Friday, December 31, 2010

Witness the Last Man

Francis vs Bob

2011 is to the future what twenty-two is to adolescence. In the roll call of millennial benchmarks 1999 was thirteen,  the year we finally become teenagers (and we could finally party like it was Prince had promised us we would). Stanley Kubrick made 2001 a far more adult benchmark, it was more akin to a sixteenth birthday, we got our drivers licence, but we were becoming aware that this future/adult thing was happening right now. 2008 turned out to be our like an eighteen,  it was the year we voted (yes we can). 2010 was the year Aurthur C lark promised we would make contact, it was our twenty-one, the final benchmark of our transition to future-present adulthood, and we all needed a drink. 2011 is our twenty-two because that is the first birthday in which there is no great benchmark to look forward to. It's first year of the rest of your life. Welcome to the future, the end of benchmarks, the end of history. It sounds grim, but it actually isn't, it a really good thing.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Art Then Technology (Part 5): Abstract Art Is A Technology.

Fat Bastard: end of third day of installation.
(Return to Part 4)
As a participant in an exhibition of abstract 'generative' art called abstrakt - Abstrakt, I spent nine days installing, and had a lot of time to think about the work of the other artists in the show, most of whom used or addressed the crumbling edge of digital technology, and almost all of whom evoked for me the flatfooted logic of the last great wave of abstract art, 1960s era minimalism. My work is sometimes describes as post-minimalist. I like to describe it as post-Star Wars-minimalism, but not because it's high-tech. My art is not-at-all-crumbling edge; I use no advanced technology, my design and fabrication is entirely analog, but by the time I became aware of abstraction, Modernism had been recast as the Deathstar and destroyed. Abstract artist of my generation are "late-adopters." Late adopter is a term usually reserved for technologies. My decision to take up abstraction in the mid-1990s was because abstraction is not a style, that the difference between abstract art and earlier art is not a difference in quality, it is a difference in kind. But it has only been as I've been thinking about exactly what technology is that it occurred to me that the difference is the difference between a very old technology and a relatively new one.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Art Then Technology (Part 4): Sympathetic Summary

Fat Bastard: end of second day of installation.
(Return to Part 3)

It occurred to me as I was talking to a friend about this series of posts that I had failed to explain how I knew about Kevin Kelly and why I knew to pick up What Technology Wants. I first became aware of Kelly when he wrote a very positive piece about my essay, Star Wars: A New Heap, a couple years ago (that didn't suck at all). Since then I have become addicted to the Longnow seminar series he curates (sorry Joanne) with Stewart Brand. So I had a good sense of who Kelly's intellectual footprint before I picked up his latest book. Kelly is unabashedly pro science and technology. It is a position I find attractive but also makes me squirm. I am at once a believer in the positive long term role of science and technology (I agree with Kelly they give us choices), but deeply ambivalent when it comes to the damage being done by the consumer capitalist economy. I believe terms for contemporary conditions that begin with the "post" or "late" are premature at best, deceptive at worst.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Art Then Technology (Part 3): Hitchhiking in Flatland

Fat Bastard: end of first day of installation (2010)
(Return to Part 2)

When I was 16 I hitchhiked from Chicago to New York during what turned out to be the worst cold-snap to hit the East Coast in 90 years. That sucked. It was an ill advised decision, made on the spur of the moment, by a much different version of myself (he was a bit prettier). In addition to returning home with walking pneumonia, I had developed a very restless thumb. Perhaps because I started riding the Chicago mass transit system in middle school (which was very near Cabrini Greene), traveling among strangers in circumstances most people would find dangerous was old hat. What I discovered on that first trip was that hitchhiking was safer than the 1980s era El. Add to that I was a  bit of a risk taker as a boy. My mother has told me she was relieved that at sixteen I showed so little interest in getting a drivers licence, but she would have much preferred I had done that instead of hitching. I think hitching was a safer choice for me. As it is I didn't get my licence until I was 24. I hitchhiked instead. The reason had nothing to do with risk or driving my ma nuts, I kept at it because I really liked the people I met.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Art Then Technology (Part 2): Turn Off, Tune Out, Drop Back.

Fat Bastard: Initial Condition (three large polystyrene blocks arranged symmetrically)
(Return to Part 1
The relationship between technology and the contemporary art world is a fraught one. While genuine excitement surround projects that use powerful computer programs or novel CNC fabrication techniques and art history can be unrolled as a series of technologies, most historians, curators, collectors and artists are best described as late-adopters, if not out right non-adopters. I myself am a somewhat imperfect example (it's complicated). I began my career by apprenticing myself to a Luddite. The system of master/apprentice is itself a relic of the Middle Ages, it was abandon by the mainstream as form of art education way before the guy I apprenticed to was born - but he was a Luddite, so I lucked out. It turned out to be an ideal pedagogical format for me, not only to learn lost wax plaster investment bronze casting-- a technology that is over 5000 years old--but also a chance to get my bearings in the world. When I began my apprenticeship I was a wastrel truant case from Chicago. I had just barely graduated high-school with a very low D grade point average, that had its beginnings in primary school. College was not an option, and even if it had been, it probably would have been a waste of time and money. As unconventional as it was, my apprenticeship was my first taste of academic success of any kind (I wish I could have started it at 9 instead of 19).

Monday, December 6, 2010

Art Then Technology (Part 1): I Want To Be A Verb

Fat Bastard (2010), 11’ X 14’ X 14’

My favorite essay by my favorite artist is Robert Smithson’s 1969 Towards The Development of an Air Terminal Site. It’s not a piece that gets a lot of attention from academics or other artists - so part of my affection for it is that I have it somewhat to myself. It is a great, if sprawling, totally confounding, think piece loosely dealing with the intersection of art and technology. In it Smithson proposes looking at the relationship of an air terminal and the aircraft it hangs below in order to “find a whole new sets of values.” The existing set of values attached to high technology of flight he wanted to see past were “a rationalism that supposes truths--such as nature, progress, and speed.” In the same essay he suggest looking at a dam construction site as “an abstract work of art that vanishes as it develops.” Each moment, he suggests, is a “discrete stage” in a series. But Smithson admits that that functionless wall will cease being a work of art when it becomes "a utility." (Incidentally, it is the essay that sparked this blog - in it Smithson also uncannily predicts the faceted aerodynamics of the stealth bomber and the crystalline shapes of the space ships in Star Wars. It is a bad-ass piece of writing.)