Tag Archives: appropriation

10 Minutes Before (WIPzine Version)

“10 Minutes Before,” 2016. Diptych. Ren Adams. Experimental photography with manual glitch.

Please note: this is the WIPzine 1:1 version of the original blog essay, 10 Minutes Before, and represents the most current version.

10 Minutes Before

Writing and research are critical to my studio practice. Inseparable, really. Words and theory fly hand-in-hand with developing visual work. This essay is part of the second wave of Whitespace-Bluespace: Televisual Memory and the Implied Catastrophe; a conceptual work-through of new pieces in the series, my role as an artist in a post-truth world, our often all-consuming need to address relevancy, and the nature of the suspended moment (that fitful time before, time after).

I’ll admit this year feels like “the time before.” Hell, it’s felt that way since last November.  It feels that way right now. There’s ozone tension around me, within me. In my living room. In my social feeds. In my work.

My work, I realize, is all about this extruded moment. It is the time before, the time after. The extended agony of the moment itself, before it collapses into the next. It always wants to hold its breath. When it exhales, it catches. It assumes and subsumes these time-bent spaces.

Being inside my work is exceptionally uncomfortable. Being in this moment now, in myself, in the world, is a form of living while holding my breath. It seems a collective breath, though not an all-inclusive one.

We seem suspended in that transitory space right before the piercing, forever-change of “the event” eclipses our understanding of everything that’s come before. Everything we hold consistent, understandable, even joyfully reckless. This is the night before the pivot point.

This is two and a half minutes to midnight.

Ren Adams Art

“The Distance Between Us,” 2016. Upper left panel of quadriptych. Ren Adams. Experimental photography with manual glitch.

But there are two kinds of suspended moments at play here: 10 Minutes Before (the unaware) and Two and a Half Minutes to Midnight (the mercilessly aware).

The difference between the painfully ambiguous suspended moment (two and a half minutes) and the blissfully unaware “night before” is the way in which the experiential “time before” gains importance in retrospect. The person experiencing the “time before” has no awareness there’s about to be a very divergent “time after.” They live life unknowingly, with no specific sense of doom. They don’t wake up and say, “tonight my wife will die from an accidentally fatal combination of doctor-prescribed medications, complicated by her undiagnosed heart condition!” They wake up, take a shower, eat, go to work.

Once the “time before” is defined by the “terrible event,” the moments leading up to the change are reevaluated with a fresh perspective. They now form the final moments of normalcy before the illusion was shattered.

The night before my sister was murdered holds merciless clarity for my parents–the ordinary, domestic rituals they performed, the unremarkable process of events. Mundane conversations. Simple things ignored. The fact that my sister asked for pudding only “10 Minutes Before” her actual death still haunts my mother, 45 years later. Mom refused to give her dessert because Cindy had been naughty and was being punished. In this case, “10 Minutes” was actually a matter of hours, but the gravity remains. And the simple act of doling out punishment, not abnormal on its own, now takes on the mythical role of “what if I had…” … “if only I could go back in time and give her pudding, knowing what I know now…” … “if only I could go back to the time where I only had to worry about dessert.” If only life was still the time before, with pudding and punishments and school the next day.

This kind of retrospective moment-before is one without weight prior the pivot point. It’s an ordinary pizza night. Work as usual. Kids grounded for misbehaving. A dripping faucet. Frustration over Netflix hiccups. The mechanics and methods of domesticity only gain monumental importance (or monumental emptiness) after “the event.” This is everyday life. We are always “10 Minutes Before” something, we are simply unaware.

Lost normalcy might even be recalled fondly–recognition that it can all radically shift. The simple joy of walking to the couch is exalted the day after one loses the ability to walk. How easy it was to walk over, to sit, to watch TV.

It really is a great privilege to live in a space where you can expect things to be “normal,” where you can assume life will flow without incumbency or tragedy, and that “terrible events” are allowed to be the aberration, not the norm.

Individual still from installation: “When I Looked Through You,” 2016. Experimental photography with manual glitch. Ren Adams.

But what of this moment? This extruded moment that seems to have no day-after realization of a deceptively comfortable time before?

What is this unyielding, elusive “Two and a Half Minutes to Midnight?”

It is a strange, merciless space. We know something is coming. We know it deeply, naturally. We don’t know exactly what, or whether it’s a series of somethings, webbed and suffocating, invasive and evasive. We don’t know if it permeates the lives of millions, or pierces the moments of a select few. Some of us have been in this space before, and millions of us are in this place right now, as much as we try to combat, avoid, adopt, subvert or destroy it.

Many have spent their entire lives two and a half minutes to midnight.

“I Could not Watch You Fall Apart,” 2016. Manual and digital glitch with experimental photography. Ren Adams.

It’s a paralyzing sense of doom. Truly impending doom. Not an archetypal apocalypse, which proves certain people right/wrong and ends the cycle of confusion in a swoop–but a system of disturbances and moments leading to a bizarre, extruded “apocalypse.” An extended moment that refuses to collapse. Such that every moment is “10 Minutes Before” the next terrible thing.

When the clock is 2 1/2 minutes to midnight, however, you are fully aware of each excruciating time before. You simply cannot conceive of the time after. There is no release.

I have been suspended in this sense of collective breath-holding, of video-pause action delay that permeates everything for me, and for many, at this moment… I ask myself, what is this space? What is it that we’re feeling, this bizarro-world social cabinet of opposites? I’ve been here before on a personal scale, so this touches a deeply ingrained sense of unease. I know there can, and will be, extended “time afters” and no one is immune or exempt.

So, I come to another kind of “time before.” Is my work still relevant in the face of this? In the space of global crises? Everything that seems poised to unfold? Everything that is simultaneously unraveling and intensifying? Everything that’s streaming from and filling the floodgate?

Am I still relevant?

Individual still from installation: “The Language of Falling Apart,” 2016. Manual and digital glitch with experimental photography. Ren Adams.


What’s the point of creating work if everything is two and a half minutes to midnight? What is the nature of political artwork? What is an artist’s role in post-truth?

These are complex, multi-faceted points that I raise as rhetoric, better investigated in other essays. I don’t pretend to have the answers, but I do come equipped with questions.

And I realize… this is a familiar terrain. A familiar external Cold War. A familiar internal Cold War. A familiar war.

Individual still from installation: “When I Looked Through You,” 2016. Experimental photography with manual glitch. Ren Adams.

Individual still from installation: “When I Looked Through You,” 2016. Experimental photography with manual glitch. Ren Adams.

Watching arts funding end up on the chopping block, watching the NEA, PBS, and other agencies recede–the act of making, of our presence in the studio, of our voice in the classroom and the exhibition space–the strident motion of being ourselves become political in their own execution. They have weight. They are the weft and warp of interlocked experience.

My work is relevant. I allow myself to be. I acknowledge that it is relevant. I allow myself to continue.

I am relevant.

My work need not carry images of specific politicians or incidents to relate to the sense of anxiety I’ve carried, an anxiety that subsumes this moment, that plagued my Cold War childhood, that plagues millions now.

My work is relevant. It expresses, investigates, indulges both forms of the philosophical “time before” and isn’t afraid to stand inside the “time after.” It lives in the now, in its own relentless, unresolved present moment. In my moment. In our moment.

It emerges from a space of uncertainty, dancing with abstraction and specificity, giving gravity to my own entanglement with knowing and unknowing. This is life, after all. An uncertain dance.

I intend for my work to blueprint a sense of anxiety that’s familiar terrain to many; the uncanny connection we have to feeling almost-safe. That it connects to Cold War television is no surprise. That I use the language of television, with its soft-and-hard dichotomies, its ability to simultaneously offer shallowness and depth, its incomplete, mosaic presentation–is also no surprise. I am always prepared for these moments, even in my direst state of unpreparedness… I am always suspended.

Individual still from installation: “The Glass and the Fire,” 2016. Experimental photography with manual glitch. Ren Adams.

