Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Conceptual Writing: AutoSummarize

For “AutoSummarize," self-described media artist Jason Huff took the one hundred most downloaded out-of-copyright books (from Project Gutenberg, I assume) and reduced each of them to ten sentences using MS Word 2008’s AutoSummarize function. You can purchase the book or download a free PDF from Huff's website.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Appropriation in Art: Warhol's Brillo Boxes

One of the most iconic pieces Andy Warhol produced was a sculptural reproduction of the shipping carton for Brillo Soap Pads. The "Brillo Box" was part of an April 1964 solo show at New York's Stable Gallery. The show, an important event in Warhol's career, consisted of similar reproductions--cartons of Brillo pads, Heinz ketchup, Heinz Baked Beans, Del Monte peaches, Mott’s Apple Juice, Kellogg’s Corn Flakes--stacked in clusters around the gallery, effectively giving it the appearance of a warehouse or a supermarket loading dock. Warhol's pieces were not grocery cartons but reproductions of these cartons, hollow boxes made of silk-screened plywood.

Appropriations of commercial art--in other words, the "unauthorized use" of logos, labels, and the other tools of branding--were typical of Warhol throughout his career, and from the beginning they have had a puzzling, equivocal status. Were these celebrations of American consumption, comments on the art market, condemnations of the "culture industry" and the growing commericalization of American culture? Were they sincere or satiric? Because the Brillo Boxes and other pieces in this series were three-dimensional sculptures (most of Warhol's work was painting or silkscreen, in two dimensions) they have often been seen as a forceful statement of this questionable status: because they are hollow, and because they are reproductions of commercial imagery, the boxes seem to emphasize the "emptiness" of commercial culture, or of Pop Art, or of Warhol's art itself.

A number of contemporary writers have embraced Warhol's methods--if not, in most cases, his fascination with commerce--as tools for writing. Examples include Kenny Goldsmith's The Weather, which is a book-lenghth transcription of a year's worth of weather bulletins from 1010 WINS, New York's all-news radio station (and, incidentally, one of my favorite books) and various works by Robert Fitterman, whose Word Shop we discussed in class last semester.

In any case, Print Magazine has a terrific article on the designer of the actual Brillo cartons, James Harvey. Harvey was an Abstract Expressionist painter in the New York art scene, and he worked as a commerical artist to pay the rent. The article tells the story of what happened when Harvey attended Warhol's show and saw the Brillo Boxes, providing a useful glimpse of an important moment in the history of American art. With a little thought, it could yield insight into the questions around appropriation as an artistic strategy and the divisions between "expressive" artists or writers and those who approach their work as a "conceptual" activity.

Read it here: Print Magazine: "Shadow Boxer" by James Gaddy

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Conceptual Blogging: The Seventeen Magazine Project

Jaime Keiles, an 18-year-old high school senior living in Pennsylvania, has a very interesting writing project. From 5/21 to 6/21--the date of her high school graduation--Jaime will be living "according to the gospel of Seventeen Magazine" and blogging about her efforts. As BoingBoing comments, "The result is a funny, witty observance of the discrepancy between what's being marketed as teen culture and what actually is--at least in her life."

For my part, I read this project as an example of how the techniques of conceptual art and performance have bled out into the culture and become ordinary, widely-accepted ways of thinking critically about the world--placing "conceptual writing" on a continuum with teen blogging. Jaime's blog is *not* conceptual writing in any sense, because it does not use the rules or constraints she has laid down in order to capture language primarily; however, it is documentation of what is effectively a piece of conceptual performance.

Here are the parameters of Jaime's work:

"The goal of this project is to simply explore a dying aspect of teenage culture. I will live my life according to the tips provided by the June/July issue of Seventeen magazine and from today until the weekend of my high school graduation (June 21). Conveniently, this project will also span the Most Important and Magical Night of My Teenage Life (i.e. senior prom). I will use this blog to record my findings, and to provide commentary on teenage life/the adolescent experience.

Here are the rules of the project:

  • I will read the entire June/July issue of Seventeen magazine from cover to cover.
  • Every day I will utilize at least one "beauty tip" (hair/makeup/skincare/whathaveyou) and one fashion tip.
  • I will follow all diet and exercise tips provided in the issue to a T.
  • I will participate in every activity recommended by the magazine (i.e. host a fright night, score your hottest summer hookup ever, be confident in a bikini, etc.)
  • I will apply for every single "freebie" offered by the magazine, every day.
  • I will consume all media recommended by the magazine at least once. (books/movies/music)
  • I will hang all provided pictures/posters of "hot guys" in my living environment.

Hopefully in following these rules I will be given the opportunity to shed some light on the modern teenage experience. On this blog, I will document my project, as well as offer commentary on media and teenage culture."

Read it here: The Seventeen Magazine Project

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Bryant Park Chapbook

The chapbook of our Bryant Park project is available in a box placed by my office door, M109-E. I will leave the box there until the end of exams, Wednesday 6/16.

I tried to come up with a title that was descriptive of the project, and finally settled on "On The Passage of Certain Figures Through A Limited Space and Time," which I think captures it precisely. The phrase was inspired by the title of Guy Debord's 1959 film "Sur le passage de quelques personnes à travers une assez courte unité de temps" (roughly, "on the passage of some people through a brief span of time"). Debord was an important avant garde filmmaker and social/political theorist of the 1960s -- his work is complex, but definitely worth exploring.

I've also made the PDF file for the chapbook available here. To produce your own copy, simply print the pages double-sided, stack them in order, fold them along the 11" axis, and sew or staple along the fold. However, you should still pick up one of the copies I had printed, since they have a color cover and the printer has trimmed all the edges for a cleaner, easier-to-read book.

It was great working with all of you this semester!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

"I Am Sitting in a Room": Video Feedback Project

Process-oriented writing has come up a few times in class -- for example, using Google Translate to move a text back and forth between languages several times in order to observe the changes that are produced. This video project, which takes the idea of process-oriented art to an extreme, was made by uploading, saving and re-uploading the same video to YouTube 1000 times. During this process, the artist -- his physical appearance, the visual details of his video-making style, the content of his message -- gradually disappeared, to be replaced by the distortions imposed by the process itself. (If you watch the video, you'll find links to the other stages of the project on YouTube, so you can see it at different stages.) In other words, this project is not "about" the author and his message; instead, it sets out to explore the medium of online video, allowing the viewer to experience this medium rather than ignore it (which we usually do when we watch videos, paying attention only to what they show and not to what they are).

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Waiting for Bieber

Check out Waiting for Bieber, a "real-time feed of Justin Bieber's fans trying to get him to follow them on Twitter." By isolating and cataloging this fan language, the designer, Mike Lacher, has effectively constructed a piece of conceptual writing. I could read this for hours!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Bryant Park Chapbook

I've decided to make a little collaborative publication based on our writing this semester, so that we have something to remember the workshop by. The chapbook will be based on our last Perecian description activity, Bryant Park. Here's what you need to do:

1. Revise your Bryant Park piece according to my feedback. Hand it in as a regular revision so that you get credit for it.

2. In addition, email me by Friday 5/28 with: two descriptions of people (the original assignment called for three, so choose your best two!) and the description of a pigeon.

3. I'll edit the book, choosing which descriptions are included. Everyone in the class will get to contribute at least one description of a person. I'll take the descriptions of pigeons and scatter them throughout.

4. This is a collaborative book, so instead of putting the authors' names on individual pieces, I'll just list all of the contributors' names on the back of the book. That way we're all "the author" of a single work, instead of each being the author of a short section.

I'll have these books printed and bring them to class before the end of the term.