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Talking about ‘Err’

An interview with artist Jeremy Hutchison.

‘Err’ is an installation of deliberately broken prototypes conceived by Jeremy Hutchison. We caught up with him to discuss the project.

BST: How did the idea for Err come about?

JH:I came across an article about the Apple Macintosh factory in China. Consumer hunger for iPads had reached such an extent that factory employees were throwing themselves off the roof. Life on the assembly line had become devastating. One worker said ‘sometimes he would deliberately drop something on the ground so that he could have a few seconds of rest while picking it up.’

That’s an extraordinary idea. A deliberate error is completely illogical. Which is what makes it fundamentally human. So I wanted to know what would happen if you extended this human gesture, and inserted nonsense into the smooth logic of a hyper-efficient globalised machine. What if you commissioned workers to produce errors, intentionally? What is an intentional error?

What were the reactions from the manufacturers?

Well, there was a lot of feedback… a lot of confusion. The workers in the Indian comb factory fell about laughing when their boss asked them to make a dysfunctional comb: ‘everyone thought I have gone mad or mis-read your enquiry as everyone in the world strives to improve not to create error.’

But the confusion wasn’t limited to the factories: it continued through the customs ports. A factory in Pakistan agreed to make me an incorrect football. The patches were in the wrong places, the stitching was terrible, the bladder poured out. It was lovely.

But I got a frantic call in the middle of the night: my contact Waleed was at the customs port. The authorities had seized the ball. When he explained than an Englishman had ordered a ball with errors, all hell broke loose. They said it was illegal to fabricate incorrect products, and they would revoke his company’s trading licence. I explained that this product wasn’t incorrect since it was exactly what I’d ordered. And it wasn’t actually a football. Days passed: nothing. Lost in the bureaucracy of Pakistani customs, I eventually got through to the high commissioner in Islamabad.

She was very apologetic, and explained that 20kg of heroin had recently passed under the radar at Sialkot customs. So everyone was feeling a bit paranoid. She issued a document stating that ‘the sculpture/artwork looks like a football but in fact is not a football and primarily this object is not for using as a football but is an artwork.’ But it was too late: someone had destroyed the ball, and it disappeared without a trace. I never quite found out who.

But Waleed and I are still friends.

The project seems as much (if not more) about the personalities of the makers than the objects themselves. Did you keep in touch with any of them or have any of the makers actually seen the work?

Yes, absolutely. Waleed sends me photos of his baby son, Mohammed. The man who made the ladder endlessly asks when we can make another projects. The project was about identifying a curious, human element within a faceless industrial mechanism. Factories normally take orders of ten thousand – not one. And certainly not one with an error. So I guess it came down to finding people who were willing to engage with an absurd line of thinking – who wanted to see what would happen. I made lots of friends, and exchanged an awful lot of emoticons.

I sent all my contacts documentation of the installed work. But I never told them it was art: it was research. The word ‘art’ can be unhelpful: it seems to answer the question I’m trying to set up.

What was the fastest turnaround time? 

None of them took less than a month – some took almost four.

Which is your favourite piece and why?

Hmm.. maybe the teapot. Primarily because it came the closest to being a major disappointment. I’d communicated for months with the factory, waking up at 5am to talk over Skype. They’d assured me that Mr Luo (their factory worker) had really gone to town on it, and that I should expect something paradigm-shifting.

When it arrived, I was giddy with excitement. I was expecting the perfect conundrum. I tore open the box, and there it was: a normal teapot. Unblemished… flawless… immaculate.

I felt sick, then enraged. I took it to the sink… and found I couldn’t get the lid off. Which really cracked me up. I love the little teapot, it’s quietly terrifying: the most insidious of all the objects. It looks like something you know, but somehow it’s all wrong. Every time I’ve shown it in galleries, people always twiddle the lid, like they really want it to be stuck.

Has anyone expressed interest in either buying or reproducing commercially any of the items? Are you planning to develop the concept, maybe produce multiples?