Having decided that it’s okay (even important) for me to continue making work, in my own way, allowed me to view my recent series with the kind of fresh perspective that comes with “the time after.” My most recent bodies of work have preemptively suggested the sensation of “two and a half minutes to midnight,” and they’ve always dealt with describing an elusive space, without being too pedantic. At least, that’s my intention.

The title of my piece at the top of this essay, “10 Minutes Before,” is a reference to a relevant Alfred Hitchcock Presents television episode from 1964: “10 Minutes from Now”

Police grow suspicious of unsuccessful artist James Bellington, after the city commissioner receives a series of bomb threats.  James tries to meet with the commissioner, to personally condemn the city’s choice for its public art display–but he shows up at city hall with a suspicious box.  The police assume it’s a bomb and stop him, only to discover the box contains art supplies. At a public art museum, James is again stopped for carrying a suspicious package, which also turns out harmless. As a side note, James is considered “unsuccessful” by the police because he hasn’t had luck selling his artwork and his style seems “all over the place.”

After a series of bomb threats paired with faux bombs, the police force James to see a psychiatrist. He tells the psychiatrist that his next bomb threat will be real. The police again stop a bomb-carrying James at the city art museum, where he gives everyone ten minutes to get out, before he blows the place, all while making a political stand for a change in the way art is chosen and represented by the city. Spoiler alert: with the museum empty, and James keeping the authorities at bay, James’ secret accomplices steal the museum’s most valuable paintings, replacing them with fakes painted by James himself. When the theft is complete, James surrenders. He opens the box to reveal a harmless alarm clock. Unaware of his part in the theft, the police let him go.

“10 Minutes from Now” is a fascinating title, as is the tension between the way the artist is supposed to behave if he’s to be perceived as “successful” (i.e., selling works for money), and the way in which the artist actually behaves (his own body of work becomes the strange game of manipulation played out through performance, bomb-like sculptures, and secret forgery). This suggests a cultural revolt against the museum-structure, as well as our institutionally defined modes of being “successful,” of adhering to a cascade of stereotypes and expectations. I could analyze this episode for pages, but I won’t do that here. It speaks for itself, as does the expectation of what an artist should be, could be, can be, subversive or not. The funny thing is, using his talents to forge paintings would probably garner a populist recognition of his “ability,” even as the execution (and theft) are illegal. The episode itself suggests the forgeries may be James’ literal retaliation, in support of his original protest, while presenting the potential that his protests were performative smokescreens.  Dichotomies, hello.

“Eclipse (the bomb is already inside),” 2017. Experimental photography with manual glitch. Ren Adams.

My piece, “10 Minutes Before,” is not intended to illustrate the precise content or motives of the Hitchcock episode, but the flavor is present. It’s largely meant to grapple with the same sense of suspension–that 10 Minutes from this point, this interminable, unavoidable and suspended point, that 10 minutes from now, all things have changed. All things have shifted. All things are different. There’s a bomb in the museum, and it might be fake, or it might be real, but it definitely is.

Juan Carlos Romero. January 20, 2016.

My first draft of this essay was written February 6th, 2017. The day before my dad’s 81st birthday. The day before my friend Juan Carlos Romero, fellow artist and philosopher, was shot to death on Stanford, between Central and Silver, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He was 26.

His death is an active murder investigation. His life was full of ideas.

His then-unknowing final Facebook post was:

“It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.”

William Ernest Henley, Invictus, 1875

As I was writing this essay’s first draft, I had no idea (how could I not?) I was again working “10 Minutes Before” another suspended moment, and the mundane coffee-drink, edit-delete writing was another comfortable space, even as it explored the continuously uncomfortable.

At 3 am, February 7, 2017, Juan Carlos was dead. I have the luck and privilege of enjoying a “time after,” as painful as it is. For Juan Carlos, there was only the final “time before.”


(WIPzine 1:1):

Desert (Loss) Studio Shots

Here are a few shots of the pieces for Desert (Loss) at various stages of layering, on their way to completion in September and October.

My intent was a combination of flatness and density, like strata of information, memory or sensations that converge and entangle as a kind of information overload. Only certain shapes escape the mosaic chaos. The geographical, imagined and supposed become concurrent events.

Landscape  itself is neither completely geographical nor entirely theoretical. Historian Simon Schama suggests “landscape is a work of the mind. Its scenery is built up as much from strata of memory as from layers of rock” (7). This is vital to Desert (Loss), as well as the larger body of work Desert… spawns from (The Cascade…), as ambiguous, digitally-informed landscape ruptures and re-contextualizes the nature of location, by way of a strange elasticity. Time, perspective and distance are contingencies in my manipulated topography.

In this case, I sampled my videos, media and screen caps and flattened them into graphic strata. Layered like transparent sediment, they suggest the way pinpointed moments and memories freeze with a fictionalized quality, yet remain transient and insubstantial (yet hardened as iconic distillations). until built up with other layers of memory and experience (additional strata), forming a relational network that allows the viewer to understand.

An earlier phase:

And later phases:

View the finished works here and here.

Finding a Way Out of Here…

Doing a lot of audio and sound work with Ableton and Encore. I’m also ripping audio from my videos, tweaking them (subtly and/or completely) and allowing them to take on new form as disembodied episodes.

This is a rip (with subtle changes) from Elevator. Expect a lot of remixing, warping.

Finding a Way Out of Here…


In my previous post, I mentioned I’ve been working on images for the exhibition catalog, which involved over a thousand screen captures sampled from my video works. In collecting the high resolution set, I nabbed a number of compelling moments from my semi-narrative worlds. Here are just a few!








An Encounter in the Desert


I’ve been preparing materials for the exhibition catalog, which has required revisiting each of my completed videos, to capture high resolution stills for printing. In so doing, I’ve rediscovered the fascinating surface undulation of the elastic-space inhabited by my vulnerable heroes.

Here are a few extracts from Encounter…

Roy and the Dimensional Dilemma – painting #2 progress

It’s been a while since I shared a painting update, and I do apologize! Here’s the current state of the second large painting, plus a gallery below featuring all progress shots to date. Time warps in the desert. Currently untitled. IMG_3836_2

Almost finished!

Here’s the current state, with the previous painting nearby for context.


Progress shots, in order:


Haunted Temporality: The Loop as Semi-Narrative Engine


AJ is trapped in an endless helicopter-gunfire-convertible chase through the desert…

Ren Adams
Research Paper 3
Peter Rostovsky – Advisor
October, 2014

Haunted Temporality: The Loop as Semi-Narrative Engine

Note: Footnotes are below, if internal links don’t direct you there properly.
Download and Read PDF Version

Loops are powerful invocations, abandoning linear narrative for the intensity of a continuous present, capable of establishing, disrupting and directing temporal relationships. Media theorist Lev Manovich suggests the loop is actually “a new narrative form appropriate for the computer age,” even as it occupies a liminal, anti-narrative space between story and instance (Manovich xxxiii).[1] The term ‘loop’ itself describes a complex range of repetitive gestures, from 3-second animated GIFs to middle-ground montage (establishing shots, action sequences in television) and the broader, or nearly imperceptible, cycles found in contemporary art (e.g. Douglas Gordon’s 24 Hour Psycho[2]). Woven into longer segments, loops can even establish a haunting sense of repetition and reappearance, affecting the viewer’s relationship to the viewed and the recalled. This flexibility allows loops to serve as an effective investigation into the conflated space of time and memory. In the case of my own video work, they allow access and reference to the uncanny familiarity of television and its rapid-fire montage experience. The video components of The Cascade incorporate loops to provide the kind of mosaic understanding of space-place that come from a de-centered, semi-narrative form. The loop provides critical negotiation of the televisual structure and the ways we commit and recall memory-images,[3] opening my artistic process to post-narrative methodology.

