“I love internet cafes,” says Natalia Sielewicz through a chuckle, “I have an unhealthy fascination with them”. The curator is in a coffee shop next to a converted furniture sales department store of PRL Poland, that is now, temporarily, the Museum of Modern Art Warsaw where she works. She’s just closed a huge four month programme of exhibitions, performances and talks by artists from around the world called Private Settings, Art After the Internet and if you’re familiar with the art, or just the miscellaneous cities that that art comes from, you’d certainly understand her enthusiasm for the public-private space of the online interface.
You might note that those artists mentioned above are based along the faultline of a ‘global’ network that’s still centered around the traditional economic centres of the US, UK and western Europe. But there’s also the ‘Live Distillation’ (2013) single-channel video-installation from South Africa’s CUSS Group, work by Saudi Arabia’s Sarah Abu Abdallah and a response to Derek Jarman’s 1993 film Blue by Poland’s Gregor Różański. There are a few artists you’d expect to be included that aren’t and even a couple that you wouldn’t that are.
That’s because the conversation going on around Private Settings is more interesting than age groups and vaguely shared aesthetics. With less of the corporate and none of the speculative, the focus of the exhibition is set squarely on interrogating subjectivity and its interaction with the contemporary consumer-focussed, hyper-capitalist milieu of the internet, by extension questioning what exactly ‘post-internet’ as a branded catch-all really represents. That is, post-internet as a contemporary condition that doesn’t just affect those living where the major markets are, while recognising its influence as a hegemonic spread: “Maybe it’s even more honest to speak from this western-centric perspective because we’re not colonising other countries with this hot word in a very ideologically-charged way that’s both socially and geographically placed.”
You mentioned that when curating the show there was less of a focus on the aesthetics associated with this particular generation of artists and more on identity and the body.
Natalia Sielewicz: I started by looking at Private Settings as a space of intimacy, of performing your identity, not only online; also of how there’s this constant feedback between your online space and offline space interacting with each other. I thought that maybe we could define that precisely as ‘private settings’ and ask whether this is specifically domestic space, is it feminised space? Or is it basically a space where all these issues collide with each other?
And an important thing to me was also, not really thinking about ‘private settings’ as privacy settings, all the issues around surveillance and manipulation. Of course, that is also part of the show but what I found more intriguing was how the ‘black mirror’ of your iPhone or your laptop can give an illusion of intimacy, even though we’re constantly performing in a very narcissistic, exhibitionistic way among our peers and on social media.
I think we have to come to a new conclusion on how to define this condition that we live in and how to apply it to different groups of artists, and different media, without sounding crass and without pissing anyone off. Because even some artists who are in the show wouldn’t want be branded as ‘post-internet’, where as maybe there would be a need for some of the Polish artists to be part of the bandwagon. Or maybe not. It’s treacherous ground [laughs].
There’s often a misconception that because something is presented online, that it has some kind of broadened reach. But the internet, and social media specifically, is so personalised, dispersion is so specific. You can post something and assume that everyone will see it, but everyone won’t.
NS: Well, going back to this thread of colonisation, regional colonisation and also social colonisation, after 1989 many former eastern European countries tried to abolish the label of being ‘eastern’, with or without much success. But for at least 10 years the market, the galleries, the institutional shows, everywhere in Europe would really help to colonise eastern European arts of the 90s, or of the early 2000s. The same artists would reappear and it would be something that the later generations would also have to fight against. So maybe it’s just the natural order, but that brings me to this whole conversation about, say, African post-internet art. I’m sure that it would create a scene that will be perceived as, you know, the Nigerian ‘post-internet scene’ of 2015, 2018 [laughs] and maybe that will evolve into something else…
But it’s still a label that’s originated in the west so maybe you’re right in suggesting that it should potentially stay western-centric…
NS: Yeah, I don’t know, I’ve been thinking about this. There’s such richness in art-making everywhere and there’s such a richness in the internet that’s not western-specific. Maybe we should just let region-specific art flourish without branding it immediately with our Western stamp of evaluation.
I also have a problem with white hegemonic institutions doing there documentA-style research… putting it in neat boxes and categories and high-fiving itself. There is of course the educational potential of that, as long as we allow the subaltern voices to be truly heard, clear and loud.
One of the things that blows my mind, it how impressive Polish graphic design was in the 60s and 70s and how bad it is now. It seems like an extreme reaction to anything that looks vaguely Soviet.
