Category Archives: Matter

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Sean Clark: Extinction Event

“The film is a powerful piece of work and asks questions about the permanence of our information-rich, but largely digital, age. I have personally wondered if future historians might see the twentieth century as the start of a new ‘dark age’. One in which historical records are rare – not in this case because of the fall of the Western Roman Empire – but because the digital records that were kept are not longer readable with future technology, or have simply decayed beyond use.”

Full review on Sean Clark’s blog

Annie Carpenter: The Work of the Non-Professional

Annie Carpenter, essay for Dead Data – Orreries and Other Objects, Rogue Project Space, Manchester, 2013

“Amateur astronomers, like artists, do their work for the love of it, not financial gain. Within the field of astronomy the word ‘amateur’ is not derogatory, as it can be in other fields. Amateurs are recognised as vitally important. In astronomy, new professional research relies on the work of amateurs to provide data. With their multitude of beady eyes and instruments, it is often amateurs who make first discoveries. They are experts in their field, despite being generally self-taught.

In the field of art, even ‘professional’ artists would likely have worked unpaid for a good proportion of their career. Many of the most groundbreaking, history-making artists of recent years, have produced their best work whilst being nonprofessional (Duchamp made Large Glass whilst working as a librarian). The thing that really gives artists the raw deal is that they are not amateurs in the traditional meaning of the word, as the majority have had years of formal training. They are qualified, yet still nonprofessional.

But maybe this is the way it needs to be. Both artists and amateur astronomers need the complete freedom that only comes with work not caught up in financial gain. Getting money for making art generally requires a great deal of hoop jumping, application filling, and concept tweaking. Likewise professional scientists are restrained by the strand of research they are paid to do (Einstein devised special relativity whilst working as a clerk in a patent office). But when left free to explore, both artists and amateur astronomers develop unique reflections on their observations of the world, both pushing their disciplines forward in what is perhaps not so distinct ways.

Antony Hall’s ‘Tabletop Experiments’ involve fearlessly acting on the childlike curiosity that professional scientists have to suppress to get the job done. Hall has cleverly used the funding and opportunities available to artists to allow him the freedom to work as a kind of amateur scientist. He has found his place in the boundless sphere of art to play in a way he could never do as a professional scientist. He says: ‘Through presenting active investigative processes, the work is a continuous play on potential failure and possible solution, where failure is as important as resolution.’ Indeed, failure is an important learning tool, allowed to the amateur but rarely to the professional.

Amateur astronomers can do whatever they want – time, weather, and equipment permitting – and they do. Like art, this freedom often leads to explorations of very niche subjects. At the Godlee Observatory Kevin Kilburn and Tony Cross spend a few hours almost every day observing the sun in the specific wavelength of hydrogen-alpha (very deep red). This time donated to such regular solar observations, makes them as familiar with its surface as any professional scientist. The Godlee astronomers also study the lunar surface colour, a little-explored subject in over 200 years of amateur astronomy. Mapping the surface colour of the Moon will lead to new data on its surface mineralogy, providing vital clues to the early development of the solar system.

The work of amateur astronomers can easily be related to the work of Dave Griffiths, something he is clearly fully aware of given the titles of his pieces. For instance, Griffiths Cue-Dot Observatory involved a five year ‘detection period’, where Griffiths found and catalogued 1,900 cue-dot pairs (the barely visible markers used in film to alert the projectionist to change the reel). Like the astronomers at Manchester Astronomical Society, Griffiths has spent hours simply observing, documenting and archiving. Like Kilburn and Cross, through a unique inquiry Griffiths has become a leading practitioner in a very specific field.

Безымень, by Tom Railton, highlights a tension between the professional and nonprofessional. As is often the case in science, an amateur’s discovery can be overlooked by history in favour of a more publicised professional scientist’s. The race for recognition, as employed by the professional, is another factor adding to the restraint of the professional. Railton first exhibited his piece a mere two months before Katie Paterson unveiled Campo del Cielo, Field of Sky, a work which also involved a meteorite being moulded, cast, melted and remade into a copy of its original form. Railton was a student at the time, with no professional validation. Безымень, despite being done first, is in danger of being lost in history to the bigger, shinier meteorite of Paterson.

Dead Data: Orreries and Other Objects celebrates the nonprofessional, by bringing the labour of artists and amateur astronomers together, and highlighting the job satisfaction achieved when the work of one is free to be influenced by the other.”

Passages (for Harry Crosby)

Five text-dots on the Jazz-age life and death of symbolist poet Harry Crosby, and his nihilistic obsession with black sun imagery. Made for the Kindle edition of The Dark Would: Language Art Anthology, edited by Philip Davenport, published by Apple Pie Editions.

