[-empyre-] Nonsite as fashion trend : tesserae?

Christina McPhee christina at christinamcphee.net
Mon Jan 14 12:17:43 EST 2008

ok, so I apologize in advance for slippage into  our conversation  
overtly (instead of backgrounding it like a good moderator).  I can't  
resist playing with Smithson, who really is a lot of fun, although  
Matta-Clark got around to some great high jinks too with "Fresh  
Kills", starring his truck, Herman Maydag:  thanks very much to the  
incomparable site ubu, you can see him in action right now: http://www.ubu.com/film/gmc_freshkill.html

But Smithson has some tricks up his sleeve, starting with his  deadpan  
project, "Monuments of Passaic."http://www.robertsmithson.com/photoworks/monument-passaic_300.htm 
   His writings are a a blast into hyperspace. With tremendous  
interest I stumbled upon an article by Pamela Lee in Grey Room a few  
years back, which reproduces pages from an illustrated speculative  
text, called  "Quasi-infinities and the Waning of Space"  The  
article''s in print and via JSTOR http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=1526-3819(200124)2%3C46%3A%22OHGKS%3E2.0.CO%3B2-9 
    :  Pamela M. Lee, "Ultramoderne: Or, How George Kubler Stole the  
Time in Sixties Art," Grey Room 02, pp. 47-73, winter 2001.

I've quite enjoyed a productive misreading of  the  already- 
fantastical speculative writing of Robert Smithson, in   "Quasi- 
Infinities and the Waning of Space, " (1966), a text which anticipates  
hypertext with side column notations, annotated photographs  
('reproduced reproductions") and mathematical ratios ("indeterminate  
information").  (see Eugenie Tsai and Cornelia Butler, et al,  Robert  
Smithson, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, catalog, p. 216.)

.In an early draft of what was to become "Quasi-Infinities and the  
Waning of Space" , Smithson writes: "Around a series of inaccessible  
abstractions, I shall construct an inaccessible system that has no  
inside or outside, but only the dimension of reproduced  
reproductions... To formulate a general theory of this inconceivable  
system would not solve its symmetrical perplexities... Arcane codes  
and extravagant experiments conceal the absolute  
abstraction."  (Smithson, 1966).

   Lee suggests we read "Quasi-Infinities and the Waning of Space" "  
as a push/pull dynamic--both visually and textually--between  entropy  
and control, progress and fatigue, signal and noise, pastness and  

I like this!  the idea of an 'absolute abstraction" (aka the super- 
most-fantastically-mysterious non-site!) lurking behind 'extravagant  
experiments' -- baroque Rabelaisian or Constant-like Babylons of  
visual excess and play alternating with fatigue and futurity (fugues!).

The idea of no inside or outside, only 'reproduced reproductions'  
hooks up in my (probably multi-subjective, bedazzled) imagination with  
the idea of tesserae, a mathematical figure and also a feature of  
Venutian geomorphology.  Since we 'know' Venus is the girl planet, she  
has got  to be neither inside or nor outside to the observer, she's  
always just appearing at evening in a shimmer of charm and  
chill.......so begins  'Tesserae of Venus'-- a video/hypertext/ 
photomontage extravaganza

...........and since I am (not only ) a video-painter and painter-in- 
video (invideous?) (sorta like the 'painter of light' Thomas  
Kinkaid?)  which is (I guess?) from a formalist point of view 'bad',   
but also a  (blonde) 'girl media artist' which stereotype could be  
fashionable but also only "just" fashionable......... how perfect and  
arcane (or arcadian) might it not be, to transpose the non-site of my  
various digital city walking archives to Venus (and back again)?

