Monday, March 8, 2010

Studio Chicago blog-essay

Guest Blogger:
Jon Cates
Experimental New Media Artist

i have mixed feelings about this. i am very happy to be included in this conversation. still, the 'blog essay' format that i have been asked to work within is a bit counter intuitive to me. the solidity of an essay feels different to me than the small scale thinking and feeling out loud of blogging. a cloud of instantaneous status updates, posts, uploads and streams of (often hyper confessional) consciousness feels very different to me than the carefully considered coherency of an edited essay which conforms to given (i.e. academic) standards. but here goes...

i was born in the Late Analog Era in the middle of the midwestern wastelands, on the edges of the economically constricted rustbelt.

i am an experimental New Media & Noise artist-academic-organizer based in Chicago. i am what LAMPO has referred to as a 'multihyphenate', a person working at intersections and defined by a set of associations between disciplines or approaches. Art Games, experimental Machinima, Computer Witchcraft, digitalPunk and Noise music are some of the unstable categories that i play with and move through. these movements trace Digital Culture, a term i take seriously. in other words, i believe in the possibilities and potentialities presented by digital networks and Digital Art. i understand New Media Art as a shifting set of technosocial concerns.

in advance of the Ahh. . . Decadence! Exhibition at the Sullivan Galleries at The School of the Art Institute, Lisa Wainwright, the curator, asked to visit my studio so that she could select work for the show. as we discussed and arranged which work of mine would be shown (a collaborative realtime artware noise project i do with Jake Elliott called 0UR080R05) i initially wrote via email to Lisa that we did not have physical studio space to visit, but that we 'work digitally and have all previous documentation online.' then we exchanged many links (to photos, videos, images, sites, etc) and emails. at different points in this process Wainwright, Elliott and i were all in different countries, communicating digitally, online about the exhibition. Jake and i organized the work that was shown while he was in the US and i was in Austria. i fabricated documentation from previous materials and used artware that he wrote/programmed while we were in/on these various points of the globe/global nets. we uploaded and downloaded files for authoring the exhibition/installation version of our 0UR080R05 project, checking in with each other via email, chat, Skype, etc... this approach was also consistent with our project because we have always developed 0UR080R05 performances themselves as (temporary or temporally-situated) studios for the production of this self-reflexive and recursive project.

this distributed and decentralized asynchronous approach to the networked studio practice that we share is not unique to this project or to our theorypractices. we have done many other collaborative projects in even more distributed and decentralized ways. also, this type of approach is normal in terms of internationalized New Media Art, the flow of transnational global capital, resistance movements to Intellectual Property regimes, the Free & Open Source Software movement and/or any other thoroughly digitized human activity that has incorporated computing into itself as an environment as well as a tool set. the computer is a syncretic device/environment and a context for creativity. computational space is also technosocial, a term that arises from the field of Science, Technology, and Society Studies (STS) in discussions of the social construction of technology as related to the histories and sociologies of the Sciences.

the concept of working in/on a 'digital studio' may invoke associations to applications and software packages such as Adobe Creative Suite. this is not how i have meant the phrase in the past but i think it would be useful to think/feel through why and how this is not what i mean. Adobe refers to their Creative Suite as "a comprehensive cross-media creative environment"... this 'cross-media creative environment' attempts to cover almost all possible techniques or tools for the production of New Media Art, listing options for 'print, interactive, web, film, video, and mobile content.' with the exception for me of print, this list reads as an inventory of categorical or format-specific aspects of my own New Media Art practice. my own list that i enumerated earlier in this text reads more technopoetically and expansively (listing 'Art Games, experimental Machinima, Computer Witchcraft, digitalPunk, realtime audio-video and Noise musics'). still, in my field, Abode has captured the imagination of a known range of possibilities. they have in many ways historically contributed to and/or created that range of possibilities with their closed source commercial software. their software products and services have in many ways defined artistic activity in the realm of the digital with examples such as (the former Macromedia) Director being a case in point for the transitional or even fleeting conditions of 'newness' in New Media.

the repeated use of physical metaphors of spaces within Adobe's description of their digital products and services (i.e. Photoshop, Soundbooth, Adobe OnLocation, etc) is relevant here. in particular, the well known metaphorical naming of Photoshop underscores the digitalization, virtualization and/or conversion into software of a previously physical place/space. much has been made in the discourses of Digital Art of these transitions from physical to digital and back again. i will return to those points soon but for now i simply want to say that this is certainly not the type of 'digital studio' i have intended to invoke as my own studio practice.

when i think/feel of my own digital studio practice i think/feel of the type of a collaborative distributed and decentralized asynchronous approach to a network-based practice. this approach often involves Free & Open Source Software as well as techniques, strategies and systems more generally inspired by the Free & Open Source Software movement. collaborators and contributors are often connected via asynchronous communications networks online, in chatspaces or working together in realtime despite being physically located in various cities/networks. but unlike previous Studio Chicago Guest Blogger Karsten Lund, i don't connect these ideas to 'the virtual' nor can i relate to the use of the phrase 'virtual studio" as is found (in quotes) in the Studio Chicago project's description of itself. the reason i want to distance myself from these suggestions of virtualization is that i feel very grounded in Digital Culture. it is not a virtual third nonplace in my experience but rather an integrated part of my everyday existence as an artist-academic-organizer.

