Monday, April 29, 2013

P Poppin'

I finally got to listen to my video on huge speakers last week and realized that the audio is terrible. So I've got some work to do there. Particularly on the letter "P." According to Johnie I'm a "P Popper." But then again, everyone is.

If you've read previous blog posts such as this one: Blog Post, you will already know what my video is about. (To J&J: I'm not going to post it in this post because I have already posted it so many times on this blog and because the audio isn't fixed yet.) For the purposes of Digital Processes I will analyze it in the context of Baudrillard. The video only works if my project is conceived as a "real" fake National Park/amusement park/ Candyland. It should then be compared to the "real" promotional National Park videos and/or documentaries. These are often highly edited so that the parks are still perceived as pristine, untouched "wild" places where no humans have gone. They neglect to show the park concessions, cabins, RVs, garbage, sidewalks, and camping sites that litter the park. They either show close-ups of the flora and fauna of the park or show spanning aerial views. They never show the human view of the park, which would reveal all of the "amenities" listed above. This kind of documentation of the parks leads people to believe that they will be having a rugged, back country experience every time they visit a park, when in reality you have to apply for a back country permit to experience anything even remotely pristine, and the commercial, popular parts of the parks are similar to any amusement park or tourist attraction you could visit that isn't in nature.

What my video is doing is trying to call attention to these discrepancies by playing up the "fake" aspect of the video. The footage of candy landscapes is clearly not real, and not trying to be real. I used fake lighting and a fake background so that it oscillates between looking like some kind of nature "set" and a food advertisement. However, it adds another component of real because some of the dialogue was taken from "real" documentaries, and because it is trying so hard to document a "real" adventure that a park "consumer" had in one of the fake "parks." Take that, Baudrillard.

Friday, April 19, 2013


Everything is almost done, and it's bitter sa-weet. I have officially ordered and received all my mugs, postcards, and large prints. I am super happy with the way Vistaprint and Moo printed my images on their products, and today I will see how Avenue Art dry-mounted my Inkjet prints. Here's a preview of some mugs and postcards:

I also received more money from the Mellon Senior Experience Grant so I will be able to order more memorabilia to put up for sale. I decided that this is a really good opportunity to try and sell art work and that I should take advantage of it. Plus, the mugs seem to be in high demand!

At some point I will put up photographs of my potential installation setup ideas, but as of right now I am still kind of hazy on how it is all going to work as an exhibit.

The last leftover to take care of is some of the actual landscapes, which are still sitting in the back of the sculpture room at Wriston (sorry, Rob). Here is some really disgusting documentation of their current state:


The most disgusting thing about them is that they haven't changed a bit. They look exactly as they did on the day that I photographed them. No mold, no evidence of aging, no nothing. The only thing that has really changed is the consistency. A lot of the materials, like the syrup, jelly, and frosting, were soft and malleable when I was using them, and now they are all as hard as rocks. So, if anyone is hungry and looking for a crunchy snack while they are working at Wriston, feel free to stop in the back room....

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Bill Viola And The Way That You Think About Artists

The last three days were the kind of days that deserve a few extra words. I learned a great deal, although it was not what I expected to learn, and I hope that other Lawrence students learned a lot as well. I had the opportunity to meet and spend a good deal of time with two artists, Bill Viola and his wife Kira Perov. Bill Viola, as many people in the art world know, is an innovator in the medium of video art (words taken straight from my convocation intro. Hey, I can't always be original here). He is mentioned in countless art books that I have read throughout my academic career, and still exhibits around the world at the major museums and galleries (you know, the ones that define you as a major and significant artist). Here is a fashionable photo of the team from French Vogue(!) Magazine:

I was first made aware that Bill and Kira would be coming to Lawrence about year ago by my industrious art history professor, Elizabeth Carlson. A year ago I had the image of Bill as an artist-diva, one who wouldn't listen to the ideas of people around him, who would not make eye contact because of a superiority complex, who carried an iPhone at all times and worked on a strict schedule, constantly making phone calls back to his studio in LA or New York. I still predicted this up until the first time I heard Bill speak on Sunday.

