TEDx talk

“Nathaniel Stern is an awkward artist, teacher and writer, who likes awkward art, students and writing. Stern’s talk, Ecological Aesthetics, discusses tweets in space, scans at the bottom of the sea, interactive installations, and art in virtual worlds – all work about the complex relationships between humans, nature, and politics.”

tedx uwmilwaukee

What is TEDx?

“Imagine a day filled with brilliant speakers, thought-provoking video and mind-blowing conversation. By organizing a TEDx event, you can create a unique gathering in your community that will unleash new ideas, inspire and inform…. A TEDx event is a local gathering where live TED-like talks and videos previously recorded at TED conferences are shared with the community.” – from the TED web site

 

 

Related artworks: Three Mile Meal, Weather Patterns, the odys series, Passing Between, odys for your iPod
Other related texts:
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NPR / WUWM, M Magazine, Gizmodo, Bad At Sports, The Daily Dot

Interactive Art + Embodiment

stern_cover_RGB_front

Interactive Art and Embodiment: The Implicit Body as Performance
An Arts Future Book, published by Gylphi Limited, 2013
ISBN-10: 1780240090 and ISBN-13: 978-1780240091 – paperback
978-1-78024-010-7 – Kindle
978-1-78024-011-4 – EPUB

‘This remarkably readable and passionate text makes important contributions to the discourses of embodiment, perception, and affect in relation to the performativity staged by interactive art. Stern’s “implicit body” framework and the mantra “moving-thinking-feeling” offer insightful and comprehensive tools for grasping the complexity of contemporary aesthetic experience and for imagining future potentials.’ — Dr. Edward A. Shanken, author, Art and Electronic Media

‘In his very intelligent book, Nathaniel Stern shows how dynamics work: he mobilizes a range of theory and practice approaches so as to entangle them into an investigation of interactive art. Stern maps the incipient activity and force of contemporary art practices in a way that importantly remind us that digital culture is far from immaterial. Interactive Art and Embodiment creates situations for thought as action.’ — Dr Jussi Parikka, media theorist, Winchester School of Art, author of Insect Media

‘In Nathaniel Stern’s Interactive Art and Embodiment, Stern develops a provocative and engaging study of how we might take interactive art beyond the question of “what technology can do” to ask how the implicit body of performance is felt-thought through artistic process. What results is an important investigation of art as event (as opposed to art as object) that incites us to make transversal linkages between art and philosophy, inquiring into how practice itself is capable of generating fields of action, affect and occurrence that produce new bodies in motion.’ — Dr Erin Manning, Research Chair and Director of the SenseLab, Concordia University

‘Nathaniel Stern’s book is a marvelous introduction to the thinking and practice of this innovative new media artist, and to the work of others in the same field. Philosophically informed and beautifully written, it is sensitive to the many complex issues involved in making such work.’ — Prof Charlie Gere, Professor of Media Theory and History in the Lancaster Institute for Contemporary Arts, Lancaster University, and author of Digital Culture, Art, Time and Technology, and Community without Community in Digital Culture.

About the book

How do interactive artworks ask us to perform rigorous philosophies of the body?

Nathaniel Stern argues that interactive art suspends and amplifies the ways we experience embodiment – as per-formed, relational, and emergent. He provides many in-depth case studies of contemporary artworks that develop a practice of embodied philosophy, setting a stage to explore how we inter-act and relate with the world. He offers a valuable critical framework for analyzing interactive artworks and what’s at stake in our encounters with them, which can be applied to a wide range of complex and emerging art forms.

In the companion chapter (offered in partnership with Networked Book at Turbulence.org), Stern offers a semi-autobiographical account of his own research trajectory, and invites comment, critique, and contributions of new work. This creates a participatory stage for rehearsing the performance of scholarship.

Interactive Art and Embodiment: The Implicit Body as Performance, by Nathaniel Stern, was released August 2013 as the first in the Arts Future Book series by Gylphi Ltd. Arts Future Book is published and supported by an international editorial board. It represents a substantial practical and theoretical investigation into the future of books about the arts. As a book series it publishes unique works that establish new systems for considering art. Their aim is to explore the relations between the form and content of art books and to exploit new technologies that expand their literal and philosophical capacities. What is a book about art, and what can and should it do? The Arts Future Book project has been explained, modelled (and remodelled) in the open-access journal article/artwork: ‘Is Art History Too Bookish’ by series editor Charlotte Frost.