NS: Partially, yeah, that’s a part of it. We have this term that’s called ‘typo polo’…
NS: It reflects the terrible aesthetic of early capitalism from the 90s, where it was basically like GeoCities but in the public sphere. People started opening their own enterprises and small businesses, and when you’d drive on the ‘Route 66’ in Poland you’d see all of these really horrible advertising billboards, with really horrible typography. They’d have company names that stand for a thirst for one’s own first business, or their first million, so anything with a suffix ‘-ex’ or ‘pol’. Like, ‘Natalex’, for Natalia, or ‘Glaspol’; anything that would connote western glamour and success ‘incorporated’, whatever service you’re offering and wherever this service is originating from.
This is actually now fetishised in Poland. You have DJ collectives that play on this trope, what we call the ‘kwejk aesthetic’. Kwejk is a website that’s like 4chan or something but rooted in a Polish aesthetic and Polish domains. It’s really crass and disgusting, quite funny but in a very crude way, and it’s embracing this identity that was really pushed under the carpet for many, many years by intellectual and social elites.
It’s quite interesting how, with modernisation, you have to work with these tensions between your aspirations and retaining your identity, even questioning whether there is such a thing as a core identity of a nation state or a nationality.
That reminds me of those pierogi restaurant chains here, Zapiecek, where the wait staff wear those generic folk outfits…
NS: Well, that’s catered to tourists, right? That happens everywhere. I’m talking about something more ‘street’ and something more rooted in everyday vernacular, of kebabs that are falling apart and underground kiosks near the central railway station…
We had this show at the Museum, which was actually called Typo Polo, and featured graphic design of the 90s from old public services and private businesses and there’s an amazing energy in this abundance and excess. I think it’s really interesting to think about in terms of excess. Because, perversely, and speaking of post-internet, I don’t think it’s dealing with excess, I think it’s trying to contain things and feelings to an object.
It’s interesting to think of ‘typo polo’ as this kind of contemporary folk art. I heard that there’s a similar thing going on with immigrant communities running small businesses in places like Berlin, that this internet café and kebab shop aesthetic is actually tied to identity.
NS: I think that’s what CUSS from South Africa is doing too. It’s a totally different aesthetic but they do in situ projects in internet cafés and I think it’s part of this aestheticisation, or a certain genre of the internet cafe as this transitory place. It’s also sad because here you can’t find them any more.
Speaking of London, it’s like this really clandestine public space, where you’re with other people sending money through Western Union, expats are looking for flats and families from the Middle East are on Skype because they can’t set up a direct debit so they can’t have a BT or Virgin Mobile broadband connection…
But to give you an example of the Polish ‘typo polo’ corporate aesthetic present in, let’s say, Polish post-internet art that I think is happening, is that instead of Red Bull of Fiji water, artists would use Monster Energy drink, or these Polish slippers from the 90s called Kubota [laughs].
I felt like this Private Settings exhibition was a good bookend to thinking about post-internet for 2014, or a significant point of transition at least. The label has already been absorbed as a fashion, there are artists making a lot of money and the brand has been reabsorbed into corporate advertising, even as it has just recently been appropriated from it. But I think the exhibition represents a certain maturity of the themes being explored across its artists.
NS: Well, I wonder if in general that might be a certain perception of post internet as this immature hedonistic youth culture of the present… Of course, I am critical of the show as well, but one thing I really didn’t want to do was replicate the aesthetic, to the point that at one moment I was like, ‘oh my god, this is not looking like post-internet art’ [laughs]. **
Like the exhibition itself (reviewed briefly here), the event explores “notions of transgression in the physical and virtual environments of late capitalism”, interrupting the “clamorous” world of Fitch and Trecartin with fragmented forms and numb, empty spaces meant to convey the increasingly blurred lines between resistance and otherness and their normalisation and marketisation.
Carpet, in dark hues, line surfaces and walls, ramps mimic isles and give rise to a sunken floor, short corridors and staircases transform spatial orientation and the gross artifice submits to the loud hush of an old-school cinema. The first thing to confront a viewer entering Ryan Trecartin‘s most recent work, curated for KW Institute for Contemporary Art by Ellen Blumenstein and Klaus Biesenbach, is a strong stink of petroleum newness. Some will follow the slim passageway straight into the projection area. Others turn into a dimmed room populated with brown leather “buttkickers” – vibrating recliners in an otherwise empty outer chamber. Around another corner one (re)discovers the reshaped ground floor of KW, Basis, outfitted with an assortment of seating – everything from chaise longues to rows of straight-backed theatre chairs, to collapsible camping stools – facing every direction, extending out into a six-dimensional video installation.
