My overall aims with this project are to find a way to define and manipulate the relationship between prescribed notions of experiential comfort – ones I feel I’ve never been confined by – and find a way for the media in which I articulate these interests to extend beyond the confines of the gallery setting; in essence I wish to follow the viewer outside of the white cube and penetrate the arena in which their lives are lived.
My purpose for undertaking this line of investigative practice is to create for myself a dialogue for articulating ideas and a means of communicating those ideas in a certain way, one that poses direct questions about social structures, one that questions a general propensity to go along with prescribed structures around issues of identity and ways of living –wider things like gender, sexuality, race, national identity, etc. but also more specific observations like modes of experiencing popular culture, etc. – and really, point out a failure generally, to take an inquisitive attitude when addressing these lines of thought. Essentially, the purpose of this project is to provoke as a means of survival.
An important aim in this investigation is born of something I’ve identified as a failure in much didactic work: work that is uncomfortable, esoteric or inaccessible in some other way, limits the gravity and reach of its impact. The aim is, therefore, to make accessible the inaccessible, make comfortable the uncomfortable, and attempt, at least, to demystify the obtuse.
Essentially, I want to create work that, through its narrative and execution, provokes the viewer to question the framework of the subject matter the work, and them through its viewing, engages with – I want to create an unspoken dialogue between myself and the viewer.
To achieve the above, I intend on using a conceptual framework built around the observations I’ve mentioned before, to try and cheat the system. Experiential comfort – the idea that certain sounds, images, etc. are not immediately accessible and as a result are rejected, avoided, not questioned, not acknowledged, missed, forgotten, eroded – may be approached by applying another factors, say familiarity.
I also intend on attacking another failing in much work viewed in a gallery, that it is easily ignored. I plan to create a totally immersive installation – an enclosed space that consists of audiovisual, and other, components to grab hold of the viewers’ senses. Within this space I plan to utilise a refined visual / aural / written / spoken language with which to communicate, within the framework of a narrative structure, questions about the abovementioned ideas.
The context within which this project, and my work more generally, exists is constantly shifting and changing, but it becomes more and more apparent with each project how tied up it is with other pop cultural, subcultural, crossover media: print and digital media (in terms of the landscape of digital publishing, fashion, music, club culture, social media, and only as a reasonably small component of this wider framework, the artworld.
In terms of format, the project will tread the line between the world of video art, experimental and documentary filmmaking. In terms of subject matter, it will fall within the history of counterculture and subculture.
More than ever now as a result of planned collaborations with musicians and noise artists, the project is inextricably linked with the musical genres and associated scenes tied to their musical production. Specifically this refers to the history of industrial music and noise, more loosely sound art.
Thematically and in terms of style, much of what has been/will be captured for this project could be more closely aligned with certain threads of the history of documentary photography than film or video – specifically mid and late twentieth century photographers photographing from within subcultural communities including Diane Arbus, Nan Goldin, Larry Clark, Corinne Day, Derek Ridgers, Max Natkiel, Araki, Daido Moriyama, Wolfgang Tillmans, Jeff Burton, Rineke Dijkstra, Slava Mogutin, Anders Petersen, and many more. Photography theory, similarly, is more relevant here than perhaps film theory; specifically texts by the likes of Walter Benjamin, Susan Sontag, John Berger, etc.
The performance aspect, which will come as a by-product of my both intention to script as well as provoke, would most closely be aligned with two groups: COUM Transmissions and Viennese Actionism, performance aimed at pushing the boundaries of expectation and acceptance.
Word artists and conceptual art have a big influence, particular the likes of feminist artists Jenny Holzer and Barbara Kruger, as well as conceptual artist John Baldessari, whose work, again, pokes at playful provocation.
Video artists like Bill viola, Bruce Conner and Nam June Paik are obvious influences as such key figures in the history of video art. However, as expressed in my research paper, the emergence of a new breed of video artists placed within this context, who have emerged from various other diciplines and arenas, for example music video director-turned-artist Kahlil Joseph, is important in considerations of how work coexists in numerous spheres, specifically the balance of works existing in both the gallery-artworld-context and mainstream media spaces like editorial sites.
Media art, specifically the history of independent publishing and fanzines, alongside more formal formats of photography monograph and magazine publishing, will play an important role in the way in which ideas planted at the core of an installation are disseminated, carried from the white cube space into the lives of visitors.
Object art or small-scale sculpture, which I saw as being a key component in the final outcome, seems less relevant now. Instead, the dialogue around object, and specifically found-object, art may become relevant in conjunction with the development of print or other media. Objects – say books – may be imbued with some of the same aura as a result of presentation and even price. A £1k zine will seem weightier on a plinth than a £5 one.
As mentioned previously, video is becoming more of interest, and would appear to be the most relevant media in articulating the ideas expressed above – specifically the merging of narrative and documentary, dialogue, written word (cards, titles and subtitles), visual sequences and sound to form a disjointed, multimedia narrative.
This will then be presented within a physical space, either built or dressed, to act as immersive experience presenting each of the varied media in the most effective way. The space will need to be completely cut off, as sound will be a key factor in not only communicating ideas, but making these ideas accessible. I plan to create the sound using a structure I’ve developed, a looping gradient of accessibility whereby the most aggressive, confrontational or uncomfortable content has tied to it a mark of familiarity – in music the lyrics, melody or both of a well-known song – or approached from the other side, where the accessible media has attached to it some element of confrontational execution – a well-known song’s lyrics are screamed or the layers of sound build up to become less bearable.
