META exists at the crossroads of art and science and of culture and nature. Tracing the uncommon threads between common topics, META presents its readers with views into the abyss of visual information and with experiments in associative reading. META invites you to browse according to taste.
You may ask, “what?” An archive, a Wunderkammer, a magazine guided by methods of research, collection, preservation, reprint and the linking of topics at their META level.
You may then ask, “why?” To play with information in all its astatic glory. META refrains from attempts at categorization, taking a gamble on dynamic navigation! META eschews the linear in favor of surprise. Each visit starts with a random welcome and ends with an even more random exit.
TIMOTHY J. ATTANUCCI (1979) was born in Boston, Massachusetts and studies German literature at Princeton and the Humboldt University, Berlin. For META, he contributes his musings on the irony mark in No Irony.
DAVID BETH (1974) is a writer and esoteric explorer, and the sovereign Grand Master of the Ordo Templi Orientis Antiqua. Learn more about his Gnostic involvement in XI. ARS DE REX—Sexual Magic, the Art of the King, where he is interviewed by Ailen Roc.
SUMMER BRENNER is an accomplished writer of poetry and fiction, based in Berkeley, California. Her writing has extended beyond the borders of print into performative and musical realms, and she is also involved with literacy and community projects targeted at youths. For META, she reads from her critically acclaimed novel and discusses her motivation for the project in Driving I-5.
OLAF BREUNING (1970) is a Swiss artist, living in New York and working in photography, video, sculpture, installation and drawing. For META’s mini interview series, he shares some of his favorite things in accompaniment to a selection of photographic works. See Mini Breuning.
Illustrations by William Buchina
WILLIAM BUCHINA (1978) is an illustrator with a penchant for portraits of political tyrants. In addition, he is a graphic designer and creator of illustrated guides to English grammar. Some of his work is viewable here. He currently lives and works in New York. See his work in The Body of the Event.
DAVE BUNNELL (1952) lives in the small gold-rush era town of Angels Camp, California. This professional spelunker and photographer worked on an Imax film about caves, somewhere beneath Mexico. META interviewed him for Far Beyond Stalactites and Stalagmites.
PETRA CORONATO is probably the only author in the world who didn’t only read Alexanderplatz, but also swept it. She is the owner of tongue tongue Hong Kong, a company founded in 1993 with dependences in Berlin, Vienna and Zurich, which recycles fiction profitably and unpunished to this day. In 2006, she commenced the ongoing photography project The Poetry of Document.
Writer Jeffrey Croteau is the Manager of the Library and Archives at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library in Massachusetts. Read another of his articles on American Masonic groups, ''Brotherly Deception'' published in Cabinet Magazine here. For META he co-authors a discussion on ritual and fraternity for the article Daughters of Job.
MICHELE DANTINI’s (1966) work is characterized by its handling of trans-cultural practices and their socio-environmental implications. A widely translated essayist and performative lecturer, he holds a position as Professor of Contemporary Art History at the Università del Piemonte Orientale, Italy. See Chronicles of Deaths Foretold.
PAULINE DOUTRELUINGNE (1982) lived in Beijing for four years, where she co-organized the 2006 Borderline Moving Images Festival. She lives in Berlin and curates projects that bridge European and Asian art. For META, she interviewed Chen Wei in Archeology of the Future.
GEN DOY is Lecturer at De Montfort University. She is the author of Picturing The Self, Drapery and Black Visual Culture. For META, Doy discusses the sensual politics of photography in the works of Claude Cahun.
Ferrante Denise Palma
DENISE PALMA FERRANTE (1975) is a multi-disciplined artist living and working in Berlin. She is also a self-declared anti-religionist. See Timkat 2009.
ADAM FOXWELL is an American audio engineer who has worked internationally, consulting on acoustical room design, sound isolation and mechanical noise control. For META, he presents a study on noise exposure in On the Hunt for Silence in Dubai.
