Curated by Joe Scanlan
Participating artists: Conrad Bakker, Jay Chung, Dora Garcia, Chris Moukarbel, Karen Reimer, Gerhard Richter, [The voice of] Robert Smithson, Donelle Woolford
Before the advent of computers, web crawlers, and double miles for grocery and gasoline purchases, data mining was either an in-house file-card system or a sordid early morning affair, limited to one company keeping track of its customers or tabloid detectives combing through garbage cans. In the digital era, with its vast and integrated information networks, data mining has flourished as marketing tool, as social science, and as surveillance, tracking everything from our eating habits and entertainment preferences to our phone logs and medical histories. As such, data mining is one of the most pervasive, efficient and profitable ways for powerful entities to track and maintain their hold on things.
As an information gathering system, data mining’s organizing principle is similarity rather than difference. It works by gathering massive amounts of information from witting and unwitting participants and then groups like patterns with like patterns. In other words, data mining finds and measures conformity and repetition. Anomalies are discarded because they represent behaviors that are too irregular to make efficient sense of. Consequently, not only does data mining deem aberrant behavior unprofitable (and therefore useless), it also sets that small percentage of people off against the majority, whose behavior data mining deems both useful and profitable. And the greater the majority, the more influential they are in determining what gets made, seen, distributed, consumed.
The big difference lately is that the influence is beginning to flow both ways. When one person (Michael Paranzino) with 900 dollars and a website can stop a billion-dollar television network from broadcasting a program he is personally unhappy with, and when another person (Markos Moulitsas) can have nearly every 2008 democratic presidential candidate flattering him because his blog is a liberal bellwether, then it’s a great day for small-scale initiative. Whither artists in this brave new world of mountain-moving, tin horn subjectivity?
Unfortunately many artists are down on exerting influence these days, which is both odd and sad. Sad in that power has become so suspect among artists that few dare say they want it, let alone admit they have any. Odd because there has never been a time when the words and images of individuals-
however puny or underfunded-can be as powerful as they are today. If artists at the moment seem to have lost their voice and their bearings in relation to the culture at large, maybe it’s because so many of us think our work is trivial and incapacitated—not because it is, but because that makes it easier to live with.
Luckily some artists believe their actions still matter, and think that a little research and a lot of leeway (and vice versa) can get noticed, maybe even be effective. Data Mining presents work by eight artists who take matters into their own hands by reframing aesthetics and retelling stories—in general, asserting their power as aberrant individuals inhabiting a conformist technology. Because their works draw stark contrasts between political content and modest creative means, all of the artists in Data Mining might be characterized as “folk politicians” or, if you will, “craft activists.” Whether armed with video cameras or embroidery needles, glue guns or pocket knives, the artists in Data Mining aestheticize politics and politicize aesthetics.
But this is not 1971. This is not an index of typewritten instructions pinned to spare white walls. Nor is this 1999. This is not a gaggle of international artists “critiquing” art institutions, only to leave the institutions (and themselves) intact. Rather, this is 2006. This is a subversive, affectionate, grass roots show—one especially aware that not a little craftsmanship is necessary to being persuasive.
CONRAD BAKKER makes sculptures that function as currency. Like money-
which is a commonly held symbol with transferable meanings and values-Bakker’s wooden sculptures of folding tables, muscle cars, utensils and dumpsters are fiduciary stand-ins for the objects they represent. Bakker often exacerbates his carefully whittled facsimiles by embedding them in the real world, a neo-Dadaist gesture that both highlights their ability to pass undetected and squanders their value as art. Bakker will be showing two standard office trash cans that have been whittled from single blocks of wood.
JAY CHUNG pushes the limits of perceptibility in his work, often leaving key aspects of his projects open-ended or unknown. “Seeing” or “knowing” his work, then, requires a certain amount of faith (optimism) and trust (risk). One such work entailed hiring an entire crew and cast to shoot a short film that takes place in a Long Island motel. Auditions were held, scripts were distributed, rooms were reserved, and the film was shot. Everyone got paid. All except for the fact that Chung and his cinematographer knew-
and kept secret-the fact that there was no film in the camera. For this show, Chung will be distributing The Final Unfettering, an admiring plagiarism of Dadaist Walter Serner’s Handbrevier für Hochstapler (Handbook for Swindlers).
DORA GARCIA’s work investigates the parameters of reality by creating situations in which performance, memory, and lived experience overlap and contradict each other. Her most expansive works, staged in such venues as the MACBA in Barcelona or the SMAK in Ghent, involve hired actors performing a drama that unfolds over the course of six or more weeks, in the process drawing viewers into the narrative’s web. Her more modest works are also dedicated to repeating, reversing and accumulating information. Included in this show will be one volume of All The Stories, an ongoing series of books cataloguing a synopsis for every story that exists.
CHRIS MOUKARBEL is interested in how culture is created, expanded and shared, and who if anyone can claim ownership. Whether installing stuffed-animal memorials on city streets or inventing his own niche market Internet pornography (select cuts of meat having sex with each other), Moukarbel is a willing participant in his chosen cultural idioms rather than a detached observer. Moukarbel will be showing a new work that none of us are at liberty to discuss. We would strongly prefer that you don’t discuss it either, at least not in any traceable media.
KAREN REIMER’s work is an exquisite take on how, and what, to pay attention to. In the tradition of Kurt Schwitters or Tony Feher, Reimer combs yesterday’s newspapers, food wrappers and other such detritus in search of that particular shape, phrase or color that resonates. She then exactingly reproduces the recovered gem in embroidery. Earlier works focused on liminal fragments of paper—a notebook corner, a fedex receipt. More recent works shift criterion from form to content, selectively stitching fragments from within whole pages of the daily newspaper. Examples of these works and others will be shown.
GERHARD RICHTER is Gerhard Richter. Data Mining will feature a section of wall-to-wall carpeting that Richter designed for Vorwerk & Co. Teppichewerke GmbH in 1991.
JOE SCANLAN organized Data Mining. He is an artist and associate professor in sculpture at Yale University. He is represented primarily by Galerie Micheline Szwajcer, Antwerp. He is a great believer in artists speaking their minds and has published many essays throughout his career, including “Traffic Control” (Artforum, Summer, 2005), “Please, Eat the Daisies” (Art issues, January, 2001), and “Let’s Play Prisoners” (frieze, September, 1996).
ROBERT SMITHSON is the archetypal practitioner of the principles of data mining—that is, looking at tons of material in apparently hopeless disarray and seeing how to organize it, connect the dots. He is present in this show thanks to one of the more revered forms of data mining: scouring the cut out bins of used record shops. For the first time since 1969, and for a limited time only, visitors to Data Mining can hear Robert Smithson describe how to make Asphalt Rundown.
DONELLE WOOLFORD is herself a product of data mining, being part art history, part art market, part craftsmanship and part politics. She makes radical reworkings of classical Cubism. Her paintings are prisms through which she refracts the 20th Century’s most influential aesthetic back onto herself and her African heritage. In Woolford’s re-authenticated Cubism, scraps of wood resembling brushstrokes are crafted into sophisticated compositions. One of her large paintings and two of her smaller ones will be included in the exhibition.
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