Monday, October 18, 2010

Frontline: Digital Nation

Frontline: Digital Nation is a program/documentary on PBS that evaluates the evolution of our technology in this 'Digital Age', mainly focused on the Internet and whether or not it is another step towards progress or a hindrance to us. The documentary begins with the concern of multi-tasking and whether or not it is more effective, but even those who claimed to be 'effective' multi-taskers proved to be hardly efficient. A person performs a task most optimally if focused, without several distractions at once. But in this age, with digital natives rising into the later generations, attention spans are running shorter. Students in schools that allow the use of laptops may be more engaged in lecture if they are met on the same digital plane, but distractions still have to be monitored. People become bored and move on to some other task that's just a click away, like checking for messages on Facebook or playing games. Still, some schools have steered towards using this technology to teach, even if through gaming itself as was demonstrated later in this program, believing that the age of page-turning is coming to an end. Meanwhile the virtual reality Internet is able to provide, such as interactive environment and MMORPGs, is investigated. The matter of whether people are interacting in a detached environment to escape loneliness or being genuinely united with many others is brought to question. In the case of gaming online, it has becoming a public health concern in countries like South Korea, where technology first took its grand hold. This addiction, if one can see it as such, is a likely consequence of these appealing alternate realities. The use of our digital prowess in our military pursuits has been increasing to minimize casualties of war and even to recruit potentials.

When I saw this documentary, I felt mixed in my opinions. Whereas I was capable of understanding the consequences of the Internet and our digital evolution, even able to relate to them, I can also see how this evolution can bring about progress in the way writing and transportation have. Sometimes I feel that I am addicted to technology, since I spend hours on end using my computer or playing video games. I don't use the phone much, but my interest hasn't really been much in the real world, but the many possible worlds one can experience digitally. Oddly enough, I never got into MMORPGs, but I do go on forums where roleplaying takes place in alternate realities. Instead of there being a digital space to navigate, created by some programmer and from his imagination, one can type about the place their characters are in and elaborate in any way they choose. It's like making a big, collaborative novel that no one else is likely to read so it promotes a sense of freedom to what you write. I use technology for escape more often than I use it for communication. I don't send e-mails, I infrequently update Facebook and I don't have Twitter or any of that sort of service, and people yell at me all the time for never getting on AIM or MSN. I'm not sure if I'm a common, uncommon, or rare case. So as much as I think technology is going to be a great big part of our future, I can't help but have my quirks against it.

What seemed to concern me most, or what really stuck, was the marriage of technology and war. What will warefare be like a century from now? The technology isn't just going to stay in one place forever. Whether it happens through leaks of information or take over, all these new advances will eventually be carried on to every corner of the world. How will we fight our battles if our armies never have to leave their countries or stand on battlefronts? And what is it going to do to the psychology of war? I can only imagine the bombs would just have to be carried to the cities themselves. It won't be long until civilian casualties cannot be avoided often enough. If anything intimidates me the most about digital technology, it's the harm it can do when put in the hands of people who kill for a living. But this sort of thing is inevitable. As long as people are being defensive or fighting for a cause, for revenge, or all those other colorful sorts of reasons people get into it, they're going to want to have advantages over their adversaries. Technology often provides that advantage, due to its nature of constantly evolving and its capability of being improved upon.

Even if I tried not to use the computer as often as I do, I'd still need to use it. My family would have a coronary if I didn't get on Skype every Friday to talk to them for an hour or so. It's just too easy to get the images I need for reference online, or to stay updated on events on campus through e-mail, or make blogs for my Fine Arts Thesis class. When I get out of school and get a job, I'm going to need to be well acquainted with this technology anyways.

But it gets in the way when I use it for leisure. I stop working on art and get distracted because it's so easy to do. It provides instant gratification, helps me to forget a lonely life, and it gives me something to do when I'm bored that doesn't require my complete, unadulterated attention.

Among the Inept, Researchers Discover, Ignorance is Bliss

In Erica Goode's article "Among the Inept, Researchers Discover, Ignorance is Bliss", written in 2000, Goode reveals that it was discovered through research that the incompetent people of the world are naturally unaware of how incompetent they are while those that are competent often underrate themselves or have a decent awareness of their ineptitude. Tests were administered to research this claim and they turned up positive results; lower-ranked participants were often drastically overestimating their results while those in the higher percentile often underestimated their competence.

