On Friday, I attended the LA Art Show, primarily to check out Supersonic 2009 and to listen to the Is Art Criticism Still Relevant? panel discussion. Maybe I wanted to get in a little art commerce voyeurism – anyone who wants to buy me a 7K Robert Longo diptych is welcome to…
What happened to Supersonic? Even though Supersonic was always a revelation of the unevenness of talent and product coming out of Souther California’s MFA programs (which are bloated, producing a stream of proto-artists who rapidly expire the minute the oxygen supply of their parent’s money or their novelty runs out), how did it fall so far from the tree of 2004′s successful beginning in the Art Center wind tunnel? Shoehorned into the back of the fair, dimly lit and cave-like, with work haphazardly dotted around the cubicle-like spaces, the defining feature of this year’s show was a lack of purpose and meaning.
Littered with bad, bad paintings of nothing and equally senseless, indescribable sculpture, Supersonic sapped any remaining faith I have in the purpose of MFA programs to produce working artists. I don’t know what’s being taught, I don’t know if the students have the chops to even be taught. The faithlessness goes beyond the students to their teachers – what purpose do they serve if their student’s work is poor? I’m looking at paintings of nothing, by people who seem to have nothing inside, or badly made sculptures that resemble little more than piles of Home Depot and consumer refuse. Objects without form. I suppose I could embrace it all and champion some kind of post-contemporary, suburban nihilism, but I just can’t do it.
That being spewed forth, I did like some of the work in the show, and that work, I really liked. I guess for those artists in the show who’s work was interesting, it’s an opportunity to get some exposure, and rise above the crap, but at the risk of association with said crap. I liked the three works below because they reflect creative potential on the part of the artist, a foundational process for more mature works to come, that I found utterly lacking in most of the exhibition.
Above – Micha Cardenas, UCSD, Becoming Dragon. This is described as “a mixed reality, durational performance in Second Life”. Cardenas’ is experimenting with a transitional experience in the virtual world that in a limited fashion mirrors her own transitional experience as someone undergoing hormone therapy as a percursor to sexual reassignment surgery. There has actually been some debate and argumentation about whether furries or other folks who identify more as animals, including fantastic animals, like dragons, should qualify for some kind of special rights status akin to the arguments made for the rights of transgendered individuals. Out of all of the projects at Supersonic, this struck me as the most mature, the most developed exploration of an idea, combined with action on the part of the artist.
Virtual Worlds and the art that occurs in them are still in their infancy, and this is probably the most interesting virtual world performance art/action that I’ve come across. I’m more interested in the performance/action than in the documentation – which is what is on display here. View the statement here, or check out Micha’s blog or Flickr stream for more info.
Above – Kael Greco, UCSD, 137 Lives. Described as being constructed from “video, C++ and a hacked SNES emulator”, I was left wondering what’s going on with this piece. It wasn’t clear to me if it’s a recording of a run of Contra III: The Alien Wars (the piece is a video), or if the computer is running i all by itself and what we’re witnessing is some kind of. I also think it was a mistake for Greco to not list the rom of Contra III as material in the piece – it’s not impossible for me to imagine viewers believing that his work is a raw creation, rather than a derivation and modification of something else. As someone who’s modified video games in the past, and who used to work with video games as source material, I know how difficult it is to translate game-based work to the viewer, especially viewers who didn’t grow up with an umbilical to a dozen different gaming consoles.
Kael’s website has a page on what I presume is the source material for the piece, an interactive version called Collaborative Contra. The descriptor there is more useful, although it leaves me unsure if the emulator is hacked or if the rom is hacked. Collaborative Contra is a version of Contra III wherin each playthrough of level one is recorded and subsequent players are forced to play on top of the totality of preceeding players. Now that I understand the meat of the piece, I’m more able to appreciate what Greco is attempting – an exploration of the shared space and narrative of video gaming, by transforming the isolation of solo gaming into something akin to a train station at rush hour, where multiple strangers all participate in the same experience, but remain largely unknown to one another. In addition to the experiment of the work, I also liked the visual chaos of watching what appeared to be a maddening host of protagonists blow up the screen, a reversal of the usual situation of a video game, where the narrative is about a single superman destroying hosts of deadly enemies as if they were made of tissue paper. Any critcism I have of the piece’s construction or labeling are intended as reflecting the total immaturity of video games as a non-commercial artistic medium (as a commercial artistic medium, they’re one of the great creative achievements of our era) as Greco and other artists working with the raw material of video games (and not just the aesthetics) is literally in moon landing territory.
above – William Ransom, CGU, cutchart. The only “well crafted” object I saw in the show, the split carcass of what I presume is a pig, rendered in wood, with butterfly joints. Just a beautiful thing, well lit and well installed. There’s a detail shot of the sculpture, here. Ransom has a show opening at Pitzer this Thursday, as well.