Scanning the World
MILWAUKEE-BASED ARTIST CHALLENGES HOW HUMANS RESPOND TO THEIR ENVIRONMENT
BY ROCHELLE MELANDER | PHOTOGRAPHY BY MATT HAAS
To call Nathaniel Stern a Renaissance man might be an understatement. An associate professor of art and design in the Peck School of the Arts at UW-Milwaukee, Stern is a Fulbright grantee, published author and TED Talk speaker; his artwork has been exhibited in galleries and museums worldwide, and he’s on the forefront of using scanner imaging photography. Stern is also the co-founder and core team member of the UWM Student Startup Challenge and the Lubar Center for Entrepreneurship, along with Dr. Ilya Avdeev, UWM assistant professor of mechanical engineering, and Brian Thompson, president of the UWM Research Foundation.
In viewing Stern’s vast expertise and interests, a common theme emerges: interaction. He wants people who view his art and the entrepreneurs he coaches to think about who they are, who they can be, and how they relate to the world and one another. As he said at the conclusion of his TED Talk, “Think about the kinds of relationships and environments we’d have, if we thought more about the relationships and environments we have.”
Stern did just that when he created his stunning visual images, playing with how our interaction with technology and the world produces beauty. He strapped a desktop scanner, laptop and cus- tom-made battery pack to his body, and then wiggled and jumped, capturing images as he moved. The image you see in the gallery might be a result of his breathing, or cracks in the glass, or a fly attracted to the light of the scanner beam. Then, as Stern says, “The dynamism between the three — my body, technology and the landscape — is transformed into beautiful and quirky renderings, which are then produced as archival prints.” Stern’s visual images were displayed most recently at the Tory Folliard Gallery this past summer during Gallery Night and Day. (Tory Folliard represents Stern’s artwork in the Midwest.)
Perhaps the best way to understand Stern’s work is to participate in his interactive art. Stern has hacked full-bodied gaming control- lers so that viewers trigger animation, spoken words and more by moving their bodies. In a sense, the interaction between the viewer and the technology creates the art. For example, in “Stuttering,” the viewer’s movement produces words on a screen. Move slowly, and a few words appear, spouting zen-like wisdom: “Take a deep breath.” “Read.” “Consciousness.” Move quickly, and the screen stutters, lighting up with a cacophony of phrases. But as with everything Stern makes, the art is more than just art. “I like to think that ‘Stuttering’ helps us practice listening and performing in the world with a little more care,” he says.
Stern witnessed this firsthand when all four of his interactive works were displayed, alongside the work of Tegan Bristow, in a show called “Meaning Motion” at the Wits Art Museum in Johannesburg, South Africa. He watched people move from one interactive exhibit to another, sometimes stopping to teach a friend or stranger how to interact with the art. At “Elicit,” a piece in which every movement evokes a sea of text, he watched viewers silently invite each other to dance. “Their relationships to each other and themselves and the art shift, and they leave that space thinking, moving and interacting differently,” Stern says.
Milwaukee residents can interact with these works when “Body Language” is shown this November and December at the INOVA gallery at UWM’s Peck School of the Arts.
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Neural Magazine, M Magazine, engadget, NY Arts Magazine, Shepherd Express
Ecological aesthetics: thinking trees and Goods for Me
by Nathaniel Stern
Published July 2016 in Critical Arts: South-North Cultural and Media Studies
People and peoples are always in process with the world around us; we are only a small part of intricate, complicated and ongoing systems; we are always more than the boundaries of what we know, or feel, or make. ‘Ecological aesthetics: thinking trees and Goods for Me’ argues that an ‘ecological aesthetics’ is surfacing in contemporary art, which makes such linkages felt. The best of this work amplifies who and how we are, together with all of matter, and more importantly how we could be. This work can and should be experienced, practised and studied through the ecologies at play in and around that work, be they material, conceptual, environmental, personal, social, economic and/or otherwise. The article more specifically thinks with some of the work of South African artist Sean Slemon, which manifests a politics of movement, potential and composition outside standard human perception. It narrativises, through one artwork, our experience and practice of complex systems and forces. Here every-thing is continuously emergent with its conceptual-material environments, is part of continuously moving and changing assemblages. Ultimately, an ecological aesthetics calls for rethinking human and non-human relations as always mattering, always affecting, always political – together.
