April 25, 2012

The Armory Show, and a Few Observations

So here, finally, are my photos from the Armory Show 2012 – the "Contemporary" pier only. I saw lots of wonderful work, although I can't say anything totally blew my mind this year, either here or at the other shows seen on this trip; but that may have more to do with my previously perhaps-somewhat-retarded state of understanding of contemporary art, and the fact that art in Dallas may be catching up with the bigger art centers, than with any deficiency in the art on offer in these shows. (In fact, it seemed to me that, on a per capita basis, there may be as much or more great contemporary art being made here as in NYC.)

A few general observations. Admittedly, it may be that what I noticed had a lot to do with the interests I went in with, which lately trend toward big-picture, substantive concerns . . .

1. Complexity. While minimalism gave us (among other things) an appreciation of how much info is actually embedded in or implicated even by sensory fields that appear quite simple, art now seems to reflect our attempt to process how complex our world has become and to come to grips with complexity itself. We're deluged with more info, faster than ever before, and must not only process the individual bits, but try to understand how info in different areas of experience interrelate – how things intersect or are layered, reflected or echoed, how that makes them appear from different points of view, and what kinds of over-arching order can help us interpret and manage them without over-simplifying them, etc. [My apologies that I failed to note the artist or other info re- the work shown at left; if you can enlighten me, please do, and I'll update this post.]

In contemporary art, this seems to me to show up not only in the kinds of juxtapositions of various, often incongruous styles and subject-matters characteristic of post-modernism, but also in the presentation of lots of detail in ways that are very inter-related and layered, both substantively and often in quite literal, physical ways – often while evincing a retained, minimalistic awareness of how much info is actually carried by even the most basic elements within the work. In addition to the image at left, see, e.g., the mobile by Pae White starting here, at the Independent Fair.

Many works that embody or refer to this kind of inter-relatedness, intersection, layering, and/or reflection also seem to me to refer to issues of dimensionality.

2. Multi-Dimensionality. As some of you may be aware, I'm very interested in such questions as: what can exist in which dimensions; how are or might things that extend into higher dimensions be perceived in or otherwise affect things in lower dimensions, and vice versa; what are the relationships among the dimensions themselves; etc.? Art has in the past been concerned with the fundamentals of manufacture and perception; the pendulum's been swinging back, and/or has perhaps now come full circle, to concern itself with metaphysics. (Installation at right: Jonathan Schipper, Slow Room in Miami (2011); a related video shows an even larger roomful of furniture being slowly pulled toward a similar hole in the wall.)

I think of time as the fourth dimension – I understand that's appropriate from a scientific point of view – but in addition to points, lines, planes, spatial volumes, and time, I'm also thinking of, e.g., virtual spaces, such as in imaginative or conceptual, mental realms, or in cyberspace, or in the realm of data generally – the latter three seeming like more or less the same thing. More of us are actually living our lives more and more fully and more collectively in these virtual realms.

One artist dealing with both complexity and dimensionality is Mary Reid Kelley (mentioned in my post on the last Site Santa Fe biennial here), whose b&w videos emulate the look of slightly surreal graphic novels, i.e., 2-D, though obviously shot in 3-D and recorded in 4-D, with titles and settings that literally invoke the imaginative dimensions of ancient myth and somewhat more recent history, and with relatively wordy, rhyming scripts that remind one a bit of epic poems. Dimensionality was also explicitly invoked in the work shown starting here, at the Independent Fair. (Still at left from Kelley's The Syphilis of Sisyphus (2011).)

3. No Monopoly on Truth. There are many aspects of the dimensional inquiry that interest me, but, e.g., the virtual or conceptual realm sometimes seems to exist outside of time and space, even if we can only experience it from within time and space; e.g., clichés seem true at nearly all times, everywhere; ditto math. And my own insights and artistic inspirations sometimes seem to involve not so much my personal creativity as my somehow simply accessing stuff that already existed in some timeless, etheric realm; and I suspect many scientists feel the same way about their discoveries. (Image right and the following two show works by Michael Riedel; see also here et seq.)

Until recently, intellectual property law recognized that, while you can copyright a tangible expression of a fact, or patent a device or process that deploys it, you cannot own the fact itself; in a quite literal sense, no one could have a monopoly on truth, at least not for long. Now, of course, over-reaching extensions of law permit corporations to patent actual gene sequences and lock up inspirations for lifetimes after the artists who expressed them died.

Artists have been exploring these issues for quite a while now, but they remain unresolved and continue in evidence in contemporary works.

Perhaps no one can have a monopoly on truth not only because expressions of it are to some degree relative to particular contexts, but also because there's a sense in which truth "wants to be free" – though we all also want those who provide useful expressions of it to be able to make a living.

And of course, many of the efforts of governments or corporate management to hoard or otherwise control the flow of info seem to many of us tragically wrong-headed at best, and more often than not, as Julian Assange has suggested, evidence of corruption.

As devastating as many of our wars have been, there's perhaps no greater conflict now unfolding than the infowar, the struggle between old and new power structures over who will control access to information (as evidenced in the ongoing efforts to shut down Wikileaks and whistleblowers, promote our reliance on the Cloud, and otherwise control the internet).

These issues seem part of Michael Riedel's concerns in his large images (resembling crosswords and QR-type codes; and consider the actual texts {as usual, click on any of these images for larger/more legible versions}, including the way they were installed (look at their "reflections" in the purple "surface" – something's wrong . . . ).

4. Our Interdependence Within the Virtual World. Other aspects of the virtual that I think we're wrestling with have to do with ways in and the extent to which our "real" lives are being supplanted, absorbed, and consolidated into our virtual lives, and our dependency on one another and on the technologies and organizations that make our virtual lives possible. In "real" life, even though you might not want to live as a total hermit, it can be done, at least in some parts of the world. But our lives in cyberspace can't exist at all without the many other people and organizations that make and maintain the necessary hardware, software, energy sources, etc.

As you can see from the images within this post, some of my favorite works seem to address more than one of the areas mentioned above. With respect to our dependence on "clouds" of other people and technologies, some works deployed literal images of clouds; Leandro Erlich's Cloud Collection (2011) aligned 2-D layers to create clouds, while Philippe Parreno's Marquee, Atlas of Clouds (2012) similarly layered 2-D neon "pages" in a "book" – in both cases, the results could be interpreted either as 3-D but not 4-D or vice-versa; i.e., each complete cloud could represent either a set of 2-D cross-sections of a cloud in one shape in 3-D, all at the same, single instant in time, OR a series of images of a cloud captured in 2-D only but taken over a period of time, as its shape changed. In the case of Parreno's work, of course, the title suggests that what he had in mind was a series of images of different clouds; yet the book format seemed to me nonetheless suggestive of a flip-book, with the possibility that the images might in fact be of one cloud that morphs to become something different at each moment in time.

5. New Media. In another vein, forgive my complaint that, while there's been an explosion of exciting video and other new media work during the last ten years and more, we're still getting to see very little of it. The Armory and the Whitney tried to address the problem by offering seated screenings of compilations of videos. This does not put the videos thus shown on par with works in other media, since the videos were shown just once or, at best, a few times, while works in other media were shown continually for the entire duration of the exhibition. The arrangement seems esp. paltry given that video, by its very nature (≥ 24 FPS, with audio), can encompass more info than works in other media – i.e., good video can require as much or more viewing than works in other media, not less. The Moving Image Fair is commendable; but much more needs to be done.

You can find my posts on the other 8 fairs or shows I saw on this trip (with links to photos) here.

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