As with Trecartin’s other video works, action shifts and slides to contorted temporalities. Rushing dialogue, rapid cuts, repetition in sound, image and costume translated over a cast of repeat actors and characters appearing as fractal shards across multiple screens. Stunts, CGI effects and graphics, the appearance of morphing animated creatures with the occasional prehistoric screech, reminiscent of Jurassic Park, complicate the multifarious landscapes of the work. The action feels buzzy, it bends over awkward silences and dramatic pauses, contorting time and space.
Following the trajectory of Trecartin’s career and rise to fame, this work continues to push the limitations of what is possible in terms of form and available technologies. This latest move from stereo- to surround-sound marks an experiential shift. Unlike his early videos, which found their way to viewers through the internet, and contrary to his more recent – notably well-funded – video works, consumption of SITE VISIT does not extend beyond the venue. Its site-specificity, its emphasis on multi-channel audio and reliance on split projections means – for now, at least – it can only be viewed inside an institution. And this limitation is reflected in the content. Previous works, like ‘I-Be AREA’ (2007) and ‘CENTER JENNY’ (2013) projected a manic disjunct imagination of the future that felt so much of the time; a science fiction on the threshold acting as cultural forerunner. Entering the space of SITE VISIT, bland-seeming drama with sparse dialogue unfolding over five walls and a ceiling is almost impossible to actually watch. It can rather be heard, sensed, felt, experienced, as if the viewer has crossed the threshold, entered the future and must now embody the work.
Language has always been the quickest way to access the fast-cut editing style of Trecartin, and while the much scantier dialogue of this new work does provide clues, tools through which to enter the piece, it feels rather that this time the language fails. The 30-channel soundtrack comprised of disembodied conversation, 8-bit chiptune synthesiser interludes and out-of-sync dialogue, comes out as initially impenetrable. One skims the surface, the narrative appears straightforward, simplistic, even basic.
Planned as a three-day shoot in an abandoned Messianic Temple, team Trecartin – including creative partner Lizzie Fitch and long-term collaborator Rhett LaRue, among many other ‘Trecartin actors’ – occupied the site, returning again and again over six months. The video begins in the Temple’s abandoned foyer. The cast, which Ryan describes as “characters reduced to generic states that don’t exist”, looks like the cast of an adventure-reality television show. The viewer, so much as the actors, as well as the characters are given the task of exploring the spatial possibilities of the site in which the video is shot. A task that Trecartin described during his public conversation with Biesenbach, as “mapping in 360°”. The dialogue offers flat clues. “I can’t believe someone is paying us to spend a night in this building, it is so easy and cheap.” This, the most obvious access point to the work seems like a cynical in-joke. The whole installation drips of institutional funding; massage chairs that seem to serve no purpose, costumes that reference both militarisation and corporatisation and CGI graphics that appear stuck-on and irrelevant. One might wonder if they are trying to find ways to spend the money.
Though seemingly obvious, such a reading of SITE VISIT misses the mark somewhat. There are more layers to the narrative, and to this new piece than the story of the institutionalisation of an underground artist. Viewers, lounging in comfort, do well when they take their time to appreciate the complexity of sound and image. From no angle in the installation is it possible to watch all screens at once. Entrances into, as well as ways to read and interpret it are infinite and constantly changing. Occasionally or even consistently, a slip of dialogue stands out to iterate the experience of consuming it. “Some of these corners are not the way I’m used to them being”. Even after a third viewing, shift your seat and everything changes. The longer one stays the greater the unfolding of the experience, it is slowly enthralling. If the viewer is willing to put in the time, to submit to the work, they may get swallowed. Much like the cast dropping into the bowels of the building they are exploring: “We’re going to get lost in here.” According to Trecartin, “everybody has their own time-zone”, and in turn, each viewer will have their own way(s) of experiencing the work within it. **
Header image: Ryan Trecartin, Excerpt from ‘ANIMATION COMPANION’ (2014). Photo story originally published in Modern Weekly, Guangzhou. Courtesy the artist; Andrea Rosen Gallery New York; Regen Projects Los Angeles; and Sprüth Magers Berlin London.