Other related texts: Critical Point of View, Critical Mass, Wikipedia and the Politics of Openness, Thought in the Act, Furtherfield
Image from Scott Snibbe’s Deep Walls, featured in my chapter, Stern Nathaniel. ‘Interactive Art: Interventions in/to Process.’ A Companion to Digital Art. Ed. Christiane Paul. Malden: Wiley-Blackwell (Blackwell Companions to Art History), 2016.
Digital art is a complex and vibrantly dynamic form whose diversity reflects the exponential growth curve in computing power. This new companion to the genre gives readers an inclusive, in-depth understanding of digital art, covering its history and evolution, aesthetics, and politics, as well as its often turbulent relationships with established institutions. The volume provides a platform for the most influential voices shaping the current discourse surrounding digital art. Their nuanced insights afford a robust and coherent appreciation of the current state of the field – and the possible paths its future development may follow.
Combining the seasoned perspectives of leading international experts with fresh work by emerging scholars, the companion tackles key issues in digital art. It showcases critical and theoretical approaches from across the spectrum, taking in art-historical, philosophical, political, and gendered perspectives, among many others. The volume also covers digital art’s primary practical challenges – how to present, document, and preserve pieces that could be erased forever by rapidly accelerating technological obsolescence. Up-to-date, forward-looking, and critically reflective, this authoritative new collection is informed throughout by a deep appreciation of the technical intricacies of digital art.
Editor: Christiane Paul
Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell, Blackwell Companions to Art History
Date of Publication: May 2016
Order this book from Amazon.com
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Cover image: detail from Weather Patterns: the smell of red (2014).
Author: Erin Manning
Publisher: Duke University Press
Date of Publication: June 2016
Order this book from Amazon.com
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with Bonnie North on Lake Effect
Artist Nathaniel Stern speaks with Lake Effect’s Bonnie North about his use of scanners to create beautiful images.
Nathaniel Stern’s intensity is palpable. The media artist always has multiple bodies of work going on simultaneously, he’s a Fulbright scholar, a professor of art, a parent. Talking with him, you get the impression he never stops thinking about, or exploring, art and life.
Stern’s current exhibition at the Museum of Wisconsin Art in West Bend is called Giverny of the Midwest. The work has had previous exhibitions in Johannesburg, South Africa and London, but this is its first stop in the United States. The scans are a nod and homage to the Impressionist painter Claude Monet…if Monet were painting his lilies while immersed in the pond rather than sitting on its banks.
Nathaniel Stern, detail, Giverny of the Midwest, Digital print installation, 2011, Lent by the Tory Folliard GalleryCredit: Musem of Wisconsin Art.
The work is technological, thought-provoking and unexpected. And although his work has been compared to photography, Stern would disagree. “It’s probably closer to print making.” He continues that as opposed to the objective distancing you get in photography, “where you’re looking through [a] lens and seeing what you’re capturing, (with this work) it’s more that you’re on top of or a part of your medium,” says Stern.
When he isn’t scanning his environment, Stern is an Associate Professor of Art and Design in Peck School of the Arts at the UW – Milwaukee.
Other related texts: MKE Journal Sentinel, WORT fm, Die Beeld, WORT fm, Sunday Independent
Nathaniel Stern’s “Giverny of the Midwest” makes U.S. debut
This article by Rafael Francisco Salas appeared in both online and print editions of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Claude Monet was in his 80s when he painted his way into eternity with a 42-foot long triptych, “Reflections of Clouds on the Water-Lily Pond,” famously hanging at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and created in the artist’s aquatic gardens in Giverny, France. Many believe that painting as an art form did not catch up with Monet’s water lily works, which numbered in the hundreds, until the Abstract Expressionists came along a generation later.
Artist Nathaniel Stern, who grew up in New York and knows the MoMA triptych intimately, has used Monet’s artistic cataclysm and deconstructed it into a similarly scaled artwork. Exhibited internationally, his “Giverny of the Midwest” is being shown in the U.S. for the first time at the Museum of Wisconsin Art.
Stern does not try to overtake Monet’s masterpiece but rather makes quotations from it and reinvigorates the debates it spawned. Is realism an image or an emotion? Is an object more important than the light that reflects off of it? When is a painted mark a water lily or simply a daub of painted material?