In its various modes, Interactive Art and Embodiment performs the philosophical environment of interactive art, and embodies Arts Future Book’s investigations into how we can and should perform art scholarship.

buy on Amazon.com

DigiMag

DigiMag: Three GhostsTHREE GHOSTS: “MADE REAL” ALLA FURTHERFIELD GALLERY
This article by Michael Szpakowski appeared in both the online and print editions of digimag, in both English and Italian

Furtherfield Gallery is currently haunted by three ghosts. And the haunting is as stylish as we’ve come to expect there – elegant, carefully disposed and thoroughly good-looking.

The first ghost is the ghost of Marcel Duchamp, summoned by artist Scott Kildall…

The second ghost is the ‘bloody child’ of the epigraph, Kildall and Nathaniel Stern’s now notorious Wikipedia Art. The original work, an attempt to use Wikipedia as, not simply an art platform (misunderstood by many thus; hence: ‘why don’t you start your own Wiki and put your art on that?’) but to embed a generative, or at least multiply-authored work within Wikipedia according to its own rules and logic, was still born or, rather, had its infant brains dashed out on the rocks.

What remains? Acres of print-outs of discussion, ranging from the offensive, dumb and illiterate ones to commentaries you could spend quality time with. A brisk and cheery little introductory video in the lovable puppy-dog tones of Stern the über-enthusiast, with more sober interjections by Kildall, and a show-reel of remixes by others with which Stern and Kildall, with characteristic boldness and generosity, opened out the project.

It’s all gripping, in a museological way, but there’s no doubt that what we are left with are traces, shadows and fragments. Ghosts. It’s the perennial difficulty of representing something essentially performative and, as it turned out, ephemeral – hard to avoid simply documenting. But we can say a few things (and of course one of the interesting things about the project is the huge volume of commentary it has spawned, rendering it eminently capable of being discussed and footnoted on Wikipedia though not, of course, itself flourishing there).

We can say that in a period when the word ‘investigate’ is massively overused in an art context, and usually quite fatuously so, Wikipedia Art genuinely did the job. It uncovered stuff and forced it to the surface, into the light. Like the irritant which begets the pearl, it forced the Wikipedia organism to put on display some truths about its own structure: the cyber-serf labour force, the deeply conservative priesthood of initiates with an ever proliferating set of arcane and bureaucratic rules and a pitifully rudimentary and apparently uncontested notion of what constitutes knowledge. Also – and this needs to be said – idealism, generosity and genuine hurt at perceived mockery, slight or vandalism.

We can say too, that in Kildall and Stern’s attempt to do something that, frankly, looked from the start doomed to failure, there was a beautiful and inspiring utopianism. An act of willing life into being in the face of dullness. Defiance. Something convulsive. And that act of sheer will (something about its heroic, impossibilist quality, made me quote the slogan of 1968, “Sous Les Pavés, La Plage!”, early on in proceedings) in turn shines an unforgiving spotlight back on what is dull, unimaginative and routine.

I suspect in the longer run Wikipedia Art will prove to be about a good deal more than Wikipedia (or at least it will herald it). Artists are often the storm petrels of looming social convulsion and one can see why Wikipedia, familiar to and used by millions, standing Janus faced on the cusp of idealism and cynical routinism, might be an early test case of interesting times to come.

Lastly, the tutelary spirit of Nathaniel Stern’s Given Time is the ghost of Félix González-Torres. In 1991 González-Torres created – assembled – a work, Untitled (Perfect Lovers) in which two battery powered clocks, set initially to the same time, sit side by side, eventually falling out of synchronisation as the batteries fail and they weaken and die at slightly different rates. Stern explicitly acknowledges this as a source (I say source rather than influence; influence is too weak) of Given Time. If it was a piece of music one might call it variation on a theme of. Stern retains the delicacy, tact, grace and indeed ‘deep structure’ of the original piece whilst inserting these into a new context (and this move will have consequences).