The contemporary loop recalls proto-cinema and early avant-garde film[4]—the active image repetition later supplanted by cinema’s reliance on linear narrative (Manovich 315). Early cinematic devices like the zoetrope and zoopraxiscope animated short sequences—dancers whirling, a horse jumping a fence, and so on, by “mapping time onto two-dimensional space” using sequenced, discrete images spaced around a circle (Manovich 51). These analog devices used physical motion to speed through individual shots, simulating activity within a closed-circuit (Manovich 296-7). They were capable of expressing an instant in time, a suspended action, often with its own micro-narrative (the horse jumps, the dancers dance), but without reliance upon storyline. With the emergence of cinema proper, the language of film abandoned the ‘artifice’ of the loop, avoiding repetitious sequences to stress the illusion of realistic ‘capture.’[5] The more cinema embraced capture, the more it bound itself to the forward-moving act of storytelling (Manovich 300-01). Cinema thus behaved like novels and theater, with clear progression through a series of events.[6] Since early television heavily mimicked film, it initially embraced the loop-free approach (Fiske 15), but as television developed its own language and aesthetic system, it integrated (even centralized) loops for defining program elements, story structure, and all manner of serialized and episodic development—even systems of re-run, re-make, programs, commercials,[7] and consumption.[8] Loops also resurfaced in video games, animation and the internet, reincarnated as short videos, animated GIFs and the like, carrying a renewed sense of the immediate present (Manovich 315). In current pop culture, loops are critically, even playfully integrated into the fiber of daily life, popping up in Facebook feeds, apps, games and television, expressing emotion, advertising products, making political statements, and so on.[9]

Thus, loop forms are an alternative to cinematic narrative. Repetitive structure prevents a clear understanding of beginning, middle and end, erasing our reliance on static waypoints while expanding a single moment into a potentially infinite, self-spiraling universe.  This allows contemporary artists to manipulate the viewer’s relationship to time and memory (even to place and event), just as the use of repeated sequencing in television programs reinforces the viewer’s sense of flow, place and character by offering a mosaic[10] of recorded experiences the viewer must link by viewing.[11] Where cinema unfolds an elaborate story system, loops invite focus, even frustration, functioning as discrete, contained occurrences or as open-circuit systems that manipulate the audience expectation set by visual media (Fiske 62).

The loop in a broader sense can also describe the progress of televisual language (and structure) itself. Most programs rely on formula, such that viewers gain a sense of familiarity with series they have never personally watched, simply by participating in televisual exchange (Fiske 17).[12] Unlike the linear drive of cinema, television reveals the nature of its ideas, characters and events as cross-referenced mosaics that may even span years of development (Fiske 125)(Footnote 9). In TV, literal looping segments become intertextual references, suggesting the repetitive structure of the programming and a GIF-like condensation of proto-cinema, while establishing rhythm, expository information and aesthetic value. The re-use of stock footage loops, for example, provides a punctuating rhythm that can link multiple seasons and ideas across, and through, the visual mosaic.

Looping stock footage is an established television practice and though the loop may contribute to the story, it is actually a collapsed, or excised, unit of time, without narrative—used repeatedly to transition the primary material.[13] Driving sequences from Emergency! and Adam 12 are excellent examples of this kind of punctuating loop. Each episode contains pre-recorded, circular footage of emergency vehicles or police cars leaving the station, hurtling through city streets or returning to the garage. The loops are not immediately apparent, but reveal ticks over time: the same cross traffic, pedestrians and clouds populate the time-frozen cycle. Repetition also suggests the endless, grueling process of rescue and law enforcement, so the loops also have conceptual meaning for characterization, but there is a composite relationship here, where action sequences and establishing shots form a kind of nonlinear temporality (135), resurfacing across multiple episodes to mark infinite spiraling points, yet the “narrative does not proceed as simple causality” (Birnbaum 137). Though the story moves forward because the police rush to the scene, the act of rushing is divorced and looped, intertwined with the “indiscernibility of the real and the imaginary, or of the present and the past, of the actual and the virtual…” creating double images, or looping engagements (Farr 23).


The Day After (1983)

In contemporary art, loops can provide overall structure, as in Gordon’s 24 Hour Psycho, Cory Arcangel’s Clouds (2002) or Stan Douglas’ Overture (1986).[14] Punctuating longer works, or used in variation, the loop encourages viewers to consider the nature of time and the relationship between the reinvented continuous and the discrete, to see multiple potentialities simultaneously and to establish formal rhythm, as in Claudia X. Valdes’ In the Dream of the Planet (2002).  Valdes employs intense cycles and ‘reincarnated’ excerpts, in order to direct viewer interpretation and to reinforce Cold War conditions. In The Dream of the Planet (2002)(Fig. 1), Valdes appropriates made-for-TV-movie The Day After (1983), compressing the two-hour film into a 56-second loop.  The loop is repeated six times in rapid succession, with each incarnation skewed to emphasize a different aspect of Cold War anxiety: the military complex, social upheaval, survival, detonation, media, etc.… The original film grapples with a fictional nuclear escalation between the United States and the Soviet Union, culminating in a full-scale nuclear war. In the condensation, images hurtle past, allowing only a frantic glimpse of each person, each situation. The cycle slows with terrifying agony as missiles launch, buildings collapse and the media responds—distilling the doom of the original into a frenetic, semi-narrative commentary. The painfully recognizable, yet ultimately unreliable loop incites a state of hyper-arousal that parallels nuclear paranoia. Valdes’ ability to distill the made-for-TV movie, its subtexts and anxiety, with her own queries, is an excellent example of the haunted loop, which refers to, and reenacts, its own apparitional forms—making it incredibly relevant to the distillation of action and interaction in The Cascade.[15]

My video work considers the way loops are capable of suggesting the space of spatial memory and whether repetition provides a condensed sense of the mosaic found in televisual language.[16] Embedded, unstable grooves offer the viewer contextual déjà vu—where they begin to identity recognizable sequences, but are confronted by uncertain, semi-narrative that haunts itself with its own re-visitation. This perpetual re-enactment suggests the denial of traditional story, while establishing a dream-like state where characters engage and re-engage, running over a tight temporality that flirts with story.

So I Asked… (2014)(Fig. 2) establishes this kind of haunted, repetitious cycle via deeply interlocked, repetitious passages. Opening with two firefighter-paramedics caught mid-conversation (then interrupted by an emergency call), the tumbling, heavily altered stream collides with a rotating sequence of loops (a landing helicopter, a high speed gunfight, rescue vehicles en route, etc.). The loops continually intertwine, ghosted, as intensity builds. The increasingly anxious, overlapping dialogue suggests “something happens, is happening, goes on happening…” (Drucker 23), though sequenced temporality ruptures: the ‘goes on happening’ may actually occur before the initial ‘something’ that sets off the chain. The paramedics seem to be responding to a gunfight, yet the rescuers themselves are caught in a disruptive loop that leaves the title question unasked and the rescue unresolved, though viewers can rely on their knowledge of televisual language to determine that a rescue has been, or will be, attempted. We are unable to rely on linearity, yet the hurtle of loops describe the events most likely to have occurred, though order is unclear—rather like catching episodes out of sequence, leaving us to infer connections.[17]

I also take into consideration the telescoping stages of video itself: the time of the original filming, editorial time in appropriative postproduction, the immediate present of the watching viewer, the viewer’s present-into-past transition and the after-processing (and any subsequent recollection). The intensity of repetition is meant to reinforce the experience of an immediate, unyielding present, both in terms of ‘story’ progression and reception. The moments-after transition through what has immediately passed suggests: “time flows and each present fades but doesn’t disappear” (Birnbaum 139), amplifying the sense of déjà vu as almost-identical snippets continually resurface. This holds true in Valdes’ work, as well as in the stock footage loops I reference in my own work. So I Asked… (and other Cascade videos) may even behave as fragmentary, fragile archives—bound by our desire to sort out the phenomena of “haunting,” and the activation of memory that occurs with reappearance (Farr 12). Are we seeing the same event as an instant replay? Are we remembering an earlier incarnation, or is a similar event happening repeatedly in the same space, over time? The embedded loops thus recall the instant-moment introspection of proto-cinema, or the characterizing, time-independent stock footage of the appropriated programs.[18] The semi-narrative is stitched, overlaid and underwritten by time.

