Media and the Fair
The much-anticipated, wildly hyped Seattle Art Fair blasted by like a comet. Pro tip: the next time you find yourself at an art fair, wear tennis shoes, or at least flats.
I believe I accurately capture the esprit du jour when I say I’m still recovering from four straight days (and nights) of events, yet coursing with residual energy making precious sleep elusive. We don’t want to rest, we want to keep working, keep aiming higher. That is to say, the Seattle Art Fair not only put Seattle on the national arts map, including coverage in the New York Times; it also raised the bar for artists, arts organizers and city-wide galleries and institutions.
Opening last Thursday and running through August 2 at CenturyLink Field Event Center, one would’ve had to have been superhuman to take in the fair in its entirety. Virtually every arts organization in the city participated in programming including exhibitions, lectures, site-specific projects, street fests, screenings and performances.
On opening night I made my way through the crowd at CenturyLink to catch the vibe. It was packed with lines snaking down the block. Energy was high, and so were sales–proceeds from the patron VIP passes, donated to local Artist Trust, hit $85,000 by the end of the weekend. Local and out-of-town galleries reported solid sales as well. By all accounts, this is only the beginning.
New Media and the Fair
New media work was of particular interest to me at the Seattle Art Fair. A traditionally unsalable medium with a growing collector base, I was curious about its representation within the context of an ultimately commercial undertaking.
We’re all accustomed to encountering media within the landscape of contemporary art: video, immersive installation, and more recently, custom programming, 3D printed objects, Oculus apparti, and net-based technologies. Hallmarks of the Information Age such as surveillance, networked culture and data mining are popular subjects. Online galleries have cropped up everywhere. Social media is by now not only a tool for disseminating art, but a medium in itself, from Instagram-based investigations of the selfie phenomenon, to Twitter bots exploring hacker culture and Facebook feeds tweaked by custom algorithms. Performative art often incorporates light, sound, and even electronic wearables.
Media projects are predominantly funded by grants, commissioned by institutions, or brought to life entirely by the efforts and resources of DIY artists and curators. Commercial galleries are slower on the uptake, whether due to deviation from the financially quantifiable art-object, or because of practical logistics involving specialized devices and anarchy on a space’s white cube standard.
A handful of galleries participating in the Seattle Art Fair already champion the genre–Portland’s Upfor, New York’s bitforms gallery. To offer an idea of sales format, Ryan Whittier Hale’s Untitled and Monolith, two videos represented by Upfor that run back-to-back and incorporate digital collage and 3D animation, are available through eight editions at $5,000 a pop.
The tech sector and tech-related art are arenas dominated by male aesthetics. This too is evolving, thankfully. Upfor featured a collection of exquisite, tiny, matrix-like forms made of 3D printed plastic resin and titled to reference arrays (Game Cube Array, Rainbow Array) by Portland-based Brenna Murphy. Priced at under $1,000 each and installed smartly on mirrored shelves, they shimmered like shamanic gems amidst so much white-walled polish. Murphy’s work critically withstood the test of its commercial presentation, feeling like ruins borne of some ritual conducted upon the exact point in time and space where past and future meet.
Addie Wagenknecht showcased a series titled Black Hawk Powder at bitforms gallery. Based between New York and Austria, she’s described as “an anti-disciplinary artist who works in the fields of emerging media, open source, pop culture and hackivism”. Wagenknecht used small drone aircrafts to create paintings inside an on-site studio. Her performances were viewable to the public at select times daily, and the resultant paintings were vibrantly pink and powdery. Also on display at the bitforms booth were Wagenknecht’s rhinestone-studded modems mounted to the wall.
I didn’t have a chance to catch Micah Ganske’s Ocular EVA Pod at 101/Exhibit, a gallery from Los Angeles. As part of Creative Lab–which highlighted artists using new technology and provided interactive spaces within the CenturyLink Field Event Center–Ocular EVA Pod took the viewer through an immersive virtual tour of Ganske’s painting and sculpture.
Over at Pace, Japan-based collective teamLab exhibited a digital wonderland in a built-out room. Very much for sale (I didn’t catch the going price, but suffice to imagine given Pace’s stature), one of teamLab’s three pieces, Flowers and People–Dark was available through an edition of ten.
Locally, new media at the fair-proper was sparser. Punch Gallery included an installation by Justin Colt Beckman titled Southern Comfort. In it, the artist is portrayed as a soldier through projected video, rendered in tones so subtle the silhouetted image seems to sink into the wall like a specter, while at once standing atop a very physical wooden whiskey barrel.
Thinking Currents, the Seattle Art Fair’s signature exhibition, really deserves a stand-alone review and critical analysis.
Curated by Leeza Ahmady, Director of Asia Contemporary Art Week, Thinking Currents bridged the site-specificity of the Pacific Northwest with communities and artists practicing from within the Pacific Rim. It was comprised entirely of new media works–primarily video, as well as an interactive pixel screen, discrete sound pieces, and a light-enhanced installation. Water prevailed as the thematic thread running throughout, describing political, environmental, mythological and meditative modes of inquiry. Touted in the catalogue text as “an investigation into the cartography of globalization”, the ocean was an apt and multi-faceted symbol for unifying the heady concepts confronted within Thinking Currents.