Various 3D objects and print media: CD-style “album”, 3D artefacts, rendered objects referenced in music and film cast in cement, 3D printed, etc., digital design, photography and print binding in book (zine) and fold-out poster art are what I currently have in mind.
The digital element, as it stands, will involve using the digital media related to the above exhibition installation and additional pieces, namely music and video, and attempting to place these within the world of digital media. Available to share or download, allow the pieces to live on digitally in an intentional way.
Using the above methodology, the outcomes of the project can be put into three categories, and may well form three separate but connected pieces: an installation piece, that exists within the gallery space, physical takeaways, something to extend physically beyond the walls of the exhibition, and a digital aspect, to extend in a similar way through the digital sphere.
The video installation may be, multi-channel (perhaps four screens to totally envelope the space) will loop a narrative story hung on a series of cover songs, created collaboratively in-line with the structure mentioned above. This will be presented within a, self-contained space to provide ‘inside/outside’ spaces (the former for immersive installation, the latter for additional material takeaways)
The material ‘takeaway’ elements presented in adjacent ‘store’ or stand containing all purchasable (or free to take) artefacts, which will consist of: An ‘album’ of 22 cover songs (1 hour continuous play) with bound artwork (zine), potentially artefacts rendered in 3D – cement, 3D printed, etc. – to replicate physical things from story (narrative touchstones).
Roughly a year on, on the occasion of the Unit 1 Assessment, I’ve decided to write some reflective notes to aid in rewriting my proposal. using the 1st edit proposal as a frameworks (notes included in italics).
Working Title November 2017: How can a work of art penetrate an environment outside of the institutional art context as a means of successfully provoking action for change?
My interest in the work of art outside of the institutional context remains, and is – and was – perhaps more about the relationship between works existing both inside and out of that context, as I did not originally and don’t intent to reject that environment altogether. I still feel like my impetus here is to provoke action, but my practice-based research over the past year has lead me to consider new methods of provocation, and I seem to be settling more on a kind of narrative instruction than shock-style provocation.
- To find a way for a work – and its implied meaning – to extend beyond the gallery setting and penetrate the life of the viewer
- To make uncomfortable ideas or niche subject matter more accessible as a means of communicating them to a wider audience
- Create a through-provoking work that can act as a catalyst for positive change
– I’ve stuck with this interest in a work existing beyond the walls of the white cube, delving much deeper into the ideas around this than first intended. This became the core subject matter and examination undertaken in my research paper, my wider thoughts around this becoming increasingly, inextricably linked with how this might look in terms of my own practice and presentation.
– I’m still very much interested in using works of video, perhaps more narrative-focused than initially intended, to touch on wider and perhaps more difficult subject matter. However, my interest is much more focused on the previous point, the actual nature of presentation, and I feel like I could continue that avenue of investigation to articulate any ideas. For my MA project, though, I do wish to articulate, via loosely narrative means, a kind of allegory or narrative critique of a particular set of societal structures. However, through a number of projects – namely Wrecked, the piece I displayed at the end of year show this summer, and The Cult Film, which I made under the umbrella of the collaborative project I oversee, SORT – I’ve experimented with a variety of narrative formats that I hadn’t previously considered. With the former project, a more abstract take on a traditional documentary journalism approach – researching around a project and taking field recordings – to shape a narrative. With the latter, a more straightforward narrative approach, following the format of an acted-out story that can be followed, but constantly changing the nature of the approach, the media, etc. to create a continuous change of tone and understanding from the viewer.
– Again, my approach now isn’t as straight-forward as creating some blunt catalyst. I’m not necessarily interested in straight-forward didacticism, rather using form and narrative to ask questions, both of myself and the viewer.
- Create a familiar system of introduction to ease people into thinking about uncomfortable subject matter
- Create a physically (enclosed installation) and conceptually (cover varying media and ideas) immersive environment
- Find a ‘language’ in which to communicate a universal idea – translate to make accessible
- Use narrative elements to help the digestion of ideas and element of translation
– I’ve developed thoughts around my initial idea of how to present certain elements of my work that are seen as uncomfortable – both in terms of subject matter and in terms of their ease of viewing / listening. The most critical here is the use of a narrative structure (or some description, however vague or loose) to articulate certain ideas. There are also a range of factors related to method and methodology, specifically to do with things like production value, familiarity, etc.
– As predicted, the further I travel down this path of investigation and experimentation, the more I seem to rely on time-based media, video and sound, both combined and separate. Where before I was interested in
- Documentary film and docufiction beginning, with music documentary focusing on socially and politically driven musical movements
- Music and the history of specific musical genres: Industrial Music, Noise, Experimental, etc.
- Video Installation: Bill Viola, Saron Hayes, Stuart Marshall, Bruce Conner, Nam June Paik; Music Videos
- Photography theory: Susan Sontag, John Berger, Walter Benjamin,
- Performance: COUM Transmissions, Viennese Actionism
- Word Art: Jenny Holzer, Barbara Kruger
- ‘Object’ Sculpture: Duchamp, Daniel Arsham, Paul Coldwell, etc.
