Fast Flux Opening, Studio-X Soho

Fast Flux: New Art from Lithuania Opening
Tuesday 10 September 2013, 7:00-8:30pm
Studio-X NYC, 180 Varick St., Suite 1610 (map)

Free and open to the public. No RSVP required.

This opening marks the beginning of Fast Flux, a residency and exhibit by young Lithuanian artists from Rupert at Columbia University's Studio-X NYC.
A panel of speakers will discuss the exhibit, the role of art and architecture in Soho, and the role of Lithuanian artists George Maciunas and Jonas Mekas in the establishment of the arts community in the area.

Juan de Nieves, Director, Rupert, Vilnius, Lithuania

Inesa Pavlovskaite, Co-Curator of Fast Flux, curator, Vilnius, Lithuania

Lytle Shaw, Associate Professor of English, NYU, Editor, Chadwick Family Papers

Kazys Varnelis, Co-Curator of Fast Flux, Director, Network Architecture Lab

Mark Wigley, Dean, Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation, Columbia University

In August 1966, George Maciunas set out to found an artists collective in Soho with the help of Jonas Mekas. Together, they envisioned a Kolhkoz with a Fluxshop and a 120-seat cinema at 16-18 Greene Street, just east of the entrance to the Holland Tunnel, in an area that was the site of Manhattan’s first Lithuanian-American community.

Although the Greene Street cooperative was not to be, Maciunas would go on to develop a series of lofts in Soho, all the while lurching from one crisis to another as he faced issues with money and deadlines. In November 1975, thugs hired by electrical contractor Peter D. Stefano administered a severe beating, causing Maciunas to lose an eye. Ten years after Maciunas had begun his project in Soho, he set out for New Marlborough, Massachusetts, where he would purchase a farm in hopes of starting a new, exurban Flux collective. His obituary in the May 11, 1978, edition of The New York Times was titled “George Maciunas, Artist and Designer Organized Fluxus to Develop Soho.”

In the thirty-five years after Maciunas departed Soho, the postmodernization of the area has long been complete. Not only is the industry in the area long gone, so are the art practices that eulogized it. Contemporary Soho is a preeminent location for flagship stores, boutiques, and a new infrastructure of media and design that services  the needs of this global city.

On the farthest western reaches of Soho, Studio-X NYC, part of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation's global network of urban research labs, offers a site to investigate, if only temporarily, possible transactions between art and architecture, New York and Lithuania.

Between Tuesday, September 10, and Friday, October 4, 2013, Studio-X NYC will host a group of Lithuanian artists whose work will explore these transactions of art and architecture (real estate), New York (the core, the global hub) and Lithuania (the periphery, that which makes the core possible).

The exhibition will be open for public view Monday through Friday, from 1 to 6pm daily, or by appointment.

Sponsored by Rupert, the Lithuanian Ministry of Culture, and the Network Architecture Lab and Studio-X at the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, Columbia University.



The Rise and Fall of New Media

My essay "the Rise and Fall of New Media" can be found in the twentieth anniversary issue of Frieze and online their site here. It's paired with an essay by Lauren Cornell of Rhizome and the New Museum. Together, both deal with the issue that far from being a niche interest, as Cornell writes, "every kind of artistic practice has been touched by the Internet as both a tool and as something that affects us in a broader sense…" 

Posting has been light this summer as I've moved into a new house (modernism, even!) but things have been moving behind the scenes. With the new semester coming up, expect more on the way.


Kazys Varnelis, 1917-2010

My father, also Kazys Varnelis, passed away on Friday morning after a long illness. Born in Alsedžiai, Lithuania in 1917, his father too was Kazys Varnelis, a noted Samogitian folk artist and cross-carver. 

Briefly the director of the Museum of Ecclesiastical Art in Kaunas, he fled after the Soviet invasion and eventually settled in Chicago. After more than a decade running a studio that designed church interiors and stained glass, he turned to geometric abstraction in the early1960s. His work from this period recalls the ornament of Lithuanian folk art while also experimenting with the flatness of the canvas and the contradictions in geometric patterns that are painted using the classical convention of light coming from the upper left of the canvas. He exhibited widely in the United States in places like the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Milwaukee Art Center, and Corcoran Gallery. His work is in collections across the country, from the MCA to the Guggenheim. In 1978, we moved to Stockbridge, Massachusetts where he purchased a decrepit old estate that he restored as a venue for his increasingly large works. 

