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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.

Download the mp3 (13mb), or listen to the entire interview about performative printmaking / Compressionism with host Brian Standing:

MKE Journal Sentinel

‘Surfacing’ at Lynden Sculpture Garden
This article by Diane Bacha appeared in both the online and print editions of the MJS

MJS_think-inkJessica Meuninck-Ganger and Nathaniel Stern, colleagues at the Peck School of the Arts, took their kids on a trip to the Milwaukee County Zoo one day and came back with an idea for a collaboration. That was three collaborations ago, and they don’t plan to stop.

I can only imagine the conversation that day at the zoo. I am picturing a continuous loop of ideas and theory interrupted by chatter with the kids and pauses to watch the polar bear play. They would have been two families walking at various paces, passing groups moving in other directions, everyone having different conversations about different things while the animals moved in their enclosures. In the background the sky and clouds had their own rhythm. It’s a familiar scene at one glance, but there’s a lot happening on closer inspection. And that’s the way this collaborative work feels: a layering of experiences, moments, ideas, and intersections that teeter between mundane and complex.

Stern is a video and installation artist and Meuninck-Ganger is a printmaker. Although any description of what they do requires asterisks – their work doesn’t exist in silos – their collaboration draws on those specific disciplines, then veers.

“Surfacing” is their latest installation together, and it’s at the Lynden Sculpture Garden until March 24. In it, Stern and Meuninck-Ganger continue their fascinating exercise in layering printmaking and video one atop the other. Each of the six pieces in the small Lynden gallery is a framed, rear-projected video over which has been laid a translucent editioned print or, in one case, a drawing. The viewer sees a static black picture in the foreground and moving, color images in the background. The static image on the skin is taken from a moment or multiple moments occurring in the video beneath.

“Pantograph” uses transportation to convey the idea of layered moments. It’s four minutes in the life of a city intersection where rail, automotive, bicycle and foot traffic converge. The static image is a collection of moments from the traffic – an electric railroad car entering the frame at right, a woman guiding some children at left, a row of automobiles cutting through the middle. As you watch, moving images interact in conflict or harmony with the still image. “Midst” is seemingly less complex: the video depicts a man doing tai-chi exercises on a waterfront, his movements barely visible beneath a woodcut. In this case, a dragon’s form on the static woodcut introduces an element outside the literal. 3-D interpretations of the original woodcut hang on each side of the framed piece. Still more layers.

Other pieces depict a bowling ball striking pins, the Allen-Bradley clock tower, another street scene, and two seated subway-car passengers with their backs to each other. The video loops range in time from 15 seconds to 5 minutes.

Where Stern’s video ends and Meuninck-Ganger’s printmaking begins is fuzzy, since the two have traded off roles depending on the piece. They want to blur the lines between individual contributions and also between the two media. The image applied to the video gives the video a new meaning, and vice-versa. Each is a singular experience – neither video nor print but a distinct hybrid.

Someone viewing this work for the first time might not see it that way. You find yourself fascinated by the technique, so you’re aware of it and you’re trying to figure out its trick – when will the images line up with each other? Is there something I’m supposed to see when it does? Are there other sleights-of-art to watch for? And why was this particular moment chosen as the static image?

Then there is the blending of old media and new and all that’s implied with that. There is the idea of time stopped (perhaps a memory) and time looped (perhaps an obsession). One thinks of the “key block / color block” elements of traditional printmaking. And of the endless possibilities of a particular moment in time, and how few of those possibilities we usually perceive.

What are we to make of these images as a whole? Is it a fable about patience? About being watchful for the beauty in mundane moments? Each piece is different enough in tone, context and even technique that the overall experience doesn’t feel cohesive.

Ultimately, what I found most rewarding with “Surface” was the meditative experience it offered when I let my questions go. It was akin to finding a park bench to watch the world go by. Like most times I’ve spent on a park bench, it takes a while for me to empty my mind and just observe. The rewards come throughout the process, not just at one moment.

Adjacent to the exhibition space, in a porch whose windows overlook the snow-covered sculpture garden, there’s a lovely echo of this experience. The artists have created an installation here by using the windows as a membrane covering the landscape outside. Images drawn on the windows repeat static elements of the landscape in the same way they do on the framed pieces. This time, the movement comes from whatever happens outside randomly, but also from the viewer who changes position to discover visual alignments and misalignments. In a nice interactive touch, the artists have invited visitors to add their own images to the glass.