Stern’s work is not a painting. Rather, it’s a performative series of photographic scans printed on watercolor paper. The artist strapped a high resolution scanner and battery pack to his body and began capturing the elements of a lily pond in Indiana by mucking about in it and scanning plants, water formations, earth and sky. The pieces are hung in an grid formation, further expanding the notion of deconstruction. The images are still, but describe his process of documentation, which was often in motion. We see imagery pulled into swimming tendrils as he moved the scanner through water or over an insect’s body. Abstraction and startling realism combine and allow us to experience objects, color and movement all at once. The warping and pulling of the images is filmic and beautiful.
And it is important to note that this work is indeed beautiful. I admit, the process sounded interesting and fun, but I did not expect the results to move me sensually as well as intellectually. Stern does not forget that his subject matter is eminent, and that nature and how we experience it, through digital processes or in paint, has unfathomable potential to excite us. His work resounds with content about how we view the world and through which lenses, whether it be technology or our physical selves.
In the end, I was seduced beyond content. It was the tensions between realism and abstraction that kept confounding my readings of the work. In all honesty I have never seen anything quite like it.
With that said, it is at times difficult to see. The scale of the work requires a distance from it, and the shallow hall where it is hung doesn’t allow the viewer to take it all in. So, while I was able to appreciate smaller moments, an overall view is hard to get at.
Nathaniel Stern’s “Giverny of the Midwest” is on view at the Museum of Wisconsin Art, 205 Veterans Ave., West Bend, through Sept. 6.
Rafael Francisco Salas is a painter, an associate professor of art at Ripon College and a regular Art City contributor.
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The show is a “remixed” extension of an exhibition shown at the International Symposium on Mixed and Augmented Reality 2014 (ISMAR) in Munich. Curated by Furtherfield and mixed reality media artist Julian Stadon, it brings together a number of leading contemporary artists to explore how technology disrupts, enhances and alters the way we live.
On the approach to the gallery, in the McKenzie Pavilion in the heart of Finsbury Park, you’re immediately immersed by the transformation of the walls into lush, teeming images of water lilies; a hacked Monet for the 21st century. Giverny Remediated, by US-based artist Nathaniel Stern, is part of his Compressionism series. Defined by shifting, interactive prints, and inspired by classic Impressionism, the images were captured with uniquely twenty-first century methods — Stern strapped a scanner to his body to capture the blooms.
“I might scan in straight, long lines across tables, tie the scanner around my neck and swing over flowers, do pogo-like gestures over bricks, or just follow the wind over water lilies in a pond,” Stern writes on his website. “The dynamism between my body, technology and the landscape is transformed into beautiful and quirky renderings, which are then produced as archival art objects.”
Water and fluidity as a metaphor for data is a central theme of Stern’s work. As part of Beyond the Interface — London, Stern has also been commissioned to create a brand new installation, Rippling Images of Finsbury Park, a public artwork based in the park’s boating lake. Visitors will be able to download the artworks by public USB installed in the gallery’s walls, using anonymous file-sharing network Dead Drops.
Also in the show, Zach Blas’ Facial Weaponization Suite is an uncanny, disturbing protest against the dehumanising effects of biometric facial technology. The New York-based artist creates “collective masks” from facial data collected by participants in community workshops. These masks — distorted, amorphous blobs, almost resembling chewing gum — erase the recognisable features of the human face, ensuring wearers are unable to be detected by biometric facial scanners. Fusing a cry against government over-surveillance with a sympathy for those frequently pushed to the social margins, Blas’ work is provocative and politically charged.
Also on show is Jennifer Chan’s Grey Matter. The Hong Kong-raised, Chicago-based artist employs videos, gifs and webpages to cast a wry, quizzical look at representations of gender and in modern media culture. In the five-minute video, Chan adopts the persona of a teenage internet user creating her own confessional online diary, using social media — sharing, posting, following — to confront issues of privacy, voyeurism and online identity.
Beyond the Interface — London runs at the Furtherfield Gallery until 21 June, 2015
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Smell like sand has a way of embedding itself into you: your skin, your scalp, the little crevices at the top of your ears, the bottom insides of your shoes reeking of memory. It fills me with an unexpected sense of nostalgia and longing for last night on the beach (the low lights, the laughter, the danger of being discovered and the nearness of you.) Our bodies left slight impressions on the sand.