Never have I ever, ever, ever been so wrong.

Bill Viola was kind of like that strange uncle that you don't exactly want to see at family get-togethers. He was quiet, and often spoke in riddles like a character out of a Tolkien novel. It seemed as though he could not quite organize his thoughts into one coherent sentence, and he often repeated his ideas (which I knew because I was in contact with him for three days in a row). He was focused on the themes of technology, Japanese death poems, samurais, and finding one's "inner self" through solitude. If you asked him any question, be it about his art or about his life, he seemed to somehow return to one of these topics.

If I would have met only Bill I would have wondered how the man did anything. Not just create art, but actually functioned on a daily basis. The answer to this dumbfounding question was found in his regal and composed wife, Kira. I had the special privilege of observing the pair behind the scenes before Bill went on stage to deliver his convocation address. Kira shuffled papers while Bill seemed confused as to what the papers were doing there. Kira attempted to direct him to certain talking points while Bill rummaged around in his backpack for his book of death poems. Kira even asked him if he had to use the loo (in her charming Australian) right before he went on.

I'm not sure if these are things that I am allowed to reveal about the inner workings of a collaborative relationship of incredibly famous artists. But these details are important to reveal because of the way that we think about artists, and the way that we think about collaboration. In general, I think collaboration leads to better work. For example: John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Christo and Jeanne Claude, Julie and Johnnie (my favorite collaborators, of course). I myself have collaborated with Josh and his band Perennial to make an album cover for them. I don't think that all of these artist pairs collaborate in the same way or on the same level. I just know that they have made significant work with the other person at some point in their career. However, when I think of collaboration I never think that one person in the pair is literally incapable of being a human while the other person holds everything together.

Kira has taken on the enormous task of managing her husband's career, editing and producing his videos, hiring actors to appear in his work, and, as far as I can tell, tying the man's shoes and ironing his clothes.

I feel bad, I really do.

But I shouldn't. I'm not saying anything that you couldn't have gathered from spending 10 minutes with the two of them. Observing Bill and Kira was painful and awkward and yet fascinating at the same time. Over the course of three days I was constantly wondering: who am I supposed to be taking seriously as an artist here?

It's been a debate in the art world for a long, long time. Andy Warhol, for example, had an art "factory," and hired hundreds of skilled lithographers to create his art products for him, and Warhol is of course one of the most famous artists in the entire world.  Other artists do the same; Haruki Murakami (although admittedly he is well known for supporting the careers of his assistants), Kehinde Wihle...the list is longer than I can fit into one blog post.

Kira's well aware. There is nothing created today that is created alone, she said. We live in a world driven by social media and mass-production, meaning that art has to be produced in large amounts, and it then has to be seen on the internet. If an artist wants to be Bill Viola (that is, pictured in Vogue magazine, exhibiting at all the major places, etc., etc.), that artist has to have help.

So why do you never see the names of people who put all their hard work into a piece of art? You only see the one: Bill Viola. Andy Warhol. Matthew Barney (Barney in particular is absolutely kidding himself if he thinks he created anything alone). The difference is this: once you see the reality of what went into an art work, it doesn't seem as magical, or as "genius." It would seem more like a huge Blockbuster movie or a "Special Thanks To" section at the beginning of a novel. It would mean that the art didn't just materialize out of thin air to be exhibited at a museum. At my recent internship at Franconia Sculpture Park I have witnessed this phenomenon thousands of times. One of the main questions I am asked when conducting tours or engaging on any level with park visitors is: "Who's the guy that made all these sculptures?"

In some ways, I still want to believe in this idea of genius. I still want to see that one person's time and effort can be put into creating something so beautiful and powerful that it makes me cry on the spot. Maybe it's because I never get any help. Not sure. I still want to believe this even though I saw for myself that Bill Viola is a walking, circle-talking, idea with a wife who is the executor of these ideas.

