Greg Sholette, Dark Matter, and “Art on the Waterways”

May 1, 2011   //   by van Gelder   //   Blog, Events  //  Comments Off on Greg Sholette, Dark Matter, and “Art on the Waterways”

The Boston Cyberarts Festival’s patrons joined UMass-Boston Assistant Professor of Art Cat Mazza and her digital media class on April 22nd for a lecture by New York-based artist and art instructor Greg Sholette. Sholette, writer most recently of Dark Matter: Art and Politics in the Age of Enterprise Culture, spoke on tactical media and the historical antecedents to today’s public art interventions. In a unique twist to the usual educational setting, Sholette delivered the lecture in the main cabin of a 64-foot boat while it cruised Boston Harbor. The cruise and lecture highlighted Spectacle Island, currently part of the Harbor Islands park system and the setting for one of Sholette’s favorite works of literary cyberpunk and dystopia, Zodiac by Neal Stephenson. The ship ended its trip at the Institute for Contemporary Art, where passengers could disembark and continue on to other Cyberarts Festival events.

Early on in his lecture, Sholette endeavored to define some of the parameters for the genre and artistic movement in which he has participated since the beginning of his career in the early 1980’s. In terms of content, tactical media tends to take the form of institutional critique, both in reference to social issues and politics or the art world itself. Many of the artists that Sholette offered as exemplars of the movement favor what Sholette and other critiques refer to as interventionist or tactical practices to communicate their ideas. This includes groups like the Yes Men, who have received significant mainstream media attention for their performances and media interventions mimicking the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Chevron. Sholette noted many of the major differences between traditional art practices and the form of political or social art on which he focuses in his attempt to better define the practice. Most notably, he drew a blurry boundary between the art work and “real life” for those engaged in tactical media works, and he identified a fairly clear distinction between lasting materials, objects, or artifacts and the tendency of tactical media (in addition to other types of art like installation or performance) toward a more temporary or ephemeral result.

“One thing about tactical media,” Sholette remarked, “you’re never sure if it’s going to last.”

Sholette demonstrated the wealth of knowledge on tactical media he has acquired through both his own art practice and his career as a researcher, writer, editor, and art instructor as he moved from an introduction of tactical media and political art to a narrative history of the genre’s foundations. He told stories and showed images of the work of the Russian constructivists, the term critics and historians associate mostly with the Russian art and architecture that came, at least indirectly, out of the Bolshevik revolution and in the early years of the Soviet Union. Le Tatlin, Rochenko, Klucis, and Maykovsky remain the most well known of this movement, and Sholette suggested that during the period in which these artists work, observers can see the formation of a new attitude and definition of art. These individuals made “work for everyday people”, and, as Scholette articulated, had an idea of art “as something with a presence in the day-to-day world.”

More recently, artists who work in a similar vein have taken on the issues of today, such as economic marginalization, through either globalization or ineffective distribution of resources and creativity, militarism and hyper-consumerism. With regards to the latter theme, Sholette held up Reverend Billy & the Church of Life After Shopping and Spain’s Yomango. He noted the Lower Manhattan Sign Project, a project on which he worked, as an example of tactical media’s strategy to represent itself as a part of or participant in the real world, but reveal upon more close inspection a critical message. His most recent project, the Institute for Wishful Thinking, provides a platform for “self-declared Artists in Residence of the US Government”, and invites artists and designers to join the process of solving pressing social problems.

For more on Boston Cyberarts, visit their festival website. For more on Greg Sholette’s work, visit his website, and the online home of Dark Matter.

The Boston Cyberarts Festival’s patrons joined UMass-Boston Assistant Professor of Art Cat Mazza and her digital media class on April 22nd for a lecture by New York-based artist and art instructor Greg Sholette. Sholette, writer most recently of Dark Matter: Art and Politics in the Age of Enterprise Culture, spoke on tactical media and the historical antecedents to today’s public art interventions. In a unique twist to the usual educational setting, Sholette delivered the lecture in the main cabin of a 64-foot boat while it cruised Boston Harbor. The cruise and lecture highlighted Spectacle Island, currently part of the Harbor Islands park system and the setting for one of Sholette’s favorite works of literary cyberpunk and dystopia, Zodiac by Neal Stephenson. The ship ended its trip at the Institute for Contemporary Art, where passengers could disembark and continue on to other Cyberarts Festival events.

Early on in his lecture, Sholette endeavored to define some of the parameters for the genre and artistic movement in which he has participated since the beginning of his career in the early 1980’s. In terms of content, tactical media tends to take the form of institutional critique, both in reference to social issues and politics or the art world itself. Many of the artists that Sholette offered as exemplars of the movement favor what Sholette and other critiques refer to as interventionist or tactical practices to communicate their ideas. This includes groups like the Yes Men, who have received significant mainstream media attention for their performances and media interventions mimicking the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Chevron. Sholette noted many of the major differences between traditional art practices and the form of political or social art on which he focuses in his attempt to better define the practice. Most notably, he drew a blurry boundary between the art work and “real life” for those engaged in tactical media works, and he identified a fairly clear distinction between lasting materials, objects, or artifacts and the tendency of tactical media (in addition to other types of art like installation or performance) toward a more temporary or ephemeral result.

“One thing about tactical media,” Sholette remarked, “you’re never sure if it’s going to last.”

Sholette demonstrated the wealth of knowledge on tactical media he has acquired through both his own art practice and his career as a researcher, writer, editor, and art instructor as he moved from an introduction of tactical media and political art to a narrative history of the genre’s foundations. He told stories and showed images of the work of the Russian constructivists, the term critics and historians associate mostly with the Russian art and architecture that came, at least indirectly, out of the Bolshevik revolution and in the early years of the Soviet Union. Le Tatlin, Rochenko, Klucis, and Maykovsky remain the most well known of this movement, and Sholette suggested that during the period in which these artists work, observers can see the formation of a new attitude and definition of art. These individuals made “work for everyday people”, and, as Scholette articulated, had an idea of art “as something with a presence in the day-to-day world.”

More recently, artists who work in a similar vein have taken on the issues of today, such as economic marginalization, through either globalization or ineffective distribution of resources and creativity, militarism and hyper-consumerism. With regards to the latter theme, Sholette held up Reverend Billy & the Church of Life After Shopping and Spain’s Yomango. He noted the Lower Manhattan Sign Project, a project on which he worked, as an example of tactical media’s strategy to represent itself as a part of or participant in the real world, but reveal upon more close inspection a critical message. His most recent project, the Institute for Wishful Thinking, provides a platform for “self-declared Artists in Residence of the US Government”, and invites artists and designers to join the process of solving pressing social problems.

For more on Boston Cyberarts, visit their festival website. For more on Greg Sholette’s work, visit his website, and the online home of Dark Matter.

Written for the 2011 Boston Cyberarts Festival; for more about Adam Hasler visit his site, adamhasler.com.

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