“I’m always trying to move into the holes,” I hear Erin Manning tell someone I don’t know the night of the opening outside in the yard.
I still smell like cinnamon from upstairs.
Upstairs at Glasshouse, Weather Patterns: The Smell of Red is already at work.
By work, I mean in one way a sharpening of senses. Artists Erin Manning and Nathaniel Stern, with Marcelino Barsi, have expertly if not tendentiously created conditions for the impossibility of being intimately uninvolved. The work seeps into you, dissolves and electrifies.
Tapping into weather as a medium, the installation incorporates sculptural elements including pungent spices and various fans as a proposition to, in their words, co-compose weather. It performs on you; it elicits from you a performance that unfolds.
Weather Patterns: The Smell of Red builds conditions for fluid encounters and intangible exchanges by producing a slipping of spaces and heightened awareness of one’s own body, welling up the state of existing within or having a relationship with time and memory.
Three, dispersed white pillar-like structures extend from floor to ceiling in the gallery upstairs at Glasshouse. Around each base crawls a pile of cinnamon.
The structures are interrupted in the middle with a series of thin, clear tubes placed in a circle, in the middle of which a delicate tornado spins. Its appearance, however, is dependent on the positionality of the observer. Unseen in the bottom cavity of the structure is a water ionizer, and a fan in the top cavity. The combination of the fan pulling air upwards and the perforations in the tubes in a circle causes the air to get pushed around, creating a tornado. If moved towards too suddenly, the tornado dissipates. It eventually re-forms given suitable conditions.
The way in which you position yourself in relation to the structure alters the experience and exchange. Its elusivity and ephemeral nature call attention to the delicacy of the experience and fragility of form. The appearance of the tornado becomes contingent on the bodies around it.
Not to mention the handful of quietly, whirring fans affixed to the walls at varying heights that circulate the air and effect the tornadoes to some extent. Particles of cinnamon fly up into the tornadoes and become skin to the whirling air.
All the while the smell of red becomes skin to the air in the space at large. It’s a retreat back to the lungs, altering you at the level of cells.
They say cinnamon amplifies memory and cognitive function.
Perhaps only felt in the room are sentimental constructions.
Interior and exterior spaces slip between body and atmosphere. A tornado folds in on itself in a series of curves like the surfaces of memory and time. There is a sinuosity, an interface of linings of insides. The installation connotes the precariousness of memory and unstable form. The slipping of space produces orientations meeting on a curve.
A body around the tornado attunes itself to the vanishing of the object.
For it might be said that one cannot experience the installation without seeing the tornado. So the body learns the conditions for an appearance on a plane and, mired in the senses, the process by which you register a thing, perhaps a secret, in the body.
Will you keep it to yourself? Can you hold something there? Where in the body has an interval space opened up?
Form and meaning grow through individual and collective interactions in public space.
Weather Patterns: The Smell of Red materializes conditions for bodies to come together in unexpected ways across becoming mercurial fields. At a certain alignment of body and object, a dancing of the field occurs. The contours of a tornado’s body is an unfurling line folding in on itself around an empty space. It show us how to move into zero, the holes, patterning behaviors.
– Angeli Sion
Weather Patterns: The Smell of Red was co-produced by Erin Manning and Nathaniel Stern with Marcelino Barsi, and curated by Jennifer Johung at Glasshouse in Brooklyn, New York during June 2014.
Other related texts: The Minor Gesture, Incident Magazine, Thought in the Act, NY Daily News, Meaning Motion press
‘Vital Technology’ at MIAD
High-tech fun house of art in motion
By Kat Murrell
Vital Technology” is an exhibition much enjoyed by me and my shadow. If you visit, you’ll see what I mean. Artists Bryan Cera and Nathaniel Stern have put together eight installations in the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design’s Frederick Layton Gallery, which are activated by the viewer through various means of physical interaction. The works synthesize strong visuals, sound and motion in a high-tech funhouse that also proposes questions about the influence of technology in our lives.
