Pre­serv­ing old new me­dia Dig­i­tal art from the Thoma Foun­da­tion

DIG­I­TAL ART FROM THE THOMA FOUN­DA­TION

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO -

Rafael Lozano-Hem­mer takes two em­blems of mod­ern se­cu­rity, the con­veyor belt and body scan­ner, and trans­forms them into an in­ter­ac­tive look at mem­ory, ab­sence, and last­ing im­pres­sions. Un­like at an air­port, in Lozano-Hem­mer’s in­stal­la­tion there are no shoes to take off, no belt to re­move, no lap­top that must re­main vis­i­ble, and in­stead of be­ing rushed through, you’re in­vited to stay. But if you want to play along, you do have to empty your pock­ets. In fact, that’s the name of the piece: Please Empty Your Pock­ets. Put your keys, coins, cell phone, wal­let, or what have you on the belt. Items pass through the scan­ner, which takes a dig­i­tal im­age that is then pro­jected from above onto the con­veyor belt, so when you pick up your things, the images re­main fixed on the belt un­til they are au­to­mat­i­cally cleared to make way for ad­di­tional scanned items.

Please Empty Your Pock­ets is on view at Art House in Col­lect­ing Dig­i­tal Art: High­lights + New Ac­qui­si­tions From the Thoma Foun­da­tion, a show of new-me­dia works of­fered in con­junc­tion with Cur­rents New Me­dia, on ex­hibit at El Museo Cul­tural de Santa Fe. “The sys­tem holds up to 600,000 images, and be­cause it’s an in­ter­ac­tive piece there’s a con­stant ar­chiv­ing of the scan­ning his­tory,” said He­len Colton, the Thoma Foun­da­tion’s pro­gram co­or­di­na­tor. “What you scan will be as­so­ci­ated with items other peo­ple have scanned.” For ex­am­ple, a brief memo writ­ten on a piece of pa­per passes through the scan­ner, and when it comes out the other side, it has been grouped with sim­i­lar ob­jects that may be made of pa­per, con­tain writ­ing, or might oth­er­wise match the color of the item you placed. There’s a com­mon­al­ity to the images the com­put­er­ized sys­tem calls up and as­so­ci­ates with what­ever is put on the con­veyor belt, and the group­ings are re­lated in sur­pris­ing ways. They ap­pear to be ran­dom as­sem­blages, but there is a sys­tem de­cid­ing what goes with what — there’s a brain at work.

The ex­hi­bi­tion’s open­ing re­cep­tion is Satur­day, June 17. The show, which ro­tates quar­terly, in­cludes pieces by Guillermo Galindo, Beryl Korot, Brigitte Kowanz, Vera Mol­nar, Laura Splan, and Steina Va­sulka. Some of the works on dis­play rep­re­sent col­lab­o­ra­tions, some­times be­tween like-minded artists and or even be­tween hus­band and wife, which is the case with Woody and Steina Va­sulka, pi­o­neer video artists who co-founded The Kitchen, New York’s long-run­ning venue for ex­per­i­men­tal and new me­dia. Steina’s work Vi­o­lin Power, made over the course of eight years in the 1970s, is in the Thoma ex­hibit. The piece is a blackand-white ana­log video (since trans­ferred to dig­i­tal) that runs for about 10 min­utes. The video shows clips of per­for­mances by Steina Va­sulka, who trained as a vi­o­lin­ist, per­form­ing mu­sic from dif­fer­ent times and places around New York City and Buf­falo. She used ana­log edit­ing tech­niques that al­lowed her to ma­nip­u­late a TV mon­i­tor’s scan lines and trans­mute them into au­dio sig­nals that vi­brate with the play­ing of the vi­o­lin. It stands as a doc­u­ment of Steina’s early per­for­mances as well as an ex­per­i­men­tal work in trans­lat­ing sound as im­age. The piece is in a sec­tion of the show called Code as Form, which fo­cuses on im­agery pro­duced from var­i­ous types of data.

In the case of Brigitte Kowanz, the Vi­enna-based artist is work­ing with Morse code. Her piece In Light of Light is a large flat steel disc that sup­ports two con­cen­tric rings com­posed of flu­o­res­cent light tubes of vary­ing lengths that cor­re­spond to dots and dashes. It’s an op­ti­cally ma­nip­u­la­tive work that ap­pears con­vex when viewed from an an­gle, an il­lu­sion cre­ated by the pat­terns of light em­a­nat­ing from the rings. The piece can con­ceiv­ably be read by some­one fa­mil­iar with the code, which re­veals: “In the light of light.” In this piece, Kowanz uses light as a vis­i­ble lan­guage.

Beryl Korot’s four-chan­nel video Dachau 1974 is given a room of its own. The four video mon­i­tors, which play out of sync, show the Nazi death camp be­ing vis­ited by tourists in 1974. The videos fo­cus on the ex­te­rior and in­te­rior of the camp, as adults and chil­dren pass through the scene to an un­nerv­ing sound­track of back­ground voices, trick­ling wa­ter, the hum of cars, and the mourn­ful tolling of a bell, all sound­ing so un­set­tlingly nor­mal that it strikes a sharp con­trast with the mon­i­tors’ flash­ing images of the guard tow­ers and cre­ma­to­rium. Watch­ing the repet­i­tive mo­tion of the passersby, cap­tured in a loop, is a re­minder of the vast num­bers who passed through the gates of Dachau dur­ing World War II and, un­like the vis­i­tors who came af­ter, never re­turned. Each video cuts for a mo­ment to to­tal dark­ness at what seems like ran­dom in­ter­vals, but the struc­ture of the four videos is ac­tu­ally based on weav­ing tech­niques in­tro­duced to Korot by weaver Noël Bennett. In that sense, it re­lates to code as form, too.

Korot is among the founders of Rad­i­cal Soft­ware, the first magazine for video art, which pre­miered in 1970. She was also in­volved with The Kitchen, where she met her hus­band, com­poser Steve Re­ich. Re­ich in­tro­duced her to ex­per­i­men­tal con­cepts in sound, some of which she ap­plied to Dachau 1974’s sound­track. In a state­ment about the work, she writes, “I was tak­ing very loaded ma­te­rial [and let­ting] for­mal ele­ments be as strong. That was the only way I felt I wanted to con­front this very painful and un­speak­able ma­te­rial. ... The only way to talk about it would be through the si­lence of struc­ture.”

Col­lect­ing Dig­i­tal Art is a di­a­logue be­tween early com­puter and video art and con­tem­po­rary works, but as an ad­junct to Cur­rents, it of­fers vis­i­tors a glimpse at the be­gin­nings of new me­dia — such as the work of Vera Mol­nar. For her Trans­for­ma­tions se­ries from 1976, she de­signed a com­puter pro­gram that let her cre­ate geo­met­ric line draw­ings with a ro­botic plot­ter. Like Korot and Steina, Mol­nar is a pi­o­neer. The bound­aries these artists stretched and broke in or­der to cre­ate new ones have in some cases evolved and been bro­ken again. It would be dif­fi­cult, for in­stance, to think of Har­vey Moon’s Delta, a ro­bot de­signed to make draw­ings that was shown at Cur­rents in 2015, with­out think­ing of Mol­nar’s pre­vi­ous work with com­put­ers and plot­ters. These artists have had a last­ing im­pact.

The bound­aries these new me­dia artists stretched and broke in or­der to cre­ate new ones have in some cases evolved and been bro­ken again.

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