He also collected books and furniture and, when Lithuania became free in 1991 and offered him a museum to house his work, he welcomed the opportunity. Beginning this new project over eighty years of age, he had finally was able to realize his dream of returning to his homeland and to give his works and collections to the country he held so dear.

We are going to Lithuania on Monday to attend the funeral with my mother. He will be missed, but I am glad he had a chance to live a long and fruitful life. Here is a picture of the two of us in the best of days and here is an article on his work for those of you unfamiliar with it.            




On the Art Market

I had a great time at Frieze Talks in London on Thursday with music writer Geeta Dayal, artist Thomas Demand, and Frieze editor Sam Thorne in the panel "Who Owns Images?" Sam gave a great framing introduction and Thomas presented one of his fascinating projects while lending us his insight into one cause of the extension of copyright law: the Nazis were protecting Richard Wagner's widow's income. For my inner (not so hidden) music geek, hearing Geeta lend her insights into changes in music relating to sampling was fascinating. Naively, I had not realized that due to the cost of licensing, sampling is now restricted to big ticket acts. With the average cost of a sample rising to $10,000, it's easy to see why. I also was fascinated to hear that this is the reason that there haven't been any box sets or reissues of classic hip-hop albums: they would simply prime the pump for more lawsuits. Afterwards we had a great conversation about music that ranged across the spectrum from Robert Fripp to Hafler Trio to South African shangaan electro.

My only regret that Thomas Demand misunderstood me: maybe it was a language barrier. But he seemed to be upset that I  suggested that the fact that new media art has largely proved unsellable to private collectors is a hint of a rising crisis of value in the art market. Thomas countered by saying you can't have it both ways: infinite reproducibility and authenticity in art. Instead, he offered the example of Matisses which, as unique (auratic... although he didn't say so) objects are worth tens of millions even though they are just bits of canvas and paint.

I found his attempt to explain authenticity in art through cash value a bit surprising but actually that was my point! Value is a funny thing and, as people who've studied economic theory know, it's a gaping hole in the center of both neoclassical and Marxist formulations. We've got working theories, but value just doesn't come together for us. At times–notably when bubbles burst–value collapses rapidly. Take the Dutch tulip mania or the housing crisis. These bubbles work not on the basis of inherent value, but rather because of the greater fool theory: you assume that there is someone out there who will buy what you have to sell for even more than you paid for it.

It's surprising how much operates in terms of the greater fool theory. Take Apple computer, for example, the company is growing rapidly and–assuming that there is nothing fundamentally flawed in its price/earnings ratio and other fundamentals (disclaimer: I haven't looked at these and since I am writing this post 38,000 feet above the Labrador Sea I am not about to) are in line, then the analysis would be in favor of purchasing the stock. I for one, greatly regret not keeping the Apple stock that I had in 2000. I'd have some absurd amount of money in my pocket if I hadn't sold it during the crash. But Apple doesn't pay a dividend and with the price of the stock and the amount of reserve cash they have, a hostile takeover is unlikely by anyone short of the government of China. In short, just what does one get from one's investment in Apple besides the ability to watch the ride and pass on the share to the next fool, er, investor? Nothing really and if for some reason people stop buying the stock, the value will evaporate in the blink of an eye unless Apple makes an effort to stop it (to be fair, since Apple can, this makes purchasing Apple stock a good deal better than investing in a Ponzi scheme).