When I read this article, it read a lot like an article out of The Onion, so part of me debates on how true this information is. I don't think I'm completely incompetent, but I don't think I'm anything special either. I'd believe there were plenty of others like myself who felt the same way. I am aware that there are people who often over or underestimate their capabilities, but I don't think someone who is inept could continue being ignorant of their ineptitude for long. Eventually shortcomings ought to be obvious and numerous enough to get noticed.

I did find the bit about humor incompetence amusing, but true. Many of those who think they can tell a good joke and repeat a poor one over and over don't seem to get that they're just not funny. I suffer from that incompetency myself. When I was a kid, I'd repeat a joke I heard a thousand times, often forgetting who I have and haven't told it to and repeating it to the same person by accident. Now I just tell jokes that I could laugh at to people when I want to break the ice, just so I can avoid telling the same ones to them later. Though that doesn't always work either. People have different senses of humor. So does that incompetency in humor apply to any sense? I'm talking about slap-stick, dry, stand-up, etc. There are many different types of humor that appeal to different people. My sense of humor is pretty extensive, but the kind I seem to laugh at the most is pretty dark. Some people wouldn't find it funny at all, but disturbing rather {or they just won't get it because half my references are obscure}.

When I think about it, I believe myself to be incompetent in many ways, but that doesn't make me a competent person for being aware of it. It just means I know my shortcomings so I don't get too cocky about it. And in a way that does prevent a lot of stupid mistakes, but it doesn't make me any more competent.

Would an article like this make an inept person more aware of themselves?
I'm not sure, but I'm a little more self-conscious now. I also remember the bit about our society's attempts to being more acceptable, such as the example given on the polite laugh to a bad joke as opposed to a sincere 'You Stink!". Has our society set itself up for incompetence? Now that would be ironic. It's like the pat on your back your parents give you for making a drawing or the nice things people say about your work in critique because they don't want to hurt your feelings. It's as if this forced sensitivity prevents those who need the feedback, or the naturally inept, from being able to identify their own shortcomings.

I'd hope that I wasn't completely incompetent, because then I could make my work with a slightly clearer conscience. I never seem to be satisfied with what I do and I always think I can do better. Wonder what that makes me...

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Rumsfeld's Unknown Known, or Iraq's Initiation into Democratic Practice

In Slavoj Zizek's article "Rumsfeld's Unknown Known, or Iraq's Initiation into Democratic Practice", Zizek examines the nature of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal and how they relate to true American values. He does not mention Rumsfeld until near the end, when he mentions a quote from Rumsfeld's philosophies on the known and unknown and reveals that he had missed out on the important term of "unknown knowns". He proceeds to relate this to his argument on the prison scandal to prove his point. At the beginning of his article, he recounts on how the Bush administration regarded the acts of torture at Abu Ghraib as isolated crimes that were not indicative of what America stands for for. From there on, Zizek first compares the torture to Western hazing rituals, mentioning the main difference being that in hazing, the person receiving the humiliation or torment is willingly going along in attempts to fit into an exclusive society. He also claims that when he first got hold of the photos, he thought it was a picture of an art exhibit, comparing the staging of the shot to a scene in a David Lynch film or any sort of humiliating publication in some reality show. Zizek then explains how prisoners at Guantanamo were considered to be homo sacer, meaning legally dead though biologically alive. Because they were accidentally surviving combat, they were simply being brought in under a casualty title. This provides a loophole for all sorts of normally illegal activity, allowing any sort of horror to befall these prisoners as it often does. Then he mentions outsourcing, for both economics and torture, to avoid the restrictions of the First World laws to provide cheaper or more effective ways of getting things done, even if health and ecological factors are dropped for the sake of production.

Finally, using the 'unknown knowns' idea that Rumsfeld failed to acknowledge, he explains how the scandal relates to it. Unknown knowns are what we don't know that we know. These are the practices we enact but don't allow ourselves to be aware of. When we outsource, we start to forget what is being done to others for our sake because it becomes easier to ignore, but we're still doing it. No direct orders were ever given to the soldiers to humiliate and torture the prisoners, but the pressure and the opportunities are still present, and like a secret no one talks about, it just happens. The truth is, just like in any society, the American/Western ideal is still underlined with barbarism, even if there's a refusal to acknowledge it. Democratic values are not quite as spotless as they seek to portray themselves.