- Existential philosophy (and philosophical movements that spawned from this)
- Video merging narrative story and documentary footage, both primary and secondary source
- Written word, in the form of narrative subtitles, scripted speech, written word on print media (poster art)
- Physical space, either built or dressed, to act as immersive experience presenting each of the varied media in the best possible way (Soundproofing? Lit?)
- Sound, specifically creating cover songs using “gradient of intensity” built into video installation and material takeaways (below)
- ‘Takeaways’ in the form of various 3D objects and print media: CD-style “album”, 3D artefacts, rendered objects referenced in music and film cast in cement, 3D printed, etc., digital design, photography and print binding in book (zine) and fold-out poster art.
- Multi-channel (4-screen?) video installation showing a docufiction narrative interspersed with music (created cover songs)
- A built, self-contained space to provide ‘inside/outside’ spaces (the former for immersive installation, the latter for additional material takeaways)
- Material ‘takeaway’ elements presented in adjacent ‘store’ or merch stand containing all purchasable artefacts:
- An ‘album’ of cover songs (1 hour continuous play) with bound artwork (zine) and fold-out poster translating the narrative depicted in the video installation in print form (photography, graphic design and text)
- Artefacts rendered in 3D – cement, 3D printed, etc. – to replicate physical things from story (narrative touchstones)
Film: The Punk Singer (Riot Grrrl), The Decline of Western Civilisation (American hardcore punk); onto docufiction: Interior, Leather Bar, A Crackup At The Race Riots (Leo Gabin)
Books (Philosophy): Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra, Beyond Good and Evil; Anton Szandor Lavey, The Satanic Bible; Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, Thee Psychick Bible : Thee Apocryphal Sciptures ov Genesis Breyer P-Orrige and Thee Third Mind ov Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth
Books (art theory): Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in The Age of Mechanical Reproduction; John Berger, Ways of Seeing; Susan Sontag, On Photography; Barbara Kruger, Remote Control: Power, Cultures and the World of Appearances
Books (misc): Simon Ford, Wreckers of Civilisation: The Story of COUM Transmissions & Throbbing Gristle; Alexander Reed, A Critical History of Industrial Music
This summer I was given the opportunity to make a short documentary about the Printed Matter New York Art Book Fair for Dazed Digital. I used this as a moment for experimentation. Wanting to, again, see what ways I could push a documentary narrative, this is perhaps the closest to a traditional documentary format. Rather than include elements of fiction, I saw what other ways I might use material captured to make something new.
One of the artists to appear in an interview in the documentary, Slava Mogutin – who has previously collaborated on SORT Zine – read a poem from a new release. I used the audio from this, and video material from the rest of my trip, to create an extended introduction to the trailer.
How does the context in which a work of video art is displayed affect the way in which it is received?
ABSTRACT: Comparing the works of two contemporary American artists working in video, Bill Viola and Kahlil Joseph, and the various arenas in which their works are displayed, from gallery installations and environments outside of traditional institutions, through to presentation and dissemination of their work via digital file online video channels and social media – this paper will discuss how these varying contexts affect the reception of and reaction to works, both in terms of singular and group audience experiences, and on wider reception and implications this has on the artists’ bodies of work and status.
THE WORK OF ART
In order to adequately discuss works of art and how certain contexts influence their reception, it is important to first define the terms and parameters within which any critical inquiry takes place. Perhaps the most important, but most difficult, definition is that of the work of art itself; what theories can be applied to adequately address this question?
“To see something as art requires something the eye cannot descry – an atmosphere of artistic theory, a knowledge of the history of art: an artworld,” (Danto, 1964, p580). When applying this theory, the key factor to consider is its context – i.e. whether it appears within the framework of, and is therefore legitimized by, the institution of the ‘artworld’, an institutional theory as coined by art critic Danto. The most easily identifiable of these is the gallery or museum. This would be understood to mean appearing within a recognized art institution – the exclusive arena guarded by the art historian and connoisseur – but could be extended understood to extend to anything said institution lends its name to and therefore acknowledged by these exclusive bodies.
Though this rule can be applied to help understand pieces of art, to grasp how they work fully requires a holistic approach; to say, any example where an institutional theory can be applied comes with the observation of a secondary (but equally potent, and perhaps even more commonplace) phenomenon – the recognition by the artworld, and the viewer, of the artist’s credibility. Once an artist’s work has been legitimized by the artworld, by inclusion within the gallery context, this cumulative lens is then used to view future works – providing a different perspective than if those same works were viewed in isolation.
Though this institutional theory goes a long way to help create a framework for reception, it takes a rather mechanical approach to something inherently centred on subjectivity. Interestingly, modern technological innovation and a move to modernism in art has made this even more apparent:
The new focus of philosophy on subjectivity established by Kant accompanied the complex and contradictory changes wrought by ‘modernity’… and the appearance, together with aesthetics as a branch of philosophy, of ‘aesthetic autonomy’, the idea that works of art entail freely produced rules which do not apply to any other natural or human product.” (Bowie, 2003, p2)
Bowie then positions the work of art within a capitalist marketplace: “[E]ven though artworks clearly do become commodities, neither their use-value nor their value as commodities can constitute them as works of art”, (Bowie, 2003, p4). This suggests that not only are the aforementioned “freely produced rules” separate from the structures that govern the rest of the world, they have the potential to manipulate those structures, for example making themselves covetable and commodifiable because they defy these ‘rules’.
