Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Studio is Anywhere

Judd Morrissey and Mark Jeffery
Artists In Residence 
Hyde Park Art Center

Where do we locate the studio in 21st century practice? Why is this a matter of pervasive inquiry as indicated by the year-long Studio Chicago project? Is my laptop a studio? My server? Is the gallery where we train volunteer performers also a studio?

Studio comes from the Latin studium, study. The studio is a space of research, of making rather than made, practice rather than piece, a site where things are assembled, destroyed, and evolve according to countless largely invisible decisions, conscious and unconscious, micro and macro. With the highlighting of the studio within gallery spaces, for example, in the recent MCA exhibition, Production Site: The Artist's Studio Inside-Out, we see not merely a celebration of the creative work-space but a re-thinking of the role of the gallery, the gallery studying itself and what it might become. This attempt to address the conditions of a process-oriented culture via the studio is also related to the current growing prevalence of performance in visual art settings, an instinct to hold the ephemeral within institutional walls as a necessary adaptation to cultural conditions. “The Artist is Present” at MOMA and the MCA's purchase of Tino Seghal's delegated performance, Kiss, are just two recent examples of this.

In contemporary networked culture, we are subject to a continuous flux of data: email, news feeds, status updates, all driven by underlying largely invisible codes and computational processes. In social networks, we aggregate “friends”, gathering digital representations of bodies as one might have once collected and arranged stamps. We scan over-abundant data-scrolls, punctuated or paused, but with no end in sight short of a mass exodus. With networked mobile devices we are in multiple places at once, and more and more, mobile apps directly augment or respond to our physical surroundings. Our constant interface with networked processes and 'places' re-orients us cognitively, culturally, and spatially. It is not surprising, then, that both artists and cultural spaces are re-thinking themselves along similar lines. With the destabilization of the conventions of the book, the museum, the theater, the individual – sites that must adapt to new conditions -- can the studio be seen as a ubiquitous space of inquiry – a way to study ourselves while in perpetual motion? Is the studio everywhere? Is it anywhere?

Why does a writer need a studio? Why does a performance-maker need a screen?

We often describe ourselves as a collaboration merging digital literary practices and performance. Both of these designations require clarification. While Judd's background is rooted within writing, he uses computer code to remix, visualize, and animate his texts on the web while also collecting data from online sources. Mark generates movement and constructs images activating the body and installed objects in response to source material such as a memory, a site, or a sampled text or image. In the collision of our individual practices, physical and virtual sites and audiences are of equal importance. 

Our work is adaptive and multiple in that a given body of material can be configured as internet art, performance, installation, or public event. Our studio may be a public site, a gallery, a rehearsal room, a laptop, a server. It has therefore been ideal for us to work as artists-in-residence at Hyde Park Art Center which has generously provided both physical work-space and access to the building's external 10-screen digital facade, the largest of its kind in the country. We were in residence from April-June 2010 and will return from September-December when we launch a new large-scale digital work and stage a series of performance events both in the gallery and in the studio.  Our current work-in-progress is called The Precession. The seed of the work was planted when we took a trip to see the Hoover Dam and were struck by a site-specific sculpture commemorating the dam's improbable feat of construction. The sculpture, Oskar J.W. Hansen's 1935 Winged Figures of the Republic, depicts two 32-foot tall twin winged workmen seated within a complex celestial map.  The map engraved beneath their feet illustrates 209 stars visible in the night sky on the date of then-President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's dedication of the dam, a federally-backed public works project.  Hansen designed the sculpture with the idea that future civilizations or visiting extraterrestrials will be able to correctly decipher the date of its completion for millennia to come. The Winged Figures star map also charts the position and identity of the polestar as seen from Earth over 26000 years. What we perceive to be our polestar changes due to the slow and cyclical tilting of the earth's axis known as precession.

This chance encounter with a sculptural site within a sculptural site intrigued us with its rich references to the New Deal era, the laboring body, and the night sky. We detected the word recession contained within precession at a time when people were discussing with either great hopefulness or dread the advent of a “new new deal” with the relatively recent election of Obama. Our engagement with this source led us to study a diverse set of other sources including John Steinbeck's dust-bowl narrative, The Grapes of Wrath, the choreography of Bugsby Berkeley, a hoax poem called The Darkening Ecliptic, and a socially engaged genre of 1930's theater called the Living Newspaper.

