural homogenization known somewhat euphemistically as “Americanization.” (Fredric Jameson, in 2003, suggested that plotting the spread of malls around the world would produce an “epidemiological map” of this particular unifying effect of capitalism.)

In the Gulf, where American-Qatari artist Sophia Al-Maria is from, the shopping mall, famously, has reached something of a zenith. The architectural protagonists of her new video Black Friday (2016), for example, the Alhazm and the Villaggio, are two mammoth Doha shopping centers modeled, respectively, after the gallerias of Milan and the canals of Venice (by way of the Venetian in Las Vegas).

Rising out of a mass of sand, broken glass, and flickering cell phone screens (The Litany, 2016), and accompanied by a deafening and ominous sound track, Black Friday tours the Villaggio, following a father-son pair dressed in white thobes as they stroll past Gucci and Marks & Spencer. A voice-over text contributes to the arch tone, delivering a Hollywood-doomsday critique of consumer longing: “Your desire is a hydra … encased in the frameless frame of forever.” And, riffing on Marx, “With every spree, you witness in a precise way that all that is solid melts into air.” (In a separate scene, a digitalized female voice edits for context: “All that glitters melts into air.”)

The video reaches peak terror-pathos as the marble mall space is suspended in the sky, with the acrobatic camerawork accentuating the building’s soaring ceilings, calling up the trope of mall as capitalist cathedral. Dislocated from geographical specificity, the airborne shopping center reads as the fulfillment of Al-Maria’s characterization of malls in a recent interview: “a global inter-zone… [a] same-yet-other place.”

It’s the film’s decrescendo that provides the truest — and most sinister — moment: a narration in which Al-Maria relates the memory of being in a Doha mall and seeing, among a group of American soldiers, a former algebra classmate from Washington named Dusty. “I’m standing behind them,” Al-Maria says, “probably looking like a picture from their target practice. He doesn’t recognize me of course. There’s this insurmountable distance.”

This anecdote brings the “yet-other”  to bear on a video that might otherwise read as over-invested in the outsize and corny visual codes of consumption, reasserting the essential point that power differentials of a most concrete kind — military ones — not only cut through but also provide the conditions for a seeming sameness.

by Jack Gross

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News /

Stephanie Cristello on EXPO CHICAGO

From September 22 through 25, the fifth edition of the EXPO CHICAGO art fair will take place at Chicago’s Navy Pier. The fair will present an array of national and international galleries, alongside specially organized exhibition projects such as IN/SITU and EXPO VIDEO. Flash Art spoke with EXPO’s director of programming, Stephanie Cristello.

I attended the first EXPO in 2012. What’s changed since then? 

We launched EXPO VIDEO in 2013, working with Alfredo Cramerotti (MOSTYN) in 2015 and Daria de Beauvais (Palais de Tokyo) for the 2016 edition. We’ve expanded and strengthened the panel programming — this year, our inaugural symposium on conceptualists Art & Language is a highlight. In 2015, we inaugurated a program in the Northern Trust Anchor Lounge specifically for discussions on collecting, which is our way of not limiting intellectual conversations to topics outside of the market — after all, we are an art fair. This year we will host talks such as “Collecting in the Age of Futurity” and “The Trans-Atlantic Museum.”

EXPO seems driven by curators—especially the Curatorial Forum. Why this emphasis? 

The Curatorial Forum creates an opportunity for colleagues in the field to exchange and collaborate, while supporting our dealers by ensuring leading figures will be in Chicago during the fair. There are the “public” relationships — such as this year’s IN/SITU program curated by Diana Nawi (Pérez Art Museum Miami), but also the more “secret” exchanges that have led to wonderful curatorial focuses. The rhizomatic structure of an exposition of this scale means that each year we get to develop more nuance, and start something completely fresh, all at once.

How does the fair respond to an art climate marked by the recent closure of several young Lower East Side galleries in New York? 

We hope for all the galleries we work with to succeed; this is an international fair open to many emerging exhibitors. EXPOSURE, featuring galleries eight years and younger, Special Exhibitions, EXPO Editions + Books, and EXPO Projects allow us to support their mission in a commercially viable way.

by Sam Korman

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LA Talks /

Depths Plumbed / Julien Nguyen

Julien Nguyen makes paintings that are at once referential and intensely personal, employing subject matter that ranges from Renaissance architecture to artificial intelligence to the films of Kathryn Bigelow. Nguyen’s work is of a kind of archeology that is fully cognizant of art history but also driven to disrupt assumed notions of its discourses. Accepting painting’s theatricality as a given, he uses knowledge to create fantasy, pitting familiar forms against one another.

On the occasion of his West Coast solo debut, Flash Art sat down with the artist in his Los Angeles studio.

Your work has a rich, fantastical quality that has recently incorporated Renaissance painting and architectural motifs. What compelled you to employ these elements, particularly the use of perspective? 

I think this is largely motivated by a desire to move past the crisis of the nineteenth-century photographic image, which continues to occupy a lot of the discourse around representation, and which for me is based on a fundamental misunderstanding. I work with a lot of early modern idioms that coincide with the establishment of sovereignty and sovereign power, perspective being foremost among them. Perspective is a relatively unencumbered organizing tool for the construction of imaginary worlds: a subject can array a hierarchical system (of its own device!) of recognition and creation. It is also something that does not require an excessive amount of labor specialization.