The advent of technological reproduction brought new considerations when seeking to define the work of art; what Walter Benjamin famously described as its ‘aura’, identified through its gradual degradation through limitless reproducibility. “We can say: what shrinks in an age where the work of art can be reproduced by technological means is its aura”, (1934, p7). Though this sentiment is understandable, when considering the proliferation of modern art forms that perhaps seemed more in line with the products of industrialisation than the work of craftspeople, the identification of photography and film as increasingly respected artistic media throws into question Benjamin’s theory.
Video art is, perhaps more than any other, bar maybe performance, literally defined by the (technical) means of its production. It would therefore seem easy to apply formalist thinking, impressing an emphasis of form and application over content or meaning, and allow this semantic distinction to hijack assessment, creating a set of defining criteria centred on the application of the work-practice technology. In reality, this risks undermining what lies at the core of the artwork that, though using this technology, may have no connection to it other than one of convenience. Sylvia Martin defines this idea in her book Video Art, where she describes “an explicitly time-based artistic medium,” (2006, p17) pointing out the flaw in allowing the medium to define the content of a work, instead stating that “the job of the technical apparatus is to record temporal sequences and produce temporal structures,” (ibid), that the ‘video’ in video art is a means rather than an end.
On the flipside, there exists a practice in the history of video art that goes hand in hand with the emergence of radically new forms of video technology, one that allows the form to hijack the intention. “…one feature of the culture of modernity is a lessening of critical attentiveness and… this diminution of attention goes hand in hand with the emergence of spectacular technologies,” (Townsend, 2004, p12).
In condensing the above theory, we can state simply, “Art must be placed in a context that declares it to be art. Art exists for discourse and people who recognise it as such… Even artwork not found within institutions carries with it formal and conceptual codes created by institutions,” (Troemel, 2014, p38). So, by this reasoning, video art, and by extension, internet art, exist not as new alternatives to the institutional contextbut simply a new arena for artistic dialogue .
When discussing his own practice, artist Jon Rafman rejects any break in continuity between his work, undeniably rooted in digital technology and online communities, and the history of art that preceded it: “I don’t see what I’m doing as new, I see the materials as new, and the technologies, virtual communities and subcultures that are emerging a mine of material for artistic practice.” He refutes the assumption that as new media, the content of video is therefore automatically ‘new’, even in cases, as with his work, where almost every aspect of the content and its conception is visibly recognisable as inherently of the now – connected as it is to technologies that previously did not exist – from what he puts in the complex works, often sourced from the internet and gaming worlds, to the use of plasma screens to display them.
Though the emergence of video as a central and increasingly practiced and presented artistic medium is itself a by-product of ongoing technological innovation, it is an entirely different set of technologies that have shaped the way in which works are made and presented, and caused radical changes to the landscape to the artworld (if not, as suggested above, to the actual artworks themselves).
With the advent of the internet, content could, for the first time, suddenly be consumed from anywhere with a connection, and more vitally, the rise of Web 2.0, which saw “a gradual shift from the majority of Internet users accessing content produced by a much smaller number of professional producers to users increasingly accessing content produced by other non-professional users,” (Manovich, 2008), had a hand in a kind of democratisation of information exchange, and opened up the potential for a shift in whose opinion would be heard. “In [the] 2000s [the internet] became increasingly a communication medium”, (Manovich, 2008), meaning, rather than being simply a resource for information acquisition, it became a resource for information sharing. Now anyone with an internet connection could have their say via posts, comments, likes, etc. and, with the added extra of a domain and hosting platform of your own, any opinion and other media you wished to share.
Similarly, but perhaps secondarily, the exponentially increasing amount of information that began appearing on the internet, and the lightening-fast dissemination of information found there, has made almost anything immediately searchable. This offered the potential for an artist to be vastly more recognisable to a global audience than perhaps he or she may have been beforehand – meaning that the artist now had the potential to connect to individuals directly, rather than relying on the reach of the artworld, or on people showing up to galleries to see their work.
One argument for a loss of legitimacy as a result of this democratisation is that the institution of the artworld has a history of credible and regulated research and structure. However, in The Curators New Medium (2014, pp78-89), Omar Kholeif poses the idea that the connectivity of the internet and social media offer a comparable path of intellectual discovery to what a museum curator might, and even implies the algorithms of Amazon, etc. might be able to offer insight equally useful and considered as those of a curator.
This raises an important point about the implied difference in accessibility between the exclusive institutional context of the gallery or museum and the supposedly democratic arena of the internet – and questions it.
How does such a platform engage with curatorial practice? …does this platform suggest that the virtual is additional to the physical, or are the two entwined? And if so how does this shift the position of artists or curators who choose to work solely or predominantly online, now that ‘real space’ artists are seeking to invade their territory by commoditizing their creative [ibid]
VIDEO ART BEFORE THE INTERNET: BILL VIOLA
When considering how theories of art apply to a work of video art, and how the rise of new media and internet connectivity affect its presentation and reception, it is useful to first examine the work of an artist whose practice precedes the internet entirely, and whose work has since engaged with, but not been too significantly impacted by or assimilated into, the digital landscape.
