Monday, October 10, 2011

Otto Piene: Lichtballett

MIT List Visual Arts Center

October 21, 2011 - December 31, 2011

Otto Piene

The MIT List Visual Arts Center is pleased to announce an exhibition of the light-based sculptural work of Otto Piene. Otto Piene (b. 1928, Bad Laasphe, Germany) is a pioneering figure in multimedia and technology-based art. Known for his smoke and fire paintings and environmental “sky art,” Piene formed the influential Düsseldorf-based Group Zero with Heinz Mack in the late 1950s. Zero included artists such as Piero Manzoni, Yves Klein, Jean Tinguely, and Lucio Fontana. Piene was the first fellow of the MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies (CAVS) in 1968, succeeding its founder György Kepes as director until retiring in 1994.

Otto Piene: Lichtballett highlights the artist’s exploration of light as an artistic and communicative medium. First produced using hand-operated lamps directed through perforated stencils, Piene’s Lichtballett (light ballet) performances of moving light became mechanized in the 1960s. The artist’s early light sculptures consisted of revolving lamps, grids, globes, and discs operated by electric switchboards, causing what he described as “the steady flow of unfurling and dimming, reappearing, and vanishing light.” These light machines evolved into kinetic sculptural environments of mechanized effects by the late 1960s.

Bringing together several of the artist's works from the 1960s and ‘70s with two new sculptures, the exhibition is synchronized into a choreographed installation. Electric Rose (1965) consists of a polished aluminum globe covered with neon light bulbs that emit light in four sequenced phases. The piece was featured in Piene’s first solo exhibition in the United States, Light Ballet, at the Howard Wise Gallery in New York in 1965. An important work in the permanent collection of the MIT List Visual Arts Center, the piece has undergone significant restoration by Denkhaus GmbH, Düsseldorf, and is now exhibited for the first time in over two decades. The conservation process, overseen by the artist and the MIT List, included a complete rewiring of the piece, removal of surface damage and dents, and replacement of the light fixtures and bulbs to exact specifications.

The exhibition also showcases several other significant early works alongside new sculptures. The two interior lamps of Light Ballet on Wheels (1965) continuously project light through a revolving disk. The sculpture Electric Anaconda (1965) is composed of seven black globes of decreasing diameter stacked in a column, the light climbing up until completely lit. Piene’s new works produced specifically for the exhibition, Lichtballett (2011), a site-specific wall sculpture, and One Cubic Meter of Light Black (2010–11), continue his decades-long investigation of technology and light phenomena.

An original score composed by the artist for his first light performances in the 1960s will accompany several special presentations of the light ballets throughout the duration of the exhibition. Otto Piene: Lichtballett will also be accompanied by a series of film screenings that document Piene’s work and the history and performance of the light ballets through several decades.

Otto Piene: Lichtballett is organized by João Ribas, Curator, MIT List Visual Arts Center.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

The Otolith Group: The Otolith Trilogy

MIT List Visual Arts Center

September 6th - September 22nd

The MIT List Visual Arts Center is pleased to present The Otolith Group's Otolith Trilogy, an interconnected series of films made between 2002 and 2009 that relate scenarios of a speculative future, projected from events in our recent past. Combining fictional narration with archival and documentary footage, the artists create a set of plausible predictive outcomes for the future, from life in the city of the future, to the 22nd Century, when the earth is no longer hospitable to life. The three films Otolith I, Otolith II, and Otolith III show the possible effects of our past and present actions on various aspects of human experience and knowledge, including biology, space travel, urbanism, architecture, economics, media, and culture.

Otolith I (22:16 min.) is set in the 22nd Century, when the human race is no longer able to survive on Earth and is obliged to live in the microgravity conditions of the International Space Station. Dr. Usha Adebaran Sagar, the future descendant of Otolith Group member Anjalika Sagar, is an exo-anthropologist researching life on an earth that she can experience only through media archives. Otolith I imagines a mutant future that looks to the past to find the commonality between the post-war non-alignment movement in South Asia and the USSR, and the 2003 protests against the invasion of Iraq. Otolith I began in November 2002 as a collaboration with artist Richard Couzins. It was completed in 2003 with the support of The Arts Catalyst and The Mir Consortium, which made it possible for the artists to film in a microgravity environment.

