Happy New Year, Everyone! I apologize for the minimal posting of late. Aside from the obvious holiday season, my son Julian was just 4 weeks old on Sunday – so I have literally had my hands full quite a bit over the last while (usually full with baby). Things will pick up again, if slowly, as we get into a routine… Here’s my first in a while: a Briefiew of the Art and Tech exhibition at VAR Gallery, Milwaukee, at which – disclaimer – Jessica Meuninck-Ganger and I have a few of our collaborative pieces.
It seems a bit dated and broad to call an exhibition, simply, “Art and Tech” in the year 2018, and yet the content and context of this show give it an edge that is both genuine and enlightening.
First: context. The artist-curators, Becky Yoshikane and Cristina Ossers, are both graduates of the once-quite-large but now-defunct Interdisciplinary Arts and Technology program at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and every single artist exhibiting has either taught within, guest spoken at, or graduated (or, in two cases, at least taken classes) from, that same program. And more than half of them have exhibited, and received press, internationally for that work.
Given its success (and there’s plenty of it, if you look at its graduates), what does it say that this program no longer exists? Is it because of the overly territorial environment of academia, amplified by cuts, cuts, and more cuts? Is it that creative uses of technology are now seen as more suited to design, business, or engineering programs? Could it be that technology has become so integral to all forms of art that it need not be its own major any longer? But what does that mean for the discourses of the digital, or for more advanced skillsets that require faculty and labs, like programming, electronics, and fabrication? These questions are part of the overarching background to the show.
More than anything, however, Art and Tech seems to be placing Milwaukee’s computer fine arts scene – which, on this show alone, includes some of the progenitors behind the world’s largest Maker Faire, a coder behind one of the most popular “expensive” ($30) music-making apps, highly-regarded fellowship, grant, and residency winners, and teachers from across the continent – within both a local and global context of thoughts and thinkings-with Art, Media, and Social Change. How do we interact between the digital, selfhood, consumption, data, projection, play, community, and more? Technology and Art/Culture, I constantly remind my students, are never separate. And at the present moment: all studio practices are digital studio practices; all cultural practices are digital cultural practices. And we need much broader and deeper explorations here, also asking how, why, and where we explore, together. And Milwaukee is one hub for precisely this.
The whole show is worth your time, to be sure, but here are a few of my favorite highlights…
Scott Kildall’s Strewn Fields mine (pun intended) impact data from Earth-bound meteorites, and transduces these numbers into mappings for a high-pressure waterjet / cutting machine, which then carves into rock, producing new forms. Kildall calls the pieces from this series “data-visualizations” on his web site, but they are so much more than that. From stone to stone, marring to marring, I ask, what is lost or gained? How does Earth re-member (that is, embody again), violence, impact, or change? At what scale can we see, touch, and feel, the Earth, its climate, and the wonder that (and how) it simply is? Where do meaning and matter coincide, disperse, reconfigure, and relate/transform? I see all of these questions, and more, in each small tablet. I have been a fan of Kildall’s work for some time – why I chose to collaborate with him on several occasions – and yet I believe these understated sculptures are some of the strongest work I’ve seen from him to date.
Alycia Griesl’s portraits that likely employ either desktop scanners or some form of slit scan imaging are probably the simplest of works on exhibit, yet it is precisely this thinking that shows how far we’ve come in the last decade or two. Whereas prints such as these would be considered high-tech and highly “filtered” in years gone by, we now see them only as emotive, and even recognize the procedure, the lines as moments of time, the colors as relics of the that process.
And Adam Wertel’s kinetic sculpture (I missed the title, but it’s probably something like Drawing Machine, given his other work), sees an occasionally and slowly rotating block of charcoal drawing, building up, and sometimes dripping lines on paper and graphite on the floor… If you sneak behind, you can see the mechanical arm, guess at his use of magnets. Like in Kildall’s case, there’s a kind of deployment of authorship coupled with a purposeful amplification of the agency of mark-making, in both senses of the phrase.
Fred Kaems displays photographs of people interacting with the large 3D printed sculptures he places in public spaces, changing all of people, places, and things, at once. Pete Prodoehl shows his funny and quirky interactive sculptures that make noise and emphasize maker culture itself, “when pushed.” Morehshin Allahyari, who I recently wrote about, displays her Dark Matter (above, video courtesy of the artist and Upfor Gallery), a video of binary-yet-mixed worldwide icons – barbies with guns for arms, playboy bunny scissors, and more. Most interestingly, this video is meant to travel, with NASA, to an international space station.
Works by David Witzling, Kevin Schlei, and Bryan Cera (another recently covered artist), (and, as mentioned, Jessica and me) are also on show, and there will be various other workshops and screenings. Overall, it’s a microcosm of some of the most current explorations in and with digital media, what it is and does and might be, how it thinks and asks us to think.
Art and Tech is on view through February 3rd at Var Gallery.