JACQUE FRESCO (1916) is an industrial designer and social engineer, author, lecturer, inventor and Futurist. Based in Venus, Florida, he is developing the practice of Socio-Cyber-Neering. Read the META interview Back to the Future—The Venus Project.
Dr. BRUNO GLASER is Assistant Professor at the Institute of Soil Science and Soil Geography at the University of Bayreuth. For over several years he has been conducting Amazonian dark earth research from a soil science perspective including soil fertility, sustainability, and archaeology aspects. See Terra Preta .
MARA GOLDWYN (1976) calls herself an artist but does not show anywhere and would never actually introduce herself as such. She has an existential allergy to genres, categories and identity constructs. See Showing the Opposite Side of the Death Machine.
LINDA MAI GREEN (1987) is a photographer and curator based in Berlin. She also co-runs curatorial collective Una Tittel. For META article A Bridge and Not a Goal, she interviewed artist Serena Porrati.
Artist CAI GUO-QIANG (1957) was born in China’s Fujian Province. While living in Japan between 1986 and 1995 he began to experiment with gunpowder as a medium, gaining international attention. He has gone on to exhibit world wide and to produce large scale pyrotechnic art works. See On Explosions.
Sculptor PATRICK HILL (1972) has exhibited widely in the US and internationally as an important representative of the contemporary Los Angeles art scene. David Kordansky Gallery provided META with images of Hill’s work for Patrick Hill—Sculpture, Associated.
ASDF Makes founder DAVID HORVITZ (1983) is a man of many ideas. One could say this American artist’s medium is the Internet, though it may be more accurate to say that he works in interactive projects. See ASDF—Read On.
RUA MINX is Donna Huanca (1980), an artist who deals with clothing as shelter, transportable homes for nomads and cultural and genetic traces. Her various projects have received a range of support, from the Dallas Museum of Art to Städelschule, Frankfurt; from the Incehon Women’s Biennale Korea to British Vogue. She launched META’s downloadable artist piece series with Mask Maker.
Artist PIETER HUGO (1976) has spent his whole life in Cape Town, South Africa, though travelled extensively pursuing his characteristic brand of documentary photography. A 2002-3 residency at the Beneton Group Communication Research Center, Fabrica, also led to work with Colors magazine. In 2006 he was awarded first prize in the World Press Photo competition’s Portraits section. Welcome to Nollywood explores a recent project carried out with the Nigerian film industry.
Idnert B. Zlatan
ZLATAN B. IDNERT is an audio engineer who has worked in the fields of modelling for outdoor noise propagation, building acoustics and ground borne vibrations. He has widely consulted on acoustical engineering projects. See On the Hunt for Silence in Dubai.
JAN KEMPENAERS (1968) is an artist and documentary photographer based in Antwerp. He creates mute images of semi urban-places. Regardless of geographical context, his photographs speak powerfully to the post industrial condition and of the technologized human subject. See Spomenik, the Monuments of Former Yugoslavia.
TAO LIN (1983) is an American poet, novelist and short story writer. He is the author of Shoplifting from American Apparel, Eeeee Eee Eeee, and Bed, as well as two poetry collections, you are a little bit happier than I am, and cognitive-behavioral therapy. Lin’s second novel, Richard Yates, was published in September 2010.
See Tao Lin’s Crossword Puzzle.
TAMMY LU is a Canadian artist who makes drawings and artists’ books. She is the cover artist for the New Metaphysics philosophy series published by Open Humanities Press. See more of her work here. For META she did the drawings for METAphorism.
DAVID MAISEL’s (1961) photographs chronicle the complex relationships between natural systems and human intervention. His work is included in many permanent collections, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Maisel lives and works in the area of San Francisco. See Blooming Souls.
Alison Malone is a photographer and educator who uses both audio and visual documentation to explore subcultures that are overlooked and often misunderstood in American society. View additional work here. For META her photographic series of the same name inspired the article Daughters of Job.
SERGEY MAXIMISHIN (1964) photographed for the Soviet Military Force Group on Cuba from 1985 to 1987. A learned physicist, he worked in the scientific and technical expertise laboratory in the Hermitage Museum and has gone on to become an award winning press photographer.