Otolith II (47:42 min.) is set in the near future and mixes fiction, archival material, and documentary footage filmed in Mumbai and Chandigarh. The film explores the affective pressure exerted upon inhabitants residing within contrasting and competing versions of the city of tomorrow. Otolith II investigates the politics of futurity in which predictive models of the masterplan, the corporate scenario, and real estate speculation converge to extract labor, convert attention, and capture potential for profit. Otolith II was commissioned in 2006 by the Kunsten Festival Des Arts and ARGOS Centre for Art and Media in Brussels, Belgium, and Casco Projects in Utrecht, Netherlands.

Otolith III (48 min.) takes The Alien, the unrealized screenplay of the legendary Bengali director Satyajit Ray, as its point of departure. Written in 1967, The Alien would have been the first science fiction film to be set in contemporary India. Otolith III returns to 1967 to propose an alternative trajectory in which the fictional protagonists of The Alien attempt to seize the means of production in order to create the conditions for their existence as images. Filmed in London, Otolith III is an experiment in temporal and geographical displacement that The Otolith Group calls a premake, a remake of a film before the original. Otolith III was completed in 2009.

The Otolith Group: The Otolith Trilogy is organized by Joao Ribas, Curator, MIT List Visual Arts Center.

Support for the Otolith Group: The Otolith Trilogy has been provided by the Council for the Arts at MIT and the

Massachusetts Cultural Council.

Monday, August 15, 2011

John Akomfrah's Handsworth Songs (1986), on the 1985 civil disturbances in Birmingham, seems more relevant than ever...

Eileen Gray's iconic E.1027 house is being restored. Edwin Heathcote tells "one of the most extraordinary stories in modern architecture," in the FT:

"The house that was one of the most perfect products of the modern movement, the cryptically christened E1027, was designed by Eileen Gray, an Anglo-Irish designer, a woman in a man’s world who had been excluded by the artistic and avant-garde establishment.

Le Corbusier, the leader of that architectural avant-garde, was either in love with or incensed by the presence of this house and scrawled a series of sexually charged murals to Gray’s great chagrin. She was slightly consoled when the German soldiers who later occupied the villa used the abstracted figures for target practice. The house that had tormented him as he had tormented it was perhaps the last thing Le Corbusier ever saw – he drowned in the sea outside in 1965. For years it lay abandoned, one of the great houses of the modern era desecrated in one of the countries that most valued its modernist past – while Le Corbusier’s houses were lovingly turned into temples, museums of modernity."
(Read more...)

Julian Bell's NYRB review of Manet: Inventeur du Moderne, "an exhibition full of heat and light and erotic animus," recently on view at the Musée d’Orsay, displays the kind of acuity that makes for great writing about art. Julian Barnes' brilliant review in the Guardian touches on just this issue in relation to looking at Manet's masterpieces--while exploring the curatorial approach of the exhibition in significant detail--"the risk being that we can no longer see, only take for granted." Interestingly, both also focus on Manet in reproduction:

"Outside Paris’s Musée d’Orsay, lines are currently shuffling under tall billboards that reproduce, some eight times life-size, L’Amazone by Édouard Manet. An amazone is a horsewoman, and by extension the tight-fitting black riding habit she would wear in the nineteenth century, matched by a black silk top hat. Thomas Couture, Manet’s teacher, noted how this “pretty costume…chastely delineates the forms of the upper body,” and Manet’s image dramatizes the tug of interests implied in his words.....Manet, you can make out, went at his subject with a brisk attack, springing from paint swipe to paint swipe--here jostling, there blending---as he moved in on that succulent fresh face...The momemtum of his excitement carried through as he switched brushes to bash a mess of blues and whites around the outline of her head and shoulders..."(Bell, Sudden Sensuous Dazzle..)