Effects ranged from jarring (starting and stopping with sudden, loud bursts of sound), to disorienting, to poetic. Short on time and seeking the most efficient way to take it all in, I indulged in a tour offered by Ahmady.
Self-Conscious by Instanbul-based Burçak Bingöl was screened at small scale. In the 43-second video loop, a woman stoically sits at a table. The setting possesses a Middle Eastern feel; she both wears and is surrounded by floral-motifed prints. A ceramic vase rests on the table at her side. Without looking up, she suddenly, violently knocks the vase to the ground in a single movement. It smashes, speaking to cultural history, tradition, and a state of belonging within Western imperialism.
The installation Moving Lemuria from the Indian to the Pacific Ocean by Hong Kong-based artist team MAP Office, drew from the mythic lost continent of Mu. Like Atlantis, Mu may or may not have ever existed. It was reenvisioned here as a floating landfill built up from seashells and plastic bits collected from the shores of Sanibel Island, eerily glowing beneath spotlights. The myth is frighteningly real in the face of our current, (de)evolving ecosystems, impacted by globalization and worldwide consumption. Next to this was a single channel video by the same artists, in which text reading Island Is Land faded in and out of a rolling seascape.
In Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook’s black-and-white video Death Seminar B, the subject sits in a morgue surrounded by dead bodies on stretchers. She engages in a Q&A session with the departed, both tender and absurd. Ahmady relayed a personal story about her father’s death and its impact on her life. She proposed that we’re always in contact with the dead, that the conversation between life and death transcends physical boundaries.
Jamie Zigelbaum’s Sequence in Parallel utilized small Raspberry Pi screens displaying twenty isolated segments of a single film, each on loop. The film’s examined as an object, rather than a start-to-finish narrative, creating a memory collage of moments. Cables and hardware were bared, hanging down the wall into a pile on the floor.
On Sunday, bedraggled from running between two sites and touring Thinking Currents in impractical shoes, then drinking champagne on an empty stomach, I made my way a few blocks down 1st Ave S to the Living Computer Museum for A Singularity. An official off-site exhibition, it hosted fifteen works by artists whose practices directly speak to tech processes.
Refreshingly, not everything was literally made with media. Joel Holmberg’s We’ve Been Scrolling For Years and There’s So Much More to Load simulates a web page in acrylic and oil on canvas. “it welcomed a new approach towards principles of agrarian society”, announces a banner. Above this, the viewer (or “user”) can choose between READ MORE or DOWNLOAD buttons. “data had become so vast” is emblazoned upon an array of rainbow-colored cables. At the painting’s bottom, there’s a website navigation menu. The artist collapses the heirarchy of materials and humanizes the flow of information, which was represented here in tactile form.
I wasn’t sure why an enormous, sprawling installation of abstract ceramics occupied half of the main room, but there it was, YuYu Asia Blue by Mark Cooper. Maybe it alluded to singularity by interrelating multiple parts, but YuYu Asia Blue felt so disproportionate I asked staff if it was part of the same show (it was). Then again, my brain had dissolved into a blur by this point.
In the darkened back room, Brenna Murphy’s installation resembled a Tyvek carpet printed in Aztec and Mayan motifs. It incorporated 3D printed sculptures, similar to those she had for sale at the Upfor booth. On Friday night Murphy’s multi-media/music project, MSHR (with Birch Cooper), staged a performance bringing the objects to life. I sadly missed it, but heard it was incredible (and MSHR will be performing again in Seattle on August 21 at Chapel Performance Space at Good Shepherd Center). There was a concave stone etched with projected, vaguely tribal figures by Michal Rovner, the only other woman in this show of eleven artists. Also by Rovner was a panel of LCD screens lit up with gorgeous, sunset-hued video–some kind of desert-scape dotted with tiny, migrating bodies. Chris Doyle’s video Waste_Generation contemplated the industrial landscape, now approaching irrelevance as it gives way to the digital era.
Out of Sight
Around the corner from the Seattle Art Fair, Out of Sight at King Street Station was the main satellite attraction. Organized by Greg Lundgren, Sharon Arnold, Kirsten Anderson and Sierra Stinson, it featured over 100 local artists. The beauty of the raw, transformed turn-of-the-century third floor space, complete with exposed brick wall, ceiling rafters and a clocktower, was breathtaking. So too, was the show’s cohesiveness, the excitement of experiencing Seattle art in such a meaningful collective context.
Out of Sight was not heavy on new media, yet was replete with experimental spirit. Some gems included Iole Alessandrini’s ensemble of LED-lit beeswax tiles, molded through 3D printed casts and designed with digital media; Casey Curran’s large, kinetic plane made of rolling, reflecting gold paper pyramids; Mary Ann Peters and MKNZ’s floor piece of pressed flour embossed with delicate, Victorian-era designs taken from the space’s architectural details; and Erin Frost’s sensual video featuring flowers and milk–worth watching over and over.
Finally, there’s New Vacation, an exhibition of videos by an all-female roster. Curated by Julia Greenway, it opened concurrent with the Seattle Art Fair and is up at the Northwest Film Forum through September 7. Tending toward the highly experimental, works comment on their own form by employing intentionally digitized aesthetics. All are part of a broader conversation about gender and objectification, whether directly or indirectly.
Overall, it was an pulsing, manic, successful weekend in the arts. I’ll be in bed for the next week nursing my feet; see you at next year’s Seattle Art Fair!