Loops possess a kind of visual déjà vu adapted from proto-cinematic experiments, re-contextualized by digital culture, manipulated by television and increasingly fundamental to contemporary art. They are versatile vehicles of conceptual delivery, raw enough to link and characterize television and capable of leading to surprising engagements with the haunting re-enactment of contemporary life. Loops can be semi-narrative, providing time-introspective context for larger stories, or they can perform as narrative-defying moments of their own, operating outside traditional viewer expectation. They fundamentally speak of time, memory and reflective space, especially when divorced from big-picture enslavement, becoming a postproduction, anti-narrative engine, disruptive and interstitial. Repetition changes our engagement with the ‘place’ of moving image, making loop investigations a relevant, even vital, expression of our time—a way of zeroing in on the atoms of information flow.

Works Cited

Adams, Ren. So I Asked… 2014. YouTube. 8 Aug. 2014. Web. 15 Aug. 2014.

Birnbaum, Daniel. “Crystals.” Memory. Ed. Ian Farr. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2012. 137-144. Print.

Boyd, Mark Cameron. “Postnarrative Structure.” Theory Now. 10 April, 2008. Web. 17 Oct. 2014.

Culley, Peter. “Two Works by Stan Douglas.” Vanguard 16:4 (1987).

Dienst, Richard. Still Life in Real Time: Theory after Television (Post-Contemporary Interventions). Durham: Duke University Press, 1994. Print.

Drucker, Johanna. “Temporal Photography.” Philosophy of Photography 1:1 (2010): 22-28. Print.

Enwezor, Okwui. “Documents into Monuments: Archives as Meditations in Time.” Memory. Ed. Ian Farr. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2012. 133-136. Print.

Farr, Ian. “Introduction/Not Quite how I Remember it.” Memory. Ed. Ian Farr. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2012. 12-27. Print.

Fiske, John and John Hartley. Reading Television. Florence: Routledge, 1978. Print.

Manovich, Lev. The Language of New Media. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2001. Print.

Valdes, Claudia X. “In the Dream of the Planet.” Portfolio. Claudia X. Valdes. 2002. Web. 26 Oct. 2014.


Figure 1. In the Dream of the Planet (2012). Claudia X. Valdes. Video (Installation View).


Figure 2. So I Asked… (2014). Ren Adams. Video.

[1] Manovich also suggests it is “relevant to recall that the loop gave birth not only to cinema but also to  computer programming,” thus tying loop logic to database execution—a fundamental 20th and 21st century interface   (Xxxiii)Loops are found in proto cinema and at the beginning of cinema, then re-emerge in new media. (215).
[2] Gordon’s installation incorporates two projection screens which simultaneously play an endless loop of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), one proceeding forward, the other backward. The loops move at only a few frames per second—so slowly that casual viewers may not even recognize change or directional progression at all. Longer consideration of the piece reveals the uncanny, unnerving and crystallized sense of frozen (yet endlessly progressing) cinematic time, as they loop in such long spans, few could sit through the entire motion—even as they are aware of the sweeping loop.

[3] Theorists like Paul Ricoeur and Jean-Paul Sartre suggest the uncanny, layered experience of memory is a process part logic, part hallucinatory. Ricoeur applies some of Henri Bergson’s memory theory, when interpreting Sartre’s psychology of imagination by describing a kind of intermediary memory as a mixed state, where “the ‘memory-image’ [is] halfway between ‘pure memory’ and memory reinscribed in perception” (Farr 14). The memory-image, or mixed media we construct in our minds, is never wholly factual, or entirely reliable, instead a play between the imaginary and conscious, between the interpreted and the understood.

[4] Dziga Vertov’s 1929 Man with a Movie Camera re-enacts the proto-cinematic loop, embedded in longer experimental montage that remains relevant to new media considerations (Manovich xiv, 316).

[5] Manovich suggests “narrative cinema avoids repetitions; like modern Western fictional forms in general, it puts

forward a notion of human existence as a linear progression through numerous unique events” (315-316).

Cinematic linearity is not just a storytelling structure, but an attribution of larger psychological ordering techniques in Modernity.

[6]       At least mainstream/dominant cinema. Avant-garde cinema plays by different rules.

[7] Television theorist Richard Dienst claims television endlessly cuts away from program moments to return to the “traffic of images and sounds, to all the messages carried by all the messengers crossing through the world” (129). This creates a loop of program-commercial-program-commercial.

[8] Artist Nam June Paik echoes television theorists when he suggests “the fundamental concept of TV is time…” (Dienst 159). Television is recorded, produced, cut and offered in terms of time, so time is not only a fundamental concept, but also the fundamental shape of television. The familiar loops we encounter in viewing owe much to the backbone of the medium. Thus, “time is the substance of television’s visuality, the ground of its ontology and the currency of its economy” (Dienst 159).

[9] Their ubiquitous culture-wide return can be attributed to larger postmodern and ‘digimodern’ cultural shifts, not expounded here.

[10] Which more closely resembles oral tradition than novels or theater, where characters repeat, refrains establish elastic structure and context, but in which stories exhibit a kind of fluidity not found in directional cinema. Television has been likened to oral tradition by more than one theorist (Fiske 125). Viewers gain an understanding of characters and events by viewing, digesting and cross-referencing visual information. We get a sense of who Jack Bauer is, not because of lengthy cinematic development, but because we cross-patch, experience and unite threads from 9 seasons of 24. This is similar to the way in which audiences might come to understand the epic poetry or folktales of Odysseus or Coyote.

[11] Cinema and radio are considered ‘hot’ media because they extend and deliver a focused sensation; the viewer or listener watches, listens and receives to gain understanding. Television is considered a ‘cool’ medium because the viewer must do most of the work; “the screen supplies mere metonyms, we make them meaningful” (Reading 123). Because information about characters, events and plotlines are stretched across multiple episodes, even multiple seasons and years, and TV occupies living space, rather than the black box of the focused theater, television asks the audience to perform and engage. Episodes do not even need to be viewed ‘in order’ to garner a sense of the program’s reality. Thus, it is “only at the moment when the semiotic codes interlock with the cultural awareness supplied by the viewer, whose own context will play a part in shaping that cultural awareness” (Fiske 123).

[12] We may catch an advertisement for a new detective show or medical drama and already have a sense of the kind of language, pacing and aesthetics that are likely to be offered, related in part to past viewing experiences, or to general cultural understanding of genres. We know how sitcoms are meant to behave, etc.
[13] Thought it may contain the kind of micro-narrative present in the spinning zoetrope: the vehicles turn a corner, the firemen jump into the engine and leave, etc.
[14]  Arcangel’s Clouds is a new media projection piece, endlessly rebuilt in real time from a modified Super Nintendo game cartridge. The background clouds from Super Mario Brothers provide an infinite, fabricated loop.

In Stan Douglas’ piece, a 16mm Edison Company promotional film is looped under a narration from Proust. In the cycle, a train curves through a British Columbian landscape in an infinite circle (Boyd)(Culley). The voice-over is contemplates the transition from waking to sleeping, echoed in the uncanny monotony of the endless train ride. Here, the loop is at first uncertain. The film lasts 6 minutes—enough time to seem discrete, yet the viewer realizes the train is passing through the same terrain, just as our minds do (especially during the process of recollection). Here, the loop offhandedly illustrates the philosophy of Proust’s memory-grooves (Boyd).

[15] The Cascade is my three-part, interdisciplinary thesis, which includes painting, video and interactive elements. The interactive component also makes use of loops, though it is not discussed here.
[16]  A number of television theorists describe cinema as ‘linear’ and television as ‘mosaic.’ Viewers gain a sense of who the characters are, the world they inhabit and t, mosaic, oral tradition(reading television 125)

[17] Due to my schedule, I was unable to watch the first four seasons of The Office in real time, or in ‘proper’ order. Instead, I watched their non-sequential re-broadcast in syndication, which made no attempt to present the series in linearity. Instead, I saw snippets of the before and after of several relationships and dramatic story arcs, piecing together the total experience by seeing events out of turn. The overall mosaic offered a smattering of details that came into focus only after viewing each puzzle piece separately. I thought of this as a critical motive when constructing my videos, as this is often the case with shows in re-rerun, or for viewers who miss a week’s installment. We understand television as mosaic, and we know how to complete the metonymic role of television (Fiske 123). We are the connotative agents (Fiske 41).