THE DARK WOULD: Southbank Centre

Southbank Poetry Library, London 6 February, 8-9.30pm, free
Preview of a new, pioneering anthology of text artists and poets. Material from both volumes will be shown and there will be a set of readings and a panel discussion by artists and poets. Chairing the discussion and fielding audience questions are THE DARK WOULD editor Philip Davenport, poet Carol Watts and artist Liz Collini. Readings of commissioned pieces by Tim Atkins and Rebecca Cremin with Ryan Ormonde.
THE DARK WOULD features work by over 100 contributors including Richard Long, Fiona Banner, Maggie O’ Sullivan, Tacita Dean, Ron Silliman, Shin Tanabe, Marton Koppany, Tsang Kin-Wah, Charles Bernstein, Susan Hiller, Tony Lopez, Caroline Bergvall, Sarah Sanders, Kay Rosen, Robert Grenier and many, many more.

Christine Wong YapSouthbank Poetry Library, London 6 February 2013, 8-9.30pm, free

A new, pioneering anthology of text artists and poets. Material from both volumes will be shown and there will be a set of readings and a panel discussion by artists and poets. Chairing the discussion are THE DARK WOULD editor Philip Davenport, poet Carol Watts and artist Liz Collini. Readings of commissioned pieces by Tim Atkins and Rebecca Cremin with Ryan Ormonde.

THE DARK WOULD features work by over 100 contributors including Richard Long, Fiona Banner, Maggie O’ Sullivan, Tacita Dean, Dave Griffiths, Ron Silliman, Shin Tanabe, Marton Koppany, Tsang Kin-Wah, Charles Bernstein, Susan Hiller, Tony Lopez, Caroline Bergvall, Sarah Sanders, Kay Rosen, Robert Grenier and many, many more

THE DARK WOULD comes in two volumes, one paper and one virtual, published by Apple Pie Editions. The book retails at £29.99 for both paper and electronic volumes together and is available from Amazon, Apple Pie Editions (distributed by KFS) the Tate and LMAKprojects in New York.

Sophia Crilly: Rewritten

A text and screening of artist’s films by Sophia Crilly in response to Dave Griffiths’ Babel Fiche, commissioned for the event Unwritten History at Castlefield Gallery, 13 September 2012

“Time present and time past / Are both perhaps present in time future, / And time future contained in time past.” (Burnt Norton, Four Quartets, T.S. Eliot, 1944)

Through Dave Griffiths online project and subsequent film Babel Fiche the human urge to collect, categorise, reuse and remix images is explored, whilst questioning the future of digital image archives. Utilising and attempting a deciphering of the excess imagery littering the Internet, alongside personal hoards of photographic images and film footage, Griffiths imagining of how future generations may perceive the present, also calls into question issues of archiving, authorship and knowledge. Babel Fiche draws parallels with poet T.S. Eliot’s seminal work Four Quartets (1944), in both works being mediations on the passage of time.

The Babel Fiche archived film imagery produced on microfiche, capable of lasting 500 years, acts as a potential time capsule and message to the future, and could ultimately become a cultural and material ruin of the past century, far outlasting anything else humans have created. In attempting to produce imagined media for prospective generations, future anthropologists or researchers, Griffiths exploration of cultural, social and political constructs, questions how contemporary reality might be interpreted and accepted, and what we want to communicate to a future world.

In Lance (1952), a short story about time and space travel, Vladimir Nabokov wrote, “the future is but the obsolete in reverse,” suggesting that even the impulse to hurtle into the future is always, already, shadowed by its own imminent obsolescence. Much of the twentieth century’s heroic (and tragic) dalliance with the future now remains, as what the artists Raqs Media Collective have referred to, as “a repository of the residual” (2008). What should be done with this ‘residue’? Can a meditation on history avoid nostalgia? There is a negotiation between remembering (individual and collective memory) and forgetting to be addressed in the task of retrieving (or destroying?), and in dealing with such ‘archive’ material.

Artist Hito Steyerl ruminates on the archive and the contemporary hierarchy of and use/reuse of images, in her essays In Defense of the Poor Image (2009) and Politics of the Archive: Translations in Film (2008). Citing Jacques Derrida (Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression, 1996) she notes that keeping control over reproduction is the basis of the power condensed within archives. The ‘sanctioned’, traditional archive more often than not preserves the history of ‘victors’, whilst simultaneously presenting it as historical reality or scientific truth. It is a body of power and knowledge, controlling and regulating the reproduction of its items, and controlled by different logics, most often enforced both by nation states and capital interests. However, the contemporary archive and its function has become more complicated, tricky, for diverse reasons, ranging from the digital reproduction technologies that Griffiths deals with, to the cessation or collapse of nations and governing bodies existence, where cultural, social and political materials are destroyed.