"Much of Manet's achievement you can understand by reading the books and looking at the colour plates; much else is apparent only in front of the pictures themselves. "Manet black" reproduces fairly well; "Manet white" very poorly. Olympia, aside from its continuing erotic challenge, is also a Whistlerian "Symphony in Off-White" (subtle exchanges between flesh, coverlet, bedclothes, flowers and – the sharpest white of all – the paper in which the flowers are wrapped). In the portrait of Zola, a central patch of white blazes out: it comes, appropriately, from the pages of the book the novelist is reading. "
Jimmie Durham performing at the Reykjavik Experiment

Feynman on philosophy, mathematics, and the "why question..."


FORMER WEST features an interesting interview with Beirut-based artist and playwright Rabih Mroué. Mroué's exhibition 'The People are Demanding,' responding to the demonstrations in the Middle East, was recently on view in London.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Two interesting posts from Excerpter with texts from David Greaeber's The sadness of post-workerism and Friedrich Kittler's The City Is a Medium.

David Greaeber on avantgardism, prophecy and so-called “immaterial labor”

Politics is that dimension of social life in which things really do become true if enough people believe them. The problem is that in order to play the game effectively, one can never acknowledge its essence. In this sense politics is very similar to magic, /…/ something that works because people believe that it works; but also, that only works because people do not believe it works only because people believe it works.
Yet the same bankers and traders who produce these complex financial instruments also like to surround themselves with artists, people who are always busy making things—a kind of imaginary proletariat assembled by finance capital, producing unique products out of for the most part very inexpensive materials, objects said financiers can baptize, consecrate, through money and thus turn into art, thus displaying its ability to transform the basest of materials into objects worth far, far more than gold. More

Friedrich Kittler – The City Is a Medium

MEDIA exist to process, record, and transmit numbers. A Greek city, probably Milet, provides us with two of our oldest forms of media: the coin and the vowel alphabet. 13 Rome, in order to extend itself from a city into a state, adopted the most advanced form of oriental transmission media: the Achaemenidian postal system. 14

Thus our terms for media, if not directly, like “heart” or “brain of a circuit,” derived from the human body, stem nonetheless from the city. From the day Shannon applied George Booles’s circuit algebra to a coupling of telegraph relays, the elements which are logically the most simple, and which have no memory, have been known as gates or ports. Circuits, on the other hand, whose initial and final positions are not only a function of the gates and ports, but also of the circuit’s own prehistory, presuppose (no less municipal here) a built-in memory. When the World War II mathematician John von Neumann laid down the prin-ciples for sequential working-off or computation for almost all present-day computer “architectures,” he bestowed the fitting name “bus” on the parallel channels between hard drive, gate, and memory, and thus extended the Biedermeier tradition of metropolitan traffic. Von Neumann’s prophesy that only computers themselves would be capable of planning their own, more intelligent, next generation, because the complex knot of networks would surpass the planning ability of the engineers, has been fulfilled by computer programs called “routing”: network models, like Shannon’s mouse, which operate as if they were street plans (with all the aggravations of jaywalking and traffic jams). Entire cities made of silicon, silicon oxide, and gold wire have since arisen. Yet the living units or houses in these cities must be measured in terms of molecules whose total surface area, even after having been reproduced millions of times, barely fill a square millimeter. The technologic media miniaturize the city, while magnifying the entropy of megalopolis. Not only have the technological traffic modules of modernity, such as parking garages and airports, rendered obsolescent the age-old module “life-sized,” indeed, it seems to me that modulization itself has been rendered obsolescent. And graph theory is responsible. The more one thinks about a capital like Paris, wrote Valéry, the more one learns about oneself from the city. No system, however, is self-governing, neither the city nor the module. It is hence more urgent, in a grey field without reference points, to connect up networks without value systems, and to take leave of..(More)