With a formal art education, a career working for museums and universities in the USA and Europe immediately after graduating, and a portfolio of work that, from the outset, includes predominantly art made for gallery installation, Bill Viola’s work developed in the context of a newly emerging video art tradition heavily connected to the institutionalised artworld.
Despite his status as a leading figure in the world of video art, Viola is surprisingly not overly concerned with post-production techniques, and rather uses high quality live-capture equipment – and teams – to document actions that must seem as spectacular in life as they do on the screen. Bar his signature slow-motion approach, which is used to further emphasise the action captured, Viola’s work could be said to have as close a relationship to performance as any other media. It is in this uniquely direct approach that the power, and most likely the popularity, of his work lies:
Seeing Observance in ‘The Passions’ exhibition at the Getty Museum, I was shaken and deracinated. I began to weep uncontrollably. I could not leave the spot but watched the work over and over, trying to come to terms with it. (Freeland, 2005, p28)
Philosophy professor Cynthia Freeland’s description of weeping at being confronted with a work by Viola is not uncommon, and, like hers, each account touches upon a reaction that is deeply personal. The work she’s referring to presents figures – actors – against the artist’s signature black infinity background, looking out past the viewer with an expression of extreme grief or discomfort. The emotion laid bare in this work exists outside the complications of narrative context; there is no way of knowing what the actors appear to be looking at, but its effect is extreme all the same, “capable of grabbing its audience without platitudinous explanation: it works on you at a visceral level. You have to see it,” (Townsend, 1996, p8).
This direct connection to the viewers – which can, and has been compared to visceral reactions to religious iconography – brings with it a whole host of considerations regarding presentation. “Viola’s art…is an art of effect. It is rare…to witness anyone weeping before a work of art. Yet almost every Bill Viola exhibition that I have visited I have… seen someone in tears”, (Townsend, 1996, p8). Presenting work in immersive environments, subjects are presented in infinite spaces of dense black, or vast desert landscapes, allowing the viewer to focus solely on what unfolds between them and the subject, and perhaps even allows them to project onto this blank canvas a host of personal associations.
The work referenced in Freeland’s account has particular associations. Taking inspiration from a set of altar wings by German Renaissance painter and engraver Albrecht Dürer, and presenting the video in the form of two upright screens, Viola here presents a reference to not only the spiritual practice his work may be said to try to emulate, but the formulation of a certain set of practices or formats used in this practice. The physical make up and action of religious reflection is implanted into the gallery space.
A similar work, the 2014 Viola piece Martyrs, sees a similar scenario, that conjures a very different effect. Permanently installed in a flanking altar of London’s St Paul’s Cathedral, the silent seven-minute piece sees four figures appear against a black infinity across four screens, each violently confronted with one of the four elements, earth, air, fire and water. Putting both the obvious connection of Viola’s work to such a religious institution and the content of the piece aside, it’s place in the church removes the work from the immersive installation as we know it, and into an arena where it must fight for space and meaning. This work gave Viola the opportunity to express what he hopes for all his works, that they exists beyond their status as art objects, becoming instead “practical objects of traditional contemplation and devotion”, (Jones, 2014). Seeing the work in the flesh, as it were, there is the sense that its impact, though perhaps not diminished, is altered by complications that come as the result of engaging with a specific religious denomination, or perhaps something as simple as the distractions of light and sound that bleed into the space.
“In addition to attentiveness, we must be ready to let the work have an effect upon us… this takes time… it [may be] necessary to devote oneself to a work more than once, and to deal with its relation to other works,” (Neumaier, 2004, p59). Intended, one would assume, to advise multiple visits to view a work in the context of its installation in order to fully engage with it, this argument could be applied in support of pieces being viewed online. Despite his consistency of practice and emphasis on immersive installation, as well as his position as an institution in his own right, Viola’s work is not absent from the web. A Google video-search brings up nearly half a million results, mostly falling into two categories: those adapted by the artist for viewing online, published through editorial platforms as a means of promoting a gallery or museum show, and those captured without the consent of the artist, taken secretly in the shadowy corners of a darkened installation, or ripped from some other unknown source, and uploaded onto personal accounts of video-streaming channels.
On the occasion of the 2013 exhibition, Frustrated Actions and Futile Gestures, at London’s Blain Southern gallery, Viola shared a single-channel work “Inner Passage” from the show on online video platform NOWNESS. Though the immersive aspect of prior presentations may be lost, this new method of presentation by the artist opens a host of new possibilities for reception: once published, the video can immediately be viewed from anywhere in the world with an internet connection. Just like an exhibition catalogue, the artist is given opportunity to put forward the ideas that surround the piece, but, thanks to a comment box, opens up the possibility of instant dialogue with viewers, even if, as is the case with this piece, this is no more than a single comment reading “boring,” (NOWNESS, 2013).
