Programmed: Rules, Codes, and Choreographies in Art, Whitney Museum

We at CatSynth have long been interested in the intersection of art, technology and conceptual process.  Programmed: Rules, Codes, and Choreographies in Art, 1965–2018 surveys over 50 years of video, computational and conceptual art, cleverly weaving them together into a single narrative whole.  The three disciplines are united by the concept of a “program” or set of instructions through which the work of art unfolds, whether a computer program, instructions for a performance, or strict concept on a visual object.  Video and lights abound, but there is also painting, dance, and more.

Installation view.   Photograph by Ron Amstutz.

One of the artists who embodies the range of works is Nam June Paik.  Immediately on entry to the gallery, we are bombarded with his massive installation Fin de Siècle II.  Originally made in 1989, it has been beautifully restored for this exhibition.  It contains numerous clips from broadcast video and art video taken out of context and turned into a moving collage on a grand scale.

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Nam June Paul’s beautifully restored Fin de Siecle II. #whitney #nyc

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At the opposite end of the video spectrum is his 1965 piece Magnet TV.  A black-and-white CRT television set is disrupted by a large magnet, creating a unique but sometimes unpredictable pattern that is in its way rather spare and graceful.

Nam June Paik. Magnet TV, 1965. Modified black-and-white television with magnet.

In the first piece, the process is in the composition, arrangement, and looping of the various video clips.  In the latter, it is the physics of the magnet and the CRT.

Motion and experiments with electronics are also at the heart of James L. Seawright’s contemporaneous piece, Searcher, which features gradual motion and changes in light.  The shadows it casts are also part of the experience of the piece.

There is an interesting juxtaposition of one Joseph Kosuth’s classic neon text pieces, Five Words in Green Neon, and W. Bradford Paley’s Code Profiles, a Java program that generates images.  They bring together the concepts of “text as art” and “code as art” – the message is the medium.

Joseph Kosuth.  Five Words in Green Neon, 1965.  Neon
W. Bradford Paley.  Code Profiles, 2002 and 2018.  Java applet.

Paley’s code may be one of the most literal examples of the exhibition’s theme, but code need not be computer code as we think of it today.  Many works from earlier periods were based on a series of instructions, where the instructions are the work and the performance or visual object are the expressions of said work.  One such example is Sol Le Witt’s sculpture Five Towers.  The three-dimension grids are assembled by a program with various combinations into a simple but beautiful result.  I particularly enjoyed looking through it.

Sol LeWitt.  Five Towers, 1968.  Basswood with alkyd enamel paint.

Josef Albers’ color-field rectangles can similarly be generated from a “program”.  Like Le Witt’s piece, one could conceive of doing something like this with a computer, but neither artist chose to do so, instead being themselves the interpreters for the code.

Josef Albers.  White Line Square VI, 1966. Screenprints on board

The performing arts have long been linked to programs, whether the traditional score or choreography, or more modern uses of algorithms or conceptual instructions.  Performance was most strongly represented in the exhibition by Lucinda Childs’ Dance, done in collaboration with Sol LeWitt and Philip Glass.  Childs, who is known for a precise and almost algorithmic approach to dance, choreographed a series of 5 pieces to a score by Glass.   She made drawings in different colors for the different movements and projected these onto the floor.  During the dance segments, the colors of her drawing were also used for the lighting.  Finally, LeWitt filmed the dancers, and the film was then projected behind live performers.  The documentation of this complex counterpoint was on display in the gallery, including the film, score, and drawings.

Philip Glass.  Score for Dance #1, 1979.  Photocopy with ballpoint pen.

Program, object, video and performance also come together Lynn Hershman Leeson’s Lorna.  Lorna is an interactive video story on a laser disc (anyone else remember laser discs?).  Users can determine how the story unfolds through one of three endings via a remote control.  The screen and control are placed within a simulated apartment decked out entirely in leopard print, and the viewer is invited to sit in a comfy chair while the controlling the story.  This self-guided performance is at once programmed, but also immersive in that the viewer becomes part of the piece, both in space and in terms of control.