[18] My videos intentionally reference the looping stock footage of the appropriated television programs. Loops invoke re-enactment, whether suggesting repeat activities or behaving as discrete repetitions in themselves. Thus, the overall atmosphere recalls previous stories and future adventures, while flirting with narrative, but not offering closure.  By overturning cultural expectations of narrative progress, the videos undermine the process of viewing that we are most familiar with (Boyd).

Remix and the Celestial Jukebox – The Contemporary Artist as Cultural DJ

elevator6Research Paper 1
Peter Rostovsky – Advisor
Fall, 2014

Remix and the Celestial Jukebox – The Contemporary Artist as Cultural DJ

EXCERPT – These are only the first two paragraphs, plus related footnotes!
To read the entire paper, please download or open the complete PDF File: RP 1 2.0_Web

We live in the age of remix. Not just an appropriative phase, but an era of remix as cultural mediation—where recombination is a fundamental approach to cultural exchange (Manovich 1). Remix is the language of the Information Age[1], the coinage of Post-Postmodernism[2], rooted in long-developing systems of commercialism and communication. The very fiber of our social connectivity rests in an endless rewrite of materials, mashups,[3] pastiche and database sensibilities, intrinsically tied to everything from Google searches to language, television, art and text.

Remix is a manipulation and integration of cultural space, wherein the author-reader generates (and regenerates) moments in a self-curated, postproduction world. The resulting experiential theater is populated by fragments drawn from diverse sources, spinning elements with a cross-cultural, archival impulse that is both eclipsing and fragmentary.[4] Remix in contemporary art is the ‘appropriation’[5] of the 21st century, no longer the re-photography of Richard Prince, but a mutable landscape that uses a vast media-archive of memory and material: referred to here as the Celestial Jukebox.[6] It is a manifestation of the filter bubble’s[7] “parallel but separate universes” and the ghost-in-the-machine of convergence culture (Pariser 5).[8] Remix is bigger than the art world, bigger than commerciality—an invisible, increasingly normalized framework that provides strategies for communication and interaction. Conscious use of remix allows contemporary artists like Jennifer & Kevin McCoy and Anthony Discenza to build an interrogative, self-reflective investigation of the Information Age itself. The artist becomes a cultural DJ, a manipulator of archival compulsions that leads to “a kind of hunter-gatherer milieu…” (Miller). Such artists draw from the Celestial Jukebox, remixing, mashing and re-contextualizing material—providing a “systematic reworking of a source,” grounding individual perspective in a de-centering of authorship (Manovich 3).  Investigating contemporary recombination also critically anchors my own body of video work, where remix and manipulation open dialogue about the nature of televisual space-time, recollection and iconographic culture.

To read the entire paper, please download or open the complete article as a PDF File: RP 1 2.0_Web


[1] Recognized as the period in human technological history following the Space Age and associated with the Digital Revolution.

[2] The period immediately following Postmodernism. Theorist Alan Kirby considers Post-Postmodernism, or Digimodernism, a paradigm shift that ruptures existing cultural relationships: “Digimodernism identifies as the critical event in contemporary culture the profound and shattering encounter between computerization and the text. Its most recognizable form is a new kind of digitized textuality—onward, haphazard and evanescent—that disrupts traditional ideas about authorship and reading…” (“Successor States…” Kirby). I would argue that it erodes the broader concept of ‘text’ itself, re-orienting the idea of the original.

[3] Common in music, a ‘mashup’ is a combination of elements, often overlaid, which results in a new composition that may retain recognizable elements of the sampled material. To cite a form of remix culture at its most ubiquitous, today’s ‘mashup’ page on Wikipedia defines the process as: “a song or composition created by blending two or more pre-recorded songs, usually by overlaying the vocal track of one song seamlessly over the instrumental track of another. To the extent that such works are “transformative” of original content, they may find protection from copyright claims under the “fair use” doctrine of copyright law.” The term ‘remix’ and ‘mashup’ are sometimes used interchangeably, though ‘remix’ offers are more complex description of the variability of appropriation, recombination and transmutation of elements than ‘mashup.’ ‘Mashups’ can also refer to hybrid, overlaid apps and programs (Manovich 1).

[4] DJ Spooky suggests that “our semantic web is a remix of all available information… the result is an immense repository—an archive of almost anything that has ever been recorded” (Miller).

[5] ‘Appropriation’ is the preferred art world descriptor, in place of  ‘remix,’ ‘mashup’ and ‘rewrite’—bound in part to cultural notions of ‘remix’ as copyright violation. ‘Appropriation’ grants a sense of acceptability. Theorist Lev Manovich believes “…‘remixing’ is a better term [than appropriation] because it suggests a systematic re-working of a source, the meaning which ‘appropriation’ does not have” (“What Comes After…” Manovich 4). When we remix, we rework previously existing cultural works (“What Comes After…” Manovich 2).

[6] “Celestial Jukebox” stems from a 1995 US Government white paper concerning media flow and consumer access. The paper “invoked the image of a technology-packed satellite orbiting thousands of miles above earth, awaiting a subscriber’s order—like a nickel in the old jukebox, and the punch of a button to connect him to a vast storehouse of entertainment and information through a home or office receiver combining the powers of a television, radio, CD and DVD player, telephone, fax, and personal computer” (Goldstein 187). Since then, theorists like Paul Goldstein and Lawrence Lessig have broadened this idea, adapting it to suit its obvious relationship to data pooling (Wasow). It describes not only services like Netflix or Hulu, but also the Internet, and the ‘Cloud.’ It encompasses an entire database—a universe—of information, images, sounds, video, experiences… it describes the Information Age itself, not an idealistic subscription-based service. It is Manovich’s cultural database (“What Comes After…” 5).

[7] Social theorist Eli Pariser refers to the “unique universe of information for each of us” (9), which are “parallel but separate” (5) as we navigate and extrapolate information and experience from the filtered digital experience. Search engines and websites use algorithms that constantly filter and adjust what we see, denying the idea of a free, democratic web, while simultaneously allowing us to completely privatize and customize our knowledge base.

[8]   ‘Convergence Culture’ is a concept developed by Henry Jenkins which describes a fundamental, information-age paradigm shift (243): “Convergence represents a cultural shift as consumers are encouraged to seek out new information and make connections among dispersed media content… spectators perform in the new media system” (Jenkins 3). It also recognizes a new kind of participatory culture, the fractured nature of parallel but separate realities and data streams (not unlike theorist Fredric Jameson’s recognition of language privatization) and the ability of culture recipients to “construct [their] own personal mythologies” from a stream of information (Jenkins 3). Convergence culture relates to an integration of media, data formats, art and styles—“convergence thinking is like interdisciplinary thinking” (Jenkins 12).

So I Asked… (Elevator)

Videos include sound (lots of subtle layers, too, so turn up the volume if you can!)

So I asked…

Elevator (Finding a Way Out of Here, I Hope)
– Combines “stop animation” style stills with moving action.


Please note–Elevator is not functioning inline, so please visit my website to view the video. 

Peter Rostovsky suggested I consider new ways of dimensionalizing the television experience (which I applied to consideration of the dimensional nature of real and constructed space; in this case, the California landscape as mediated by now-historical television).

I collapsed, condensed, mutated, fabricated and re-contextualized images that were formerly stills. Suddenly things were moving, deepening and expanding my dimensional palette. Elements were disintegrating, breathing, dancing–full of renewed agency. My landscapes were alive–and they weren’t just looping!

I treat the video work the way I handle the creation of digital images (and painting). I develop and respond, investigate and rebound.