About that shadow part: a number of the installations are large-scale projections where the viewer becomes part of the piece. Stroll in front of Cera’s Supercontroller and watch your shadow grab at coins and otherwise jump around in a virtual world that borrows from Super Mario Bros. 3. You have become your own game character and your shadow stretches as you grow in video game strength. It then shrinks and collapses as you meet your demise for not avoiding pesky animated nemeses. Stern’s elicit is a wall projection of flickering text that builds like unreadable poetry, falling in color from blue to purple to paler shades. With a flick of your hand, a letter is bumped and then drifts away. It becomes legible, gaining freedom from the pack, but losing the contextual comfort of its companion language.
Many of the installations have audio tracks, including Supercontroller with its video game pings and rings. The most aurally engaging is Social-Sonic Architecture, #3, a collaboration between the artists and others. It looks like something pieced together from Radio Shack, with a series of speakers wired up on the wall. Say something into the microphone at the end of the line and your processed voice rolls like a wave along the wall, pulsing through the sound system with a strangely fascinating disembodied presence.
The exhibition is designed to elicit reflection on the ability of technology to exert influences on the way we move, speak and otherwise react to our surroundings. In the gallery, the playful novelty nearly supersedes these significant questions, but it is outside the exhibition that one reflects on these quieter notes.
“Vital Technology: Interactive works by Bryan Cera and Nathaniel Stern” continues through Dec. 6 at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, 273 E. Erie St.
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Polaroid Excavations: the Opening of Weather Patterns: The Smell of Red
Angeli Sion for Incident Magazine
Weather Patterns: The Smell of Red, a sensorial and collaborative ecological installation, surfaced to air the proposition of artists Erin Manning and Nathaniel Stern, co-produced with Marcelino Barsi [and curated by Jennifer Johung], to heighten an exchange of the senses in a body that barely registers the arrival of intersensoriality.
Tapping into weather as a medium via architectural and sculptural elements, the installation materialized conditions for bodies to come together in unexpected ways across becoming mercurial fields. The appearance of a tornado becomes contingent on the bodies around it. At a certain alignment of body and object, a dancing of the field occurs.
Coinciding the same evening as the installation were Juliana España Keller’s “Food Gestures“ and Michael Hornblow’s explorations of the infrathin with “OmegaVille”. Keller’s installation of hanging glass terrariums offered food such as almonds, blueberries, dried ginger, and reindeer moss from Quebec in the yard. In its poetic gesture to foraging and the act of reaching and going back to the earth it enacted an exchange of knowledge. Through video and online photo spheres downstairs, Hornblow produced an exchange of perceived space at the interface of insides and outsides, street to gallery, through conflating layers of time.
Although all three installations generated participatory conditions in disparate locations throughout Glasshouse, the long-term art-life-lab project and space of Lital Dotan and Eyal Perry, their undercurrents converged through and across the bodies of those who came the night of the opening, back and forth in loops, transforming the senses.
The following Polaroids mark this dancing of the field between bodies in performing their own mutable states, excisions into inside, outside the image, and material engagement with image-making as one that unfolds over time.
Weather Patterns: The Smell of Red, was a sensorial and collaborative ecological installation, produced by Erin Manning and Nathaniel Stern with Marcelino Barsi, coinciding with installation Food Gestures by Juliana España Keller and OmegaVille by Michael Hornblow the same evening at Glasshouse, June 1, 2014.
See original post in Incident Magazine
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“Every practice is a mode of thought, already in the act. To dance: a thinking in movement. To paint: a thinking through color. To perceive in the everyday: a thinking of the world’s varied ways of affording itself.” —from Thought in the Act
Title: Thought in the Act: Passages in the Ecology of Experience
Author: Erin Manning and Brian Massumi
Publisher: University Of Minnesota Press
Date of Publication: May 2014
Order this book from Amazon.com
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The 8’oclock Buzz: Frankensteined Scanners Under the Sea
Last time the Monday Buzz talked with Milwaukee artist, Nathaniel Stern, he was sending tweets into space and subverting Wikipedia for his own nefarious artistic ends. Now, he’s jerry-rigging flatbed scanners for high-resolution, time-shifting underwater duty. Listen as Nathaniel explains to host Brian Standing how to turn a flat imager into a self-contained scuba camera, the philosophical nature of an image, and more.
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Meaning Motion was a duo exhibition (with Tegan Bristow) of interactive art, at the Wits Art Museum in Johannesburg, South Africa, June – August 2013. It took up two floors of the museum, and featured 8 installations of work, including the international premiere of Stern’s scripted, and the first full exhibition of his Body Language suite of work – all with new, updated code.