Given Time is easy to describe. Two Second Life avatars, projected from machines that are permanently logged in there, ‘hover’ in ‘mid-air’, ‘facing each other’ on opposing screens, such that each ‘figure’ is ‘seen’ through the ‘eyes’ of the other (I’ll stop now – you got the idea). The figures hover, blinking occasionally and from time to time moving vertically, slightly up and down as if subject to a strong breeze, though anchored invisibly.

In the distance, behind each figure, are mountains. Nearer by are reed beds and water. The water does not move, though it reflects the land above it. The mountains behind one avatar are darker and higher than the others, and there is a strong sense of the directionality of the light (and this was the same on the two periods, of an hour or so, I spent with the piece. I gather it is sometimes night.)

For me the overwhelming association of the piece, or at least of its look, is children’s book illustration. I don’t mean it in a slighting way. Some of the most powerful emotions of my life were connected with the explosive impact of relatively banal and schematic illustration, which I had not then learned was a type. Stern’s piece returns me to that childish consciousness. I find myself speculating, in very much the same way as I wondered as a child, what it would be like to live inside a book or what furniture thought, what the two avatars are feeling.

It’s not only González-Torres’ concept Stern honours. González-Torres was interested in found and appropriated objects (often banal, mass produced, indistinguishable multiples) which he imbued with an extraordinarily potent poetry by giving them a twist (not the twist of a thriller or soap opera but a Möbius twist, around a hidden corner) and Stern brings the same intense poetic parsimony to Given Time. The birds that hover and call around the two figures were an off the shelf buy (there’s a wonderful moment during one pass of the bird on the darker screen as it dips behind a distant mountain and we realise its wingspan would be ten yards or more ‘in reality’ to be consistent with what we see).

Second Life itself, of course is off the shelf in the Web 2.0 sense. The reeds which wave in front of each figure’s feet have a curiously of-a-piece awkwardness. However, the two figures are anything but parsimonious in execution – carefully and richly drawn in pastels, graphite and charcoal they have a strong sense both of visual interrelatedness and of individual character. (It will be interesting to see the ‘patina’ that time brings to them. In thirty years I suspect we’ll see them as archetypes of men of about Stern’s age at the end of the noughties… more anchored in time and richer with wear in the same way as the characters in older movies are now).

It is this assemblage quality: the thin, the found, the patched, the borrowed and the luxuriant too, that lends the work much of its power – it sings out that it is a work: a complex weave of inter-related symbols, eye candy, suggestion and reference. Some of it we encompass intellectually, some we feel, some passes us, but not others, by.

Stern claims the work is about (continues) the theme of love, and this is clearly so. However it seems to me the piece is also very much about death. The figures hover there forever (and the upload-our-brains-to-computer crew spring forcefully to mind here) in a setting which is beautiful but finally cyclic and predictable. We go round and round. The slightly jerky movements as the figures deviate from their invisible tethers suggest, if not crucifixion, at the least a kind of imprisonment (perhaps the good old science fiction force-field trope). Again: how would that feel? What do they think? Love they might, for ever and a day, but their immortal stasis takes them further and further away from what it is to be a human being, which is to live and die in time (and which Perfect Lovers expresses so clearly; that piece made shortly after the diagnosis with HIV of his lover, Ross Laycock, five years later González-Torres himself was gone).

In speaking as strongly as it does to our temporality the work allows the spectator – a breathing, pulsing human being, who was born and will die, who has been Given (a little, specific) Time – to experience a sharp and painful beauty that the immortals will never be able to experience. Finally, just to be clear, it should be evident I don’t, of course, believe in the supernatural. The ghosts here are metaphors and, like all metaphors, have their limits. They can help to limn the concrete but never encompass its concreteness (see hauntology for the thing over-shoehorned). I do however believe in enchantment.

Read the article in its entirety

Furtherfield

Interview, video and documentation images were produced for the Furtherfield web site as part of the exhibition Made Real at Furtherfield Gallery in London. Supported by the Arts Council of England.

Networks – social, political, physical and digital – are a defining feature of contemporary life, yet their forms and operations often go unseen and unnoticed. For this exhibition Scott Kildall and Nathaniel Stern, artists and co-founders of Wikipedia Art take these networks as their artistic materials and play-spaces to create artworks about love, power-play and a new social reality.