Multiple viewings, as Neumaier suggests, is pivotal to understanding Viola’s work. But rather than be confined to physical access to a gallery space, in this new context a video can be viewed anywhere, at any time, hardware and connection permitting. It may even be the case that this kind of viewing, though less immersive, is better suited to the ways in which consumption behaviour has evolved in the age of the internet, social media and the smartphone. “It seems that we are more willing to take into account the temporal dimension of video works if we view them on a TV,” (Neumaier, 2004, 58) an idea that extends rather neatly to the internet, viewed on a small, and ever smaller, screen. When discussing the work To Pray Without Ceasing, which lasts an entire day and loops in a way as to create an infinite number of configurations, Neumaier furthers the above point, stating that our “relationship to the exhibition of pictures induces us to assume that it can be grasped just by ‘glancing at it’”, (ibid).
A NEW CONTENDER: KAHLIL JOSEPH
Viola’s work is largely, perhaps due to the nature of his background, easy to place within the context of almost any theory of art. Initially making work for gallery installation, drawing on a wealth of references in art history, a narrative trajectory his own work fits neatly in line with, the existence of his work online is that of an artist living in the offline realm, dipping a toe into the digital sphere. Another American artist, Kahlil Joseph, whose work touches on some of the same core ideas, and engages his audience in a similar way to Viola, exists in a wholly different way.
Known initially for his work in music, primarily with hip hop artist Kendrick Lamar, it was not until recently that Joseph would have been included in discussions of video art, alongside the likes of Viola. In 2015, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, held the exhibition Kahlil Joseph: Double Conscience, featuring video work by the artist. The piece, “m.A.A.d”, presented on two channels, was originally commissioned for, and used the music of, Lamar’s music release M.A.A.D. City. “The opening of Double Conscience inducts Joseph into the institutional framework that is contemporary art”, (Lampe, 2015, p18); the very act of his inclusion in the gallery space immediately legitimised Joseph as an artist, a literal account of the application of an institutional theory, cemented by critical acclaim, and the invitation to show the work at subsequent exhibitions, notably the video art super-show The Infinite Mix, held in London by the Hayward Gallery at Southbank Centre in collaboration with The Vinyl Factory.
Though following different career paths, Viola and Joseph’s work are thematically and formally very similar. Both artists are concerned with fundamental questions of life, death, a sense of searching for purpose permeating both deeply poetic bodies of work. Like Viola, Joseph’s videos tap into the viewer’s emotions in an almost primal way; the parallels between Joseph’s exposure to religious worship and the meditative nature of his work seeps into the very fabric of his films, namely through the use of music. Where Viola often uses mythic figuresJoseph uses everyday faces, which are anonymous but still strangely familiar; bodies the viewer is invited to project him or herself onto.
Unlike Viola, though, Joseph’s prior works are – or at least were – made with the intention of being screened or viewed in some other context, or may have been made without the considerations of presentation at all. The music video format developed with no real single place; where music television used to be a central arena where videos would be premiered at a single time en masse, now videos are released and replayed in an infinite number of ways. They may still be premiered on television, but increasingly they are first shown online, everywhere from specialist sites – from music to fashion and art platforms – to dedicated channels like VEVO, to self-published channels of artists, directors, etc. and even straight to social media channels such as Facebook, Instagram or Youtube. This is not to mention the limitless ways these different formats can synchronize, due to the multi-channel nature of the internet and its reciprocal relationship to other media or real-world institutes and spaces.
It’s also important to consider Joseph’s work itself – “m.A.A.d” is made with an amalgamation of various clips in different media, with no linear narrative, suggesting the act of capturing or collecting could mean each sequence of scene brings with it a different intention and set of considerations that precede any later consideration for context and presentation. Here comparison can be drawn between this kind of viewing with that of work in a gallery, which, though it may appear in its totality, is unlikely to be viewed in full. However, it is likely his initiation into the institution will have an impact on these considerations. “My video projects I’ve shown in art settings weren’t conceived for that, but now I’m thinking about how the work will be shown in that context,” Joseph is quoted as saying in an article in American magazine Art Papers, himself acknowledging how context may be a consideration in how his work is put together. The same article then highlights a later position: “I’m no longer concerned with a musician, or three to four minutes of run times, single channel or how the work will look on a laptop – I’m thinking about how I can transform a physical space.”
It is unclear how much these considerations really alter reception. Having viewed the aforementioned “m.A.A.d.” in London, and a later work Fly Paper, part of an exhibition Shadow Play at New York’s New Museum, a later work which one would assume brought with it the considerations of installation, both the response that could be viewed from those in the space, and my own, were much the same. In both spaces people filled the room, sitting on every inch of the floor available, and stayed for multiple viewings. However, the former is readily available online, allowing me repeated viewing, transporting myself back to that meditative experience, one that though the online video doesn’t recreate, wasn’t erased from my memory at leaving the space and so can be called upon. The latter is not available online. I must rely on the blurry photos and snapshot videos taken in secret when an invigilator’s back is turned, which it occurs to me I could very well upload this to a video channel to exist in the way I had found Viola’s previously.
Having examined works of art, defined through numerous theories, in a variety of contexts, it is clear these contexts do affect the way in which they are experienced and received, but in more complex and surprising ways than are perhaps assumed. The most significantly ‘different’ context proposed, the internet – suggested as a lesser platform that dismantled the structure of the institution – in fact exists as a continuity of that structure with a whole host of new opportunities. It brought a new arena in which the work of art could play out, allowing for wider, more democratic expression, and a greater potential for visibility. It allowed artists like Joseph to be invited into the artworld, who may otherwise not have been due to a lack of visibility, or a rigid view of what an artist in this context should be. Instead he has been given the opportunity to be place alongside more traditionally defined artists like Viola, perhaps broadening that definition. It also provided a new context for artists like Viola to share their work, who is also now provided with new opportunities for dialogue around it.