Body Language (2000 – 2013) is a suite of four interactive works that has us encounter some of the complex relationships between materiality and text. Each piece stages the experience and practice of bodies and language in a different way, enabling in-depth explorations of how they are always implicated across one another. elicit invites viewers to perform the continuity between text and the body; enter effectively asks its participants to investigate how words and activity are inherently entwined; stuttering provokes its performers into exploring the labor and intimacy of embodied listening and communication; and scripted asks us to remember how the activities of writing, the shape and sound of language, are forever a part of the physical world.
Meaning Motion produced two publications, including a Body Language catalog with essay by Charlie Gere, and coincides with a panel on interactive art at the International Symposium on Electronic Art (Australia), and the release of Stern’s book, Interactive Art and Embodiment: The Implicit Body as Performance.
Various press includes:
“The Politics of Meaning and Voice,” in Business Day
“Viewers Make the Art Work,” in the Mail and Guardian
“The Games Artists Play: Performance and Failure” in the Sunday Independent
An interview with Nathaniel Stern on the Morning Buzz, WORTfm in Madison
“Meaning Maker” on Mahala.co.za
An interview with Tegan Bristow on Radio Today, Johannesburg
“Wam set to wow this June,” in the City Buzz, Johannesburg
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Interactive art suite, Catalog and Videos
Title: Body Language / Nathaniel Stern
Essay: Charlie Gere
Design: Andrew McConville
Photos: Nathaniel Stern, Wyatt Tinder, Andrew McConville and Joseph Mougel
Documentation Videos: Nathaniel Stern
Publisher: Nathaniel Stern and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Date of Publication: 2013
ISBN: 978-0-620-56861-6 (print) and 978-0-620-56862-3 (e-book)
Download Body Language as PDF (2.4 mb)
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Impressionism has become so unsexy in the last couple of decades. Well, in art circles, that is. Mostly it’s because this once avant-garde French movement has been embraced with such gusto by the masses. For this reason many overseas public galleries wishing to up the foot traffic in their institutions and assert their relevance to society stage themed shows from this period, or exhibitions by artists connected to it.
The frequency of these impressionism blockbusters has rendered the art from that movement blasé. So it is surprising to find a multi-media artist who embraces what is termed “contemporary practice” to be so captured by the art of Claude Monet and in particular his artwork Water Lilies (1914-1926). As the title suggests they are paintings of the most banal of still life subject matter: tranquil ponds dotted with lilies Monet spied in his garden in Giverny, France.
For Nathanial Stern the radicalism of the impressionist vocabulary hasn’t quite worn off. He returns to it anew with an eye for reinventing it for the digitised era. Like many viewers who have stood in front of Monet’s large scale paintings in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Stern was seduced by the romantic, hazy lens through which Monet depicted this bucolic scene. In his version of Monet’s Water Lilies he has retained the large scale in his triptych Giverny of the Midwest – the pond he studied was in Indiana. Stern was aware scale played an important role in creating an immersive experience for viewers. He deconstructs and then reconstructs Monet’s approach, but this activity is not in service of demystifying, or satirising it, but re-enacting a moment in art history using digital media.
“Immersion” and “deconstruction” inform this body of work and Stern’s mode of documenting reality, which involves an HP scanner harnessed around his neck as he wades through the pond. Put plainly, he scans his subject matter. Because he does not remain static while doing this he generates images that appear life-like, but distorted. Not too unlike the kind of distortion reality undergoes under Monet’s heightened gaze, which amplifies the physical and sensual properties of his interest.
Just as Monet realised a purely figurative rendering of organic life doesn’t quite relay the physical experience or weight of reality, so does Stern recognise a straight life-like scan won’t do so either. Stern’s proximity to his subject matter facilitates a level of abstraction before he has even begun his process of “decompression”, which involves undoing the compression of the image. He is so close to his subject matter he doesn’t necessarily observe it, but is immersed in it. Because of this the view is distorted. It is a bit like putting the lens of a camera right up against that which is to be photographed.
Physical distance is a prerequisite for representation. Stern’s approach challenges this idea for not only is he immersed in his subject matter, but ironically he equips himself with a gadget that has no view-finder so he is unable to see the images he is capturing. As a result he records while not being trapped by, or implicated in, the act of recording. Thus representation is separated from seeing, it becomes an intuitive act of another kind.