We will here mention in brief summary a few instances of creative production throughout the development of this work-in-progress.

a. Initial Work-In-Progress on the Vernal Equinox
In March 2009, we were invited by Brown University and Firehouse 13 gallery in Providence, RI to work in-residence and end with a public showing of our progress. Over the course of 5 days we lived in the former firehouse developing performance sequences and digital material for projection.  We integrated volunteer performers from the community whose backgrounds related to our inquiry.  We included two physics students, an astrologer, a pole dancer, a fire twirler, a trumpet player, and  local playwrights who re-enacted a living newspaper play. We allowed the site itself – its history and  architecture -- to seep into the work. As we generated textual material, we posted this to our Twitter account and invited poet-friends and public followers to respond to us. We integrated their responses into the performance. We also 'tapped' the location for Twitter activity within a one mile radius of the firehouse, allowing local tweets to enter into our dialogue or appear in visualizations on-screen. Some of these tweets were spoken by us as we embodied an image of two winged figures with the help of a local artist who lengthened our arms with her construction skills. The event took place on March 20, the vernal equinox. Five minutes of edited material are available here.

b. The Living Newspapers @ MCA Chicago
This outgrowth of our overall project came at the invitation of curator Tricia Van Eck for her Hide-and-Seek series, an exhibition that playfully problematizes the distinction between art and the ordinary. The Living Newspaper, from which we derived our title, was a genre of socially engaged theater funded by the federal government in the 1930's. The plays were constructed from factual information on culturally pertinent topics such as the syphilis epidemic or the economic plight of farmers and were were often designed to educate or mobilize their audiences. With our MCA intervention, we wanted to re-engage this idea at a time of constant data consumption when anyone can become a persuasive transmitter of news.

Working with 32 volunteer performers, who we trained in a series of three-hour sessions, this piece consisted of pairs of 'museum visitors' seemingly engaged in pedestrian conversation. Their conversations, however, were actually comprised of real-time data harvested from Twitter. The performers in The Living Newspapers acted as subtle embodiments of the collective voice of social discourse.

The piece took place each day with pairs of performers in rotating shifts. The subtle activity was revealed as a performance twice daily, in the middle of each shift, when the performers transformed into two winged figures. The image constructed was based on the Hoover Dam sculpture, Winged Figures of the Republic.  Information on the Hide-and-Seek exhibition is available here.

c. Hyde Park Open Studio: In the Vicinity of the Hoover Dam, I hear...
We culminated the first round of our residency at Hyde Park Art Center with showings for small groups of friends and presenters in mid-June. We presented 50 minutes of material that had elements of digital poetry and interdisciplinary performance. The projected component included a textual panorama, 11.7 million pixels wide, created by algorithmically re-writing The Grapes of Wrath, and visualizations influenced by source material such as the Hoover Dam and the drawings of Sol Lewitt.  In the last three weeks of our residency, we worked with two young identical twin performers to embody our winged figures. For one 20-minute section of the performance, they stood on either side of the space, mechanically reciting texts that they received in earphones while we performed in the larger space of the studio. The texts they received were Twitter updates culled live from within a mile radius of the studio, or collected from the vicinity of the Hoover Dam, or they were texts chosen randomly from our databases of original and found writing.

Our HPAC blog entries to date are archived here.

This summer, as part of Radical Citizenship: The Tutorials, an ongoing series of artist-led events on governor's island in NYC, we will create an additional component of The Precession, a delegated dance in which 209 volunteer performers re-enact the choreography of Busby Berkeley with their physical positions dictated by the locations of visible stars overhead.

Our work attempts to engage the flux of contemporary, networked culture and to contain a complex diversity of material within rigorously defined forms and structures. We are interested in a variety of contexts, instances, and interruptions for the work to evolve and be staged as it moves towards something like completion across multiple platforms. Our studio is anywhere, but we still need a studio.

The Precession will be on view at Hyde Park Art Center from December 18 through March 2011. It is supported in part by a grant from the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency.

Judd Morrissey and Mark Jeffery are a collaboration merging digital literary practices and performance. The work, which is visual, textual and choreographic, evolves through context-specific research and practice and always considers the constraints of a given venue or occasion. Site- responsive considerations include the performance/exhibition/production space as well as the local community and [online] textual activity happening within the locale. A given piece is a body of material that may have no singular fixed form but is alternately or simultaneously presented as internet art, durational live installation, an ongoing activity, or a performance of fixed length. The two Chicago-based artists are currently in residence at Hyde Park Art Center working between the studio and the venue's 10-screen digital facade.

A new performance-based exhibition, The Living Newspapers, just completed its second run at the Museum of Contemporary Art. In this work, performers with earphones and a wireless device enact dialogue and choreographic sequences in response to information culled in realtime from the internet and converted to synthetic speech. Morrissey and Jeffery have presented throughout the US, UK, and Europe with recent venues including the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Center of Contemporary Culture Barcelona, Landmark Cafe @ Bergen Art Museum, House of World Cultures Berlin, Chicago Cultural Center, Brown University, and the Ontological-Hysteric Theater in NYC.

Both artists were members of the Chicago-based international performance collective Goat Island, Jeffery as a performer and collaborator for 13 years, and Morrissey as an external collaborator on writing and digital art projects for 5. They both teach at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

For more info: http://www.judisdaid.com

All images were generously provided by Judd Morrissey and Mark Jeffery

No comments:

Post a Comment