Three works are shown for the first time in the UK: Wikipedia Art, a collaborative work “made” of dialogue and social activity; Given Time, an Internet artwork that creates a feedback loop across virtual and actual space; and Playing Duchamp, a one-on-one meeting and game between an absent artist and viewer/participant.

Enfield Independent

Trust, trolls and trademarks – Artists suffer for artwork made on Wikipedia
This article by George Nott appeared in both the online and print editions of the Enfield Independent

It’s fair to say Nathaniel Stern and Scott Kildall have suffered for their art…. Since their first collaboration, they’ve been labelled vandals and trolls and suffered personal insults both “nasty and completely untrue”.

“We’re not artists because we want fame, glory and money,” says University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee professor Nathaniel. “We think it’s important stuff for the world, and are willing to invest in it.”

Lucky that, because although their 2009 work, being exhibited for the first time in the UK at the Furtherfield Gallery in Haringey, found them discussed on internet forums in more than 15 languages and profiled by the world’s media – it also cost them a hefty sum in lawyer’s fees…. They met on the internet, in person a year later, and soon began work on Wikipedia Art. At first glance, a straightforward entry on the online encyclopaedia; behind the webpage, says Nathaniel, an “intervention into the power structures behind the most powerful, and most-often used, information resource in the world.”

A quick lesson in the way of Wikipedia. One of the most popular websites in the world, it is closely guarded by eager volunteer editors and a “citation mechanism” which means all entries must be cited by a mainstream source.

“However, these ‘notable’ media sources often siphon their facts directly from Wikipedia,” explains Scott, “creating a problem of there being no original source.”

A feedback loop of misinformation the pair pounced upon. Before their page was launched it was written about by their media friends in various publications. Wikipedia’s safeguard had been sidestepped. And the trouble began.

A war of words broke out between Wikipedia’s editors. They were outraged, they’d been duped. The page was deleted within 15 hours.

And it wasn’t long before the lawyers started circling with talk of copyright infringement and trademarks.

“We felt they proved our point for us,” says Nathaniel. “Behind Wikipedia are powerful individuals with agendas and flaws and mood swings, even in their commendable efforts to disperse information widely.”

Think of it… as an “art intervention” [Nathaniel] says, defined (by Wikipedia, who else?) as “art which enters a situation outside the art world in an attempt to change the existing conditions there”…. Art, activism or both, the work continues to change. Just by mentioning it, this very article becomes part of Wikipedia Art’s existence and history, the author now too a collaborator….

“Thanks to this work,” explains Nathaniel, “far more people than ever before are aware of how Wikipedia and its surrounding community function, and thus tend to look at it with a more critical eye when using it….

The piece, in a physical form made up of legal letters, scrolls of online debates, media coverage and the reactive work of other artists, is at the Furtherfield Gallery, Ashfield Road, with some of Nathaniel and Scott’s individual works until June 25.

Judge it in person for yourself – because you won’t find it on you know where.

read all of Trust, trolls and trademarks – Artists suffer for artwork made on Wikipedia

Imperica

In conversation with… Scott Kildall and Nathaniel Stern
by Paul Squires

In 2009, an article was published to Wikipedia, called “Wikipedia Art”. To substantiate its publication, several articles were simultaneously published and cited. In the following few hours, the article was fiercely debated on Wikipedia, and eventually deleted; legal wrangling followed, with specific reference to the use of the term “Wikipedia”.

The work, by Scott Kildall and Nathaniel Stern, was selected for exhibition at the Venice Bienalle that year, and is now on display as part of “Made Real” at the Furtherfield Gallery in London. We caught up with Scott and Nathaniel, to get a first-hand account of the work, and the culture of Wikipedia.

NS: Wikipedia Art was really two projects. On one hand, it was this beautiful found object that anyone can edit. On the other, it was attempting to be an intervention into the hierarchy, the power structure behind Wikipedia, in order to bring it to the surface, and to make people aware of it.

We still love Wikipedia. We still both contribute to it and we still think that it’s a good thing, but we wanted to make a critical work and not in the sense of negativity, but in the sense of critical analysis. We want people to be aware of what’s behind that system.