Meuninck-Ganger and Stern offer up a beautiful opportunity to shift our way of seeing. It is a more conscious way of seeing, to be sure. How often does that happen in the Age of Attention Deficit? The possibilities are exciting.

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M Magazine

Scanning the Artscape
Five artists on the rise in the cream city
by Tory Folliard with Christine Anderson; portraits by Dan Bishop

Milwaukee’s Third Ward has been named one of America’s Top Twelve Art Places 2013, which recognizes neighborhoods in the largest 44 metropolitan areas in the country where the arts are central to the social and economic vibrancy of a neighborhood. Even with a flourishing art scene and a wealth of talented artists — in the Third Ward and beyond — many artists still remain unknown to most Milwaukeeans. Here are five artists to watch chosen by Milwaukee art curators….

nathaniel-lynden

“I believe that art can change what we see and do, and are.”
— Nathaniel Stern
, Milwaukee: Interactive, Installation and Video Art | nathanielstern.com

Giverny of the Midwest (detail) - R5

Curator: Graeme Reid, assistant director of the Museum of Wisconsin Art.
“Stern is one of the most creative, articulate, imaginative artists in the state and, frankly, the country. He should be an international art star. Actually, he is! I can’t think of too many other artists in the state who are building a similar resumé.”

nathaniel stern scanning water lilies

Back Story: The former New Yorker has an impressive resumé of exhibitions and awards from all over the world. (He recently exhibited in January in Johannesburg, South Africa.)

Stern’s interactive art often centers on bodily performances. In his current “Compression” series of prints he straps a laptop and desktop scanner to his body and performs “images into existence.”

Moving his body while he scans the landscape around him, Stern creates images that are later made into prints. He is an associate professor of art and design at the Peck School of the Arts at UW-Milwaukee. His work is on exhibit locally at Lynden Sculpture Garden in a collaborative piece with Jessica Meuninck-Ganger.

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M-Magazinepage74

Sunday Independent

Sunday Independent, Nathaniel SternCreating new Impressions
This article by Mary Corrigall appeared in both the online and print editions of the Sunday Independent

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.

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Printmaking Today

Printmaking Today coverPrintmaking Today article on contemporary practices in South Africa. Covers performative scanner art, and Nathaniel Stern’s work with Jillian Ross at the David Krut Workshop in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Nathaniel Stern / David Krut in Printmaking Today magazine

Nathaniel Stern / David Krut in Printmaking Today magazine

Guardian Unlimited

nathaniel stern: Guardian Unlimited art blog featureCatch of the day: Second Life’s new gallery
Three artists are showcasing their art in a new virtual gallery. But is this really the best place to see their work?

I’ll be honest. My experience of Second Life is fairly limited. Somewhere on Linden Lab’s virtual world, there’s an inert avatar I created, sat fully clothed in someone’s bath. Sorry about that. The door was open and I got a bit tired of people approaching me and trying to turn me into a busty lady, so I sought refuge in the first empty house I found.

But I’m not really the Second Life type. After seeing Wonderland: Virtual Adultery and Cyberspace Love last night on BBC2, I’m quite glad. So you’ll have to forgive me if I’m not as excited as some people about the launch of Ten Cubed, a new art gallery in Second Life, which goes live here today.

The gallery has been developed by Depo Consulting in association withGalleryica. Don’t get me wrong; it all looks very well designed. “Most virtual galleries are like your average website, poorly designed without any sense of optimising a visitor’s experience,” announced Depo CEO and creative director Peter Dunkley. “Ten Cubed has been designed by a professional architect to exploit fully the showcasing opportunities of the virtual medium.”

I’m sure he’s right. The inaugural show features the work of Chris AshleyScott Kildall and Nathaniel Stern, all interesting artists whose use of new technology makes them perfect for this sort of project.

I just don’t get why viewing their work in Second Life is the best place to showcase their work. Dunkley insists the gallery is “perfectly placed to be accessed and visited by business people generally too busy to physically attend art galleries, which should benefit sales”.

Well yes, if you’re the sort of business person who hangs out in Second Life. But after a much publicised credit scam and a run on the virtual bank, the Second Life business model seems to be on shaky ground. And “Second Thoughts on Second Life” editorials have been springing up for over a year now – almost as soon as the mainstream press picked up on it (and about the time my avatar first went for a bath).

So – nice design, nice publicity stunt. It’s made me check out the artists online anyway, via their own websites. Which is the only place I’d even contemplate buying their art.

On The Guardian