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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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Dynamic Stasis

Dynamic Stasis catalogue, Nathaniel Stern + Jessica Meuninck-Ganger

Exhibition Catalogue and Videos

Title: Dynamic Stasis / Nathaniel Stern and Jessica Meuninck-Ganger
Essay: Richard Grusin
Design: Andrew McConville and Jeff Ganger
Photos: Jessica Kaminski
Documentation Videos: Brian James McGuire
Publisher: Gallery AOP, Nathaniel Stern and Jessica Meuninck-Ganger
Date of Publication: 2013
Language: English
ISBN: 978-0-620-55064-2
Download Dynamic Stasis as PDF (6 mb)
Available from Gallery AOP, Johannesburg

Third Coast Digest

Strange Vegetation' blooms at Villa Terrac“Current Tendencies II: Artists from Milwaukee” at the Haggerty
By Kat Murrell

Current Tendencies II: Artists from Milwaukee, newly opened at the Haggerty Museum of Art, is a curated potluck of work by ten Milwaukee-based artists. The pieces on view trend toward large-scale, expansive installations, with some quirky humor and pleasant surprises.

Jordan Waraksa “Untitled.” Zebrawood, walnut, steel.
Like many Haggerty exhibitions, the art starts happening as soon as you enter the door. Julian Correa has charge of the opening salvo with Contents Under Pressure, a combination of a sculptural (and rather carnival-esque) representation of an exploding spray paint can and panel paintings hung high upon the walls. There are lot of objects competing for attention, but some of the most gripping moments are in the grisaille background, with figures and images that are anything but wallflowers.

Two particularly strong installations bookend the exhibition, beginning with artist and musician Jordan Waraksa’s sparse but satisfyingly rich combination of sound and sculpture. Elegant conical zebrawood forms sit in twisted balance as music, combining strains of classical and folk-tinged songs, emanates from within. The visuals are arresting enough, the but music firmly roots the visitor to the space. This little gallery may be a favorite place to pause on repeated stops this autumn season.

13 Views of a Journey, Nathaniel Stern and Jessica Meuninck-Ganger

13 Views of a Journey, Nathaniel Stern and Jessica Meuninck-Ganger

Another of the smaller gallery spaces that stands out is the technologically savvy work of Jessica Meuninck-Ganger and Nathaniel Stern. 13 Views of a Journey is more than a digital collage, more than moving images. Combining references of the contemporary world and historical works by artists such as Eadweard Muybridge and Utagawa Hiroshige, the piece sends the viewer on a journey, moving forward yet back in time.

Tactile sensibilities are played up in the fabric work of Sharon Kerry-Harlan, as textures and words circle around explorations of the the human face. Lisa Hecht brings together eye-dazzling patterned wallpaper and obliquely probing questions, while Mark Brautigam’s photographs seem straightforward until you start getting into the details. Humor and puzzles are to be found in works by Will Pergl, Reginald Baylor, and the charming, hilarious, and poignant drawings of Luc Leplae.

So what are the “Current Tendencies,” so to speak? They range freely over a wide range of disciplines and mediums. But generally, there is a sense of looking outward, to social commentary and response, telling a story or sending a message. This reflects a momentary cross section of Milwaukee’s creative energy, but this exhibition creates a unique touchstone as time, as well as art, marches on.

Read all of “Current Tendencies II: Artists from Milwaukee” at the Haggerty in context

Milwaukee Magazine

Milwaukee Magazine: Nathaniel Stern and Jessica Meuninck-Ganger

Milwaukee Magazine rated the Current Tendencies exhibition at the Haggerty Museum of Art one of the top 5 things to do in the city for the Fall of 2011. Although uncredited, the included image is a detail of 13 Views of a Journey, a commission for the show by Nathaniel Stern and Jessica Meuninck-Ganger.

Third Coast Digest

‘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.

read all of ‘Strange Vegetation’ blooms at Villa Terrace

Shepherd Express

Sheperd Express / Express Milwaukee feature on Nathaniel Stern and Jessica Meuninck-GangerPast, Future Combine in ‘Print Press Play’
By Robert Tilley
This article appeared on the web and in the print edition.

“Print Press Play,” a collaboration between Jessica Meuninck-Ganger and Nathaniel Stern that blends complex printmaking with 21st-century computer art, has opened at Elaine Erickson Gallery. As digital printmakers, they create images with tone, volume, color and dimension in rippling loops of “virtual” time with prints in motion, the new direction in printmaking.