Yes to both. At the end of this year, the project will regurgitate in a completely new form: as a luxury brand [Jeremy Hutchison's first solo show opens at Paradise Row Gallery on December 4th 2012]. The objects will be swamped by an immaculate, glossy surface – a world of panelled interiors, velvet cushions and vacant supermodels. This is obviously the wrong thing to do with this project. Which is why I’m interested in it.

The luxury market swims in an ether of dysfunctionality. It moves beyond reason, logic and resolution. It wanders away from sense in favour of the hermetic, unreadable poetry of capitalism. So this brand will celebrate this economy: pushing the levers of capitalism as far as they go, plunging absurdity into the marketplace. It’s the same idiotic logic that I performed on the factory floor, now performed in marketing communication. So I’m interested to see what will happen.

Are any of the items trademarked or patented and if so who owns the trademark – you or the manufacturer/maker? [we recognise that many are 'interventions' of generic items but we live in an era where people sell teapots as lampshades]

The short answer is no: none of these products are patented. But your question really points to the problematic question of authorship. The workers designed the objects, but under a premise that I designed. So who, ultimately, is the author? I’d prefer to leave that question hanging dangerously open; the unsettling questions are the ones I find most interesting. They are the reason I make art.

AliBaba has collapsed the manufacturing system – do you think this is a good or a bad thing?

I think it’s a magnificent thing for the global economy, and a magnificently bad thing for human consciousness.

I think that individual freedom is enhanced by an awareness of socio-economic constructions; of the mechanisms that govern our daily existence. In other words, if we know how things came into being, we can understand how things are. Its a question of visibility. So as these mechanisms become increasingly invisible, I think we understand less about them, and less about each other. So I designed this project to expose the industrial processes that AliBaba has made a business of hiding. I wanted to show where things come from. What factory workers think about. How they feel about eating, living and sleeping in their factories.

Ultimately, I wanted to expose the potential for chaos in global mass-production. We are designing increasingly efficient technologies to become more productive, better organised. To disguise errancy and confusion. But I feel like the human mind is incredibly chaotic – and beautifully so. So I like reminding myself that things don’t always fit into 1s and 0s. That reality in 2012 is temporary, fabricated, arbitrary. That it won’t always be like this. And that nothing, objectively, makes sense.

How has your background in commercial art (or advertising as it’s otherwise known ;-0) informed your work?

[Full disclosure: BST editors Anne-Fay and Darrell met Jeremy at ad agency HHCL where he was undertaking a WPP Fellowship.] To begin with, I learnt how contemporary myths are made. I learnt how to present arbitrary modes of rationality as if they made perfect sense. I learnt that so long as the logo is correctly placed, and the models are well-lit, then you can make just about anything sound convincing. Working in advertising was rather like working in the upper management of a well-run religion.

And advertising taught me a lot about humour. It understands that humour is the most disruptive tool in the box. There’s a line in Singing in the Rain: ‘Just slip on a banana peel / The world’s at your feet’. Basically, provided that you make people laugh, you can perform radical gestures and people will praise you for them. But if you protest in the streets with horns and banners, people will get scared and label you all sorts of bad things.

Can you tell us a bit about your next project?

Well, I’m currently examining one of the functions of an artwork. On a certain level, I think a work of art can be read as an advertising vehicle for the artist’s brand. Look at Damian Hirst’s diamond skull. Or Bas Jan Ader’s shipwreck. The success of an artwork could be judged by the myth it spins around its author. So I’ve outsourced my creative process to ad agencies (mythmakers) across the globe: W&K, BBH, Y&R, Start JG, Code&Logic. The agencies are generating the ideas, I’m executing the works. It’s an absurd premise – idiotic perhaps – but not cynical. You could say that everything we do advertises us: every action inspires some reaction. Anyway, it’s all in the pipeline…

Finally, are there any questions you wished we’d asked, and if so what are they? 

Well, you didn’t ask me about the exploitation that Err actually performs – people rarely do. Lurking in the depths of this project, buried beneath the humour, chaos and imagination, I think there’s something quite sinister going on. Its an extension of a very old colonial narrative: white British male brings freedom to less-privileged, less-educated people all over the world – but only on his terms… And that’s why I like the teapot with the lid stuck down. Because it says, quite clearly: fuck you.