Which really makes me wonder: If art is not capable of being produced at the expense of one person's hand anymore, does that mean that the real definition of artist is "idea maker"? Are artists in the twenty-first century only capable of conceptual art because the actual execution of their ideas is completely beyond their ability?


Does it mean that artists don't exist anymore?


Has it always been this way? Has there always been a "Kira Perov" hovering underneath the elbow of the artist as he floats around in his bubble of ideas?

I'm saying "he" simply because I'm speaking of the Bill-Kira dynamic. I know there is a whole layer of gender roles that I could dissect here, but I almost think it's too obvious. Or maybe I just want to ignore it. Somehow I don't think that Kira would actually appreciate it very much. She works damn hard, and she likes what she does. If, at the end of the day her name isn't up on the wall, maybe it just doesn't matter that much. She chose this as her role in Bill's life and in his career. To say that she resigned herself to it or that she was forced by ideological ideals to adopt this position would be damn offensive.

Not to mention the fact that I haven't even talked about Viola's work, really. At the end of the convocation he played his piece Three Women, and the audience held its breath as Viola's true voice, his idea, rang out across the chapel.

Excerpt from Three Women, 2008

This is a really bad bootleg, and it doesn't do the piece any justice, but at least you can get a sense of what we saw at the convo (which of course didn't really do the piece justice either). I know at least several people who were moved to tears by this recent work; a completely different reaction from the early experimental videos that were also screened at Lawrence this week. Seeing his old videos in comparison to his newer videos wasn't jarring at all like I thought it would be. It was not a juxtaposition of old work vs. new work but a view of a transformation and progression over time. His early work shows the beginning of his exploration of his medium. His new work shows his control of it as the technology continues to change and develop.

The most striking aspect of his early work was how prophetic he seemed to be about his ultimate message, even in its fledgling stages. His deep connection with nature and spirituality in relation to technology could be seen in the way that he holds his video camera tenderly to gaze upon a mountain, then shifts its unflinching lens to stare the desert, then pans over the busy streets of Japan, then turns its eye back to nature again, all with flawless and unexpected fluidity. We are in a trance that is so similar to the one we are in when we watch mindless television, and yet, we feel refreshed, like we just stepped out of the cool, green forests of Viola's world.

Watching these videos, along with the rest of my experience this week, has been truly eye-opening, and it is possible that I will never have one quite like it again. I was able to have lunch with two famous artists two days in a row, stand up in front of a chapel of people and spout my ideas about art and technology, view highly inaccessible (literally and figuratively) work from one of the most important contemporary artists of our time, and dissect the relationship between a pair of artists that have labelled themselves as collaborators. Unfortunately I did not gain insight from what I was supposed to gain insight from, which was the convocation address. Viola has managed to pack a punch with his words in documentaries, where he has been highly edited down to make it look like he is a good public speaker. He isn't. His speech was semi-charming, but it was also boring.

Like I said, I feel bad.

But I don't feel that bad, because in the end, no matter how it was made or who made it, no one can create work like Bill Viola. Who cares if he is bad at public speaking? He has built his career (with help, certainly) out of creating beautiful and life-affirming art with a medium that inspires awe within me and other people. He makes people cry. He makes people feel. He is a genius, in many ways.

Should his name be on a wall? Of course it should.

However, the next time I look at that wall, I will remember that the geniuses of our time are shattered fragments of what they used to be because of postmodernism's destruction of our ability to function as a solitary unit. Bill can't function without Kira. But maybe it isn't his fault. This is a conundrum about artists in a postmodern setting that should be remembered by those who viewed the convocation and wrote Viola off entirely. It is literally impossible to be an artist, and a promoter, and a manager at the same time, let alone a mouthpiece for your own work.

When Viola does speak, he speaks often about solitude, and perhaps this is why. Because he realizes that he will never, ever again have anything in his life that even resembles solitude if he wishes to keep his status as artist-genius. It's the artistic paradox of our time, I guess.