Lund wrote previously that: "With new technologies, the wider world starts to creep into the home and office more and more; people head to the airport and out along the highways; artists leave the studio." reading this line i remembered how i was able in the summer of 2007 to pack my studio into my backpack as i departed Chicago for Vienna then Linz Austria, Mexico City, Prague and other points of interconnections in the international networks of experimental New Media Art and Digital Culture which i referred to earlier in this text. my backpack contained: 2 laptops (an Apple Mac and a Sony Vaio for Windows and Linux), a digital video camera, a still camera, a mic, headphones, a Behringer 6 channel mixer, analog audio effects pedals, a sketchbook, a journal, pens, colored pencils, cables and adaptors. i had very carefully reduced down and was excessively happy to have been able to have gotten this studio inside my backpack.

i also took a self portrait photo of myself (wearing the studio backpack) in an airport along the way. this photo is often the image that i use on social networking sites as my profile picture. in Mexico City, i found and purchased another backpack, the kind worn by vendors on the Mexico City subway system, that contains a sound system within itself, a remarkable addition to the conceptechnic of this backpack studio.

Lund also wrote that being an artist who travels "requires a steady flow of money." while this is true in terms of the literal costs of airfares, train tickets, etc. it is not necessarily accurate to depict involvement in international networks of (in my case experimental New Media) Art as requiring affluence or participation in what Lund refers to as the "circuit of biennials and site-oriented commissions." i operate internationally in many different contexts. as my friend and colleague Faith Wilding has observed, international conferences were an early (decentralized) home to New Media Art. therefore, these conferences and related events, particularly in Europe, became important nodes. Lund recognizes the nodal network in the close of his essay, suggesting that a physical artist's studio could be understood as a node. it is certainly possible to work with and between these modes as well as connecting internationally with self-consciously alternative and experimental cultural spaces.

which reminds me of a position/quote which olia lialina wrote on nettime in 2001, in the "net art history" conversational thread: "Net art failed, in some critics and researchers opinion, because it didn't take over institutions as was expected. Curators, museums and magazines didn't disappear (sorry). But don't you see that net art and net artists changed the landscape of contemporary art? Now, art institutions have to learn to act as nodes (not as a center). And they do. Those who are really open become part of complex networking projects." this position/quote has been and remains very important for me, especially as delivered by lialina, whose work, such as her The Last Real Net Art Museum project, has been and continues to be so influential and inspirational to myself and so many others in New Media Art.

recently Alex Galloway was in Chicago presenting in The Material and the Code conference at the University of Chicago and he underscored that in his Media Archeology research he is interested in parallelity in terms of the technological developments that have occurred (i.e. in artists' studios). this is precisely the position that i have taken and have vocally advocated for over the last 10 years: multiple Media Art Histories co-exist. they overlap, intersect, break with, rupture, leak and inform each other. as lialina said, established art institutions did not disappear. the artists' studio has not disappeared. there is no single art world. there are many art worlds. or in my own more encoded/expressive way of writing it: there are mini art worlds. we intersect. we co-exist. we constantly move through each other.

as Jane Veeder said to me in a criticalartware interview that we did in 2003: "Multiple histories are great; the problem you have is when there's no history."

i feel many more hyperthreads pulling at me that need teasing out from these issues but i am already over my 500 words and my '2 or more images with captions/credits' in the JPEG compression format which are 'around the size 400 x 500 pixels.' i will continue thinking/feeling through these issues out loud via my sites:

i would be love to hear from anyone in response to these thoughts/feelings and again would like to thank Studio Chicago for the opportunity to contribute to this ongoing conversation.

jonCates is an experimental New Media Artist and digitalPunk based in Chicago. His art and research projects are widely shown, presented and performed internationally and available online. He has developed the New Media curriculum at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in the Film, Video & New Media department where he has been teaching as an Assistant Professor since 2004.

Image captions & credits from top to bottom: 
jonCates self portrait "selfairportrait" (2007) 
midwestern wastelands photographed by jonCates (2007)
Jake Elliott and jonCates at the Ahh. . . Decadence Exhibition (2008)
0UR080R05 Artware Operating System - Jake Elliott and jonCates (2012 - 2007)
Alexander Galloway presenting during The Material and the Code conference at University of Chicago (2010)
Jane Veeder points out alternative Media Art Histories to jonCates (2003)


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  2. Great post. I was really looking for it.