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The Ghostmodern Condition

A riddle — Q: When is a thing not a thing? A: When it’s a void with the form of that thing.

Take a a Platonic solid, a cube. Then…

  1. Divide every face of the cube into 9 squares, like a Rubik’s Cube. This will sub-divide the cube into 27 smaller cubes.
  2. Remove the cube at the middle of every face, and remove the cube in the center, leaving 20 cubes.
  3. Repeat steps 1–3 for each of the remaining smaller cubes. Forever.

At each stage, you’re left with a fractal curve called a Menger Sponge:

[More animation here]

At the limit point of infinite recursion, you’re left with a cube which has infinite surface area, but which is all hole.

We offer this empty solid up as a model of an aesthetic we’re labelling ghostmodernism within which — of the spine, the spire, the span that holds the form to one form: the wire in the rose — only that span, the form of the form, remains, as the form itself has now become infinitely detailed, yet in that process, of the void.

So, you ask, what does ghostmodernism look like, in the wild?

Exhibit One — this exquisite laser-cut chair from Gallery Fumi:

[view full-size on Flickr]

Exhibit Two — the plot of the film Inception, while having the surface modernist form of a heist thriller, recurses down into the frozen time ‘down there’ deep in stasis of Cobb’s dreamworld, the narrative ‘arc’ now a pathological curve.

Inception narrative visualisation

The ghostmodern is not inherently evanescent, although I’d happily claim Doug Starn’s Big Bambu installation as an edge-case.

These thoughts also return to us our dreams of the hyperbolic surfaces of modern being — there’s another post coming soon linking these thoughts…

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James Unsworth’s warped reptiles.

Those suffering from hipster fatigue should visit Five Hundred Dollars for a reminder of why Hackney became so hip in the first place. James Unsworth‘s show is a return to form for East London art, a scene otherwise awash with indulgence and ketamine. Go see.

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Opera Salvage

How a music micro-trend heralds an emerging, internet-enabled, aesthetic movement.

Evan Calder Williams talks of salvagepunk — “a return to the repressed idiosyncrasy of outmoded things”.

By (sic) opposition to postmodern pastiche, in which any sign can be juxtaposed with any other in a friction-free space, salvagepunk retains the specificity of cultural objects, even as it bolts them together into new assemblages. That’s precisely because salvagepunk is dealing with objects rather than signs
— Mark Fisher: Desecration Row, in The Wire 319, page 46

The Wire magazine, ear to the grounds of crit-think and artistic practice both, has astutely flagged salvagepunk as informing a breaking musical microtrend.

We predict that salvagepunk will break out of this music context, to become a key aesthetic for a new stage of post-postmodernism. The affordances of the internet will enable this to happen. That the first works informed by salvagepunk are musical is, we conject, due to music’s status as the popular art form access to the historical corpus of which has been most transformed by the internet. Other media, particularly time-based, will follow.

Here’s our thinking.

Kenny Goldsmith wrote of nude media — digitised content stripped of context. But: a denuded copy of a familiar song gives itself away by the patina of experience we individually and collectively attach to its content; still evokes time and place; is loaded with signs, a wingful of eyes.

For nude media to become amenable to salvage, there’s a harsher stripping-bare to be undertaken than that of which Goldsmith writes, subsequent to which salvage operations proper can begin — the calcination and burning off of, or turning-aside-from all signification, to locate the object as object, song as sound, form not even form, but shape.

Time can serve that function — the glories of the forgotten whitelabel in the dusty crate at Dalston Oxfam testify to that; but cultural Time is driven by the fidget wheels of Progress. There’s a gradient to cultural Time; the suck towards that compressive depth into which most of everything made, sinks, lost to salvage deep under the midden-heap of consumer culture disjecta.

The internet not only flattens that gradient, thus making findable nude media from everywhen; but often presents such already de-signified and in gorgeously ambiguous contextual conjunction.