These two nationally acclaimed artists reference the seascapes of Japan’s early-19th-century printmaker Hiroshige in The Multitude, an LCD-woodcut diptych with virtual “machinima” petrels climbing, circling and swooping from one screen to the other over a shimmering sunlit harbor.

Kinnickinnic is an intricate, remarkable work of images specific to Milwaukee. Two cameras mounted on the dash of a car, one focused forward and the other into the rearview mirror, capture video of Bay View street scenes. The video is then embedded into a traditional lithograph of the driver’s view through the windshield.

“Print Press Play” runs concurrently with other works from this series in “Distill Life” at the Museum of Wisconsin Art in West Bend. With the delightful aquatint etching on copper plate, Meninas, the artists recall Velazquez in images of their studio, dancing through the doorway to meet viewers and invite them into their art.

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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

Mail & Guardian

Passing Between: Mail and Guardian reviewProfundity and plasticity for the greedy
This article by Chris Roper appeared in both the online and print editions of the Mail & Guardian. Also see their online video feature.

“Jessica, a trained and practiced printmaker, had a growing interest in new media, time and space, and Nathaniel continued to investigate composite work that lives between the digital and traditional.”

Good grief. Is this a homage to that fateful first meeting of Princess Leia and R2D2? No, it is the opening paragraph to the catalogue for Passing Between, the collaborative show by Jessica Meuninck-Ganger and Nathaniel Stern now playing at the Art on Paper gallery.

Time and space, you say? To the Batcave! Ah, artspeak. You can get tired of it, although it is useful when you’re in the mood to poke fun. But, sadly, there is no other way of doing justice to works that demand critical respect. And despite the disturbing image I’ve just conjured, of Stern as a chirping, egg-shaped robot, he and his collaborator earn our respect with this show.

The work is funny, pretty and accessible, but it’s also complicated, surprising, exceedingly well crafted and rewards a long-term relationship. That’s your cue to rush out and buy a piece, take it home and plug it in.

I’d better take a stab at describing the pieces in the gallery, although it would be easier all round if you checked out the video of the work on www.mg.co.za/stern. Basically, it’s a new-media mash-up. Paraphrasing the artists’ own description: they mount translucent prints and drawings on top of video screens, creating moving pictures on paper.

That doesn’t do justice to, for example, the mesmerising, joyful experience of watching insubstantial sharks endlessly circling The Gallerist. He’s depicted kneeling on some driftwood in the middle of the ocean while sketchy vultures hover ominously. And there’s a perfect beauty to The Great Oak, the central image of which is a drawing of a sturdy tree, already complicated by the digital echo of itself, counterpointed by ghostly figures leaping at its base.

The players are ordinary digital photo frames, LCD screens, PC monitors. If it wasn’t for the old-media interventions of the artists, you could call this Apple art—designed in the United States, made in China. And that’s not an insulting description. Stern has a history of online interventions that flatten out easy categories of valuing art and that make evaluating this show’s output a much more interesting proposition.

Last year he and collaborator Scott Kildall put up a page on Wikipedia called Wikipedia Art, a self-referential artwork, editable by anyone, that achieved its legitimacy by the publication of articles about itself on other websites. A clever interrogation of Wikipedia’s standards and what constitutes archival know-ledge, it resulted in a running battle with Wikipedia editors and a legal challenge on trademark infringement. According to Wikipedia (ha), this saga eventually became an artwork and was included in 2009’s Venice Biennale.

So when you wander around the show at the misnamed Art on Paper, or if you’re lucky enough to have one of these works on your wall, you can choose. Do you just want to enjoy the playful nature of a piece such as Twin City—whoah! Here comes the flying cow again!—or do you want to meditate on the nature of the loop, which “without origin or telos … interweaves the work’s time with the spectator’s as rhythm rather than succession”?

I know, you’re a 21st-century art lover, so you want it all—profundity and plasticity, facile conversation piece and deep worth. Greedy. But with this work, you can have it all and, in true hypertextual style, leap from moment to moment, constantly recreating desire and satisfaction, in much the same way as the looped video constantly re-enacts the pleasure of watching.

Passing Between shows at Art on Paper, 44 Stanley Avenue, Milpark, Johannesburg, until February 27

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