During this process of bound and re-bound, certain characters entered the elastic-space as freshly refined icons. I was intrigued by their presence and obsessively pursued their emerging “selfhood.” It made me think of how, in the beginning, I only wanted the bare landscape in my digital desert. I had originally dumped precision details, but vehicles, individuals and even interior spaces crept into the mix. As Tony Apesos pointed out, I’m repopulating the gradually-emptied landscape phenomena, which has been losing specific objects and people since the 16th century. It’s curious, potentially frightening (and exhilarating).

The inclusion of people as part of the video cadence also flirted with narrative, which, as many of you know, has always been intentionally elusive or denied. Here I emphasized the almost-narrative by allowing moments to rhythmically rebound, but keeping with my larger concepts, the resolution of story is always denied.

I’ve been reading a ton of television theory and I’ve discovered fascinating ways of digging into the idea of mosaic and montage, implied space and the passage of time. Each video is intentionally meta-referential. Certain clips, moments and colors are allowed to cycle, forming choruses that seem familiar, yet always shift. Just past the bridge (thinking in musical terms here), a set of layered clips are allowed to temporarily emerge, only to fall away without returning.

The sound is a carefully composed layered blend of recordings I did on a Zoom Microtrack, combined with television audio and ambient noise.

I feel like an alchemical-archaeologist.

The Inherent Unfinished – The Infinite Nature of the Postmodern Masterpiece (Research Paper 3)


Figure 4. Ren Adams. Variation set from The Cascade – Horizons in the Digital Desert (or, How Johnny Discovered the Secret Air Base), 2014. Digital hybrid media.

Download a PDF version to read here.

Ren Adams
Research Paper 3
Lynne Cooke – Advisor
April, 2014

The Inherent Unfinished:
The Infinite Nature of the Postmodern Masterpiece

Digital art is infinitely malleable. Like information itself, it is capable of perpetual recombination, dissolution and re-contextualization—denying traditional, static completion. One might even (hyperbolically) suggest that the finished, touch-of-genius masterpiece is dead—torn apart by the infinite, unfinished Postmodern[1] approach. Even our understanding of what constitutes a ‘finished’ work has changed, parallel to an increase in technology and information, as artists now generate interactive, contingent, cross-medium work. The idea of a closed work of art, neatly wrapped in Modernist ‘eternal’ legibility, is dismantled by the discourse of new media, rewired by its pluralistic and interactive nature. Infinite malleability warps predictable completion, enabling new media to interact dynamically with viewer, environment and itself. By working with mutative sequences and negating traditional notions of the ‘complete,’ contemporary artists like Nam June Paik and Cory Arcangel produce work that is constantly subject to addition and reduction; an inversion of the Modernist model of the finished object and its perfected message. This upheaval parallels not only the endless hypertext of contemporary life, but also the inherent nature of digitality itself: work can take on countless forms, functions, versions and revisions, adapting to each project, installation and moment. This flux is essential to many digital practices, including my own Cascade project, where the literal and conceptual landscape of Southern California is remixed and reframed as part of a narrative-resistant, unfinished sequence.[2]

Formalist convention suggests that a finished, effective masterpiece[3] is a self-enclosed work of art, containing everything necessary for the viewer to understand and appreciate it. The last lick of paint applied to the Mona Lisa, thus, secures DaVinci’s genius[4] (and message) on canvas and such a ‘timeless’ masterwork would supposedly allow universal understanding, outside of culture and era (Dowling).[5]  Art historian/philosopher Georges Didi-Huberman suggests that “we expect a masterpiece to be finished. It never occurs to anyone that there might be a missing snake in Laocoon, a missing person in Rembrandt’s Night Watch, or a missing light source in Georges de la Tour’s candlelit Madeleine” (Didi-Huberman qted. in Paul 32). What happens, then, when the medium (or structure) asks the viewer to question a work’s level of completion? What happens when technology begs the viewer to interact, or to envision/confront variations?

Didi-Huberman turns to montage, ancestor of digital recombination, as a fountain of “infinite reworking,” an approach that renounces the “eternity value” of traditional art (Didi-Huberman 32). When confronted with mid-20th century work like Bertolt Brecht’s[6]  media montage, War Primer (1955), the idea of a finitely resolved, static masterpiece dissolves. Brecht’s emergent, collagist forms “[imply] a break with the very notion of the artwork as something closed in upon itself…” (Didi-Huberman 32). Media sampling and reproductive technologies provide a distinctive, open-ended recombinant approach. Brecht’s newspaper snippets collide (but never merge), forming surreal, suggestive plates.[7] Drawn from mechanical printing, the plates reference the endless mountains of printed material ripe for analytical mining—suggesting that the primer is ongoing, capable of infinite reworking, as excerpts would simply get reconfigured with each new atrocity, each additional (future) plate. Therefore, “Brecht’s work, masterly as it is, has this unfinished quality, which is inherent in the montage process that made it. Because a montage can always be assembled differently, it renounces all eternity value…” (Didi-Huberman 32).


Figure 1. Nam June Paik, Random Access (1963) – 2000 version (Guggenheim).

The unfinished personality of montage escalates with technology, becoming digital collage, sampling and interactive remix. Like Brecht’s free-associative clippings, forming and re-forming critical responses to war—Nam June Paik’s Random Access (1963) (figure 1) uses media technology to provide a never-ending audio-visual experience, central to Postmodern remix.  The installation combines assembled strips of audiotape, an open-reel audio deck, a specialized playback head and speakers (Guggenheim). The viewer is invited to interact directly with the work, running the playback head against the tape, generating personalized sequences, repeats and variations. Random Access is truly that—a limited database with limitless query combinations (Paul 15), chosen by the artist but unendingly manipulated by the access-user. Additionally, the work varies with each installation, resisting the idea of a finite, ‘official’ version, while fracturing linearity: the original song is sliced and diced, destabilizing the expected structure just as different installations destabilize the work as a sculptural object (Ippolito).[8]

New media embraces this kind of constant (future) change and resists the convention of a singular-complete, making pliability the real game-changer. Digital artist Grahame Weinbren suggests “the digital revolution is a revolution of random access” and the data pool is a kind of global information jukebox—a virtual archive of material ripe for sampling and re-contextualizing (Weinbren qted. in Paul 15).  This paradigm shift is “based on the possibilities of instant access to media elements that can be reshuffled in seemingly infinite combinations” (Paul 15). New media artists Jennifer and Kevin McCoy, like Paik, make use of these reshuffled, infinite combinations by subverting linear television narratives with interactive installations. Every Shot Every Episode (2001) excerpts Starsky and Hutch, separating moments from the original narrative and suspending them in a virtual database where viewers can choose sub-categories to view (such as “Every Stereotype” or “Every Gunshot”) (Paul 101-102). User agency allows personalized exploration of the culturally revealing categories in a wall-mounted CD library. There are no ‘proper’ ways of viewing the work, no official sequence. Users can watch as little, or as much as they like, in any self-determined order. Though drawing on finite source material (the 1970s TV series), re-contextualization through digital media changes the static nature of the original episodes and the formality of the no-touch museum object, forming new cultural associations within a digital perspective.[9]

Cory Arcangel is also known for manipulating media meant for different modes of consumption, chiefly games. Arcangel reinvents video game aesthetics through reverse and cross-engineering, transcending (and re-contextualizing) the original media by folding it into the discourse of virtuality and transience (Paul 200). Like Brecht’s pool of periodicals and Paik’s audiotape, Arcangel uses a media base to produce pieces like Clouds (2002) and Super Landscape #5 (2005), which draw on Western landscape conventions, without traditional resolution.




Figure 2. Clouds (2002). Cory Arcangel. Modded Super Mario Brothers cartridge and projection Top – detail (Arcangel). Bottom, installation shot at the Whitney Museum (Knudsen).