Non-Newtonian Fluid on a Speaker Cone

More on "cymatics" (study of visible sound and vibration) here.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Donald MacKenzie's "How to Make Money in Microseconds," published in the current issue of the London Review of Books, is a fascinating look into the role of algorithm-based trading in markets---the use of “share trading computer programs” and their “millisecond” timescales---in the events of May 6, 2010, in which “a self-feeding downward spiral” caused by algorithms lead to Sotheby’s sale price jumping to $99,999.99:

What goes on in stock markets appears quite different when viewed on different timescales. Look at a whole day’s trading, and market participants can usually tell you a plausible story about how the arrival of news has changed traders’ perceptions of the prospects for a company or the entire economy and pushed share prices up or down. Look at trading activity on a scale of milliseconds, however, and things seem quite different.

When two American financial economists, Joel Hasbrouck and Gideon Saar, did this a couple of years ago, they found strange periodicities and spasms. The most striking periodicity involves large peaks of activity separated by almost exactly 1000 milliseconds: they occur 10-30 milliseconds after the ‘tick’ of each second. The spasms, in contrast, seem to be governed not directly by clock time but by an event: the execution of a buy or sell order, the cancellation of an order, or the arrival of a new order. Average activity levels in the first millisecond after such an event are around 300 times higher than normal. There are lengthy periods – lengthy, that’s to say, on a scale measured in milliseconds – in which little or nothing happens, punctuated by spasms of thousands of orders for a corporation’s shares and cancellations of orders. These spasms seem to begin abruptly, last a minute or two, then end just as abruptly.

Little of this has to do directly with human action. None of us can react to an event in a millisecond: the fastest we can achieve is around 140 milliseconds, and that’s only for the simplest stimulus, a sudden sound. The periodicities and spasms found by Hasbrouck and Saar are the traces of an epochal shift. As recently as 20 years ago, the heart of most financial markets was a trading floor on which human beings did deals with each other face to face. The ‘open outcry’ trading pits at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, for example, were often a mêlée of hundreds of sweating, shouting, gesticulating bodies. Now, the heart of many markets (at least in standard products such as shares) is an air-conditioned warehouse full of computers supervised by only a handful of maintenance staff. Read on.

Hazem Kandil, a sociologist at UCLA, is interviewed in the New Left Review about the "revolt in Egypt":

Two developments were responsible for making ordinary, apolitical Egyptians feel they could no longer carry on with their normal lives. The first was the dissolution of the social contract governing state–society relations since Nasser’s coup in the fifties. The contract involved a div0it exchange: the regime offered free education, employment in an expanding public sector, affordable healthcare, cheap housing and other forms of social protection, in return for obedience. You could have—or at any rate hope for—these benefits, so long as domestic or foreign policies were not questioned and political power was not contested. In other words, people understood that they were trading their political rights for social welfare. From the eighties onwards, this contract was eroded, but it was not until the new millennium that it was fully abrogated. By this time the regime felt that it had eliminated organized resistance so thoroughly that it no longer needed to pay the traditional social bribes to guarantee political acquiescence. Viewing a population that appeared utterly passive, fragmented and demoralized, the regime believed it was time for plunder, on a grand scale. In the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), a faction clustered around the President’s son Gamal Mubarak increasingly took charge through a new body called the Policy Committee. It had two components. One consisted of corrupt, state-nurtured capitalists with monopoly control over profitable sectors of the economy. The other was composed of neo-liberal intellectuals, typically economists with links to international financial institutions.
Parallel with this social change, and related to it, was an alteration in the forms of political repression by the regime. Back in the fifties and sixties, it was understood that you would suffer arrest or torture only if you were politically organized. The military took care of domestic repression, which was brutal but highly targeted. In the seventies and early eighties, this function was transferred from the army to the police. Repression now became more indiscriminate, but it was still carried out within a discernible structure and certain limits. Calling the shots were colonels or captains, people with names and ranks and faces, who bore some kind of responsibility for the decisions they took, and you still had to have some kind of political involvement—not necessarily organized, now, but saying something that crossed a red line or upset some official—to fall into their hands. By the nineties, however, the regime had become so confident it faced no challenges that it treated criticism in the press, or on satellite television or later the internet, as harmless banalities. This was also the attitude taken by the police: day-to-day repression of citizens was too mundane to be carried out by uniformed officers. Why would police officers waste their time and energy on intimidating a few students, cracking down on the occasional hot-headed labour organizer or molesting some female human-rights activists to keep them off the streets? Read on


