Article in Revista Atlas

IMG8

A text I wrote about the various ways in which Google products, most importantly Image Search, have shaped the way we think about and consume images today has been published by Atlas Revista de Fotografía e Imagen (Chile). I wrote about a project I love titled I’m Google (by artist Dina Kelberman), and also approached Google Earth as well as the role and context of the aerial image –and machine vision– in the present day. The article (in Spanish) can be accessed through this link.

 

On undisciplined bodies: notes on nudity, urban space, and civic demonstration

On April 20th of this year, during one of the dozens of demonstrations against Nicolás Maduro’s government in the last months, 27-year old Hans Wuerich undressed before a group of National Bolivarian Police officers. Bible in hand, he managed to climb one of the police tanks; he descended after exchanging a few words with the officers, his back covered in pellet shots. Then he walked home, still naked, and his family healed his wounds (or so Hans himself told Climax magazine). Professional and amateur photographs abound in protests –at least in Caracas–, so in a matter of minutes the images of Hans raising his arms and waving his Bible were on everyone’s screens.

Protesta-Venzuela-768x432

Hans-Wuerich-portada-1100x618

Public reactions, both condemnatory and condescending as well as glorifying and even “messianic”, emerged immediately. For me, the scene initially provoked an immediate comparison with the performance work of Érika Ordosgoitti, whose discourse has interested me for several years and with whom I had the opportunity to speak in an exchange published by Atlas magazine a few months ago. What Érika does has many subtleties and encompasses different formats and strategies, but, generally speaking, it has become a reference for the questioning of public space through the naked body. However, with the passing of the days and after reading subsequent statements by Hans Wuerich himself, I understood that his was perhaps a more precarious proposal and that it came from a different place; however, it certainly holds important similarities with Érika’s performances. In both cases, Hans and Érika confront the public space, which is besieged by patriarchal-military forces, with their vulnerable bodies, thus sensitizing –through the photographic capture, and not only with their actions in real time– their audience  to the issues of marginality and violence.

Much has been already said, and I don’t mean to over-analyze what Hans Wuerich did on the Francisco Fajardo highway that day, but I also think that not talking about it in these terms means conceding too much space to the malicious, sexist interpretations that I found when I Googled his name (keep in mind that, within hours of his appearance, the President of Venezuela made a joke about the size of Hans’s penis on public television). News portals sympathetic to the government refer to Hans as “the opositor (member of the opposition) who set up a show on the freeway,” claim that he was drugged during the event, and they have even found out what kind of pension his father (of immigrant descent, they are quick to note) receives, so as to bring “shame” to his family. All of this because of a naked, injured body.

In an interview with Clímax magazine a few days after his jump to “fame”, Wuerich stated that his actions had been premeditated (not, as I thought, a spontaneous reaction to the siege of tear gas and pellets). He mentioned that he felt the wave of protests thus far needed “something that really created attention,” and that he searched Google for references: “I read about people who stripped naked in Spain to protest bullfighting. I also saw some women undressing against Trump. And a woman in Brazil who did more or less what I did, but she could not stand it. She ran off with the pellets. Of course, I also saw the old lady who stood in front of the tanks here in Caracas.” Even if he did not express it or the published interview did not reflect it, he was clearly referring to ways of protesting individually with the body and through nudity.

Continue reading “On undisciplined bodies: notes on nudity, urban space, and civic demonstration”

Article in Caracteres Vol. 6, No.1

 

I’m very happy that the full-length, original English version of a text I wrote about illegibility has been included in the new issue of Caracteres, a digital humanities peer-reviewed journal. Caracteres is edited in Salamanca, Spain, and publishes articles in various languages. Aside from texts about gaming, data visualization, and digital archives, this issue includes a research dossier by a group of Czech linguists. The PDF version of Caracteres Vol. 6, No. 1 can be downloaded here, and the browser-based version of my text is here.