This said, perspective is also a tool for establishing borders, another early-modern innovation. I think this speaks further to the idea that the development of humanism lay not in the invention of inwardness per se (which can be seen as far back as Augustine’s Confessions), but in the realization that this same inwardness afforded a means of dissimulation that in turn offered leverage against the world as given.

Humanism as subterfuge allows one to bypass the question of the subject as organizing myth of bourgeois ideology and instead trace a direct line to it as a contemporary vehicle for both encoding and navigating systems in general. The real question becomes how Bronzino established himself in Cosimo I’s household despite the purgation of homosexuals from the ducal court.

The figures in your work often have elongated features and mannered poses that seem to be a fusion of disparate approaches toward figuration — ranging from antiquity to contemporary pop culture. 

I would hope that this is not understood as style, which would be an essentially formalist reading. The difference between Velazquez and Uccello isn’t so much their particular visions of the world, but instead how they successfully interpolated themselves into their respective governing structures. That is to say, that if ideology as “imaginary representation” operates on the level of the unconscious, these distortions are not expressions of my “view of the world” but are resultant from my emergence within it: reenacting the nanosecond in which a camera captures Hillary Clinton’s light-sucking eye to reveal a reptilian underneath the human membrane.

Filmic references often appear in your paintings, though the titles seem to be the only overt reference to these films — as if they are ciphers and the role-play between title and composition enables a specific kind of dialogue.

Yes. Pictorial composition, in its analytic or constructive capacity, is to my mind analogous to the durational character of film. In other words, the difference between photography or photo-relative art and my work is the same as the difference between making an ugly face and having one.

What affect has moving back to LA had on your painting, if any?

The idea of the sublime in art is often misremembered as a totalitarian phenomenon. Longinus (a Greek from the first century) instead proposes that only democracy can be the “careful nurse” of sublime comprehension, and cites Sapphic poetry as a primary example. Los Angeles (to my mind) is a Bermuda Triangle between the sublime, the picturesque and the uncanny: a place where metropolitan civilization, having strayed so far from home, touches a void. I also don’t drive, and I enjoy being a passenger here.

by Thomas Duncan

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Review /

Paloma Bosquê Mendes Wood DM / São Paulo

In her second solo show at Mendes Wood DM, Paloma Bosquê presents a new set of three-dimensional works that suggests an interesting transition in her practice.

Decisively more sculptural than previous pieces (which mainly connected to walls or hung from the ceiling), this new body of work further articulates her preoccupations with matter, scale, abstraction and the body. Organic elements relate to more geometric forms, suggesting a practice that explores features of the Brazilian Neo-concrete movement as well as post-minimalist strategies.

In every piece there is a strong connection to the idea of craft, handwork and the vernacular, be it in terms of the material or organizational structure employed. In this sense, the viewer experiences these abstract works as indexes of what one might handle with his or her own hands. Their material vocabulary articulates a rich confrontation between organic and inorganic through substances such as brass, bronze, lead, natural fabrics, beeswax, vegetables and carbon. Some pieces manifest subtle echoes of everyday reality; Jirau (2016) refers to the homonymous hanging structure used in northern areas of Brazil.

The artist used the Japanese word Ma as a concept to spatially organize the show. Although it has different meanings depending on context, Ma can mean the experience of space through temporal and subjective elements. In this sense, the apparent show’s density is balanced by a sensitive articulation of intervals and rhythms; which may lead the viewer not to consider each piece in isolation, but rather to attend to the subjective space of spectators and to the experience what is in between these sensible sculptural arrangements and the evocations they embody.

by Beto Shwafaty

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Review /

Energy Flash M HKA / Antwerp

Energy Flash,” the first museum show dedicated to rave culture, has an ambitious scope. It intends to consider the “social, political, economic and technological conditions that led to the advent of rave as an alternative movement across Europe.” If the desire to embrace such a complex and massive phenomenon seems understandable, the task is anything but easy.

Unlike punk, rave had no Malcolm McLaren or Vivienne Westwood to help define its aesthetic or chronological framework. The choice to include in the show clothes designed by Antwerp-based Walter Van Beirendonck, in consideration of their resonance with Dutch hardstyle, seems a step in this direction. However, it is unlikely that ravers, like those portrayed by Matt Stokes in his installation Real Arcadia, thought of their parties as fashion statements. Gathering audio tapes, pictures, news reports and written interviews, the latter work is one of the best pieces in the show, as it demonstrates the very essence of rave culture: its inability to be reduced to a cultural archetype.

The same goes for Andreas Gursky’s Union Rave (1995), the first in a series that the photographer dedicated to rave parties. Gursky suggests that the rave movement is not based on individuality (the desire to be singled out): what matters is being part of a crowd. Rineke Dijkstra, on the other hand, seeks the personal codes hidden in the way we dance: The Buzz Club, Liverpool, UK-Mystery World, Zaandam, NL 1996–1997 portrays young ravers doing their thing against a white background while the music plays loud. Jeremy Deller’s Acid Brass (1997) project — brass bands playing dance music standards — has been re-performed in the streets of Antwerp as part of the show.

Additional testimonies from the mid-1990s are provided by Jef Cornelis, Daniel Pflumm, George Barber and Martin Kersels; more recent works by Cory Arcangel and Ann Veronica Janssens are mostly allusive to the rave movement. The show might be a bit too clean and organized compared to the essence of its topic, but this also shows that some subcultures are more reluctant than others to enter a museum.

by Pierre-Yves Desaive

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