For Clouds (figure 2) Arcangel modified a Super Mario Brothers Nintendo game cartridge, eliminating all graphics but a seamless landscape backdrop. The modified code is interpreted by the Nintendo console and output on a monitor. The result is a sparse, side-scrolling sequence of pixelated clouds which march across an intense blue sky—a flattened, unending virtual landscape. The most important aspect of Arcangel’s Clouds is the disguised spontaneity. Clouds is not simply a video recording, or a projected, pre-made looping animation. The shapes are invented and re-invented by the actual console processor as it reads the modified game cartridge, thus the visuals are generated in real time, even as they suggest pre-recording (Knudsen). This allows for glitches and variations, providing new perspective on repetition and medium ambiguity. While it may exhibit familiar sequences, it is not a static, looping playback, preventing the entire work from reading as a finished unit.[10]

Figure 3. Cory Arcangel. Super Landscape #1 (2005). Installation / projection of NES mods (Arcangel).

Figure 3. Cory Arcangel. Super Landscape #1 (2005). Installation / projection of NES mods (Arcangel).

Clouds and Super Landscape #5[11] (figure 3) also change depending upon whether the observer views them on a small-format screen, or as large, ethereal projections. Enclosed in a cathode TV, it speaks most directly to its original use, reminding the viewer they are witnessing video game mechanics (rendering clouds in real time). When projected onto a museum wall, the landscape suggests a broader cinematic experience—an atmospheric panorama, or the large-scale physicality of sky itself.[12]

Subversion of the traditional author-viewer relationship offers another conceptual shift, based on whether or not the viewer observes an Arcangel-made version, or a self-made version of Clouds. Arcangel freely distributes instructions, allowing viewers to create their own version, again preventing the singular-perfect.[13] With access to the impetus that first created the work, the viewer can either view an Arcangel, or be an Arcangel, generating a personal variation of an already inconstant installation. This gives the work a specialized variability tied deeply to new media.[14]

In creating digital hybrid work for my own series, The Cascade, I sample, integrate and manipulate stills from television shows filmed in southern California,[15] allowing cross-medium experimentation to reflect the project’s central concept: that landscape is a permeating condition—a collage of interpretive macro and micro understandings, always in a physical and socio-political state of flux.  Like Paik, Arcangel, Brecht and the McCoys, I work with media out of its original context, remixing elements in a variable scheme. The project is composed of digital stills, projections and morphing sequences,[16] referencing their own variations in true meta-scape fashion.[17] The manipulated environments inhabit the real, the imagined and the transient, referencing the collapsing space between personal history, geologic reality and cultural production. The folded ‘digiverse’ and the unfinished, variable stills also suggest the way information is endlessly re-framed in popular culture (and the way physical changes affect micro landscapes). Information is reinforced, investigated and even amplified through repetition and manipulation (Spieker 66).  Each still, therefore, has multiple incarnations that lead to new associations, by way of familiar, meta-reference moments. Color combinations, mountains, highways, vehicles and specific characters, like Johnny (figure 4), resurface, suggesting new variations are constantly being formed.[18]


Figure 4. Ren Adams. Variation set from The Cascade – Horizons in the Digital Desert (or, How Johnny Discovered the Secret Air Base), 2014. Digital hybrid media.

Variability, instability and repetition allow the digital-unfinished to exist in a joyful space, rife with potential.  It allows for endless re-contextualization and meta-cycles, where works reference themselves (and larger conditions), uprooting the Modernist idea of the eternally legible masterpiece. The inherent mutability of information is the matter of Post-Postmodernism itself, the crux of contemporary digitality, speaking to the flexible nature of media and the ever-evolving, intertwined reality of information culture. Contemporary artists, therefore, challenge ‘finality’ by developing work that makes use of an open-ended formula, inverting the author-viewer relationship and allowing variation and interactivity to  re-mix their own work.

 Works Cited

Arcangel, Cory. “Things I Made.” Coryarcangel.com. Cory Arcangel. 2013. Web. 4 April, 2014. Barthes, Roland. Image-Music-Text. Trans. Stephen Heath. New York: Hill and Wang, 1977. Print.

Cohen, Charles. “The Net of Irrationality: The Variant Matrix & the Tyranny of the Edition.” Contemporary Impressions Fall (1993): 9-12. Print.

Didi-Huberman, Georges. “Modest Masterpiece: Bertolt Brecht’s War Primer (1955).” Appropriation. Ed. David Evans. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007. 32-34. Print.

Dowling, Christopher. “Aesthetic Formalism: The Pursuit of Lasting Values.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Web. 12 April, 2014.
Ippolito, John. “Nam June Paik – Random Access (1963).” Vectors – Digital Art of our Time. NY Digital Salon. 2002. Web. 29 April 2014.

Jarvis, JD. “Toward a Digital Aesthetic.” DP&I.com. 1 February, 2004. Web. 17 July, 2013.

Kirby, Alan. “The Death of Postmodernism and Beyond.” Philosophy Now 58. 2006. Web. 24 September, 2013.

Kirby, Alan. “Successor States to an Empire in Free Fall.” Times Higher Education. 27 May 2010. Web. 26 September, 2013.

Knudsen, Stephen. “Cory Arcangel: Masters.” ArtPulse. 3 Nov. 2012. Web. 10 April 2014.

“Nam June Paik, Random Access.” Collection Online. Guggenheim. 2014. Web. 10 April, 2014.

Paul, Christiane. Digital Art, 2nd (World of Art). Thames & Hudson Ltd.: London, 2003. Print.

Rose, Barbara. “A B C Art.” Artists, Critics, Context: Readings in and Around American Art since 1945. Ed. Paul F. Fabozzi. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall. 2002. 186-200. Print.

Shanken, Edward A. Art and Electronic Media (Themes & Movements). London: Phaidon Press, 2009. Print.

Spieker, Sven. The Big Archive: Art from Bureaucracy. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2008. Print.

Screed, Terri. “Structuralism, Post-Structuralism and Deconstruction!” The Screeds of Terri. 1 Sept. 2001. Web. 10 April, 2014.

Stein, Emma. “Modernism and Post-Modernism.” The University of New Mexico. 24 July, 2012. Lecture.

Weibel, Peter. “World as Interface–Toward the Construction of Context-Controlled-Event-Worlds.” Art and Electronic Media (Themes & Movements). Phaidon Press, 2009. Print.

“Formalism (Art).” Wikipedia. 20 March, 2014. Web. 10 April, 2014.


[1] And/or the Post-Postmodern / Digimodern approach. Theorist Alan Kirby identifies this condition as a fundamental paradigm shift, a rupture of existing cultural relationships: “Digimodernism identifies as the critical event in contemporary culture the profound and shattering encounter between computerization and the text. Its most recognizable form is a new kind of digitized textuality—onward, haphazard and evanescent—that disrupts traditional ideas about authorship and reading, and is found on Web 2.0…” (“Successor States…” Kirby). I would argue that it explodes the broader concept of “text” itself, re-orienting the idea of the original (Jarvis) and the strange collapse of information, image and geographic location into a binary-based, digitized space-time environment (or, deep digital space).

[2] New media (including all manner of digital and technological influence) make variable works not only possible, but referential to broader shifts in social behavior and data interaction. The 20th century saw tremendous change in the way information was understood and disseminated—changes that ripple through interconnected fields. Theorist Christiane Paul suggests “the re-contextualization of information in various relational combinations is inherently connected to the logic of the database, which ultimately lies at the core of any digital art project” (Paul 70). With database structure, information is accessed and contextualized by the individual viewer, as they submit a query. Limitless queries offer individualized experience, as in new media art.

[3] The debate surrounding “masterpiece” qualities is a complex, subjective web of considerations—often formalist—which shifts over time. Qualifiers are often based on the assumption that an effective work of art is self-contained, or unchanging. Art historian Margot Lovejoy suggests that “electronic media challenge older [Modernist] modes of representation. New Media have changed the way art itself is viewed” (Lovejoy qted. in Paul 23). Perhaps it has not only changed how art is viewed, but what it even means to define “masterpieces” at all.

[4] The author-viewer relationship is challenged, even inverted, in Postmodernism and Post-Postmodernism (“Successor States…” Kirby). Previous eras might have “fetishized” the genius of the individual artist, but Postmodernism and Digimodernism (Kirby’s term for “Post-Postmodernism”) diminished the authority of the individual author in favor of a technology-boosted fetishization of the viewer, or “recipient,” who becomes essential to the work in an interactive way (“The Death of Postmodernism…” Kirby).