Blake Gopnik weighs in on the newly unveiled portrait of Bill and Melinda Gates at The National Portrait Gallery, stating it's not "even close to significant art. It’s pretty much interchangeable with any of 10,000 other works of official portraiture":

No one could imagine this portrait, which is the gallery’s second nonpresidential commission, getting even a footnote in the art texts of the future. It couldn’t find a place even in the deepest vaults of the Museum of Modern Art or the National Gallery or any other serious art institution. If you didn’t recognize the celebrity sitters in Friedman’s painting, you wouldn’t spare it a glance. You’d expect to come across it in any corner suite on Wall Street or Capitol Hill—and to keep walking once you saw it.

Friedman says he was paid $75,000 for his expenses and his months of work on the painting. Those are the fees of a fine craftsman, rather than a payment for an object that has real value of its own, out on the open market. Major artworks by major artists fetch far more than that.

But here’s the thing: I think Friedman got his Gates portrait absolutely right. It doesn’t need to be good art, because it isn’t functioning as art at all, any more than the picture on your driver’s license is. It was commissioned by a history museum in honor of its subject—“someone of national significance, someone our audience is interested in,” as curator Brandon Fortune explained—not by an art museum to honor its artist. Speaking after the painting’s unveiling, Friedman said “I’m determined that it exist as fine art,” but he’s wrong to want that. The purpose of pictures like this is to pick out people of note in our culture and hold them up to our notice. And that means that, almost like that photo on your license, once it has picked out its subject its job is almost done. It is a placeholder for its sitter’s virtues, and it can’t hold that place if its own virtues stand out too much. Read on.


Quine on philosophy's "concern with knowledge of the world."


The June issue of Scientific American features an article on observable quantum effects in a growing number of macroscopic systems:

According to standard physics textbooks, quantum mechanics is the theory of the microscopic world. It describes particles, atoms and molecules but gives way to ordinary classical physics on the macroscopic scales of pears, people and planets. Somewhere between molecules and pears lies a boundary where the strangeness of quantum behavior ends and the familiarity of classical physics begins. The impression that quantum mechanics is limited to the microworld permeates the public understanding of science. For instance, Columbia University physicist Brian Greene writes on the first page of his hugely successful (and otherwise excellent) book The Elegant Universe that quantum mechanics “provides a theoretical framework for understanding the universe on the smallest of scales.” Classical physics, which comprises any theory that is not quantum, including Albert Einstein’s theories of relativity, handles the largest of scales.

Yet this convenient partitioning of the world is a myth. Few modern physicists think that classical physics has equal status with quantum mechanics; it is but a useful approximation of a world that is quantum at all scales. Although quantum effects may be harder to see in the macroworld, the reason has nothing to do with size per se but with the way that quantum systems interact with one another. Until the past decade, experimentalists had not confirmed that quantum behavior persists on a macroscopic scale. Today, however, they routinely do. These effects are more pervasive than anyone ever suspected. They may operate in the cells of our body.

