At MoMA yesterday, I was talking about some Google Maps and Street View projects with a trustee, who was all, "There's an artist in the New Photography show that uses Google Maps, they're stunning!"
And it only occurred to me at that moment that the Doug Rickard in New Photography 2011 is the Doug Rickard of American Suburb X, and that he was showing his incredible series, A New American Picture. [The show opened last week; I hadn't seen it, and the galleries were closed yesterday.]
I really should be discussing it more, because A New American Picture is pretty much the most successful and powerful Street View-based art project out there. Rickard's images are haunting, and he's right when he said [somewhere, I'll find it later] that these photos could not be taken by a camera-wielding photographer; the presence of a human with a lens would destroy the scenes.
Which, as I type it, makes me think of the old Michelangelo chestnut about finding the sculpture in the block of marble. In a way, A New American Picture feels like the photos Rickard uncovered in Street View. Now I've got to get back to the museum and see the actual show.
So I got the piece installed last night for "While You Wait...", organized by Brian Dupont. It really only works in the daylight, so I won't know yet how it actually looks, but it went in just as I expected it would.
I like this little corner detail here, sort of an Urs Fischer meets William Anastasi meets Roni Horn on Google Street View kind of thing.
In her post about how her Mario Kart reflexes started cropping up while she was driving a real car, Sally Adee introduced me to a new term, "everting," which William Gibson introduced in his 2007 novel, Spook Country, and which she explains as "entering the next phase of its evolution by creeping out of the virtual boundaries that once defined it and into what we consider 'real life.'"
Which I mention here because it turns out to kind of relate to the piece I'm putting in this show in a couple of weeks--right? that's what I thought, too--a site-specific work about Google Street View.
But [much to Geoffrey Nunberg's continued consternation, I'm sure] that title turns out to be as glitched up as the pages themselves. According to rare booksellers, Wallerius's two-part book is actually titled, Hydrologie, oder Wasserreich, von ihm eingetheilet und beschrieben: nebst einer Anleitung zur Anstellung der Wasserproben: wie auch dessen Gedanken vom Dannemarks-Gesundbrunnen,, or Hydrology, or Water Kingdom, divided, and described by him: in addition to a manual for the use of water samples: and also his thoughts on Danish mineral waters..
Hydrologie was originally published in Swedish in 1747, and Wallerius worked closely with Denso on the German translation. But, kind of hilariously, that's not important now.
Google Books has remade Hydrologie into something entirely its own, and it's awesome. Wohlgemeynte Gedanken is a beautiful, revealing mix of inadvertent making-of documentary and algorithmic abstraction. Reiner Speck's insight on Polke's photocopied Daphne seem relevant here:
Process is revealed, over and over again. Motifs accumulate page after page, as do small graphic cycles. The printed dot, the resolution, the subject, and the speed all determine and are determined by the apparently unpredictable and often impenetrable secret of a picture whose drafts are akin to the waste products of a copying machine. Even if the motifs in this book provide but a brief insight into the artist's hitherto secret files and archives, it is still a significant one.
In fact, between the time I started this post last night and this morning, Google Books has removed the distorted copy of Wohlgemeynte Gedanken from its site. In its place now is a plain scan, low-res, but entirely legible, and a digitally generated cover image [but with the same, mangled title]. A side-by-side comparison [above] shows the same underlying scans, which means the distortions--and the fixes--all happened in post.
It also means I'm glad I grabbed the full PDF when I did. And that I formatted it, created a cover, and made it into a print version. Instead of the distorted black and white cover Google Books [still] shows online, I went with a beautiful full-color shot of the gold-stamped leather binding.
The book also includes Google Books' 2-page boilerplate foreword explaining what they wish would happen with scans of public domain books. Which is adorable.
2015 UPDATE: As the folks who bought the original 2011 edition can attest, the proofs turned out to be slightly underwhelming, losing some of the visual impact of Google Books' original. But then no one was really buying it that often, so no biggie. But a few weeks ago I went back to see if I could improve the formatting of the book, and now it looks much better. A full-color option may still come, but in the mean time, the 2015 printings are the way to go.