[Disclaimer: I view the dissection of the experience as purely educational and beneficial for myself and potential readers of this blog. I have nothing but respect and appreciation for Bill and Kira's work and their influence on the medium of video and I thank them immensely for devoting their time to Lawrence and for taking time away from production to visit us in the cold, midwestern "spring." Spending time with Bill and Kira was one of the biggest honors I have ever received since attending Lawrence University, and this experience is one of the many reminders I have of how lucky I am to attend this school.]

Monday, April 15, 2013

So Tasty I Could Spend a Week There

The similarities/ connections between my work and Jean Beaudrillard's (I strongly recommend that you do NOT read this link) ideas are the fact that a lot of my work was inspired by the idea of a theme park, specifically the heinously terrifying world of Disney.


What I mean by this is that my work is supposed to feel like you could physically step into it, even though you know that it isn't "real" (that is, a real photograph of a National Park). Once you have the physical sensation of moving through the work, then other sensory reactions start to happen as well. Maybe you will think that you can smell it, or taste it, or feel it. It is supposed to give you the same kind of reaction that eating sweet, sugary food would give you. You will become addicted to it, like the Disney-crazed tourists that pile into Disney year after year, spending more and more money on something that is completely fake, but is supposed to make them feel happy and high, and to give them an escape from life. Like sugar.

Baudrillard talks a lot about this in his book Simulations, and how Disney has become a "hyperreal" escape from the "real" world of America, even though it seems to embody what the "real" America actually is. Also, it is based off of worlds that never even existed in the first place, or they kind of existed, but once they were Disneyfied they became so watered down or oblivious to the realities of this world that they were completely unrecognizable from their original form (example: Aladdin -----> based off of Arabian Nights -----> based off of racist, Orientalist ideas from 19th century philosophers).

I don't know if people will necessarily immediately think of Disney when they see my work, but I hope they will at least think of a theme park or amusement park. I think that the massive size 32x40 photographs will help portray the physical sensations that I get from creating the works (smell, taste, etc.) This is the photograph that I decided to blow up to the massive scale: 

Yellowstone National Park in Condiments 40x32

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Sonja Thomsen: Minimalistic Visions of Nature

When I saw Sonja Thomsen's installation in the Wriston Gallery, I was immediately excited. I practically screamed at my friends that "THESE PICTURES WERE TAKEN IN ICELAND!" I am a self-proclaimed Icelandophile, so in my eyes, nexus could be nothing but beautiful and awe-inspiring. But there were way more levels (literally) to this exhibition than just beautiful and ethereal photographs of Iceland. As I watched people walk around the room, a particular group of people caught my attention. They were trying hard to see details on photographs that were placed on shelves high up on the wall, and failing. They looked frustrated and confused, and even stopped to question me as to why the image was placed so high up on the wall. At that point I didn't really care, I just told them that the pictures were taken in Iceland and that's why the should be excited.

But Sonja's talk today made me realize why this group of viewers was so disoriented. They were not used to this style of exhibiting art, and were not understanding their role as a part of the exhibition itself. This is a characteristic that is commonly used in minimalism: the idea that reflective surfaces and constant physical interaction with the piece cause the viewer to be part of the piece. Large, square blocks become anthropomorphic when the viewer can see their reflection. The work is incomplete without the reflection of the viewer. This dynamic is seen in the reflective surfaces of the paper that Sonja grouped with her photographs. It becomes apparent in the very physical way that the piece changes depending on time of day and light. It becomes physical because the viewer literally has to move their body in order to get a view of the photographs.

Sonja also complicates this dynamic by intertwining a close relationship with nature and science into her minimalistic works, such as with this Petroleum Installation below:

The piece is reflective and clearly has a minimalist composition, and yet there is a deeper message as the connotations and negative associations with petroleum rise to the surface. Although Thomsen's interest with science and nature within an artistic context is certainly not new to art, she has her own very consistent style, specifically a cool blue, gray, sometimes pink, but always calming color scheme. Her passion for science comes through clearly in her work but we are not bogged down by scientific concepts. Instead we are lifted up on to clouds of calming pastel colors and spectrums of light.