This, of course, is the antithesis of the effect digital mediums have had on a society which has become more consumed with the act of documenting life that reality is viewed through a lens. In this way Stern succeeds in achieving what Monet never could: he is able to exist in a moment without the burden of reconstructing it. For this reason he is a participant rather than a detached observer. Stern is able to produce images that relay so much detail, like a insect caught in a petal or the veins of a leaf. These details might have evaded his detection despite his proximity and immersion. This suggests he was unable to fully appreciate the scene in its totality. In this way the full weight of reality is always withheld.
It is only in the processing of his scanned images, in which he stretches them out, that another encounter with his subject matter becomes possible. This encounter is obviously subject to his manipulation; he heightens the colours and decompresses the images to such a point that they are abstracted.
Stern doesn’t present one cohesive view of the pond, but a plethora of cropped details of it. The images are pieced together to form three larger “canvases”. They need to be scrutinised up close, where you can spy traces of the submersion of his physical being in the work – denoted by finger prints.
These works are excessively beautiful and compel immersion. Viewing them is a time-demanding exercise, which defies our usual consumption of imagery. This is exacerbated by the number of small canvases one must view, which appear like pieces of a puzzle even though they do not fit together to create a complete image. These are fragments of reality. Stern suggests a scene cannot be relayed in its entirety, so despite his reverence he challenges Monet’s work. Stern doesn’t order the visual world; he casts his garden pond scene as an indeterminate one that exists beyond the boundaries of any frame.
*Giverny of the Midwest has been on show at the Art on Paper Gallery in Joburg.
Other related texts: NPR / WUWM, MKE Journal Sentinel, WIRED, Live Out Loud, WIRED
THREE 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.
Other related texts: Imperica, Enfield Independent, The Huffington Post, Two Coats of Paint, WORT fm
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.
Other related texts: Imperica, Furtherfield, Wall Street Journal, WORT fm, Money Not Art
‘Strange Vegetation’ blooms at Villa Terrace
by Judith Ann Moriarty
It took 50 men to create the 24 panels of wallpaper using a Napoleonic-era technique, more than 1,500 wooden plates and 192 colors. It had to be done “by hand,” it was thought at the time. Any mechanical assistance would have made this faux scene somehow inauthentic.
So, fantasies of fictional landscapes and bygone periods co-mingle in this space, the Renaissance-era architectural style, the early 19th century interior design traditions and the early 20th century recreations, now themselves open to nostalgic fixation. And this ricochet of centuries is happening, let’s not forget, in a
Times, they are a changin’ at the Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum. Curator Martha Monroe, who arrived in 2009 and has since orchestrated seven exhibitions, has again met and conquered a challenge.
In this case, that challenge is transforming the staid Zuber Gallery on floor two into a room filled with latex forms given life via computers. Did you ever in your wildest dreams imagine that anything could actually work with the lush wallpaper jungle in the Zuber?
The installation lives. It breathes and responds to changes in temperature and light. Within the walls of the 1923 mansion at 2220 N. Terrace Avenue, the evolution begins June 8 and ends on July 24.
Okay, now think about a weird-o plant from a cheesy 50’s sci-fi flick, perhaps The Thing. Then consider Strange Vegetation, which indeed recalls those far-out funky flicks from fifty plus years ago. Blame it on two from the wild side: Yevgeniya Kaganovich, Associate Professor of Art and Design at UW-Milwaukee, and her sidekick in brilliant madness, Nathaniel Stern. It sure beats studying the designs on the wallpaper, but the wallpaper is the catalyst and symbiosis is the point. A few years back, Milwaukee Magazine touted Kaganovich as a local who would make a difference in this town. Stern’s CV reads like a fine novel of global proportions. What a match.
East and below floor two, The Renaissance Garden writhes with vegetation, a perfect fit with what’s lurking above…. On Thursday, June 16, from 7-8:30 p.m., Jennifer Johung, Assistant Professor of Art History at UW-Milwaukee, will talk about the installation and architectural symbiosis. Echoing through time are the footsteps of architect David Adler, who brought the building to fruition…. Thanks to Ms. Monroe, the visionary board and talented artists, the Allis and the Villa are in step with this world.
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