Lynn Hershman Leeson.  Lorna, 1979-84. Video, color, sound; with television, interactive laser disc shown as DVD, modified remote control, television cabinet, night table, end table, wood chair, upholstered chair, mirror, fishbowl with plastic goldfish, clothing, wallet, belt, shoes, watch, telephone, magazines, framed storyboards, and framed art

Video permeates the entire exhibition, popping up directly and indirectly in at least half of the pieces, or not more.  But video has many different aspects.  Is not a collection of discrete LEDs programmed to represent a moving image, as in Jim Campbell’s Ambiguous Icon #5 (Running, Falling), a video?  It is certainly a low resolution one, but this low resolution and discrete electronics allow us to see the individual elements that simulate movement in our perception.

Jim Campbell.  Ambiguous Icon #5 (Running, Falling), 2000.  LED lights and custom electronics.

We conclude this survey with a new site-specific commission by Tamiko Thiel.  She created an augmented-reality mobile app (in collaboration with developer /p) that overlays organic forms on the angular, geometric space of the museum’s outdoor terrace.  

Thiel’s organic growths are beautiful and playful, but also have a darker aspect.  Some resemble plastic refuse, and others coral formations.  Both are emblematic of the crises facing our seas due to pollution and climate change.  At the same time, the algorithmic process she uses, a formal grammar developed in 1968 by the Hungarian biologist and botanist Aristid Lindenmayer, is fascinating.

Tamiko Thiel  (with /p),  Unexpected Growth, 2018. Augmented reality installation, healthy phase. Commissioned by the Whitney Museum of American Art

There were many more works in this exhibition that we can discuss in a single article.  Each one had something compelling and different about it.  For anyone interested in or curious about these forms of art, I highly recommend checking out this exhibit! 

Programmed: Rules, Codes, and Choreographies in Art, 1965–2018 will be on display at the Whitney Museum of American Art through April 14, 2019.

CatSynth Video: Modular Session with Marcel

Handsome Marcel returns, and enjoys participating in a modular-synth session with his human polynominal.  Both are longtime friends of CatSynth and you can see their previous posts here.

CatSynth Video: Tom Hall’s Cat on MiniBrute 2S

From Orb Mag on Facebook.

Tom Hall’s Cat Knows the game  😺⚡️

We espy a MiniBrute 2S and RackBrute in use.  We are quite fond of our MinBrute 2 here at CatSynth HQ. 

Weekend Cat Blogging with Sam Sam: The Neighbor Returns

Sam Sam is not amused.

Our feline neighbor is back and enjoying himself on one of the terraces behind CatSynth HQ.  You can see his face through the glass bricks, albeit in a Cubist sort of way.

Nothing wrong with his being there.  I for one love to see cats enjoying themselves.  But his presence brings out both Sam Sam’s curiosity and territorial instincts, and she was quickly back up on the ledge to investigate – and to assert her territorial claims.  We managed to capture a bit of it in this video.

It definitely makes a bit nervous to have Sam Sam up there, but there really is no stopping a determined cat.  It’s also a reminder that I need to replenish that wine rack.  The one bottle that remains is from Armida Winery, whom we featured in a CatSynth video back in June.

CatSynth Video: Training a cat to play the OP-1

From Andor Polgar on YouTube, via matrixsynth.

We have long been interested in the OP-1, although we won’t have one ourselves.  Maybe it would make a great instrument for Sam Sam 😸

 

CatSynth Video: Sarper Duman and his Cats

Sarper Duman returns to CatSynth with one of his beautiful serenades with his cats 😻. From his Facebook page.

