Monday, May 25, 2009

Heidi Aishman

Heidi Aishman making work for the Peabody Essex Museum exhibition "Trash Menagerie"

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A Report from the Phantom Zone

The recent economic slow down has hit the entire global arts community extremely hard, but strangely, I have not seen many artists using the current state of affairs as the central dialog of their work. This could be because the changes in our economy occurred so recently and quickly, but in general it seems that making art about crisis is one of the fastest and most fundamental ways that people process and respond to any set of circumstances. I have even heard of an artist who collected pieces of debris and was making sculpture while in the Superdome in 2005. The American Red Cross reports that some 275,000 homes were lost during Katrina, and, rightfully, that loss has become the nexus of thousands of artists work. Same with 9/11, same with the wars, or any other large cultural crisis. Artists usually take pride in being cultural first responders that help society gain perspective and work through a crisis through the act of making art. Many estimates expect unemployment to top 30,000,000 by the end of 2009. By the end of 2009, RealtyTrac estimates there will be some 2,000,000 families who have their homes in foreclosure. And that’s just in the US. Where’s the work on those losses?

One installation I saw at the Contemporary in Atlanta had an installation by Detroit native and conceptual sculptor Mark Wentzel called “Morale Hazard”. Wentzel’s installation deals directly with the current economic climate and the traumatic loss felt over the transformation of the auto industry. For his installation, Wentzel has suspended a 1965 Ford Mustang (a classic Detroit muscle car) from the ceiling of the Contemporary in front of a wall drawing of a mustang running head long off of a cliff/graph of economic indicators. Crawling away from the hanging Mustang is an anthropomorphized V-8 engine that appears to have evolved its’ own legs and corporate necktie as if the engine itself is desperately trying to abandon the discarded husk of the previous generation’s concept of the automobile for something new, organic and unknown. Wentzel’s work is able to provoke conceptual questions about our teetering auto industry while simultaneously producing visceral awe at seeing a 3000 pound machine hanging from the ceiling. His work challenges icons of masculinity, freedom, and independence while raising questions about our dependence on the previous century’s social and financial structures. Mark Wentzel’s installation is a fascinating example of work that has multiple modes of entry and directions for interpretation. Subsequently, his gallery talk was filled with people who had hugely diverse interests, like people who were interested in art, people who only wanted to talk about the economy and some people who were just interested muscles cars.
If you have a chance and are Atlanta, go to the Contemporary and check it out. If you see any interesting art about the current economic crisis, please leave a link to it in the comments section.

Installation shot of Mark Wentzel's "Morale Hazard"

Preview discussion with Mark Wentzel before his gallery talk at the Contemporary in Atlanta, May 23, 2009

Interview by: Steve Aishman

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Printology Atlanta 2009

Printology Atlanta 2009

Steve Aishman

Monday, May 18, 2009

Mattress Factory Open Studios 2009

Mattress Factory Open Studios 2009

Atlanta, GA

Interviews by: Steve Aishman

YouTube version

Sunday, May 10, 2009

A Report from the Phantom Zone

A Report from the Phantom Zone:
Why I love abstract art and think it is getting better.

“The eye is the natural master of pattern recognition. The eye demands satisfaction by invoking in us strong feelings of puzzlement.”
- John Whitney (IBM’s first Artist in Residence in 1966)

As a science, pattern recognition seems like a simple to understand statistical model of machine learning where raw data is observed and then classified. However, there are some fascinating philosophical implications to pattern recognition as the science is applied to human cognition. Most people are taught that perception functions like Johannes Mueller's notion that nerves telegraph messages to the brain where perception occurs. Others like J. J. Gibson propose different models like ecological psychology where Gibson writes, “The very idea of a retinal pattern-sensation that can be impressed on the neural tissue of the brain is a misconception, for the neural pattern never even existed in the retinal mosaic.”(1) Essentially, Gibson promoted Thomas Reid’s concept of direct realism and rejected the notion that all of perception is in the mind. Gibson’s concepts had a large influence on designers like Donald Norman who wrote "Things That Make Us Smart”, which talks about how humans create visual tools like diagrams to "overcome the limitations of brainpower."

As an artist, this is where things get very interesting. The Flynn Effect seems to document that average IQ points seem to be rising about 3 points a decade. While this may not mean that people are getting more intelligent, it certainly means more people are able to achieve higher scores on a test that fundamentally times people on various types of pattern recognition. Have you ever seen an IQ test? How many questions are of the form “Which these best completes the following sequence?” or something conceptually similar like analogy questions, etc.? Our society defines intelligence as pattern recognition. The implications of this are massive and simple at the same time.

Artist throughout history have used pattern recognition in their work for centuries, but perhaps none more than abstract artists like Kandinsky who developed his aesthetic using a specific geometric vocabulary. Kandinsky famously said, "There is only one road to follow, that of analysis of the basic elements in order to arrive ultimately at an adequate graphic expression." But what happens when the viewer’s vocabulary of geometry has changed? Kandinsky’s abstract images are fundamentally constructed out of a vocabulary of lines and basic shapes such as triangles and circles. Today’s viewing public has a much more extensive geometric vocabulary and has become used to seeing and identifying geometric objects that Kandinsky had never heard of, like fractals or patterns from chaos theory. On a fundamental level, the Flynn Effect illustrates that viewers today are much better at pattern recognition and can recognize far more complex patterns than people in the 1940’s.

This has two interesting effects. 1. Visiting a museum is a very different viewing experience for 21st century viewers of abstract art than it was for early 20th century viewers. So, the next time you go to a museum and see a Kandinsky, try to look at it with more complex eyes and see what happens. 2. Contemporary abstract art is continuing to get more and more complex in fascinating ways that many people dismiss because the concepts have been around for over a century.

An examples of this is Yoon Lee who just had work at Pierogi in March. Where Kandinsky’s painting had squares and circles, Lee’s images contain Lorenz attractors and Mandelbrot sets. (While the term “Lorenz attractor” might sound complex, they appear in the graphics shown on the Weather Channel constantly. They are representations of the apparent chaos of a storm that for centuries was thought to be unpredictable, but contemporary scientists can predict the final outcome of storm using chaos theory. Human understanding of math has changed so dramatically over the last 100 years that what used to be viewed as images of abstract and unpredictable storms swirling are now considered useful scientific data.)
I’m very excited by the prospects of more abstract art and how abstract art actually reflects and supports the complexities of our society’s abilities to recognize patterns. In many ways, we can see how abstract art fits in with Donald Norman’s concept of how humans make visual representations to make us smarter. So go look at more abstract art. It will make you smarter.

(1) J. J. Gibson (1966) The Senses Considered as Perceptual Systems. Houghton Mifflin, Boston. P. 263

"Composition 8"

Yoon Lee

Sunday, May 03, 2009

The Machete @ Aurora Cafe

The Machete @ Aurora Cafe Interview by Steve Aishman