Archive for February, 2009

New Media Caucus Journal Interview Excerpt

Monday, February 2nd, 2009

This is an excerpt of an interview conducted by Rachel Clarke of the New Media Caucus Journal regarding the Real Time Exhibition at the Dallas Contemporary. The full article is here.

Real Time Mobile Video Art Exhibition

Real Time Mobile Video Art Exhibition Installation View

[Tell me about the premise of the show, and briefly describe the process the artists underwent for the duration of the show.]

Real Time attempts to challenge the way the audience and a selected group of artists produce and think about their work in a mobile context. It start with the question: “What kind of art can you make on a mobile phone in 30 seconds?”

When the show opened there was no art for a couple of minutes, save for a few test pieces. Then the artists started following “the rules.” The rules were (a) they had to make everything on a mobile phone, (b) no more than 30 seconds per piece and (c) at least one per day and (d) they had to send it from the device to the Dallas Contemporary where it was scaled up and projected on the walls. Every new piece that came in was time stamped and added to a loop that ran endlessly. Each artist was encouraged to interpret the constraints differently and to utilize any conceptual frame they desired.

By providing this restrictive structure, I hoped to highlight how time and mobility affect the process and status of art making and it’s resultant product, and how artists might work under the same conditions that millions of us live in every day. I often refer to this kind of mobile enabled work created in atomized bits over time, often under pressure, as microart.

[Given what you describe as our limited attention span, what do you think makes for captivating cell phone art? Which are your favorite works, and why?]

Making mobile art is more than just making smaller, shorter videos. It’s also more than making something that is just another attention thief. This is old media / broadcast thinking that quickly loses it’s effectiveness in a mobile context.

I think mobile art needs to take fully into consideration the mobile context, which includes both technical capabilities and the social matrix. Ideally it will concern itself, to some degree, with the metadata of location. Over time there will be more and more microlocal data available for mining as well as creating. So the “picture” that is taken is more than just a compressed collection of pixels. The simplest example is what many cameras already do: geo tagging. That’s just the camera knowing where it is in a crude kind of way. Mobile devices will know more and more about their context and I think compelling mobile art will take advantage of this.

Regarding attention, Rather than making work that targeted itself at attention starved viewers, the work in Real Time was work that came from victims of attention starvation: the artists themselves. The 30 second, once a day requirement artificially highlighted this condition.

The approach of this show resulted in work that was more about process and a collection of bits of media rather than  discrete objects. I suppose you could make beautiful 15 second art-somethings (I have tried this in previous shows) that people would enjoy but that was not our focus here.

Real Time Mobile Video Art Exhibition from therefore on Vimeo.

[You talk about the “emerging mobile culture”. How do technologies change or affect cultural expression? What does cell phone art say about our culture?]

In an overworked society - one where we live to work rather than work to live, extended periods of uninterrupted creative time are a luxury. Mobile art, as I have framed it here, is the art of the hurried, exhausted, overworked, time encumbered American.

Multitasking, or now metatasking, is a phrase we often use to boast of something we should be resisting. It’s another way of saying you are letting yourself be taken advantage of, that you though you could do more than you really can because you feel pressured to do so. And with all the new technology tools you are given the illusion that you will better be able to manage the hundreds of diversions that micro slice your attention.

In relation to the show the point was not the time constraint itself, or the idea of one. Rather it was the framing and exploration of a particular kind of expression enabled and made possible by emerging communications tools.  This is the kind of expression you do at a stop light, a line, waiting for someone outside a bathroom. This is the time and space we have left for art. Each “entry” in microart is a particle of process. It is expression compression.

[You say the cell phone is an “ideal art machine”. What are the particular qualities of the cell phone and the imagery it creates that make it so ideal?]

Mobile devices are potentially excellent art machines.
They have, or will have, most the media generation capabilities of the desktop, plus some that move us beyond the desktop era. Things like location and ubiquity move us beyond the constraints and assumptions of desktop media creation.

Also, mobile phones are very personal devices and are present in intimate situations. They are always very close to the body (many people sleep with their phones, among other things). As a capture device they can be very close to another person and because of their commonness and size they are usually not objectionable.

Looking forward, emerging mobile devices will have an increasing array of sensors on them. Sound input, motion detection from accelerometers, GPS location, compass, light detectors, touch sensitivity, cameras, microphones.  All of these are available as tools for interacting in a larger participatory data context than just a simple image or video.

Mobile devices also move us beyond the idea of the Internet as where the data is. On the traditional Internet you are where your browser is pointed (the domain). With a mobile device you are where you are standing, and increasingly are surrounded by an “Internet of things” and a rich context of place based data.

The nature of mobile imagery will be distinguished for some time, relative to dedicated higher resolution devices, but not as dramatically as in the past. Video will move to HD and other technical constraints will be overcome, but a quality gap is not the measure of impact or relevance to art making. What’s important is  the way it changes they way one produces and thinks about the nature of the result. Rather than saying to your self “I am now going to the computer to make art” you just hit record on the device that’s already in your hand. There’s no sitting down in a specific location in front of a stationary machine. Even laptops free us a matter of degree, not kind as in the case of a mobile device capable of multiple media capture and manipulation. There’s no sitting down, there’s no going anywhere - you are already there.

All of this suggests an approach that would favor less formed thoughts, momentary impulses, a lack of refinement, spontaneity and tentative / iterative strategies. But then, as with any form of improvisation, practice improves the end product.

[You describe the works as a “continuum of discrete pieces”, can you talk about the kind of continuum that emerges from this process. How does it speak differently to the notion of narrative than other film or video forms?]

Microart as I construe it here is partly about accepting and exhibiting (mostly) failure rather than (mostly) success. It is about the composite and sequential effect of a large number of small bits that create a stream rather than fewer, individual substantive statements. Like most cultural productions in consumer society, individual entries may be trivial and disposable but the idea is that the cumulative, ambient effect is not.

In this iteration of mobile media there’s no editing and the work is made in different locations 30 seconds at a time, separated by minutes, hours or days. There’s little planning in many cases, though often a lot of thought goes into specific pieces beforehand. A whole day of thinking about an idea leads to a 30 second execution. In other cases the work is spontaneous and contextual. None of the works in the show are structured narratives, and the term can only be applied loosely. They are more like collections that are held together by author, style, and sometimes by theme and location. Of course someone could make a linear video or sequence but it misses the point of micro locative media as defined for this context.

[What are your thoughts looking forward, how will your next projects change based on what you’ve learned here?]

My thought process with mobile ideas has moved from an interest in the actual quality and nature of mobile images (when the images were really poor) to ideas about time and pressure, performance, and ubiquity (this show) to ideas about place / location, intimacy, disposability, place based conversation and social geo mapping (the next show).

My next curatorial idea will be a conversation rather than a broadcast.  There was a public screen in Real Time where anyone could submit but it was not integrated and none of the artists conversed with each other. In that sense it was conventional single author art with no collaboration.

The other thing is that the videos in Real Time are not disposable. They are still precious, special kinds of art objects in some way. This is hard to shake. I’ve recently been thinking of mobile media in a more disposable sense, where what is created has meaning in a particular context and location, in a social graph and networked conversation. I plan to explore this idea further in future events.