Art is like this too. There is simply no way that those Matisses return the kind of value they do. They're fantastic of course, but their value is a social construct we agree to. Or take Thomas's work, which I greatly admire. My father, who was a painter and collector of artworks is of a different generation and he simply wouldn't understand how photography could be worth anything. After all, he would reason, anybody could take a photograph with a camera and an enlarger can churn out as many as you want. Naturally, I don't agree at all, and I am sure that when it comes down to it one of Thomas's photographs takes more hours to produce than one of my father's paintings given the elaborate setup work necessary. If you want to go the materials route, then Thomas wins again.* Still Thomas isn't your usual photographer. In contrast, only the value assigned by the October crowd and by the art market, plus, I suppose a bit of comic relief, makes a Richard Prince cowboy photograph valuable.

But if photography is now valued, new media art has failed to achieve that sort of value. This is not to say that new media art won't become a matter of speculation in the future: an electronically tradable work could be subject to the same rapid financial trading that securities are today. New media art is ideal for investment-oriented collectors! Still, somehow we are't comfortable with it. Even with brilliant and accurate televisions that rival the resolution of many cinemas in most wealthy households, new media art hasn't made it into many private hands.

There is a resistance here and I think the reasons are complex. Perhaps it is because of the overidentification of screens with computer work and television, practices that are still somehow too low brow. Or, perhaps it is because of the threat of piracy. If one knows where to look one can find pirated video art. But right now it doesn't seem like much of a threat: if you have a Bill Viola playing on your TV, it's hardly going to get you much admiration from your friends if you say that you pirated it.

When I got to the airport, I checked Twitter and found out that, according to this CNN article, the art market is rejoicing because after some down years sales at the Frieze Art Fair are back on track. The biggest sale so far was a truly beautiful Damien Hirst, "The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths," consisting of three glass panels filled with grids of embalmed fishes sold by the White Cube gallery for £3.5 million. I suppose that whoever bought it didn't come to our panel or they might have thought twice.

But back to new media art. It may cut a little too close for comfort to the problem of value for us. The reason that the Matisses are so expensive isn't because they are worth it: they are, by any accounting, vastly overpriced. Rather, the phenomenal rise of the global art market is the product of a world economy that economists have said many times over is awash in liquidity. There is so much excess capital out there seeking places to invest that it is driving the art market up to absurd levels. At a middlebrow level, such a market collapsed in the late 1990s when suddenly Thomas Kinkade's works were worth a fraction of what they were selling for.

If it's easy to dismiss the crash of "the painter of light," there's more to it than that. Postmodernism was marked by the dominance of the culture industry–the permeation of culture by capital (in terms of investment) and the permeation of capital by culture (in the form of big business's employment of cultural techniques to spur flexible accumulation). Today, however, we are seeing the collapse of the culture industry. Advertising, music, publishing, and film are eerily repeating the fall of Fordist enterprises in the 1970s and 1980s. Who would have thought that they would ever see such dark days? And yet, in part–but not entirely–due to the remorseless efficiencies of the Internet they have been brought low.

Art, somehow, seems to survive. For reasons that are hard to understand (prestige? the promise of authenticity? amusement value? sensory pleasure?) it occupies a hallowed position, if only for the moment. It's a sink for overaccumulated capital, sopping up excess money that seeks investment opportunities wherever it can find them. There's little question that there's still a big bubble out there not only in art, but in the global economy as a whole. Excess capital can be easily redirected into political lobbying to protect more excess capital and–given that this is precisely what has happened under the Obama administration–we're unlikely to see change anytime soon. Anytime soon, that is, unless the bubble pops.

On the Hole in Space

Chatroulette—a site that pairs you with a random person somewhere on the Internet so that you have a webcam conversation—has been in the news lately. But let's compare it for a moment to another project, Kit Galloway and Sherrie Rabinowitz's "Hole in Space," which took place for three days in November 1980.

In this "public communication sculpture," the artists turned two walls, one at Los Angeles’s Century City Shopping Center and another at New York’s Lincoln Center, into two-way audiovisual portals. Video cameras transmitted images from each site to the other where they were beamed, full size onto walls. Microphones and speakers facilitated audio transmissions. You can get an idea for this in the video below. 