When we made it, we thought “Oh, this would be a fun little thing”. We knew that there was going to be a big debate on Wikipedia. We figured that there would be the 15-hour deletion, with the scrolls of discussions. But, the fact that it went straight to the top… Jimmy Wales calling us names. Mike Godwin fighting with our lawyers…

SK: … and the threatened lawsuit. That’s when it got interesting. A lot of people felt territorial: almost as if we had got inside their house and peed on the wall. We had trespassed.

read all of In conversation with… Scott Kildall and Nathaniel Stern

Bad At Sports

Bad at Sports Episode 244: Nathaniel Stern
by Duncan MacKenzie

“Bad at Sports is a weekly podcast produced in Chicago that features artists talking about art and the community that makes, reviews and critiques it. Shows are usually posted each weekend and can be listened to on any computer with an internet connection and speakers or headphones.”

This audio interview (available streaming from the site, or as a download to your computer or mp3 player) begins with Nathaniel Stern rapping a bit of Beastie Boys / Q-Tip, and quickly degrades to him lovingly poking fun at his dad. It’s actually a great interview, where you can hear some off the cuff chatting with Duncan MacKenzie about hektor.netDistill LifeCompressionismWikipedia Art,Given TimeDoin’ my part to lighten the load, and more. It’s good fun, with lots of tangential stories and jokes, and many mentions of good friends and colleagues. Enjoy!

listen to or download interview on B@S

N Adams Transcript

north adams transcriptVirtual world crosses over to our own
This article by John E. Mitchell appeared in both the online and print editions of the North Adams Transcirpt.

ADAMS — Artist Nathaniel Stern likes to take media from the past and present and put them together without compromising the integrity of either, revealing them to be equal in artistic expression.

Stern’s show, “Arrested Time” — featuring work with collaborator Jessica Meuninck-Ganger — opens at Greylock Arts, 93 Summer St., tonight with a reception at 5:30. UPDATE: Due to a snow storm, the reception has been postponed until Saturday at 5:30. The show will feature two works — the large-scale installation “Given Time,” alongside some derivative work, and a collection of the self-described “monovids” done as part of an ongoing collaboration with Meuninck-Ganger.

“Given Time” is a screen projection featuring two life-sized avatars derived from the Internet community Second Life. This virtual space takes social networking like Facebook to a whole other level. Rather than being in the form of posting boards and messages, Second Life is like a freeform computer game in which the point of the play is to inhabit the space and get to know others around you.

Each member is represented in the three-dimensional screen world by a computer figure – an avatar – that is customized to his or her own desires based on templates supplied by Second Life. The service is the closest thing we have to a known parallel universe that we can perceive physically, rather than the more abstract psychological spaces provided by Web sites like Facebook.

Stern has used Second Life as a medium much like oil paint or marble, hand-drawing two Second Life avatars and pulling them from out of their universe and into ours. In the gallery, they exist on two large screens facing each other, and the viewer may only encounter them by walking between the screens. Thus the figures become actual existing beings in our own dimensional plane.

“Second Life became the perfect environment to situate this piece in, in that there is no time; there is no body, and yet you cannot access this space without a body,” Stern said during an interview this week. “There is no avatar without a person actually sitting there. Here, the viewer lends their body to the piece, and they become the avatar – and there’s this feedback loop where the avatar we’re looking at we’re only seeing through the other avatar’s eyes.”

The result comes from the culmination of Stern’s physical artistic efforts, combined with the more difficult realm of computer coding.

“I imagined the avatars to be very visceral and older and not as beautiful as they are,” Stern said. “The problem was that when I sketched that out, people didn’t recognize it as Second Life, and so what I wound up doing was basing it on actual avatars in Second Life and drawing on those so they still had the shape and the pretty-boy aspects, and they were recognized as being in a virtual space while still being hand-drawn.”

He added, “Making those hand-drawn elements was very difficult to figure out how to do it and put it on an avatar – making an avatar translucent actually isn’t possible in Second Life, so we had to find a lot of work-arounds in order to accomplish that. Because of those work-arounds, we weren’t able to use the built-in breathing and winking that comes with avatars. We had to hand-write our own scripted animations and introduce histograms and probability factors to make sure the blinking wasn’t perfectly timed and always in the same interval and things like that.”