The film works by artists Matthew Denniss, Oliver Laric and Mark Leckey, selected for Rewritten, demonstrate a shared interest in cultural mining and ‘excavation’, image and object ‘collections’. In connection with Griffiths practice, the artists all reuse existing material in various ways. The categorisation and organisational rhetoric of the museum archive is combined with an interest in the making of memory and the preservation of things, and with the invisible structures that sustain such ‘institutions’. Shaped by notions of time, power and knowledge (as we move further into the digital age with its characteristic dematerialisation of knowledge), the films create a dialogue between past, present, and proposed futures.

Oliver Laric’s work seeks to parse the productive potential of the copy, the bootleg, and the remix, and examine their role in the formation of both historic and contemporary image cultures. This process is intimately tied to his intuitive, idiosyncratic brand of scholarship, which he presents through an ongoing series of fugue-like expository videos (Versions, from 2009 to present), and further elaborates through his appropriated object works, videos, and sculptures, all of which are densely conceptually layered and often make use of recondite, technologically sophisticated methods of fabrication. Straddling the liminal spaces between the past and the present, the authentic and inauthentic, the original and its subsequent reflections and reconfigurations, Laric’s work collapses categories and blurs boundaries in a manner that calls into question their very existence.

Versions (2010) is a visual essay by Laric that (in tandem with Griffiths reappraising of the production and consumption of imagery) investigates the appropriation and manipulation of images in our culture, and circulates around both historical and contemporary ideas relating to image hierarchies. Laric suggests that in the contemporary age certain creative protocols are, in a more general sense, similarly challenging the hierarchy between ‘auratic original’ images (as first proposed in Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, 1936) and those determined to be derivative (and therefore of secondary importance). Versions suggests a new mandate for image making, one which Laric identifies as finding its zenith in our networked internet age where bootlegs, copies and remixes increasingly take precedent over ‘originals’ in cultural production.

Matthew Denniss’ The Utopian Buck Stops Here (2012) uses found footage of Brasilia, the capital city of Brasil. Built from the ground up between 1956 and 1960 on a site that was previously dense jungle, Brasilia is a fantasy city, a Modernist Corbusian-esque ‘Utopia’, apparently made real. The films narration makes reference to architecture and movement around an imaginary landscape, a projection of a future cityscape, which draws accidental and incidental parallels with the footage. Robert Hughes (1938-2012), in The Shock of the New (1980) discusses the ‘Trouble in Utopia’, specifically referencing Brasilia, and perhaps somewhat optimistically asserting: “Nothing dates faster than people’s fantasies about the future. This is what you get when perfectly decent, intelligent, and talented men start thinking in terms of space rather than place; and single rather than multiple meanings. It’s what you get when you design for political aspirations rather than real human needs. […] This, one may fervently hope, is the last experiment of its kind. The utopian buck stops here.” Parallels with Griffiths Babel Fiche can be seen through both works aerial, ‘panoptic’, voyeuristic vantage points of their cityscapes, a sense of disembodiment, and consideration of the future alongside a suggestion of Foucauldian notions of ‘power’ and ‘knowledge’.

Mark Leckey’s fascination with the affective power of images is a recurring theme; with meticulously sourced and reconfigured archival footage a predominant feature of some of his key works. The March of the Big White Barbarians (2006) uses stock archive photographs to take us on a slideshow tour of public sculpture in London, with a rapid succession of public works of art, including those by late twentieth century artists such as Lynn Chadwick, Barry Flanagan, Eduardo Paolozzi, and Richard Serra. Pictures of these sculptures, in their urban settings of late capitalist architecture and privately owned ‘public’ plazas, are set to the sound of Leckey’s band Jack Too Jack, chanting (in a ritualised call and response) a translated concrete poem by the Lettrist Maurice Lemaître. The slide presentation is a typical pedagogical or corporate device for conveying information and ideas, and in using this format to present still images Leckey puts forward a critique of authoritative power, culminating in the resigned cry: “Ahh, everything’s been eaten, everything’s been drunk. So I’ll just watch the Big White Barbarians passing by.”

The use of sourced stock archive imagery has an obvious parallel with Griffiths Babel Fiche, but the key interest in this film in response to Griffiths work was the idea of ‘legacy’. Griffiths questions our existence and potential legacy, how imagery can last beyond our lifetime and how it might be interpreted years from now. In collating the many images of public sculptures in London, Leckey’s film reveals a desire to re-articulate and appropriate the contemporary problem of public-art, thus highlighting our complicated relationship with preservation and the passage of time. Who are the ‘Big White Barbarians’ in positions of power that commission these works? What do these sculptures say about them, about the ‘public’, and twentieth and twenty-first century culture and society?