The other cool thing about Sonja is that she's just cool. Easy to talk to, nice, knowledgable, opininated, and approachable. I had the opportunity to have a one-on-one lunch with her and she talked about her artistic journey. She gave me this bit of advice: Stay involved, stay active, and continue to be adventurous, and you WILL find opportunities to do the thing that you love. (She speaks from experience- Sonja did not even major in art in college!)

Saturday, April 6, 2013

All Good Things Must Come To An End The Bad Ones Just Go On Forever

The end is near. Not because I want it to be, but because it has to be. And also not because the newest candyscape looks like the apocalypse. It's because in less than a month I have to submit my art for the senior exhibition. This means tying up the loose ends, figuring out all the stuff that I have procrastinated on...basically, doing all the not-so-fun stuff. My goal was to have 10 candyscapes and today I made what will qualify as number 10 (I have made 13, actually, but 3 of them just aren't going to work).

I don't know how I feel about calling this "the end" of the work I will do on this project. It's certainly not the end of work that I will do with this particular message. This is what I care about, and it's the direction I think art should be taking in the 21st century (not SPECIFICALLY, just GENERALLY [I'm saying: environmental art because I think environmental issues are some of the most pressing that we face in the world today. Or maybe, to me, the most heartbreaking ones.]) This is also the first time I've engaged in a long-term project, and I am amazed at how much it evolved over time, despite my resistance to its evolution. At this point I think it could keep changing forever, and it would never be perfect, and it would never be at the place where I feel like I'm ready to put it in a gallery and have people stare at it and judge it. Maybe art is always liminal, but not because it's unfinished, just because ideas and context are always changing. Truthfully I don't know, but I do know that at the end of May there will be some art on some pedestals in a gallery and whether I feel like it's finished or not I have to put it there in order to graduate. Call me sappy, but I've become more attached to this process than I ever could have imagined.

Speaking of which, here was today's process:

As you can see, it's a volcano made out of one of my three least favorite foods in the whole entire world: LICORICE. EWWWWW. Not to mention, a ONE POUND BAG of it. Don't even get me started.

Here's a fun licorice fact:
  • Over-consumption of licorice is said to be toxic to the liver (and to the soul).
Here's a fun Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park fact:
  •  It encompasses two active volcanoes: Kilauea, one of the world's most active volcanoes, and Mauna Loa, the world's most massive volcano (I guess mine is Kilauea).
Today was the first time I didn't eat any of the materials while crafting. Needless to say, I'm quite hungry.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Don't Get Hungry Or It's Pornography

I wanted to elaborate a little bit more on where this video thing is going. The video is supposed to act as the source for the National Parks give them a bit more context, or give them a reason for existing outside the context of just existing for the senior exhibition. The entire project is one big advertising scheme for a false candy National Park land that isn't real (feeling eerily similar to the terrifying world of Disney). So, the postcards will act as a snap shot of supposed "footage" of National Parks placed in this faux-documentary/advertising setting.

The video is a hybrid of two sources: An actual interview from the Ken Burns documentary "The National Parks: America's Best Idea" (which I love, and you should watch all of it at some point in your life, but also hate because of the obvious negation of the fact that America created the National Parks in a desperate attempt to preserve the few natural resources we didn't destroy in a greedy industrialization frenzy), and 1950s candy commercials. The music is reappropriated from a promotional video for Rocky Mountain National Park.

The video will be displayed in conjunction with National Park paraphernalia (TBD-mugs might prove to be too expensive) and one enlargement of one landscape that will act as a mock-poster.

This is the newest draft, which I view as an almost complete draft. The last thing I would like to do is add a clip of me eating at the end. Because, really, what is an art project done by me if I'm not eating something?