 

Diaspora as “written” by Reverse OCR, a Twitter bot by Darius Kazemi. I mention this in my article 🙂

Notes on the Poetics of Erasure

hablemos en blanco
hablemos perdiendo los signos

repitamos el primer y último acto
de ser devueltos
en la cópula mínima
del polvo
en la luz

Hanni Ossott

On a visit to the 2016 Prix Canson show at New York’s Drawing Center, I came across the work of finalist Bethany Collins. She presented two series addressing the obliteration of the written word. The first consisted of practically illegible paragraphs, printed on paper, then torn and shredded except for certain isolated words; the other, a set of loose pages from the Southern Review, in which she had blacked out parts of the text (sometimes all of it) with ink. This confluence of literary and graphic subtraction, framed within a visual art exhibition, led me for the first time to interrogate the operation of erasing as an aesthetics and a poetics.

 

Art history is full of erasure, blurring and coating of diverse nature: we know about petroglyphs obliterated by the elements or the neglect of humans, texts carved in stone eroded by the wind, papyrus faded by water. We have seen x-rays of paintings that reveal hidden drawings, discarded and coated. There are also intentional erasure strategies that seek to add meaning while subtracting content from an image or text, and take the image or palimpsest to be as a sculpted stone; through these erasures, artists dialogue, criticize, abolish. Finally, we deal with the complication of the notion of “erasing” in the electronic realm –deletions that happen in closed spaces and open spaces within themselves–, and the use of erasure as a creative strategy in digital art.

It could be said that the “primary” erasure is that produced by the passage of time and the incidence of nature. Many of the texts from Antiquity that survive to this day contain blank spaces (usually denoted with brackets in transcripts) caused by stains, missing pieces, and wear. The text is thus “half-accessed,” and yet both translator and reader are able to interpret the whole of its meaning and its poetics. For instance, this fragment of a poem by Sappho discovered in 2014:

They whose fortune the king of Olympus wishes
Now to turn from trouble
to (…) are blessed
and lucky beyond compare.

As for us, if Larichus should (…) his head
And at some point become a man,
Then from full many a despair
Would we be swiftly freed.

(Transtlation by Tim Whitmarsh, published by The Guardian)

Researcher and poet Travis Macdonald argues that blank spaces in ancient documents have their own weight within the text: “We read  into them history’s tumult.” Depending on their position in the verse, the punctuation that influences them, the words that precede them, etc., these spaces can lend themselves to a greater or lesser degree of speculation, allowing the reader to participate in the construction of the meaning of the text. This is a good starting point to delve into the poetics of erasure.

In his essay “A Brief History of Erasure Poetics”, Macdonald proposes a continuity between the erasures of Sappho and the work of Armand Schwerner. In 1968, the American writer published the first part of his magnum opus, The Tablets: poems presented as archaeological finds, transcribed by a “scholar/translator” and with the following legend: “(….)” represents untranslatable passages, “+++” stands for missing text, (?) provide variant readings, and “[]” indicate “sections supplied by the scholar/translator.” Schwerner simulated the onslaught of time on a text (of his authorship) attributed to an imaginary society, the meaning of which is presented as doubly opaque. On the one hand, the translator frequently “doubts” his own reconstructions and presents multiple meanings for the same word –which complicates and broadens the meaning of texts. He also eventually intervenes to question the authenticity of a certain tablet. On the other hand, the supposed physical deterioration of the tablets generates absences and, in general, calls into question the veracity of the structures that are introduced. Similar to The Tablets, though with obvious structural differences, is the work of Jackson Mac Low, an American poet and composer affiliated to the Fluxus movement. Between 1953-1954, Mac Low created a “found” poetry experiment with passages from the Bible,  titled 5 Biblical Poems. The title of each poem contains a series of numbers that indicate the number of “events” in each line. Each event, Travis Macdonald explains, is a word or a mark of “/ ____ /,” indicating a silence of the duration that the reader chooses. While Schwerner arbitrarily modified his text, Mac Low used dice to decide how many “events” would occur on each line. We deal with two kinds of “organizing criteria” for erasure: a continuous one, which simulates climate and time, and a discrete one, more attached to the conventional meaning of algorithmic. In both cases, the association of erasure and wear with the antique –millenary tablets, Biblical verses– is evident: the text is rendered inaccessible either by its physical conditions or by its mysterious origin.

Mac Low recommended that readers be guided by their own heart rate to determine how quickly to perform the poem (a biological algorithm). Since the text was created with the explicit purpose of being read aloud, it could be said that here absence is a functional element: the blank spaces fulfill an interpretive function or, rather, serve as a sort of musical notation, as they represent a measure of time and, according to Macdonald, “the physical silence imposed by the poet.”