Hole in Space lasted three nights. During the first night, encounters were casual and accidental. Many of the first visitors did not believe it was live or thought that the ghostly black and white spectres on the wall were actors on a nearby set. Disbelief soon gave way to the creation of a new social space, to the invention of games and the telling of jokes. As word spread, separated friends and family made arrangements to meet through the portals on the second evening. On the third night, after Hole in Space was featured on television news, so many people attempted to participate in this shared human experience that traffic ground to a halt and the experiment was forced to end by the authorities. Incredibly, Galloway and Rabinowitz's project is all but forgotten today.

In the original video, one woman asks why is it that this wasn't done twenty years ago, i.e. 1960.

50 years after the possible date for the first hole in space, Rabinowitz and Galloway's work remains a hole not only in space, but in time. We have video chat (how often do we use it?) and chat roulette, but we don't have holes in space. Why is that?  

AUDC proposed WIndows on the World in 2004, an extension of the Hole in Space with even grander ambitions but less expensive technology, but apparently our proposal was too boring to be funded. 

The Netlab is going to try again with this in 2010, likely very soon. Stay tuned.

On atemporality

I wanted to lay out some thoughts about atemporality in response to Bruce Sterling's great presentation on the topic over at Transmediale.* We've had a dialogue about this back and forth over the net, in places like Twitter and it's my turn to respond. 

The topic of atemporality is absorbing my time now. I have the goal of getting the first chapter of my book on network culture up by the end of next month (I know, last year I thought it would be the end of March of that year, but so it goes) and it is the core of an article that I'm working on at present for the Cornell Journal of Architecture. 

Anyway, I was impressed by how Bruce framed his argument for network culture. This isn't a new master narrative at all, there's no need to expect the anti-periodization take-down to come, or if it does, it'll be interesting to see the last living postmodernists. Instead, network culture is a given that we need to make sense of. I was also taken by how Bruce gave it an expiry date: it's going to last about a decade before something else comes along. 

Then there's Bruce's tone, always on the verge of laughter. It's classic Bruce, but it's also network culture at work, the realm of 4chan, lolcatz, chatroulette and infinite snark. And I can imagine that one day Bruce will say "It's all a big joke. I mean come on, did you think I was serious about this?" And I'd agree. After all, a colleague once asked me if the Internet wasn't largely garbage, a cultural junkspace devoid of merit? Of course, I said, what do you take me for a fool? She replied by saying she was just wondering since after all, I studied it. I said, well yes, it's mainly dreck but what are you going to do with these eighty trillion virtual pages of dreck, wave your hands and pretend they'll go away? It's not going to happen. So yes, snark is how we talk about this cultural ooze, because that's not only what it deserves, it's what it wants. To adopt a big word from literary criticism: snark is immanent to network culture.   

I was also taken by Bruce's description of early network culture and late network culture. Again, network culture isn't a master narrative. It has no telos or end goal. We're not going to hold up Rem Koolhaas or hypertext or liberalism or the Revolution or the Singularity, Methusalarity or anything else as an end point to history. In that, we part from Hegel definitively. Instead, network culture is transitional. Bruce suggests that it has ten years before something else comes along. He also talks about early network culture, which we're in now, and late network culture, which we can't really anticipate yet.   

I think he's on to something there, but I think we need to make a further division: network culture before and after the crash. The relentless optimism of the pre-crash days is gone, taking starchitecture, Dubai (remember Dubai?), post-criticism, the magazine era, Prada, and hedge fund trading with it. We are in a different phase now, in which portents of collapse are as much part of the discourse as the next big thing. Let's call it the uneasy middle of network culture.

Things are much less sure and they're unlikely to get any better anytime soon. It's going to be a slow ten years, equal to the 70s or maybe somewhere between the 70s and the 30s. Instead of temporary unemployment, we're looking at a massive restructuring in which old industries depart this mortal coil. Please, if you are out of work, don't assume the jobs will return when the recession ends. They won't. They're gone.

But as Bruce suggested, we have to have some fun with network culture. Over at the Netlab research blogs, we're starting to put together a dossier of evidence about practices of atemporality in contemporary culture. You'll be hearing a lot more about atemporality from me over the next month. 

*The talk is below. 