The argued diminution of work suggested by its appearance online, an extension of Benjamin’s ideas about art in the age of mechanical reproduction is, again, not necessarily any more drastic, only different. The incomplete nature of experience an artwork online impacts us in only the same way as the limitations of a gallery view, where viewing a work in its totality is unlikely or impractical.
It finally becomes difficult to draw a conclusion about how a work is received in these contexts when so many other factors affect the work’s presentation as much as it’s conception – from the artist’s position and status within the institution, to the core components of their very identities that may affect that position.
Anderson, Chris. “The Long Tail” Wired, October 2004. Accessed 23/10/17
Benjamin, Walter. (1934) The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, London, translation by Underwood, J. A. first published 2008, Penguin Books.
Bowie, Andrew (2003) Aesthetics and Subjectivity, Second Edition, fist edition published 1990 Manchester University Press.
Danto, Arthur (October 1964). “The Artworld”. Journal of Philosophy Volume 61, Issue 19, pp 571–584
Freeland, Cynthia. (2005) Chapter 2, “Piercing To Our Inaccessible, Inmost Parts”, The Art of Bill Viola, London, Thames & Hudson.
Jones, Jonathan, (2014). Hallelujah! Why Bill Viola’s Martyrs altarpiece at St Paul’s is to die for, Guardian.com, accessed 23/09/17. https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/jonathanjonesblog/2014/may/21/bill-viola-matryr-video-installation-st-pauls
Kholeif, Omar. (2014) “The Curator’s New Medium”, You Are Here – Art After the Internet, Cornerhouse.
Lampe, Lilly. (2015). Art Papers; May/Jun, Vol. 39 Issue 3, pp18-23
Manovich, Lev, “The Practice of Everyday (Media) Life”, Critical Inquiry, Vol. 35, No. 2 (Winter 2009), pp. 319-331. Accessed 22/09/16
Martin, Sylvia. (2006). Video Art. Taschen Books.
Neumaier, Otto. (2004) Chapter 2, “Space, Time, Video, Viola”, The Art of Bill Viola, London, Thames & Hudson.
NOWNESS (2013) Bill Viola: Inner Passage. Available at: https://www.nowness.com/story/bill-viola-inner-passage (Accessed: 23/09/17).
Sontag, Susan (1979). On Photography, UK, Penguin Books. Fifth edition. First published in USA and Canada 1977.
Townsend, Chris. (2004). Introduction, “Call Me Old Fashioned, But…”, The Art of Bill Viola, London, Thames & Hudson.
Troemel, Bran, (2014). “Art After Social Media”, You Are Here – Art After the Internet, Cornerhouse.
Viola, Bill (1990). “Video Black – The Mortality of the Image”, in Illuminating Video: An Essential Guide to Video Art, (2004), Aperture.
“The distinguishing features if film lie not only in the way in which man presents himself to the camera, but in how using the camera, he presents his surroundings to himself.”
In both the work of Joseph an Viola, both touching on universal questions around the nature of the human condition, there is the sense that not only is each artist using the medium to search for answers, but that the
The Cinema of Transgression Manifesto by Nick Zedd, 1985, ‘The Underground Film Bulletin’:
“We who have violated the laws, commands and duties of the avant-garde; i.e. to bore, tranquilize and obfuscate through a fluke process dictated by practical convenience stand guilty as charged. We openly renounce and reject the entrenched academic snobbery which erected a monument to laziness known as structuralism and proceeded to lock out those filmmakers who possesed the vision to see through this charade.
“We refuse to take their easy approach to cinematic creativity; an approach which ruined the underground of the sixties when the scourge of the film school took over. Legitimising every mindless manifestation of sloppy movie making undertaken by a generation of misled film students, the dreary media arts centres and geriatic cinema critics have totally ignored the exhilarating accomplishments of those in our rank – such underground invisibles as Zedd, Kern, Turner, Klemann, DeLanda, Eros and Mare, and DirectArt Ltd, a new generation of filmmakers daring to rip out of the stifling straight jackets of film theory in a direct attack on every value system known to man.
“We propose that all film schools be blown up and all boring films never be made again. We propose that a sense of humour is an essential element discarded by the doddering academics and further, that any film which doesn’t shock isn’t worth looking at. All values must be challenged. Nothing is sacred. Everything must be questioned and reassessed in order to free our minds from the faith of tradition. Intellectual growth demands that risks be taken and changes occur in political, sexual and aesthetic alignments no matter who disapproves. We propose to go beyond all limits set or prescribed by taste, morality or any other traditional value system shackling the minds of men. We pass beyond and go over boundaries of millimeters, screens and projectors to a state of expanded cinema.
“We violate the command and law that we bore audiences to death in rituals of circumlocution and propose to break all the taboos of our age by sinning as much as possible. There will be blood, shame, pain and ecstasy, the likes of which no one has yet imagined. None shall emerge unscathed. Since there is no afterlife, the only hell is the hell of praying, obeying laws, and debasing yourself before authority figures, the only heaven is the heaven of sin, being rebellious, having fun, fucking, learning new things and breaking as many rules as you can. This act of courage is known as transgression. We propose transformation through transgression – to convert, transfigure and transmute into a higher plane of existence in order to approach freedom in a world full of unknowing slaves.”