 

 

Another pioneer of subtractive poetry is Ronald Johnson, whose work Radio Os (1977) is a careful erasure of John Milton’s Paradise Lost. Inspired by the musical voids in Lukas Foss’s Baroque Variations, Johnson impulsively bought a copy of Milton’s Poetic Work and began to cross out entire lines. The result is a “poem-by-excision” from Paradise Lost, which can be interpreted either as a derivative of the original or as an original product (and practice). Some, like Anderson himself, say that this is not a mere revision of a text but the creation of something original: Paradise Lost is the space in which Johnson sought to generate a meaning of his own (always in dialogue with the base text); therefore, Radi Os, as an independent text, does not belong to Milton. Travis Macdonald characterizes the excision process involved in Radi Os as that of a sculptor: “Johnson approaches a preexisting work with the knife of a sculptor and carefully grazes its surface, which gives rise to a strong relief.” In his view, the resulting work belongs to both writers or to none, since both the spatial disposition of the text and the vocabulary are by Milton, while the “voids” and the meaning of the text are by Johnson. In this case, erasure is a strategy to generate a “friction” (in Macdonald’s words) between aesthetics and expressions.

A fourth practitioner of erasure poetry (though his work is also painterly) is British writer Tom Phillips, who in 1966 set out to intervene a second-hand book from start to finish, employing techniques such as collage, painting and trimming. Phillips used a forgotten Victorian novel entitled A Human Document, by W.H. Mallock, and called his own work A Humument. Since its alteration began, A Humument has gone through innumerable transformations and has been edited in at least 30 versions. Phillips draws on the text, hides it, mutilates it, highlights it, blurs the line between illustration and type. His selections of words are sometimes arbitrary, sometimes determined by self-imposed algorithms; this renders the experience of reading the novel fragmentary.

 

Continue reading “Notes on the Poetics of Erasure”

Elizabeth Cemborain: Dialog, Displacement, Distortion

This is the English translation of my latest column at La ONG’s blog (it is available here). I only found out about Elizabeth’s (extensive) work a few months ago, and I was very excited to share a few words about her glitch art experiments. This also makes me feel optimistic that there might be more people making interesting digital art being made in the country that I don’t know about yet.

Elizabeth Cemborain (Caracas, 1959) studied Architecture at Universidad Central de Venezuela and later pursued a degree in Pure Art at the Cristóbal Rojas School of Visual Arts, majoring in Drawing and Painting. Nowadays, she develops an artistic practice mainly focused on electronic media and languages, and is probably one of the greatest exponents of glitch art in Venezuela. Her most recent piece –screened at the 68th Arturo Michelena Biennial– is a 42-second video entitled El Puente (The Bridge), and it serves as a starting point for this brief interrogation of Cemborain’s extensive work in the digital arts.

El puente from LA TIZA on Vimeo.

In The Bridge, Cemborain records the landscape as she transits the bridge over Lake of Maracaibo. Those images are later processed to generate interlaced patterns that, in her own words, establish “a dialogue with the abstract-geometric tradition … it is a landscape of a gray, disoriented, and transitional Venezuela.” The gray-blue landscape suddenly becomes a series of broken lines of color, and the underlying image reappears and dissolves over and over during the journey.

Elizabeth Cemborain’s work is closely related to displacements (physical and symbolic), and often stems from meditations on movement: movement as a recurring element of study in the history of Venezuelan art, the movement inherent to electronic displays, movement as the engine of dialogue. This term –dialog– also resonates through Cemborain’s work, especially since she employs mobile devices that allow her to create images that engage in “dialog” with landscapes and objects she encounters.

Trained an architect, Cemborain became familiar with digital technologies before their use became widespread in Venezuela, and though she employed CAD and Mac Perspective to work, her favorite tools were sketch paper and pencils. After 9 years of professional practice, she decided to enter the Cristóbal Rojas School and gradually abandon architecture. Finally, in 2003, two factors influenced a total shift towards digitality in her career: her growing interest in and participation in workshops on contemporary art and culture (including some promoted by visual artist Antonio Lazo), and her experience living outside the country for several months. Regarding this experience, Cemborain recalls: “(I had) no other expressive resource than a simple digital camera and a laptop. I began touring cities and towns while doing photographic and video recordings. My urban tours have unfolded like this ever since: I see them through the movement generated by my actions, and through the language generated by the computer when reviewing the material.”