If you prefer, you can now read the transcript online here

The Immediated Now on Networked: A Networked Book

Networked: A Networked Book on Networked Art is now live.

Produced by and supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, Networked includes a chapter that I wrote entitled The Immediated Now. Network Culture and the Poetics of Reality.

In this chapter, I suggest that network culture is not limited to digital technology or to the Internet but rather is a broad sociocultural shift. Much more than under postmodernism, which was still transitional, in network culture both art and everyday life take mediation as a given. The result is that life becomes performance. We live in a culture of exposure, seeking affirmation from the net. My chapter explores the resulting poetics of the real from YouTube to the art gallery. To be clear, the new poetics of reality is different from established models of realism, replacing earlier codes with immediacy, self-exposure, performance, and remix.

One distinctive feature of this book is that it is open for comments, revisions, and translations and you may submit a chapter for consideration by the editors. I hope my readers not only read the entire book, but contribute. Many thanks to Jo-Anne Green and Helen Thorington of for putting up this project. It's been in the works for a while and is sorely needed. 

I'm excited that the research that I did for this chapter is now taking on another form as it feeds my book on Network Culture. I've been writing 1,000 words a day and its moving at a good clip. I hope you enjoy the chapter as a preview, and if you haven't read the introduction yet, you can do so here.   

Finally, I'll also confess to another role in the project, which is that the CommentPress system, developed at the Institute for the Future of the Book came in part out of a discussion that members of the Institute and I had after one of my courses three years back. That said, Wordpress isn't the best system for this. I'm dying for it to be ported to Drupal.



Exciting news today, thanks to Bruce Sterling's splendid Beyond the Beyond.

I've been immersed in writing lately, so this next exhibit slipped under my radar, but Nicolas Bourriaud's latest exhibit, the 2009 Tate Triennial, is called Altermodern. Bourriaud's manifesto can be seen here. Bourriaud's one of the sharpest thinkers around today and this exhibit just cements my decision to explore network culture in my next book. Bourriaud's show marks a break with postmodernism based on a new stage of globalization. As he writes in his Altermodern manifesto: "Multiculturalism and identity is being overtaken by creolisation: Artists are now starting from a globalised state of culture."  

I suppose this is the kick in the pants I need to get my introduction out the door and onto this site in the next few days. Even if I fully intend to rework it repeatedly even after the draft hits the networked book, the stakes of framing the argument clearly are high so writing it has taken a month longer than I wanted. 


Forced Exposure

Yesterday evening, I received the news that I my proposal for Networked (a networked_book) about (networked_art) was accepted. The other finalists who will be writing essays will be Anne Helmond, Patrick Lichty, Anna Munster, and Marisa Olsen. This is really exciting for me. I'm fascinated by the opportunity to let one of my essays loose to be rewritten by the networked art public. This chapter will also feed the work I'm doing for my book on network culture, so it's a good kick in the pants for me too. Thanks so much to Jo-Ann Green and Helen Turlington of, all of the members of the advisory committee, and the NEA for their support of the project.

Below is my (very slightly edited) proposal. I'm thinking that I'd like to put the project on the net early on, to solicit all your input even as its being sketched out, so you're likely to hear a lot more about it soon.  


Forced Exposure:[1] Networks and The Poetics of Reality


The real has come to dominate cultural production, both high and low (those categories are more blurred than ever, if not nonexistent)—from reality television to blogs to MySpace to YouTube to the art gallery. But the new poetics of reality is not the same as the old model of realism. First emerging in the eighteenth century—especially in the form of the novel—realism was part of a new fascination with everyday—as opposed to courtly or idealized—life that also manifested itself in the newspaper. Associated with this was the rise of the authorial voice, the seemingly objective narration of the novelist or journalist. Authors constructed a reality assembled according to codes of “realism” for the public. Today, however, both novel and newspaper are in rapid decline, losing sales dramatically. So, too visual art now turns to reality-based forms of production. The codes of realism are being replaced by new codes of reality, constructed around immediacy, self-exposure, performance, and the remix of existing and self-generated content, using readily-available technology to directly engage the audience. But when I discuss realism as coded, I do not mean to say that “reality” media is not coded. Throughout the essay I will identify the codes deployed in “reality” media, be it reality TV, amateur-generated content, or professional “art.”