The technique of building a totally customized figure through Second Life is reliant on a technical understanding of how the figures are structured. Prims are single-part digital objects that are used to create portions of a Second Life figure – for instance, hair – by attaching them to the animated figure.

“What people very often wind up doing – and what we wound up doing – is we actually shrink the avatar down to very small size and make them invisible and then put prims on top of the avatar that are built onto it,” said Stern. “The most complex avatars are actually almost entirely prims – they’re avatars that are tiny and invisible, and you attach things to their body.”

Stern was inspired by Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ work “Untitled (Perfect Lovers),” a minimalist piece that featured two clocks together, slowly winding down to their deaths – it was inspired by news of Gonzales-Torres’ partner’s diagnosis of being HIV-positive.

“Part of the beauty and the devastation, once you find out what these clocks are pointing to, is that they are precisely not anthropomorphized until you know, and then there’s that shift and that visceral wrenching on your stomach,” Stern said. “Once the decision was made to use this medium, then the depth and the layers aren’t going to be the same as they are with ‘Given Time.’ It’s not going to be this amazing shift once you hear this story but rather much softer layers that you slowly dig out to feel it. Hopefully, because of their enveloping experience, that can become more visceral. Rather than seeing two clocks on the wall, you actually enter between two projections.”

Stern’s work with Meuninck-Ganger involves a variation on the practice of monoprints that includes video screens. There are two different types of work in this body. In both, Stern and Meuninck-Ganger created video animations to display in digital photo frames. The variations are that, in one, the team painted directly on the video screen, while in the other, Meuninck-Ganger utilized her skills as a printmaker to create a translucent paper work that is permanently attached to the video screen.

“I had already figured out the technology of which screens were going to work when she started working on the technology of the papers,” Stern said, “but in terms of each work, we usually worked on the video and on the drawing at the same time. Sometimes we would just shoot a video and it would be cool. Sometimes we’d have an idea and would sketch it out, but because of the way things had to line up and decisions about the size of the screens and the size of the plates, everything had to be worked on simultaneously.”

Stern and Meuninck-Ganger use the same video for an ongoing series of their monovids. What distinguishes the works is a different drawing on each, done with Sharpie paint markers right on the video screen.

“The particular video that we’ve been using for this monovid is one I took over the Atlantic Ocean, where you can see the railing of the boat cutting across the screen and then rolling waves behind it,” Stern said. “We’ll sometimes put sea serpents in the water or boats in the water or little fish bowls in the water or swans in the water, and we’ll just draw those right on the screen.”

The other side of the work involves backgrounds for the images on the frames. Stern has used Second Life for this, as well, and this has helped him realize that old technologies are still technologies: It is not out of the question for the old and new to find common ground in order to fabricate an entirely fresh form of art built on varying stages of technology. More importantly to Stern, digital progression does not rule out the more physical arts.

“A lot of people talk to me as if I’m this super tech geek – I am, but just because computers are thought of as a technology, people forget that ink and paper, that kind of stuff, is a technology, too,” he said. “Yes, I sometimes speak over Jessica’s head, but she sometimes speaks over mine. I have no idea what she is doing in that back room.”

It’s in this nexus of the two ends of art technology that a warmth has been created – digital technology has been brought into the human senses and is related as such, emotionally. It’s a huge leap forward in not only the presentation of creativity, but also the harnessing of it – and Stern points out that it’s not unattainable to those from outside its realm; it just takes an effort to use it as a material in an artist’s creative arsenal.

“That’s where our technology is coming now – you can feel it,” Stern said. “It used to be that you couldn’t just feel technology; you had to know how it worked in order to make something interesting; whereas we have this new generation growing up with technology. You can feel what’s working or not. And some people just have to work harder.”

Nathaniel Stern can be found online at nathanielstern.com.


Caption: Stern’s Second Life avatars, Ross and Felix, in their digital environment.

(c) 2010 North Adams Transcript. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of Media NewsGroup, Inc. by NewsBank, Inc.
Record Number: 14475092