If postmodernist aesthetics led to “everything the second time around, without the innocence“, salvagepunk perhaps points to the field of possibilities opened up to those who avail themselves of internet-mediated access to “everything around, still, forever, without the memories“. Not an overloaded gluing-together of the familiar, but a reconsideration of the utility for assemblages of everything — of a kind which can only be possible when everything is always to hand.

So, all that aside, what does salvagepunky music sound like? Contemporary works incorporating elements of Chris de Burgh’s Lady in Red are cited amongst Wire‘s examples. But to our ears, cosmic disco god Daniele Baldelli’s 80s mixtapes are the exemplars of the salvagepunk aesthetic — mixing the cool and uncool, the obscure and the overfamiliar, into a free-floating sound-world of disco delight. Hunt those tapes down down online (not too hard a task), lean back and enjoy the sounds of Opera Salvage.

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Kinetica Art Fair 2010

Interactive lushness at the electronic art fair.

Here at BST we have a ‘kid test’. If kids immediately ‘get’ a piece of interactive art and are engaged with it, then that’s a clear indicator of the effectiveness of the piece. Of course, all art is subjective, but interactive and new media art in particular can suffer from a degree of convolution and — to be frank — irrelevance. The kid test filters a lot of that out. One parent was overheard patiently explaining to their daughter that ‘not everything moves’, but if the art fair is called ‘Kinetica’ that’s a fair expectation.

There are lots of pieces which pass the kid test at this year’s Kinetica art fair at P3 in Marylebone. Special props go to Squidsoup‘s Ocean of Light, a startlingly beautiful ‘dynamic light sculpture’ that reacts to music. We can see all kinds of amazing artistic and commercial applications for this piece, not least in live performance. Bjork, get in touch! Cinimod Studio‘s Flutter which produces a rabble of virtual butterflies is also charming and effective — a real example of how digital art can be humanised. On the more Dorkbot-esque side of things, Monomatic’s P.E.A.L. replicates bell ringing with tubes of light, lasers and a iPhone remote (note, expect to see A LOT more iPhone remote controlled applications).

The fair also has some neat examples of first generation hacker art, such as Miss Rosa Bosom, a robot created by Bruce Lacey which won the Alternative Miss World in 1985 and SAM, a sound reactive cybernetic sculpture from 1968 by the late Edward Ihnatowicz. As an argument for the continued importance and relevance of digital and electronic art (are you listening, ICA?), Kinetica 2010 makes a pretty compelling case.

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Face On

The 3D projection installation coming to a festival near you this summer.

Face On is an interactive art installation incorporating a 3D face powered by a 10,000 lumen projector, bespoke 3D graphics and video content combined with laser sensors. As a piece of public art, the installation dramatically raises the stakes of what can be done with projector technology as well as providing a new surface for artists to work on.

The installation is the product of Hear Colours who worked with a number of different artists to produce the work. We spoke to one of them, avant garde artist Patrycja Grimm.

BST: How did your involvement in Face On come about?

PATRYCJA: I got involved in the project through a friend who recommended me as I was often in an audio visual environment and would wear colourful faces and costumes on a daily basis.

I use my face as an alternative surface on which to paint; I experiment with colors, shapes, decorative writing and tagging the skin. Through this I’m looking for a more graphical way of reflecting my own personal being away from the traditional use of beauty make up.

As I grew more experienced I found people’s response to my self-expressed exhibition very positive, and this soon lead me to be invited into professional collaborations like the Face On project with Nicola Romanini.

What are your ambitions for the project?

The aim was to create animation with expandin face-paintings and also capture facial expressions to use as samples for each of the sensors that the public will activate. With Nic’s agreement my proposal was to implement tribal designs from Kabuki, the Congo, Kathakali, and Papua New Guinea — as these are disappearing arts, along with more contemporary face-paints — such as clowns, pierrot, and some modifications with free-styling. It was a great opportunity to combine my need to paint with video art and interactive installation.

With these designs I wanted to reflect the subjects impression, aura, as well as their natural qualities and energies.

The project is visually stunning, but what — other than spectacle — do you hope people will take away from it?

From my personal point of view, I think Face On has good potential for interactivity which brings about a great joy of discovery.

