Over the past year I’ve stayed mostly silent when it comes to critical writing. Some of this has been due to lack of time. Some of it to a hesitancy to speak critically of those who are or may be peers. Lastly, some of the most vocal folks are exhausting in their epic word counts! But I’ve been thinking a lot, and have decided that a) I want to write more and b.) I won’t stand by while those with more critically rigorous but divergent views and practices sculpt the terms by which we think of Art, Net Art, and especially the burgeoning field of Social Media Art.
The distinction between Net Art and Social Media Art is important, and will be outlined in a future post. Further, I do not identify as a Net Artist (or a Social Media Artist, for that matter). However they often occupy the same sentence in the conversation. My interest in this series is specific to my practice, but my practice is also driven by what I want the future to look like for art appreciators of all varieties.
By setting out to describe this future, I want to first pause to express my concerns with the present. Specifically, with animated GIF art. On the whole, it is depressingly vapid! Worse, its vapidity has been fetishized by those seeking to define and contextualize this next wave of Internet artists. Over the years I’ve seen thousands of animated gifs. I’ve spent countless minutes waiting for them to cycle through their frames so they can be experienced “appropriately.”
One recent example that comes to mind is the Unknown Pleasures meets Matrix-green animated gif that Paddy Johnson highlighted in her Year Of The Animated Gif post. Beyond occasionally witty one-liners, most of these images do nothing to push how we think. Rather they tend to engage in a sort of post-hipster language. They’re stylized, abstract, and, in my opinion, just plain weak images. Of the non-abstract variety exists an Internet kitsch aesthetic which tend to be ironic, cynical and intentionally crude. Both of these varieties remind me of an article I read in New York Magazine a few months back that described Hipsters as smart consumers but whose cultural contributions were few. Or sloppy, lazy, etc. I would put 95% of animated gifs in this category. Granted the culture is arguable larger/more important than the “product,” however, the product usually leaves me with much to be desired.
Needless to say this is not the type of work I want to make. While some of it is certainly entertaining, I am attempting to make work that is both accessible, challenging, subversive, and most importantly authentic.
I believe that the medium must serve the work, and that the work must have something to say, regardless of what medium that is (gif, oil paint, collage, etc). Aesthetics alone, however well stylized or unique, are never enough to carry a great work. A work that transcends its form. While I can’t speak to anyone else’s intentions I can say that I don’t want to spend my time framing images that offer limited cultural capital. I by no means claim that my work always transcends, rather it is an ideal that I am continually striving towards.
So a combination of circumstances* have led to the need to postpone the screening/potluck that was scheduled to take place at Flux today. It will be held in January instead.
Sorry for any inconvenience! For those of the public protesting persuasion there is of course the protest at 1pm today.
* Time management was been partly responsible but more important has been a desire to better understand my own position before hosting an event. This is a very complex issue that I’m still not exactly sure where I stand on. To be clear, I DO NOT support the censorship of the video but I do feel an obligation to comprehend as many of the facets as possible. I didn’t want to host, or ask Flux Factory to host, a screening and discussion if my own beliefs aren’t more formalized. I will say that I probably won’t be at the protest today. More on all this soon…
To focus only on WikiLeaks is to miss the big picture of what’s happening with information — just like focusing only on Napster in 1999 would have led you to miss the bigger revolution in digital music. The original Napster was shut down in 2001, but its P2P heirs continue to share pirated files, and it paved the way for the rise of iTunes and Pandora — and the fall of Tower Records. Similarly, you can jail Julian Assange, but you probably can’t jail every 17 year old hacker whose blood is boiling because you just jailed Julian Assange — nor can you get a restraining order on every fed-up associate, manager, or cashier who wants to blow the whistle on you.
The following appeared as a note on Dan Cameron’s Facebook wall. It is reproduced here with his permission. In my humble opinion, it is reblogworthy many times over. See also Cameron’s excellent interview with Tyler Green: http://bit.ly/eieGXA
David Wojnarowicz is one of the indispensable American artists of the end of the 20th century. Through his paintings, sculptures, photographs, videos, writings, performances and music, Wojnarowicz opened up art’s expressive capability at an moment in history when it was viewed by too many as a sophisticated game of style and technique. In Wojnarowicz’s hands, by contrast, art was never less than a matter of life and death.
Born to working-class Catholic, Polish-American roots, Wojnarowicz had very little by way of formal art training in art, but was instead mentored by individuals along the way. As a young man, he was sexually and physically abused, and throughout his short life suffered deeply because he never concealed his sexual identity. As a result, the recurring problem of homophobia, both societal and individual, became one of the main motifs of his work. During the last years of his life – he died in 1992 of complications from AIDS at the age of 38 —, his one-man battle against fear and hatred of gay people burned with an intensity that is rarely witnessed in the contemporary art community.
In 1999, I was the curator of one of only two retrospectives of David Wojnarowicz’s art in this country, at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in NYC. While the exhibition was well attended and positively reviewed at the time, I can honestly say that it is also one of the few exhibitions that have grown larger in the collective memory of the international art community. Wherever I travel in the world, no matter the purpose of my visit, I invariably encounter students, artists and curators who want to ask me about Wojnarowicz and his art. Not infrequently, it turns out they have never seen his work in person, but only in publications like the New Museum catalog or David’s own books of prose and poetry. Still, his art has touched them at the deepest level imaginable, bringing me to understand that, unlike most of his peers, the art of David Wojnarowicz continues to grow in importance.
The censorship of David Wojnarowicz’s work from the National Portrait Gallery is an act of unspeakable aggression against artists, writers, intellectuals, people affected by AIDS, and especially the entire LGBTQ community in this country and throughout the world. Right-wing politicians and religious leaders, sensing weakness on the part of our nation’s cultural community, have described Wojnarowicz’s video in deeply hypocritical terms, even going so far as to describe it as ‘hate speech.’ This Orwellian use of language to defame an artist who himself was the victim of hatred against gay people shows that the stakes in this battle are much higher than might be imagined.
The extreme right’s attack on this most vital of American artists must not be allowed to stand, if only because it is transparently clear they have no intention of stopping with Wojnarowicz. If we sit by and let this censorship occur without protest, the forces of censorship and homophobia will grow bolder and more aggressive in their attacks on artistic freedom in this country. Perhaps they believe that, because he was gay and died of AIDS, Wojnarowicz is vulnerable. It is up to us to prove that, on the contrary, when they picked on David, they drastically underestimated his importance to those of us in this country, and in the rest of the world, who don’t condemn what our most important artists have produced — we honor it by proudly showing it in our museums.