In Memory of My Feelings - Frank O'Hara, Jasper Johns, 1961
I'm long overdue for updates on the search for the Jasper Johns Flag Painting that went missing from Robert Rauschenberg's 1955 combine, Short Circuit. I'll get to them when I get back home to my files.
Meanwhile, one by-product of searching for a flag: I start seeing them everywhere.
This little multiple by Gabriel Orozco is the first part of a series that doubles the number of rectangles on each sheet.
Doug Rickard, Helena-West Helena, Arkansas, 2008, "A New American Picture," via bremser
Thanks to Joerg, I've had it in my browser tabs for almost a month now, meaning to write about it, but the TL;DR version is, Wayne Bremser's essay on his blog It's Never Summer is one of the smartest things I've read on Google Street View and fine photography.
Anyway, Bremser's analysis is excellent in itself, but his premises also illuminate the contours of the gap that somehow persists between photography and art. Or more properly, between fine photography and contemporary art. At this point, I am coming to see these differences in religious terms: they're formative, deeply held, esoteric, easily lost on outsiders, and laughable to an atheist.
Though his title hints at more audacious possibilities, Bremser focuses on GSV as a tool for human artists:
As a camera, GSV is used by a photographer to rotate around, frame, and click to grab an image. The images that we see on the screen are raw data, gathered by the drivers; these images do not become photographs until a photographer frames them.
Also, I'm happy to take GSV's ambition to "photograph the entire world" at conceptual face value, and go from there. By the time the Bechers began exploring the futility of documenting typologies of disappearing, industrial manmade structures, astronomers had already begun their second attempt to photograph the entire universe.
From Bremser's photographer-centric beginning, it's logical to say that:
One important process-related issue with GSV images that end up as photographs on a gallery wall is this: they are not screen grabs, but photographs of a screen.
Michael Wolf, Paris, 2008
But it is compelling and awesome to see the moire patterns and magnified pixels of Wolf's pictures of his computer screen [above] in the context of photographers taking on the tectonic media shifts of their day, such as Lee Friedlander's "Little Screens" series [below], photos from the 1960s that captured fleeting images on television sets.
Regardless of how photographs are sourced, it's still essential to see photography in books and on walls. How do these look in the gallery?
Which, again, hmm.
I have used screenshots from both Google Maps and GSV to make both prints and books, because the screen, or the browser window, or Google Earth, is Google's native image format. [Technically, that's not true; Google presumably has much higher-res versions of their imagery which they do not make publicly available.] But I guess this is a distinction between using at Google's imaging as source, and examining at it as subject. The fascinating, mind-blowing process around here isn't Wolf's [or for that matter, mine] but Google's.
Or maybe they've just added the optimized housing. I don't know, but I should. Because this equipment is not Google's secret sauce; it's available. You can take a Dodeca 2360 out to make your own panos or sequences. The Street View aesthetic can now be yours! At least in theory. I suspect I'd find that shooting with a Dodeca 2360 wouldn't make me Google any more than using a Red would make me Steven Soderbergh.
So along with the general admiration and pleasure of seeing so many Lewitts, the first thing I think is: picturesque.
Double Modular Cube, 1969
Lewitt introduced human proportions into these modules, which may somehow account for why it feels like an idyllically sited pavilion or garden folly. But it's definitely activating something in the landscape, too.
Then there is Complex Forms, 1987:
Which, I know, I know, every algorithmically-generated polygon around here gets tied to Dutch Camo Landscapes. But:
For the Complex Forms, the artist drafted a two-dimensional polygon and placed dots at various locations within it. As the form is projected into three dimensions, those interior points are elevated into space at different heights. The elevated points dictate the seams of the object's multi-faceted surface.
So these things turn out to be topographies "projected" from two dimensions into three. Maps. So it is not a stretch.