I don't really have many questions about this article because I was able to agree with the logic and understand the philosophy around it. I even knew of the 'known and unknown' factors before I read this, so as I read Rumsfeld's quote I knew he was missing the fourth, which is just as important as the other three and can be just as dangerous to be unaware of. The article seemed to be in defense of that fourth forgotten term. If I have one question in mind, it's how this article has to do with art. Or how it has to do with artists in general. When David Lynch was mentioned I thought I was on to something, but his work was only used to compare to the photos taken of Abu Ghraib. Is the purpose of this article to help us think about knowns and unknowns when we make our art? Is it to help us understand what sort of underlying 'inhumanities' exist in humanity so we can make work that exploits it? Because obviously all those television programs with excessive violence really catch attention. I know for a fact that most kids rather watch cartoons with violence than the wishy-washy children's shows that try their hardest to be informative and fun, minus the violence. People are just attracted to that sort of emotional outlet because, like sex, violence is a way of releasing our deepest and strongest emotions and that release often brings about a feeling of satisfaction, like throwing down some heavy baggage you've been carrying about for too long. Though, due to our society and the portrayal of what is 'humane', most violence is followed by an insincere sense of guilt, or sincere if there are consequences towards yourself.

Because I don't know how this article applies to art in general, I don't know how it applies to my art. There are no unknown knowns that I can think about existing within it. If I had to choose however, I'd have to say my work is more about the known unknown. What we know we don't know. No one knows for sure how the world will end, but it will. Whether it does in our lifetime or in millions of years from now, it will. Some people believe they know when it will end, firmly so, and to them it becomes a known known, in that case. But from my perspective, it's the former.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Sound of Music, Central Station Antwerp

Can I start with questions this time?

-Why is this so awesome?
-Why can't this happen more often?
-You know they've done this in Japan for a few years? {More of an informative statement}
-Can this be art?


I've seen this video before, about a few months ago. ^^ <--{Happiness}

It's a clip of a stunt used to promote a Belgian television show in which they've got about 200 dancers {after only 2 rehearsals} to dance in the middle of a somewhat busy Central Station in Antwerp. It starts with the music suddenly playing on the speakers and one man dancing to the music in the center of the station floor about fifteen seconds into the song. Then slowly, out of the works, more people join him. It starts to look as if life suddenly turned into a musical.

When I first saw this, I was actually giggling with happiness. I would have loved to have a chance to do something like that. It's the sort of thing that would probably put a smile on anyone's face, even just a smirk. Before I saw this video for the first time, I had actually watched a few stunts in Japan done by some die-hard Anime fans. When I see these kinds of videos, I sort of wish life was like that {but then quickly realize how fast it would get annoying}.

I'm not sure how this applies to my work. I don't even have any performance pieces. Or joy. Or dancing. I've got music. Maybe that's how it can...sort of...relate. My subject's not really the most sunshiney type of subject there is out there. O.o <---{My bewilderment}

But that doesn't stop stunts like these from being awesome.

So these are called flash mobs, by the way, and they don't have to be musical. Get a load of this one:

Hint: Now the real goal is to look for Carmen Sandiego.

Zizek on Crossdressing to the Sound of Music

We were asked to write about the small article by Ben Atlas and the video clip taken of Slavoj's commentary on role-reversals in The Sound of Music. While Atlas seems to be making sense of the clip, he explains that it is easy to extract a mirror image of the Jews in the Nazis, because Nazis believed that Jews were the dominate majority and they had control of all European culture and politics. So as a result, because they wanted all that, they decided to go ahead and shoot for that.

If you can believe it, I wasn't totally buying this. Anyhow...

In the clip, Zizek explains that in The Sound of Music, the Austrians that are resisting the Nazi occupation are depicted as anti-intellectual fascists while the Nazis are not only soldiers, but managers and high-society sorts that reflect more cosmopolitan values. So the movie instead becomes about the fascist Austrians vs. the sound society of Nazis. Apparently this appeals to our inner fascists or something and that's why it became so popular.

Okay. So I've never seen The Sound of Music. I've heard of it, but until I read this article I had no idea what it was about {I always assumed it was a good musical or something}. So I'm not sure what to say in defense of the movie, but I do know what to say about the mirror-imagining topic in regards to the Nazis. From the standpoint of everyone else aside from the Nazis, everyone in Germany was suffering before World War II. Even the 'cosmopolitan, dominating' Jews. So there was no actual role reversal that happened here. But if you think about it from a Nazi's point of view, the Jews were the cause of all strife, so they controlled it, and they themselves became the cause of strife. In that case, you've got yourself a role reversal. So yeah, from a certain slant of light, the group that wore the pants changed places.