Cemborain’s first approximation  to glitch as an expressive resource was quite accidental. She explains: “I work with several programs open at the same time. I can have Photoshop, Adobe Premier, Camtasia, and Skype running simultaneously… I exchanged information between them, and glitches began to appear when I moved files from one place to another. After these random incidents, the system often “froze” –which was a prelude to the imminent death of my hard drive. I began to observe what movements could generate the glitches, initially to avoid their appearance and then to generate them intentionally.” Hers is, therefore, a truly organic approach to the technical error; a practice that stems from pure aesthetic experimentation and curiosity about the limits and failures of a device.

Since her first experiences with glitch, Cemborain has incorporated error into her work by using glitch simulators. She has also experimented with direct intervention in executable files: “I have performed ‘parallel experiences’ in which I introduce words in the binary files of the frames. I have also achieved interventions with sound factors through audio editing programs. Often the files are rendered unreadable, but on other rare occasions that can be opened with graphic editing programs.” In addition to producing and collecting glitches on her computer screen –and perhaps inspired by the transformative movement inherent to the intentional generation of technical error–, Cemborain has developed a discourse that unfolds as a sort of constant dialogue with her surroundings, the landscape, the Other. Glitch is then configured as an element of mediation; it represents Cemborain’s hand appropriating preexisting images to turn them into patterns of light and color.

Cemborain’s inclination towards abstraction –or an image’s deconstruction in chromatic patterns– is especially tangible in her portfolio and in her personal Instagram (where she shares short videos and images, “immediate works” created in her phone). Her “dialogs” with the work of other artists (for example, during her recent visit to Miami Art Basel), developed from encounters in exhibition spaces, are also frequent.

fig6
Dialog with Hayfer Brea’s Registro de Territorio

Aesthetically and technically, Cemborain’s work is a fundamental exponent of Venezuelan new media art, but it is tempting to draw a vague relationship with kineticism –the  reference most contemporary Venezuelan visual artists must confront. For Cemborain, her own work is intimately linked to movement insofar as movement is the “generating principle” of her work from beginning to end. This reflection leads, in turn, to consider the concept of motion in the context of recording and processing data: the artist transits the space (the city, the landscape, the gallery) with the camera in her hand, performs a digital zoom into the object, and then subjects the file to a series of movements within the “post-production” device to generate errors and distortions.

Urban landscapes are also recurrent protagonists of Cemborain’s work, and it is important to note that her approach comes from movement even if the final result might be a fixed image. In her recordings, the camera (or cell phone in a horizontal position) becomes one with the body; after digital processing, the final work is usually a chromatic abstraction of the landscape based on the “sweep” generated by the camera. Cemborain says: “When reviewing my videos frame by frame, I discover areas of interest precisely in the lapses when movement has been present. When I expand these interlaced frames, new ‘synthetic’ landscapes arise, composed of fringes and rhythms that dialogue with the aesthetics of geometric abstraction. I am attracted to the moving image, and I feel that it is the central link and generator of my work.” The movement of the body (and therefore of the camera) is then seen as the aesthetic principle and main resource of her “synthetic” technique.

I have inserted below some images from the Displacements series that effectively illustrate this dynamic process: touring Times Square at dusk, between hurried crosses, Cemborain records the movement of her own body, the movement of the LED screens and flashing signs, and the movement of bodies around them. The displacement of the camera/body produces images that can be situated between pictorial abstraction and glitch art.

perception
Desplace
gust-1
Gust 1
desplace
Perception

Elizabeth Cemborain shares influences and even thematic interests with certain traditions in Venezuelan art, but her approximation has few precedents. Landscapes, politics, dialogs with the past, are all addressed in her work from the mobile –closely related to the playful and the unforeseen– and from the digital-corrupt as a metaphor (a key factor to differentiate glitch art from a “natural” glitch). She is one of the few Venezuelan artists with a long career who have developed a profound discourse using digital technologies in each stage of their creative processes. Her work contains a fresh conceptual proposal in regards to thinking about the environment as flexible and malleable –the landscape that is manipulated by technology to reveal some of its multiple possible appearances. El Puente, the work at the top of this article, is a clear example: departing from Cemborain’s perception of Venezuela as a “disoriented” country, the camera’s horizontal movement might be a metaphor for a journey towards confronting the flaws and challenges that characterize this landscape/country –the conflicts and breaks that become visible in the glitches that interrupt her view on Lake Maracaibo.

