The fragmented exhibition and research platform Lacuna Sovereignty is launching its first event at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie on April 10.
The project zeros in on nationalism and the role of the nation state within an increasingly globalized corporate world, examining zones where the lines of national sovereignty are blurred, or simply do not exist—places like special economic zones, economic processing zones, airports, international waters, military bases, and, of course, online spaces and their physical counterparts.
The three are working to develop site-specific projects that intervene on the places their work addresses, and the conversation will explore their recent work and upcoming contributions to Lacuna Sovereignty.
Dublin’s Ellis King is bring artist Kari Altmann in for a new solo show titled Xomia (Return Home, Real Flow, All Terrain), running from March 27 to May 2.
The exhibition will be the first solo European one for the American artist, and is accompanied by an introduction by Harry Burke that begins: “To Start, You Doubt Whether Kari Altmann Is A Real Person.”
The artist’s website functions less as an archive of her work and more as, as Burke writes, “As A Portal To Live, Daily Updated Flows Which She Carves Through Different Strata Of Cultural Materials, Many Of Which She Also Produces Herself”.
The selected artists and “creative technologists”, as the press release calls them, have been on-site for three months, working on their conceptions of infrastructures (physical, political and social), and Thursday’s opening brings the somewhat disparate artists together for three unique points of view.
Altmann’s survival fantasy-focused practice, RealFlow, will be presented on the top floor through a collaborative reading followed by live text sets from Emily Jones and Flexia, and live music sets from Nkisi, and Hitashya. Below Altmann is Kirton’s justjustgirlythingsthings, a performance of “repentance, reconciliation and restoration” following her year of critically examining the Justgirlythings community. Last in the lineup is Lemmey, whose use of technology attempts to “read the city as a space formed by political and sexual desire”.
Kari Altmann can be hard to pin down. Based in New York, born in Dallas, largely shaped in Baltimore and forever on the move, the semi-itinerant artist’s physical situation is as ungraspable as her art practice. Built around an awareness of the systemics of contemporary art and branding (because they can be interchangeable) Altmann’s work takes the existing tropes, modes and formats around image-sharing and data networks and repurposes them to reveal the embedded power structures and inequalities they often represent.
A Tibetan girl and a sheep carcass flanked by an iChat bubble and a universal WiFi symbol, a man muzzled by a mask wearing a SONY-branded t-shirt flipped by Photo Booth to read ‘YNOS’ –reblogged and reframed in her R-U-In?S tumblr –a glamour selfie of a girl so magnified in the Ttoshibaa window it becomes hard to make out. These are all images that take the familiar and reveal their inherent weirdness within a singular aesthetic of freakish hues and mutant textures, appropriated and reconditioned within a nebulous landscape shifting from ‘online’ to ‘offline’ without discrimination.
“Art and information already travel as brands today,” Altmann tells me via Skype, with only text from a chat box and a thumbnail headshot to go on in forming an impression of her as a person. In refusing a spoken interview and insisting on generatively constructing a “document” rather than an interview per se, conversation with the artist becomes a fragmented and shape-shifting dialogue across media, focusing on getting her point across as accurately as possible.
At first it strikes me as odd, this concentration on wanting to so control the outcome of our back-and-forth, especially given the ambiguous nature of Altmann’s work –where the distinction between her art and the branding it purports to pervert can be hazy at best. But then, that’s kind of the point. Zeroing in on the subtle strangeness of media-at-large and the misleading pretension to equal access that networked culture reproduces, Altmann’s work applies to certain reference points founded on a complex network of signifiers often missed but still somehow felt within a language and a landscape of images. They’re as familiar as they are completely alien.
You said you wanted to talk more about objecthood rather than brands but you also say that ‘maybe it’s a similar phenomenon’. Do you think there’s a blurred distinction?
KA: A brand is just a format, an object is a format. The point of my practice is that formats are fluid, that an artwork can now live as something beyond that, and constantly shift between mediums and contexts. This is, to me, how the internet has added options to what an artwork can be, what an image can be, and how it can move and display itself. I produce all kinds of things but my favorite projects are creating networks of cultural technology. All my content gets put through a process like that in the end.
Do you feel the pressure of putting your work into new formats?
KA: I’m always experimenting. There’s been a lot of object pressure for artists who are embracing newer ideas of production, so that gallery shows can be achieved more easily. This has either bitten off more than it can chew in the constraints of its display, or resulted in a lot of predictable, sellable printouts. There has to be more willingness to re-think the production, but resources and equipment are scarce. I’m working on that when I can, but not every exhibition is an opportunity for it. A lot of shows are more like rapid content-sharing platforms. The money and audience structures are more and more varied –the labor and viewing structures, too. What you see in a gallery is not always the ‘whole’ work.