What I'm really wondering though, is what does this article/clip have to do with us as artists? Is it supposed to let us know that there are people who will analyze your work that hard? That they'll draw just about any conclusion? And are we really secret fascists? {<-- More of a rhetorical question; I laughed aloud when he claimed we all are.} It just seemed like Zizek might have been looking a little too hard into the movie, but like I said, I've never seen it so I don't know. Maybe the roles were meant to be interpreted as reversed.

In my current body of work, the roles of disasters are many. I already know this as a fact. Disasters don't just destroy; they pave the way for something new, or they change your life for better or worse. There's no heart behind it and it just happens, but what we make of it depends on what we're willing to make of it. Other than that, I have no idea how this all applies to me.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

How Marina Abramovic's Red-Velvet Rope at MoMA Works

Mark Byrne's article on How Marina Abramovic's Red-Velvet Rope at MoMA Works describes the epic wait that guests endure to have a chance at sitting with the artist herself. Apparently by the end of the day, she only really gets to sit with a handful of people, as some sit with her for as long as an hour each. Even so, the people waiting first in line outside the door aren't necessarily the first ones to go. Museum staff, up until the museum's director told the employees that they couldn't take further advantage of the privilege, could get to the front of the line first. Yet even they don't necessarily go first anyhow. If special, VIP guests arrive, they get to skip everyone in line. At one instance to sway the complaints, Abramovic agreed to begin her performance earlier.

What I'm wondering is what could possibly be so prestigious about sitting with Abramovic that people would be willing to wait in eight hour lines to see her? Is the wait itself and the possible interactions that may occur among those waiting in line all part of her piece? Obviously it must have been, because it looks like something one would immediately have trouble overlooking. If she wanted the line to be shorter or to move along faster, she would have set time limits for those that sat with her. Also, what transpires in that space? I'll have to look it up. Is what goes on inside that place any more significant than the journey it takes to get there?

I wouldn't have people wait around to see my work if I could help it. I'm not primarily aimed at making a piece to stir up socialization. I never really had any interest in performance art. I like what is tangible, or what can be seen, smelt, heard, and remembered. I want my pieces to have a presence rather than a moment.

I can see how this relates to the essay on relational aesthetics. Abramovic has control of a very exclusive environment. Those that wait outside are part of the performance just as those on the inside.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Bishop's Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics

In Bishop's Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics, written in 2004, Bishop analyzes Nicolas Bourriaud's theories on the art of the 1990s. Bourriaud claims that the art of the decade is 'relational art', and describes the the goal of this work to bank on human interaction in social context rather than creating an independent space detached from such a thing. Instead of utopian art, this art takes the form of 'microtopias' of the now; instead of dreaming of a better tomorrow, it focuses on making more of today. Tiravanija and Gillick are sited, both creating environments that are boasted as ideal examples of Bourriaud's claim. However, Bishop casts her questions on the structure of this sort of work. The people are interchangeable and the intentions are not clearly defined, as whatever is added to the space before the people are introduced have little importance to the overall structure of the work. It's not always clear as to who the piece is made for or what its aims may be.

She then brings up artists Sierra and Hirshhorn, who don't support Bourriaud's more ideal vision of relational art. While Bishop doesn't downright disagree with the rise of relational art, she argues that the ideal is not the only form it takes.

Could that microtopia be a distopian environment? Does it have to be a comfortable place? One piece that Bishop describes left participants feeling like intruders, which could be close, but it only seemed to me that it was no different from any other reaction-invoking piece. Is distopia too extreme to be considered a relational setting?

At the start of the article, Bishop describes a renovated old pavilion that was left rather bare and un-manicured within. It was against the modern/traditional 'white walls and clean spaces' setting often compared to a laboratory. I found this bit rather interesting, having seen one too many 'white cubes' in the past three years. But is it really a better solution? Just how much does an artist need to be in control of their piece, anyhow? Not only does the content of the piece itself matter, but where it is, the lighting, the interactions, and every little detail you can't quite think of seems to come back and bite you in the ass if you don't catch it. White walls or not, what does it matter? If the gallery setting isn't the place for something to be, then put it somewhere else. If it needs to be in a gallery, then do what you have to to make the work fit.

How does this relate to my work? I'm not entirely sure. To my current work, it hardly relates; I'm a couple of decades behind 'relational art'. My respective 'universe' takes place in its own little space and the people are merely observers. Just as any work, reactions are expected, but I don't make it clear what reaction I'd like to get. I know that I don't have total control of that. I know that not all the stars will be aligned even when I thought I thought every detail out. It would take a month of planning a single piece to cover as many bases as I could. Instead, I'm willing to settle for working my space into the existing one so you might just forget all about the fly on the wall or the guy standing next to you and pay attention.