New edition to take into consideration neo-hegelianism (the decline of an idealistic school of philosophers in the UK 1870 – 1920, who looked to Hegel for inspiration) – sought to give expression to a widely felt apathy to prevailing materialism (the idea that all facts are dependent on the physical) and utilitarianism (the idea that actions are deemed right if they promote happiness in the performer and those externally effected).
Aesthetics is a branch of philosophy that explores the nature of art, beauty, and taste, with the creation and appreciation of beauty.
Beginning in the middle of the 18th century, from the end of the 19th Century it saw a radical transformation between art and the rest of philosophy, related to the production and reception of music.
Before this, Decartes positions ‘I Think” at the centre of philosophical thought, though still relying on God.
At the end of the 18th century, Kant intends to say the only certainty philosophy can provide is grounded in ourselves, but makes connection between that and the outside world through the study of what makes us as individuals appreciate and create beauty
Development in ‘aesthetic autonomy’, whereby works of art entail freely produced rules that do not apply to any other natural or human product.
‘Absolute music’, music without words, becomes important in musical praxis in philosophical reflection upon the significance of art as a means of understanding the self. The entire of our self-understanding cannot be understood fully my discursive articulation alone – “if all we are can be stated in words, why does our being also need to be articulated in music, as every known human culture seems to suggest.”
The importance attributed to art in the 18th century coincides with the decline of theology and disintegration of theologically legitimated social orders.
Even though artworks do become commodities, neither their use-value nor their value as commodity constitutes them as works of art.
I have decided upon a second artist whose work I can compare with Bill Viola’s. Initially I had thought to choose someone whose work is primarily made for online, using the language of the internet, but my personal interest in Kahlil Joseph and the relevance of where his work lies in relation to my own seemed more useful. Also, though it means there is less reference material to draw from, I thought it interesting to look to a relatively new artist whose was, until very recently, not as instantly recognised as an artist in the way Viola or other artists may have been, in that his entrance into the art world was through a side door of sorts.
Kahlil Joseph: Shadow Play at New Museum
“In his absorbing short films Los Angeles-based artist and filmmaker Kahil Joseph (b. 1981 Seattle, WA) conjures the lush and impressionistic quality of dreams with particular reverence for quotidian moments and intimate scenes. Music always figures centrally in Joseph’s works, and sounds reverberate as vital powerful analogies for the play of images through which he chronicles the stores and rhythms of his subjects. As much as they plumb the history of cinema and moving images, Joseph’s films also find a parallel in the lyricism, complexity, and affective power of black musical traditions.
“In Kahlil Joseph: Shadow Play, his first solo presentation in New York, Joseph debuts Fly Paper (2017), a new film installation that departs from his admiration of the work of Roy DeCarava (1919 – 2009), a photographer and artist known for his images of celebrated jass musicians and everyday life in Harlem. With Fly Paper, Joseph extends DeCarava’s virtuosity with chiaroscuro effects to the moving image and brings together a range of film and digital footage to contemplate the dimensions of past, present and future in Harlem and New York City. Joseph’s new film also touches on themes of filiation, influence, and legacy, marking a personal reckoning that intuitively calls upon his connections to the city through his family – and in particular, his late father, whom he cared for in Harlem at the end of hs life. Fly Paper’s dynamic yet contemplative mood also builds on Joseph’s sense that layers of lived experience – and stories – are sedimented in the places that have played host to the aspirations and daily lives of countless individuals as much as it engages Joseph’s relationship to an accomplished community of black artists, writers, actors, and musicians who call New York home. Through various references to literature and narration, Fly Paper also probes the ways in which the literary imagination parallels that of film and how the ordinary act of storytelling shapes larger histories and enduring myths.
“With its dexterous ambiguities in narrative and its heterogenous depictions of Harlem, Joseph’s film takes measure of depths and nuances that are often invisible or oversimplified. Fly Paper also moves beyond the visible by expanding Joseph’s practice into sound, unfolding a complex acoustic environment in which sonic textures and original compositions resonate throughout the exhibition space. As a rich and polyphonic portrait of black art and culture in New York City, Fly Paper invites meditation on the slippery nature of memory, reverie and the photographic image.”
Kahlil Joseph: Shadow Play is curated by Natalie Bell, [New Museum] Assistant Curator, and Massimiliano Gioni, Edlis Neeson Artistic Director. Fly Paper is produced in collaboration with the Vinyl Factory.
Like Viola’s work, Joseph’s taps into the viewers emotion in an almost primal way.
The organ music applied by Joseph throughout is reminiscentof religious ritual worship.
Where Viola uses mythic figures or those that seem without character, Joseph uses faces of the everyday, anonymous but witha ense of familiarity, bodies the viewer is invites to project themselves onto. Joseph’s work also embody a sense of place, here New York City, where Viola’s almost always appear in a contextless, black infinity.
Rather than interesting into space, Joseph’s installation is immersive. Viewers sit on the floor or stand leaning against pillars, enveloped by nothing but darkness and the occasional flicker of light on the face of another viewer.