The whole set of content together, in various platforms over time, is now the larger cohesive artwork for a lot of my practice, since I’m authoring fields of visual culture. These are the kinds of meta image structures we now know how to read, the ones we enjoy looking at and hunting in.
I’m into the idea of ‘soft brands’, ‘abstract brands’… to me that’s a good environment for art. Whether it references a pre-existing powerful brand or not is not really important, the idea is that it’s all up for grabs.
But in saying something is up for grabs, it implies there’s a limited distribution; there’s an embedded power structure there.
KA: There is a pre-existing power structure in any material you’re going to use. Some are bigger than you and some aren’t.
Then, in terms of taking these ‘brands’, so to speak, that have certain representations, and re-purposing them, you’re shifting them to serve another individual need but not necessarily restructuring (or deconstructing) the unequal nature of what it is at its core.
KA: I think I am restructuring them, but with a knowledge that I can’t control every impression they make beyond my work. I can corral them into my own specialized contexts and add my definition to their disambiguation as a territorial act, recognizing that while they may be familiar, they’re still foreign agents. I can treat them like a social network which I have a user account on, and view them from my lens. That’s an important distinction between work like mine and others which just re-blog the logos. Any time I use brand tactics, it relates to a different system of images and ideas, a different meme which I’ve created.
I don’t have a direct relationship with any of these companies, for instance, so their language always feels a bit far away, a bit abstract and soft branded already. It’s about assuming the impressions they leave as a part of the cultural fantasy landscape and being honest about it, collaborating with it to produce new narratives. Things aren’t as simple as ‘inside’ or ‘outside’ the larger structures of what pop culture and corporate culture are. Instead it’s about finding forms of work that can survive in a blended climate without sacrificing the difference, without being aggregated by a different intent. Every image gets a deeper read, gets multiple breakdowns, as it flows through different environments. Context is key.
In America brands are everywhere, and the language is more and more evocative and territorial… more and more alien. Yet they’re somehow also completely banal due to oversaturation. There’s this weight of them hanging in the atmosphere. They can reveal themselves in uncanny lures or subliminal, ethereal sensations, but there is always a stress, a friction that comes with it. This sensation, this texture, is what draws me in, not just in brands but in all kinds of content –this feeling of heightened biological tactics.
Do you then think it’s problematic when art that originally repurposes has “something to do” with these companies, eg is funded by them?
KA: Sometimes yes, and I’ve talked about this before. For instance when LOGO magazine started they tried to get Tumblr artists in this R-U-In?S genre to make “artvertorials” for brands for money. Using the surface lures of this trend to then attract corporate sponsorship from said brands. To me that was missing the point entirely, because it was attaching those signifiers to the wrong set of images, so I turned them down. The only way that would work would be if the corporate brand didn’t have the final say, didn’t have creative control… but of course they have a bunch of requirements for how something must be presented and sold through imaging that are not always a part of how those terms and icons get used culturally.
A fair trade between those kind of entities is tricky to reach at this point… ultimately you have to find a way to game every request you get. R-U-In?S was aware of this problematic context.
A major issue for me is this ‘awareness’ that also becomes a crutch and an excuse for collusion.
KA: I’m not exactly sure what you’re getting at. Like accepting the environment as it is? Participating in corporate sponsorship as part of the performance?
Yes. This ultra-cynical self-reflexivity that kind of leads to stasis.
KA: Well sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes the artist is driving and sometimes it’s clear they aren’t. I think the people who fall for it in the worst way are the ones who didn’t get it in the first place, or who maybe don’t understand the contextual subtleties at play because they haven’t experienced the longterm outcome. Or maybe they just don’t know about the alternatives.
The more you tap that culture and that vitality, the more cautious you need to be about ethics and representation, to keep it alive. Product pressure is also rampant. This is something I talk a lot about with other people who have done things in ‘scenes’–how much someone with a lack of communal awareness can damage something very quickly.
So are you saying if you’re within a scene you have a greater understanding?
KA: I think if you’ve ever had to build your own microculture among your peers with its own economy, you have a different understanding of what a ‘scene’ is, maybe. Sometimes that is a class divide, a lifestyle divide, or just a matter of experience. The internet allows you to open up a cultural system to so many people, which is awesome, but not all of them are going to understand exactly where you’re coming from, and they’re not always going to participate in a way that sustains it. Activating certain ideas or images into a culture is a worthy initial goal… eventually those impressions will sink deeper… but online there can be a lot of hazy assumptions.
Do you think though, that there’s an end point? I’ve often felt like there’s a line that anyone can cross. I have some specific examples of art and artists in my mind that I think can no longer make that claim, but maybe once did and could.