As well as making people perform, The Mask brings a relaxed confidence about their own image which can now be used as a canvas for a visual game and hopefully reflection on our appearance in the era of absolute conformism.

Face On will be at the Glastonbury Festival 26-28th June and Glade Festival 16-19th July.

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Urban Cookbook Party Reminder!

Book launch. Party. Great DJs. Street Art. Street Food. BigShinyThing. Be There!

Urban CookbookJust a reminder that BST‘s Anne-Fay is featured in King Adz‘s upcoming book, published by Thames and Hudson. The launch party is at Cargo on October 9. Come down and say hello.

[BST-exclusive image by Adz]

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RIP Nagi Noda

The Japanese artist/designer/director has died aged 35.

Dog HatsNagi Noda was maybe best known for her “Sentimental Journey” video for Japanese pop star Yuki, which featured multiple “analog” clones of the singer and influenced Jack White’s 2006 Coca-Cola commercial. Noda’s body of work included short films, sculpture and even character art like Hanpanda, the half panda/half other beast who appeared in her art exhibits and was also part of a collaboration with L.A./N.Y. fashion brand Libertine. Last year, she collaborated with painter Mark Ryden on her own fashion label Broken Label. Her most recent creations included delightfully strange hairpieces in the shapes of various breeds of dog.

“Beyond being a brilliant artist and wonderful talent, Nagi was one of the most incredibly unique spirits that I have known,” says Sheila Stepanek, CEO/EP Partizan US, which represented Noda. “Our thoughts and prayers are with her family and friends.” Stepanek says that Noda passed “in her Mark Ryden dress, Chanel boots, perfect make-up with Viktor & Rolf lace black eye lashes.”

Source: Creativity Online.

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South Bank Takedown

Tate Modern cleans up its image…

Street Art removal at Tate ModernFor the past few months, the river-facing façade of Tate Modern on Bankside has featured ‘street art’ works by Blu from Bologna, Italy; the artist collective Faile from New York, USA; JR from Paris, France; Nunca and Os Gêmeos, both from São Paulo, Brazil and Sixeart from Barcelona, Spain.

But what goes up, must come down, and today was the day for cleaning specialists Grafitti Busters to bring in their cherry pickers and hoses to strip it all away. Strangely, Tate hadn’t worked up the same frenzy of PR around this event as they did for the launch, but we were there to record the moment anyways. First to go was JR’s signature blow-up of a black guy wielding a weapon video camera. We arrived a bit later, to catch them tentatively starting to strip down Faile’s comic-book Native American superhero (above): give it a couple of days and all will be pre-post-modern business as usual at the Tate.

Get down there early tomorrow if you want to catch that familiar London street-scene — high-pressure art removal — on the grandest scale.

More pix on Flickr.

[Photo ©2008 Darrell Berry]

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Getty Hijacked

Video hackers take down Getty’s video ‘art’ site.

As part of its California Video exhibition, The Getty launched a website called Video Revolutionaries. This website invited the public to upload their own video art inspired by the works of the artists in California Video collection. In spite of this request for work influenced by many of the outrageous and transgressive artists in the show, the website also lists criteria that the public’s videos must abide by. A list of rules and regulations imposes traditional censorship upon the applicants. The site then also gives the public rules on how they can interact with the videos on the website.

The “Video Revolutionaries” website states that all video posts will be reviewed by the Getty and deemed acceptable before being posted to the Video Revolutionaries website. It further explicitly forbids sexually explicit material, certain kinds of violence, and the use of any sort of automated voting methods. So much for artistic freedom.

Now, there’s nothing like a little bit of censorship to provoke the online anarchists. Hence a collective known as The Infinity Lab took it upon themselves to produce a number of very silly videos for the site which they then pumped to the top of the ‘most viewed’ list. They pretty much own this section of the site now. Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters would be proud. Small act of subversion? Yes. But also a reminder (as if one were needed) that the Internet remains an anarchic space. And one which brands and institutions should still engage with carefully.
Getty’s site rather archaically doesn’t allow their video to be easily embedded elsewhere, so you’ll need to click here to view the currently-top-rated content.

Via Nettime.

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