Source:
Cemborain, Elizabeth. Interview with the author via e-mail. December 7, 2016.
Coordinates:
Official website: http://www.elizabethcemborain.com/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/elizabethcemborain/
All images are property of Elizabeth Cemborain and are used here with due permission.

Article in Shift Journal 9: Networks

15326352_10157897937455327_4913187107187889120_n

A bit after the date, but an article I wrote about poor image circulation in Venezuela was published in the 9th issue of Shift, a journal on material culture currently hosted by the Graduate Center at CUNY and the Institute of Fine Arts at NYU. This is an exciting event as it’s my first article in a peer-reviewed journal, and it also represents the most recent iteration of my research on this issue. In this particular text, I attempted to propose certain additions to Hito Steyerl’s poor image theory that I came up with as I applied it outside of the Euro-American context, with special emphasis on how it works in terms of localized effects.  There is plenty of ground still to cover, and more complications of the theory remain to be proposed. The entire issue of Shift (which is, this article notwithstanding, very interesting and multidisciplinary) can be read/downloaded here.

 

The Assault of The Body, The Body Under Assault: Interview with Érika Ordosgoitti

This is the English translation of an interview with Venezuelan performance artist Érika Ordosgoitti published last week by the Chilean magazine Atlas Revista Fotografía e Imagen (it can be read here). Érika is a dynamic force in the Venezuelan arts scene, a tireless political activist, driving force behind the Caracas Performance Biennale, and an extremely sensitive, disciplined, and thorough thinker and poet. It was a privilege to speak with her. This interview is particularly focused on the body, urban violence, and the “photo-assaults” that she has been developing for more than 6 years now.

How would you describe public spaces in Caracas to someone who is not familiar with the city? This is crucial to understanding the risk your work involves, and your character as an artist.

Abuse. Abuse is what defines public space in Venezuela: loud noises, disregard for rules of the road, and disregard for personal space. The unifying experience for female bodies in public spaces in Caracas is sexual harassment, especially catcalling. It doesn’t matter if you are dressed like a nun, if you are a child, even if you are an elderly woman: there is no escaping it. Women are constantly, unfairly forced to listen to vile words directed at them for no reason. Personally, I try to cover myself up as much as possible, but that usually doesn’t help. It doesn’t even matter that I am walking with my young daughter.

When you work in public spaces, you often perform what you have called “photo-assaults.” Most of these involve photographing your naked body next to iconic structures in the city. Why do you employ the term “assault”?

Photo-assaults are performances I do without any announcement, invitation, or permission. They are fleeting: one moment I am there and the next I am gone. If you are doing something weird, but you announce it, it doesn’t have the same effect as if you take people by surprise. It’s more confrontational.

So the reaction of the passers-by/spectators is key to the success of a photo-assault?

Audience reaction is always important to me, but I would say it is more so in the case of actual performances. Photo-assaults are about looking for an image, getting it, and making it out alive.

fig1
Photo-assault at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Caracas, 2012

Would you characterize your performances as ways of reclaiming a position, in your own terms, within the public space?

I would say there is an act of reclaiming, yes. And I would add that it is a somewhat violent act of reclaiming.

Continue reading “The Assault of The Body, The Body Under Assault: Interview with Érika Ordosgoitti”

Article in Revista Comunicación No. 175

screen-shot-2016-11-20-at-2-09-52-pm

An article I wrote last year about poor image circulation in Venezuela titled Reacción y subversión: la imagen pobre en Venezuela (Reaction and Subversion: The poor image in Venezuela) is included in the 175th number of Comunicación journal, edited by Centro Gumilla Foundation in Caracas. The entire number is devoted to issues related to audiovisual technologies, and it can be read in its entirety here (my article is 69-75); it will probably come out in print next year.