After announcing their “extremely normal” collaboration four months ago with a video soundtracked by Future Brown, Telfar Clemens and Babak Radboylaunch a “lush” new website for the former’s unisex fashion label, TELFAR, today.
Designed by Radboy and developed by Denis Nazarov, the site aims to contextualise eight years of work in anticipation of the A/W 2014 TELFAR show (see: “surreal retail wonderland”) takeover of the New Museum on February 10.
The event is set to include a “surprise” sculptural component, runway show and a long-form ‘AS SEEN ON TV’ video directed by Radboy with music by Ryan Trecartin.
Run by art magazine Mousse, online art and contemporary film platform Vdrome is screening Ryan Trecartin’s CENTER JENNY, premiered as part of an installation at Venice Biennale’s Arsenale earlier this year, from October 30 to November 8.
Featuring long time collaborators and sit-com supports including Lauren Devine, Molly Tarlov of MTV teen show Awkward and Aubrey Plaza of Parks and Recreation, the near one hour-long video navigates a labyrinth of virtual-narrative-meets-dimensionless-dimension centred around its range of archetypal ‘Jenny’ characters. From pastel pink cheerleaders chanting, “Yeah Jenny, Jenny rules!” to genderless proto-Jennys waiting to enter into “The University”, you can track a visible evolution in Trecartin’s oeuvre -along with the Google SketchUp(-dates) and CGI aesthetic -“towards a post-human realm through reality show hermeneutics, prosumer rhetoric, and collegiate rituals”.
A new show at the Friedericianum: Speculations on Anonymous Materials, claims to bring together for the first time, “approaches in international art that reinterpret the Anonymous Materials created by rapid and incisive technological change.” Most of the artists involved work somewhere in the proximity of post-internet art but the exhibition asserts a different connective thread: a shared attitude towards materiality. James Elkins has written about a fear of materialityin art criticism, noting how the physical and material aspects of a work are often explored only so far, while art historical and theoretical accounts dominate. And yet many artists are far less interested in the theoretical paradigms of an hermetically sealed art world than in evaluating the images, objects, media and materials that surround them.
The Speculations on Anonymous Materials exhibition partly appropriates its title from Reza Negarestani’s book Cyclonopedia: Complicity with Anonymous Materials. A work of speculative realism based in the Middle East, the text disrupts any hint of subjective narrative with historical accounts, references and theory. Negarestani’s own anonymous materials take on a life of their own within the text. By focusing on the material aspect, the Speculations exhibition asks us to consider how these artists treat the digital world they interrogate as a world of materials, an interest that exists independent of art historical or conceptual concerns. Here’s a provide of four artists featured, with a view to understanding how materials and materiality are primary concerns among them.
Pamela Rosenkranz’s work bears a direct relationship with Negarestani’s theories -she commissioned him to write a text for her 2009 exhibition in Venice, and shares his interest in Speculative Realism. This young philosophical movement, which grew largely through online dissemination, is based on a rejection of philosophies that privilege the human experience of existence. In much of Rosenkranz’s work, the human body is a felt absence, an entity described by and through objects. In her series, Firm Being (2009), Rosenkranz replaced the clear water in commercial plastic water bottles with skin-toned silicone. An attached Fiji logo continues to sell us its idea of an untouched island paradise while the contents offer only a repellent plastic version of ourselves. In The most important Body of Water is Yours (2010), a stretched spandex surface has been covered in messy gold paint, suggestive of a human imprint. Rosenkranz takes our anthropocentrism to a laughable extreme – we can’t drink our own desires, and we don’t sweat gold. This sentiment reaches a pinnacle in her series Bow Human (2009), where sculptures made from silver emergency blankets hint at human figures cowering underneath. The series warns of dire consequences arising from our human-centered worldview, the same view that makes us assume we really are under the protection of the blanket. Rosenkranz creates a world of independent objects and materials that comment upon our human follies and, she warns, will likely outlive us.