KA: There is a chain of production awarenesses that you can either knowingly comment on or ignore. In some cases the line between what’s a performative commentary and what’s not gets blurred. Again, sometimes things aren’t so simple as inside or outside, but have to be both. The artist has to be really in control of those decisions, of that performance and context, for it to work well. It depends on what’s a fair trade to you, and what your ethics are. Unfortunately, that also has ramifications for anything else being tagged into the same pool as your work, and you always have those people jumping in who are just replicating the tags, not the source of them.
That’s the problem, isn’t it? Deactivating resistance by discrediting it.
KA: Well you can’t control mistranslations though. You can just re-aggregate them, put them back in your own context.
The lede of the press release for UCCA’s upcoming Art Post-Internet exhibition in Beijing promises to offer “a critical examination of an inter-generational group of European and American artists for whom ubiquitous digital transmission is the norm.” And sure enough, the line-up of artists and collectives featured in Art Post-Internet flits across the Western art landscape, highlighting the works of many art world forces, including the likes of Marisa Olson and Bernadette Corporation among the other 40+ featured artists.
And while the bill is impeccable, the conceptual cohesion of the exhibition appears ambitious at best, and dubious at worst. The apparent ambiguity of the term ‘post-internet’ presents the first point of contention, with various interpretations floating about the virtual and physical world and shifting rapidly, already threatened to extinction by the hyper-acceleration of the very culture it proposes to represent. Understood to mean not a culture past, beyond, or after the internet, the term “post-internet” – as Olson proposed in 2008 –instead references one so deeply embedded in and propelled by the internet that the notion of a world or culture without or outside it becomes increasingly unimaginable, impossible.
All this begs the question: if we are to understand post-internet art simply to mean art created within the modern milieu, in which we inevitably live our lives on the internet, then what meaning or constructive quality can the term ‘post-internet’ bring to the table? The spectrum of art works represented in Art Post-Internet seems to answer this question without distinctly asking it, as the monolithic exhibition yokes together works as diverse as the idiosyncratic, lo-res videos of Petra Cortright, the installations of Aleksandra Domanović as provoked by the‘Turbo Sculptures’ of former Yugoslavia, the simulacrum-like paintings of Juliette Bonneviot, and the stock-image inspired explorations of Timur Si-Qinall under the same umbrella.
One of the most significant names to grace the exhibition is that of Munich-born author and filmmaker, Hito Steyerl, whose recent videos act as a melancholic meditation on the notion and absence of visibility and how it is transformed through technological developments. In 2012’s ‘Zero Probability’ with Rabih Mroué, Steyerl explores the impossible, a person disappearing into thin air, and posits it within digital culture, asking: “How do people disappear in an age of total over-visibility?… Are people hidden by too many images? Do they go hide amongst other images? Do they become images?”
Another influential contributor to Art Post-Internet is Kari Altmann, whose use of the language and structures of consumption further conflates the notion of virtual vs. real. Tackling the emotive aspects of internet life –whether in her exploration of its “emergent spirituality” or in her dealings with the notion of affective labor –Altmann’s work cuts to the heart of the matter: how does the internet change how and what we feel? The fact that the majority of her work exists only virtually, converted –or as Altmann says “exported” –into physical form purely for the purpose of exhibitions hints to the changing landscape of the art world. As Altmann says, “[e]verything is live.”
The unruly and frantic videos of Kari Altmann seem worlds away from the melancholy ambience of Bunny Rogers’ work, whose innate poeticism travels seamlessly through various mediums –from musings on childhood, nostalgia and exploitation in her YouTube-assisted installation ‘If I Die Young’, to the shivering still-life installation of ‘O Columbine (Wo ist mein bruder)’.
It’s not until one hits upon the work of another integral contributor to the exhibition that the lofty classification of Art Post-Internet starts to congeal and find form. Harm van den Dorpel flits between mediums with his pieces, jumping from more classical physical media such as sculpture and collage to his necessarily virtual websites and online animation. But it is the trajectory of his ‘Dissociations’ that outlines the umbrella under which the works of Art Post-Internet fall: the notion that it is not the style nor the content of the works at play here, nor even their chosen medium or mediums, but rather the interconnectivity between ideas and forms, the very practice of creativity and the process by which it is realised.
When UCCA stresses the ‘inter-generationality’ of its artists, it is a helpful hint to the nature of the exhibition itself, peppered with ‘post-internet’ artists building their respective oeuvres standing on the shoulders of Net art influencers like Vuk Ćosić, Alexei Shulgin and Olia Lialina. In this respect, Art Post-Internet proves from the onset its awareness of the complexity of its subject, crafting an exhibition that aims not to present it as a coherent and cohesive discipline but rather as a dynamic process of cultural evolution. **