[5]This is essentially the Formalist, Modernist and Structuralist view—that “everything necessary to comprehending a work of art is contained within the work of art” (Wikipedia)(Rose 196). As theorist Clive Bell asserts, “great art remains stable and un-obscure because the feelings that it awakens are independent of time and place, because its kingdom is not of this world. To those who have and hold a sense of the significance of form what does it matter whether the forms that move them were created in Paris the day before yesterday or in Babylon fifty centuries ago. The forms of art are inexhaustible; but all lead by the same road of aesthetic emotion to the same world of aesthetic ecstasy” (Bell qted. in Dowling). It should be noted that Bell’s attitude toward aesthetic universality has been widely dismissed and few scholars still hold it to be a ‘universal’ truth itself.

[6] Though Bertolt Brecht’s photo-epigrammatic War Primer (1955) is neither digital nor new media, there is a traceable (and academically acknowledged) lineage from collage and photomontage to technological, digital and new media works—especially in the realm of sequencing, sampling, remix and the unfinished, ongoing accumulation (and arrangement) of material (Shanken 17)(Darley 116). The fact that Brecht assembles found cultural material, remixes it to suit conceptual ends and produces a body of work that feels endlessly unfinished speaks to the sampled media itself—the newspaper. Though not digital, we could argue that by clipping images and text from mechanically mass-produced sources allows Brecht’s work to fall into a media-driven category, allowing it to speak to the unfinished nature of techno-remix in general.

[7] Brecht juxtaposes found images with captions, suggesting that each panel could be subjected to endless-re-captioning—even encouraging the viewer to consider their own captions.

[8] Paik also produced additional versions of the installation, further challenging the idea of a single, static ‘original.’ Not only is the work subject to endless audio manipulations by the viewer, there is no one true version, no single masterpiece. The Guggenheim itself owns the 2000 version (Guggenheim).

[9] Like Cory Arcangel’s medium ambiguity in Clouds (figure 2), Every Shot Every Episode presents the appearance of a static video installation, but is really a dynamic, interactive meta-library made available by the “digital medium’s possibilities for the classification, reproduction and reconfiguration of existing materials” (Paul 102). The installation’s reference to database query allows the viewer to develop a new understanding of cultural tropes at work in pop culture, as well as the relative nature of narrative itself—moving away from TV drama to cultural dialogue.

[10] The seemingly static Clouds loop suggests video playback, animation or other pre-made, endlessly looping video material. In orientation and content, it also suggests the endless stream of landscape that rushes past the window on a road trip—a continuous, often monotonous , separated engagement with nature. In this case, nature is even farther removed by the obvious, cartoonish quality of the clouds and sky. Re-wiring digital information meant as a game leads to various interpretations of its structure, content and meaning, in fact, it blurs the boundary between game, video, animation and real-time performance. As theorist Christian Paul says of the digital approach: “this medium allows for multiple kinds of manipulation and a seamless combination of art forms, which can lead to a blurring of the distinctions between different media” (Paul 27).

[11] Super Landscape #5 is actually a combo installation piece in which Arcangel projects Clouds and F1 Racer (2004) into the same relational space. Arcangel himself says of the work, “this wasn’t supposed to be a new thing, but after installing two of my projects together, Super Mario Clouds, and F1 Racer, I liked it so much, I decided it was a new project” (Arcangel). The flexibility with which each work adapts to each other, or can be viewed separately, again defies the singular-complete. It suggests that future landscape mods could unashamedly end up in the same mix. Arcangel is not afraid to allow new versions to materialize.

[12] The gap between virtuality and reality is bridged by scale.

It is also interesting to note how dramatically this work actually changes with scale. Critic Stephen Knudsen comments directly on the scale-shift: “unfortunately for the 2012 “Masters” survey exhibit, the theatre ambiance of Clouds was dumbed-down into a small monitor placed next to the monitors mentioned above. Clouds put in the context of simplistic recorded video gags made Clouds like a video recording as well. Thus, the key aspect of the work was lost: that Clouds was not recorded data but was being created in real time from an actual altered Nintendo gaming system. To see Clouds on the much-more-effective big screen in a darkened room (with long cords tethering the gaming system), I had to go to a concurrent group exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY” (Knudsen). I would argue that the smaller format version does not necessarily “dumb down” the work, but performs simply as a variant. It references the original 1980s gaming format—a smallish television screen with attached console; an intimate, convex viewing experience, and is therefore important.

[13] Arcangel’s portfolio website provides the source code alteration, instructions, photo diagrams and advice on reproducing the work yourself, using an actual Super Mario Brothers game cartridge and your own Nintendo (Arcangel). Arcangel essentially ‘de-games’ the game, decenters the landscape and destabilizes the idea of an original, single masterwork. If the masterpiece is repeatable and the instructions made available to anyone, at any time, it changes our understanding of what it means to be an author and viewer, and of experiencing traditional ideas of the masterpiece. Like Paik’s numerous versions (physical and installation) of Random Access, there is no one Clouds—and no single version needs to exist for it to be an effective exploration of new media concerns.

This is the root of Post-Postmodernism/Digimodernism: the continued erosion of the “Author-God” and their singular authority (Barthes 146). Though speaking from a literary context, theorist Roland Barthes identifies the shift from author/reader to uncharted territory where the reader becomes access-agent, as  a condition of unending, open-ended possibilities: “the reader is the space in which all the quotations that make up the writing are inscribed without any of them being lost; a text’s unity lies not in its origin, but in its destination” (Barthes 148). Likewise, Kirby suggests that in Digimodernism, “the ‘viewer’ feels powerful and is indeed necessary; the ‘author’ as traditionally understood is either relegated to the status of the one who sets the parameters within which others operate, or becomes simply irrelevant… the ‘text’ is caharcterised both by its hyper-ephermality and by its instability” (“Death of Postmodernism…” Kirby)

[14] Almost romantically, “electronic media facilitate the liberation of art fromconventional stasis [by providing] a means for it to consist of light itself” (Shanken 16). Not only is it a matter of turning the idea of completion on its head, the use of new media transforms art into information, light and electricity itself—elements which are never completely stagnant.

[15] Rooted in a personal connection to the landscape of Southern California which permeates American television from the 1960s-80s, I excavate fluid instances of the Los Angeles County landscape (and semi-narrative scenarios) from the data feed of popular culture. The transitory landscapes that punctuate the original television narratives get mutated, endlessly re-shuffled, deconstructed and re-built.  My life landscape is knitted into a shared, macro-level cultural understanding of time, location and American culture.

[16] As of April, 2014, there are over 300 stills, multiple video projections, animations and a number of moments output physically on paper. Motifs get recycled, sampled from earlier stills the way Arcangel samples visual information from Super Mario Brothers, or the way Brecht re-captions photos from varied sources—except in The Cascade, I allow my own original marks to enter that global celestial jukebox. I sample from my own work as if recycling snippets from other sources.  This allows various incarnations to develop, which respond uniquely to each  set of viewing circumstances.

[17] Pablo Picasso re-worked a lithographic image of a bull numerous times, experimenting with color, sequence, layering and other formal considerations. He was especially interested in the way a static image could undergo deconstructive measures—and how this process affected the various state proofs along the way: “[Picasso] saw the stages of this process as a metamorphosis of the image—a record of its development and progress” (Cohan 11). The stone had almost infinite, variable possibilities—shattering reliance on a static impression. Thus, “the variation of the matrix allows for expressions that move beyond the duplicate and its expression of uniformity” (Cohen 11), allowing us to discover the kinds of new associations between elements referenced in Digital Art (27).

[18] It also suggests that the virtual landscape is unstable, perhaps unreliable. Mountains, roads, vehicles and people ‘live’ precariously, even tenuously, in an environment that never seems to stay put. The viewer is unsure which still came first, setting the melody for the riffs to follow—and in fact, is invited to decide the sequence for themselves.