This is very exciting for me as it’s my first article in an academic journal, and Comunicación is probably the #1 media-related publication in Venezuela. I feel very honored to be in such good company, with other scholars that are still working and producing quality research in spite of the crisis that affects us on a very primal level.

#Here: A Conversation with Costanza de Rogatis

Below is the English translation of my most recent article for La ONG’s blog. This time I interviewed Venezuelan photographer Costanza de Rogatis, with special focus on her social media images. The original Spanish can be found here.

Costanza de Rogatis (Caracas, 1976) holds a B.A. in Arts from Universidad Central de Venezuela and a Diploma in Photography from the Fondazione Studio Marangoni in Florence. She has participated in numerous group exhibitions, in countries such as Venezuela, Italy, the United States, Latvia, and Finland. This past August, she opened the individual show Puente at Tresy3 gallery in Caracas. However, I know Costanza’s work mostly through her personal Instagram, where she has developed a discourse that unifies the aesthetics of her work in other formats with the possibilities of mobile photography – more recently, she has been sharing a series on the body titled with the hashtag #Aquí (here). Focusing on her work on this social network, I asked Costanza for an interview via a collaborative Google Doc, in which we sketched out some reflections and shared screenshots. The following text is the result of that exchange.

fig1

Before starting this Doc I looked at your Instagram grid once again, and I sensed a proposition of sorts –not just a theme or aesthetic, but a conscious display. I’m interested in several things about your use of the Instagram platform. How has the language of the snapshot with a mobile camera forced or helped you develop other facets of your photographic language?

The aesthetics of the snapshot interests me because it is instantaneous and leaves little room for pretensions. I like the idea of being able to make pictures without more preparation than carrying my cell phone and making photographs as I need to on that particular day. It often happens that in producing some of these images I have an impulse to see what I can do with the shapes of my body, as my mood changes throughout the day or week… also, the directness of the snapshot makes it very close and real to me.

I find it interesting when a professional photographer shares her work on Instagram, because the moment of consumption (or contemplation) is totally uncontrollable. Your audience is scrolling down according to their own preferences, and your image might be visualized in the middle of others that may collide with it or decontextualize it. Have you ever had this in mind?

The truth is I don’t think about how my images will be seen within the maremagnum of images on Instagram… I imagine that among my followers are the people who work with me at the office, my relatives, people I have met by chance, and total strangers, and all of them have a different background and interests that are different from mine. I suppose that, to some of them, my images of the body might seem strange, but it’s something that I can’t control. I don’t think I care to control it either. Mine is just a voice –maybe just a few words– in that stream of glittering visual information.

And with respect to your grid, do you approach the “assembly” of your own profile consciously, with any proposal?

I like to think of my grid as a thread with a certain visual continuity. It is definitely not a narrative, but when I make my images, I see the order they are carrying and I try not to allow any cacophony between them, or if there are any, I try for it to take me somewhere. The grid helps me understand where I go, and question why certain images I like more or less in relation to others.

fig2

Continue reading “#Here: A Conversation with Costanza de Rogatis”

ArchivoAbierto: Carlos Zerpa Archive at Abra Caracas (09/2016)

Some pics from a visit to ArchivoAbierto, Venezuelan artist Carlos Zerpa‘s “Open Archive” at Abra Caracas gallery. The exhibit includes press clippings, photographs, collage works, posters, and other documents that sum up Zerpa’s work and interests between 1969 and 1997. My favorites were definitely the flyers and zines (the powers of a Xerox machine, yes!). Zerpa had a playful approach to performance and video that, oddly enough, comes across in a much more relatable way (for me) in the design of his printed works.

I also want to commend the work of ArtEncontrado, the producers. Artists of Zerpa’s generation, who are still alive, working, and therefore have political opinions, are usually not in official Museums so we don’t often have the opportunity to experience their work retrospectively. I hope they open up another artist’s archive soon.

Museographically (and this is just my personal taste), this exhibit would have benefitted from some kind of chronological layout, or at least some wall text or tags. It felt a little too much like a random collection of memorabilia, which has its charm, but is ultimately less educational –and I think that’s important given the current state of affairs.

All pics by me.