Apocalyptic overtones are also present in the seminal Post Internet Survival Guide (2010), a project and book initiated by Katja Novitskova. The work does not envision the end of the Internet but merely our daily need to cope with it as a given condition. The foreword states; “The notion of a survival guide arises as an answer to a basic human need to cope with increasing complexity. In the face of death, personal attachment and confusion, one has to feel, interpret and index this ocean of signs in order to survive.” But as a random assortment of imagery and text, largely sourced online, the book is less a guide for navigating complexity than a manifestation of it. Surfing the web has become a fairly benign and mundane activity. Most Internet users exploit familiar social media sites as anchorage points for online navigation, never straying far into strange terrain. Works like the Post Internet Survival Guide (2010) re-insert the kind of overwhelming complexity that users seek to avoid, once again rendering the web as a maze of anonymous, unfamiliar materials. The Survival Guide treats online media as a series of independent materials, detached from their origins, functions or meanings.
The films of Ryan Trecartin involve casts of fast-talking characters, often in wigs and face-paint, who shift between different accents in grating high-pitched tones, speaking a kind of pop-culture inspired stream-of-consciousness. Layered upon these loose character narratives is a flow of hyper-coloured computer graphics and post-production effects. Trecartin never allows viewers much time to begin decoding his onslaught of signifiers, combining familiar tropes so frenetically that they blur into a singular hyperactive experience. Text for the Speculations exhibition states that; “The order of the day is to understand the world from the vantage point of abstraction and not to abstract from the world.” This sentiment finds cogency in Trecartin’s work, where his source material, the frenzied world of uploaded videos, is already abstract. As with the Post Internet Survival Guide (2010), his films are not a tool for navigating or understanding the materials they exploit, but a new way of manifesting their frenetic, disjointed and confused existence.
Ed Atkins video work translates the conventions of high-definition film making into unique poetic compositions. Atkins is particularly interested in the slippage between the material and immaterial aspects of the moving image. As digital technology has enabled us to create hyper-real imagery, the physical remnants of film-making have disappeared. Materialist film-makers of the 1960s drew attention to the material nature of film itself, often working directly with film-strips. Despite the lack of a physical substance to manipulate, Atkins evinces similar structural concerns in his work, often imitating traditional camera effects using digital animation. These effects, commonplace in mainstream film-making, are elevated to primary content. An immaterial-material binary pervades all elements of Atkin’s film-making. In Us Dead Talk Love (2012) a floating 3D head speaks a voice-over by Atkins where he recalls finding an eyelash under his foreskin. The visceral and tactile imagery evoked by the dialogue is undercut by the eerie presence of the hyper-realistic yet incorporeal figure. Atkins simultaneously reveals the artifice present in the digital image while re-inserting a sense of the material into his films.
The material aspects of an artwork are often too readily equated with a clear theoretical or art historical meaning. This is especially true of the way we discuss artists working with, or inspired by, digital technology; viewing their interactions as predominantly conceptual, an inevitable consequence of dealing with immaterial media. But for many artists, their interactions with materials are about re-working or re-positioning those materials, not about finitely decoding them. We shouldn’t expect artists to act as our guides into the vast realm of anonymous materials, but to provide pause for visual reflection and speculation. These artists do not adopt the mantle of artist-geniuses carefully manipulating materials to create original artworks, but adopt positions that limit, without erasing, subjective intent, allowing the materials they use to rise to the fore as contingent, independent and anonymous objects.
Mapping the rapid change in relationships between “image and text, language and body, body and space, subject and object”, the Speculations on Anonymous Materials group exhibition at Berlin’s Fridericianum will be presenting the work of some of the most interesting contemporary artists practicing worldwide, September 29 to January 26, next year.
Ryan Trecartin, Aleksandra Domanović, Timur Si-Qin, Simon Denny, Jon Rafman and Katja Novitskova, among others, explore a de-subjectivised approach to image, space and object production in a world abstracted by over-production.
As Chris Kraus said at a recent panel discussion at the RCA, “The suburbs are the last ethnographic frontier.” Arguably at the vanguard exploring that borderline is Ryan Trecartin, one of the most influential contemporary artists working, who introduced his audience to the brilliantly dark and vapid landscapes of Pasta and friends years ago.
Since then, his approach and aesthetic has had an update, presenting his as yet unnamed new film at the Massimiliano Gioni-curated The Encyclopedic Palace of the Arsenale pavilion, open to the public since Saturday, June 1. DIS Magazine published some behind the scenes images to celebrate and it’s looking like the coloured contacts and virtual vistas of the future dominate his New World dystopia. You can see the images on the DIS Magazine website. **