  Physically, tesserae are created is by a shortening of planetary  
crust. On Venus, when the crust is pushed together, the surface folds,  
buckles, and breaks. The tesserae analogy is a poetic way of thinking  
about how the sense of place is disturbed, contracted, and regenerated  
within the context of new media art production. The logic of the  
tessera figure creates a question of possibility, against its own  
inexorable process. A surface of information, when it folds in on  
itself, also releases, making new structures that push out of the  
I'll set fictive ‘naturalized’ digital still and moving image  
fragments of displaced architectural gestures within a digital  
pastiche of Romantic sublime cityscape...  Crunched/smoothed/ 
contracted/expanded, these will be remixed into extended tesserae,  
also known as "complex ridged terrain". . In video installation, the  
tessera will play through animated sequences that are created from  
mining an already antique archive of  high resolution radar images of   
surface topographies of Venus, recorded by the Magellan mission, Jet  
Propulsion Lab, in the late nineties.  Somehow the arcane uselessness  
of this old archive seems ideal to deploy as a Romantic (probably  
entropic)  projection into our malaise about global warming and  
catastrophic imaginings for our poor planet and (chiefly) ourselves.   
In a spirit of the prophetic fantasy,  the project dwells in  
architecture’s utopian aspirations through the agency of a magical  
displaced geomorphology, as if to speculate on how the planet will  
repurpose us, more or less without our consent, in a ‘fourth nature’  
beyond energy resource management and design,  out of control.

Needless to say, Tesserae of Venus will first emerge from the waves   
in a web 2.0 social networking setting........


On Jan 13, 2008, at 12:15 PM, John Haber wrote:

> I just wanted to add, to further a response, that I did not intend  
> to argue for a degraded status of (physical) installations as  
> opposed to the promise of new media.
> It's why I started by saying that new-media artists like to think  
> they have the hold on this, but I was going to take another tact.   
> It's why I tried to interweave examples from different media, new  
> and old.  It's why I mentioned Baudrillard as not my example,  
> suggesting that the physical experience of art (or life) isn't going  
> away yet.  One could argue that this privileges old media, but I  
> don't mean that either.
> I'll also come back at the end to nonsite in relation to death and  
> decay, as well as to parallel problems specific to keeping new media  
> exciting.  Or, to put it another way, I've obviously become a huge  
> Smithson fan.  I actually think he left much more that's meaningful,  
> as well as more that altered practices, than Matta-Clark, although  
> you won't feel that as you read, if I do my job ok.
> The reasons for not playing media against one another, beyond what  
> can be explicit here, would be another discussion entirely, so I  
> don't want to dwell on them.  Just off the cuff, they have to do  
> with my thinking of "the media is the message" as formalist or  
> idealist; with my thinking of new media as ecompassing too many  
> practices and stemming from too many genealogies in old media (TV  
> set as sculptural artifact, TV shows as in Martha Rossler's pretend  
> cooking class or the Wonder Woman video classic, indie film as in  
> Warhol, performance art is in Vito Acconci or Marina Abramovic  
> videos, computer games as in Corey Arcangel, programming practices,  
> surveillance cameras as with Diller/Scofidio, Minimalism as with  
> Keith Sonnier or Michael Snow, and of course increasingly as with  
> Matthew Barney or Isaac Julien the "blockbuster" movie, many like  
> Sue de Beer who cross these lines, and so on); and especially the  
> inability of data, with its valid claim to a unique relation to  
> nature, to produce art that is more "true" than any other powerful  
> representation of metaphor for reality, especially one that people  
> use for work and for entertainment.
> By the time one gets to Eric Doeringer's Matthew Barney fan club,  
> first online and then as work in a gallery, I don't have a clear  
> claim anyhow on what's what or even what's any good!  Anyhow,  
> apologies.  I do not want to take the discussion this way, rather  
> than to new media's place in a certain history of the term  
> "nonsite," but I did want to make clear what I wasn't saying.
> I'm going to get egoistical and cite the only time I did mention Lev  
> Manovich's fine work, in fact in an article on Christina McPhee:   
> "In 'The Language of New Media,' Lev Manovich sees database-driven  
> art as intrinsically nonlinear, owing to a computer's 'random  
> access,' its ability to read and write data anywhere in a file  
> rather than sequentially. He contrasts this with narrative, and he  
> asks provocatively for art that will include both. But that art is  
> everywhere. An artist cannot access a database or give it compelling  
> visual form without a concatenation of metaphor in the first place."
> Thanks a lot for bearing with me!
> John
> _______________________________________________
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> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
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