Robin Mackay on Urbanomic, the UK-based publisher he founded; Collapse, the journal of philosophical research it publishes; Speculative Realism, Florian Hecker and Quentin Meillassoux; and photographer Liz Deschenes.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Stan VanDerBeek: The Culture Intercom


Stan VanDerBeek

The Culture Intercom

February 4, 2011 - April 3, 2011

The MIT List Visual Arts Center and the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, present the first museum survey of the work of media art pioneer Stan VanDerBeek, exploring his investigation of art, technology, and communication. Surveying the artist’s remarkable body of work in collage, experimental film, performance, participatory and computer-generated art over several decades, Stan VanDerBeek: The Culture Intercom highlights the artist’s pivotal contribution to today’s media-based artistic practices. The exhibition features a selection of early paintings and collages, a selection of his pioneering animations, recreations of immersive projection and ‘expanded cinema’ environments, documentation of site-specific and telecommunications projects, and material related to his performance and durational work.

Stan VanDerBeek: The Culture Intercom is organized by Bill Arning, Director, Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, and João Ribas, Curator, MIT List Visual Arts Center, with special thanks to the Estate of Stan VanDerBeek and London-based independent scholar Mark Bartlett. The exhibition has been made possible by the generous support of the ART MENTOR FOUNDATION LUCERNE and The National Endowment for the Arts, a Federal agency, along with the Council for the Arts at MIT, the Massachusetts Cultural Council, Martin E. Zimmerman, the Union Pacific Foundation, the patrons, benefactors, and donors to the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston's Major Exhibition Fund. The accompanying catalogue has been made possible by a grant from The Brown Foundation, Inc. Media sponsor: Phoenix Media/Communications Group. (Read more)

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Frances Stark: This Could Become a Gimick [sic] or An Honest Articulation of the Workings of the Mind available from DAP

Los Angeles-based artist and writer Frances Stark (born 1967) addresses the doubts and anxieties of creative labor, in self-portraits that she elaborates into cross-disciplinary explorations of language as both subject matter and material. The elliptical, digressive style that typifies her writing is echoed in the experience of her installations, in which themes emerge across brief citations from pop music and literature.

Interlinked works, often hand-drawn, or hand-inscribed, are executed with a formal vulnerability and fluency of composition that affirms the observation posed in this volume's title. Published on the occasion of an exhibition at the MIT List Visual Arts Center, this anthology offers a selection of the Los Angeles-based artist's writings from 1997 to 2010, including important out-of-print and hard-to-find texts.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Manon de Boer: Between Perception and Sensation opens at the Contemporary Art Museum, St. Louis

Manon de Boer: Between Perception and Sensation

Contemporary Art Museum, St. Louis

January 21 – May 1, 2011

For her first major exhibition in the United States, the acclaimed Dutch, Brussels-based artist Manon de Boer asks us to listen as we look in uniquely crafted films that are defined by sound.

For over a decade, she has made a series of cinematic portraits, depicting friends, writers, dancers, composers, and musicians to explore questions of time and memory. Meanwhile, she examines how musical structures can transform what we experience. With a focus on performance—and the ways that sound can give a film its form— CAM spotlights De Boer’s expansive and grounding experimentations with sound, image, and the fundamental experiences of film. For Presto, Perfect Sound (2006), De Boer shot six takes of a violin performance, out of which she cut and then reconstructed the optimal sound composites to produce a “perfect performance,” despite the visual glitches we see before us. In Two Times 4’33” (2008), her camera fixes on the feeling of silence, on film and in the body, as it reverberates through the audience and extends to us off screen. A third film, Dissonant (2010), reveals the rupture between what we see and hear, and as the screen goes black, the viewer trades vision for the pure aural experience of a dancer’s moving feet.

In an ambitious installation conceived especially for CAM’s galleries, De Boer presents four key works that address her attention to the structures of music, orchestrating her films so that each portrait amplifies the connection between image and sound, performer and audience—asking us to revisit the process of looking and listening through the artist’s singular interrogation of cinema.

Manon de Boer: Between Perception and Sensation is curated by Laura Fried, Associate Curator, and João Ribas, Curator at the MIT List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge. The exhibition is organized by CAM.


Manon de Boer, Attica, 2008. 16 mm black and white film with mono sound, 10 minutes. Courtesy of Jan Mot, Brussels.