The way I found the Dutch Camo Landscapes in the first place was through architecture. They were 2D patterns generated from photos of 3D structures, which read as 3D structures themselves. As camo deployed against aerial surveillance, I've also imagined them as crystalline structures or surfaces, topographies, installed above whatever site is being obscured.
It's to the point that last fall, I actually went to the Noordeinde Paleis [above] in The Hague, not *really* expecting, but kind of hoping, to see it sitting, safe from terror or whatever, under a giant, polychrome, polygonal tent. It was not. I'll add that to my project list, though. [note to self: call Queen Beatrix.]
"The Complex Forms introduce irregularity into Lewitt's work," we are told, "which is further explored, for example," in the Splotches. Which, again, two-dimensional drawing projected into structure via formulas for generating color and height. I can really dig these things, except--I didn't photograph it, didn't want to be a crank, but holy crap, I can't stop staring at that seam.
The next thing is how lush and classical City Hall Park is. Since this incarnation dates from 1999, I guess historicist is the right word. I don't remember noticing this as acutely as I do now.
Maybe because so many Lewitts are installed along the park's radial axis, lined up with that replica fountain just so.
In his opening remarks at the New School, Nicholas Baume described the Public Art Fund's program as "looking back at radical practices dating from the 1960s and registering their contemporary resonance." He goes on to cite the appeal of seeing "the interesting juxtaposition of natural landscape [sic], New York City skyscrapers, and the architectural and decorative elements of the park," which "provide a fascinating and rich context." But now this installation, I get less sense of juxtaposition, and more assimilation. Radial historicism: 1. Radical practice: 0.
As I'm walking around, trying to figure out how to process this situation, I suddenly looked at the Complex Structures head-on, i.e., the "wrong" way.
Connecticut veterans at the front of the Iwo Jima Memorial, image: ct.gov
Which, suddenly, Lewitt's practice of projecting a 2D image into a 3D structure has an entirely new, complicated legacy which I've never seen addressed before, but maybe this City Hall Park is a good place to start.
If the proposed changes really do take effect, and the status quo of one of the most highly developed state-sponsored ecosystems for the arts is actually dismantled at a stroke, I think it's really important to requestion every comfortable assumption of the involvement between art and politics. It has a lot of obvious problems and weaknesses, but the Dutch system, at least as perceived from abroad, has always seemed like the apotheosis of certain ideals of cultural industrial policy, which, Lutticken argues, now "don't seem to be worth a penny."
Dutch populism seems to center on--surprise--issues of immigration, assimilation, and Muslim vs. Christian cultural influence. As it turns out, one of the contributors in Open 20 is Foundland, a graphics, art, and research group that seems part collaborative, part design firm.
In 2009, Foundland created CACHÉ ÉXPOSÉ, an investigation into the remote, largely invisible, and unreported system of detention and deportation facilities in the Netherlands. The majority of the people imprisoned in the facilities or subjected to the system seem to be immigrants and refugees from largely Muslim countries.
And the short answer is no. Their industrial anonymity is camouflage enough. But then hey-ho, looking at the waterfront detention center in Zaandam, a commercial city northwest of Amsterdam, what do I see? Awesome-looking domes.
Double geodesic domes of unknown purpose, but which look to be at least somewhat transparent or translucent from Street View. What a wonderfully open society the Netherlands must be that in can allow the Google Street View car to drive right up into the middle of its immigrant prisons. Oh wait.
What strikes me, besides the lone figure standing outside the double barbed-wire fence? Is irony the right word to see a geodesic dome, a form which was once erected to great fanfare in Afghanistan, where it served as a symbolic center of friendship, trade, democracy, and political cooperation with the west, being deployed in a back alley prison in Europe filled, presumably, with impoverished immigrants from the Middle East?
But when you step outside into Street View's street view, this is what you see:
It looks like an enhancement of the way Google deals with obstructions by stitching differently timed images together in their panos. You can imagine that, as Google populates its image database, it will depopulate its published images, erasing more and more of the visual information it deems extraneous or obstructive.
This Google ghost bus will look novel, until it becomes the norm, and then it, too, will be refined out of existence.
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