It is crucial to expand the boundaries of this investigation to go beyond just art that is produced for a small community to cultural production as a whole, high and low, online and not (if anything is not online today in some form). Thus, I am interested not only in what is on but also what is on television, on YouTube, or in the gallery. Looking only to cultural production found on the Internet ghettoizes that cultural production, isolating and thereby limiting our understanding of the impact of networks and easily accessible, powerful digital technology on culture as a whole. Network culture is not limited to technological developments or to “new media” but rather is a broad sociocultural shift much like postmodernity was in its day. Writing merely about the impact of these technologies by looking only at networked art today would be like looking only at video art to understand the impact of the television. In other words, although maturing digital and networking technologies are inseparable from contemporary culture—as the spectacle of the television was from postmodernity—they must be read within a larger context.

Along with the broadening of the influence of networks and digital means of cultural production past the scene, the turn to realism is very different from the sort of work done by the first generation. Artists such as Vuk Cosic, Jodi, Alexei Sholgun, and Heath Bunting made art that (often deliberately) resembled the graphic and programming demos found on cassette tapes and in computer magazines of the 1980, before computers left the realm of user groups and became broadly useful in society. Instead, the impact of digital technology and networks is much more pervasive and diffuse. Mark Leckey, to take one example, would not normally be seen as a net artist, but his work is thoroughly informed by the cultural turn I am looking at. His goal, as expressed in the video for his Tate prize nomination, describes the poetics of network culture in a nutshell: “to transform my world and make it more so, make it more of what it is.” Over the last few years, amateur-generated content has proliferated on the Internet, particularly in video sharing site YouTube and photo sharing sites like Flickr as well as on blogs. This essay will examine the rise of amateur-generated content as a form of cultural production while reflecting on its use by artists like Oliver Laric, who treats amateur videos as found media loops, or Daniel Eatock, who directly solicits contributions from his audience and posts them to his site. In this genre, as in network culture as a whole, we can see a key difference from postmodernist art: instead of the postmodernist promotion of a populist projection of the audience’s desires, today we have the production of art by the audience, a further blurring of boundaries between artist and public. 

[1] The title is an oblique reference to Forced Exposure magazine and the earlier DIY ethic and informal networks of subcultures, which would be covered as “prehistory” of this piece. I’d be delighted if people recognized it, but since they probably won’t, this should alleviate the mystery:



I contributed a version of my essay on network culture to the catalog for Dispersion, a show currently on view at the ICA. I'm hoping to make it there before it closes, but do check it out if you're in London.

Anne Collier, Folded Madonna Poster (Steven Meisel), 2007. Courtesy the artist and Corvi-Mora, London.
Anne Collier, Folded Madonna Poster (Steven Meisel), 2007. Courtesy the artist and Corvi-Mora, London.

3 - 23, 27 - 30 Dec 2008, 2 Jan - 1 Feb 2009

Henrik Olesen, Hito Steyerl, Seth Price, Anne Collier, Hilary Lloyd, Maria Eichhorn and Mark Leckey.

Dispersion presents seven international artists who work with photography, film, video and performance. All of these artists explore the appropriation and circulation of images in contemporary society, examining the role of money, desire and power in our accelerated image economy – from the art market to the internet and art historical icons to pornography.

The works in Dispersion often take the form of archives, histories or collections, sometimes adopting an anthropological approach. In many cases, they are characterised by an interest in feminism and gender politics in the realm of sexuality and sub-culture. All the works however are informed by personal or idiosyncratic narratives, exploring the role of subjectivity in the contemporary flow of imagery and capital.

The title Dispersion is drawn from an essay written by participating artist Seth Price, which reflects on the role of 'distributed media' in avant-garde practice, from Duchamp to Conceptual Art. The exhibition has been curated for the ICA by Polly Staple, the recently appointed director of the Chisenhale, London and includes six gallery-based presentations as well as a special performance in the ICA Theatre.

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