If you want to wake up to every new day with a real and unconditional love, adopt an animal.. Even if they don’t see, even if they’re missing a leg, they have no handicap in loving and being loved.. 🖤🐈🎹
.
Her yeni güne gerçek, çıkarsız bir sevgiyle başlamak istiyorsanız, hayvan sahiplenin.. Görmeseler de, bir bacakları eksik de olsa, sevmeye, sevilmeye hiçbir engelleri yok.. 🖤🐈🎹

The moment where the tabby crawls onto the keyboard is priceless!

 

CatSynth Video: Particle Smasher + with Cat

By electro-lobotomy on YouTube, via matrixsynth.

“The Particle Smasher + is a sound generator and sound processor. Please visit my etsy shop for more info..
https://www.etsy.com/shop/ElectroLobo…

“Particle Smasher +
Sound Generator and signal processor. Experimental sound device with touch controls and a filter wave shaper section.

Features:
* 2 Oscillators
* Modify switch for oscillator 1
* 2 Modify switches for Oscillator 2
* Power starve knob
* Choke knob
* 3 way variation switch
* Gain Knob for input
* Feed knob
* 2 feedback switches
* Effect bypass switch
* 1/4″ audio input
* 1/4″ audio out jack
* DC power jack ( 9v center = – // sleeve = + )

*I will include a detailed diagram of unit and it’s functions.

**9v battery to DC jack is included. (Battery not included)

*The unit can also be powered with a 9v power supply with a negative tip.”

Weekend Cat Blogging with Sam Sam

It’s been almost a month since our last check-in with Sam Sam on these pages, and that is too long.  And she is expressing her desire that we give her the attention she deserves.

If you have seen any of Sam Sam’s videos on Instagram or YouTube, you know she is quite the talker.  Usually, it’s her tiny raspy mew, though her voice occasionally blooms into full-blown arias.

Sam Sam’s morning routine 😻 #catsofinstagram

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By the window #catsofinstagram

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This is a good time to remind folks that you can follow her antics regularly on our Instagram @catsynth.  Please do follow us if you feel so inclined.

The main rug is definitely one of her favorite spots and shows evidence of her frequent scratch’n’rolls.  Honestly, we don’t mind as we delight in her antics.  But it does require vacuuming, which is on deck for today.  I know she is not going to enjoy that, but it is necessary.

Fortunately, she has other spots to enjoy around HQ, including this comfy chair in the loft.

Honestly, I wanted to sit there to read 😸

We hope you all have a relaxing and enjoyable weekend.

CatSynth TV: Benjolin!

Our latest video features the Benjolin, a module designed by Rob Hordijk and distributed by Epoch Modular.  From the official website:

The benjolin is a multifunction synthesizer designed by Rob Hordijk. The module consists of four separate function blocks: two VCOs, a state variable filter and an additional circuit, invented by Hordijk himself, called a rungler. This particular arrangement emerged from his efforts to design a synthesizer that was, as he puts it, “bent by design”. As such, the module functions according to principles of chaos theory, where short to long sputtering patterns spontaneously transform themselves, at times, gradually, at others, quite suddenly, morphing into new pattern doublings and bifurcations. ​

The rungler is what gives the module (and its predecessor the Blippo Box) its chaotic character.  It’s basically a shift register timed off the two oscillators which then fed as a control signal back to the oscillators, creating a nonlinear dynamic feedback system.  It’s a lot of fun to just play and explore, but I have also used it in both recordings and live performance.  It works particularly well with subtle control inputs, like the Theremini.

CatSynth Video: Sophie’s Cameo (Arturia Matrixbrute, Studiologic Sledge, Alesis Samplepad, more)

Submitted by Chrissie Caulfied via Twitter and YouTube.

Another garden-based synth jam to celebrate Stuart’s purchase of an Arturia Matrixbrute and Studiologic Sledge 2.0 Me: Elektron Digitone, Novation Circuit, Alesis Samplepad pro (rather badly at the start!)

Wait for Sophie to appear at 2:46 😸