See The Dostoevsky of Photography.
CONNIE MENDOZA (1971) is a media artist, working between Berlin and Barcelona. Fata Morgana and Other Optical Phenomena discusses her film, in which Mendoza travels back to her birthplace to trace the complex relationships of her childhood to Chilean history and space travel, thereby producing images that mediate the perception of time as a highly subjective matter.
Apostolos Mitsios (1979) is a Greek psychologist, working as a systemic psychotherapist by day and as a freelance writer, preferably, by night. A former contributing editor at online design magazine yatzer.com, he is currently collaborating with the Projective Fairy Tale Test Society in Greece as well as various magazines all over the world. For META article, Death of a Performance, he interviewed artist Esther Ferrer about her intervention at the Cemetery of Art of Morille, Spain.
RACHAEL MORRISON (1981) is an artist, curator, and a librarian at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. She is the creator of an art work and a documentary film about the blind telephone hacker Joybubbles, as she describes in 718-362-9578.
TIMOTHY MORTON (1968) is a philosopher and ecologist, and a teaching professor at Rice University. He also is one of the leading figures in the philosophical movement of Speculative Realism. For META he penned some pithy aphorism on the paradigm shift in metaphysics. See METAphorism.
Architect WILLEM JAN NEUTELINGS (1959) has taught at the Berlage Institute in Rotterdam and Harvard University. His firm, Neutelings Riedijk Architects, is located in Rotterdam. He wrote Spomenik, the Monuments of Former Yugoslavia on Jan Kempenaer’s photo-documentation.
Nikolaj Nielsen is a Brussels-based journalist. For META, Nielsen considers the provocative film "Enjoy Poverty Please" by Dutch artist Renzo Martens in regards to the The Lucrative Business of Chaos and Aid. For more of Nielsen's writing, visit his website.
Andreas Önnerfors (1971) is Associate Professor in the History of Sciences and Ideas based in Lund, Sweden. He has written extensively on organized fraternal sociability in Europe in the context of civil society, cryptology and conspiracy theories. In 2007 he re-enacted a female masonic ritual, contributed to the deciphering project of the copiale-manuscript and commented on the Oslo terrorist Breivik's imaginary world of knighthood in counter-jihadism. Watch a 2012 lecture on "Perceptions of Freemasonry from the 18th century to the Internet" here. For META he co-authors a discussion on ritual and fraternity for the article Daughters of Job.
Yoshua Okón was born in Mexico City in 1970 where he currently lives. In his often absurd and provocative art, Okón stages partially scripted scenes using non-actors whose own identities and histories make up the true, underlying story. See Octopus. Okón founded the artist-run space La Panadería in 1994 and the artist-run space and school SOMA in 2009, both in Mexico City.
LISE PATT is the founder of the Institute of Cultural Inquiry, a peripatetic visual think tank currently headquartered in Los Angeles, CA. Over the years she has treated ‘collaboration’ as an artist medium, in the development of a non-profit organization that embraces ‘collective camouflage’ in their ongoing projects. See Inquiry into the Institute of Cultural Inquiry.
KONRAD PETROVSZKY (1977) is a historian specializing in the intellectual history of Southeastern Europe. He wrote a PhD thesis on early modern historiography in Ottoman Europe at the Free University, Berlin. He talks Romania and reenactment in The Body of the Event.
Italian artist SERENA PORRATI (1981) is now currently enrolled in the inaugural year of the MA in Art and Science Program at Central St. Martins in London. She lets META in on her Nietzsche in Turin archive for Linda Green’s article, A Bridge and Not a Goal.
SUSANNE QUEHENBERGER is a Cultural Studies student at the Humboldt University in Berlin. Her focus is climate change, specifically its potential to bring about societal restructuring and the role of art in this scenario. Since 2007, she has worked as an urban gardening activist. For META, she shares her thoughts on geoengineering in Artificial Skies.
Haitian-born, DC-raised MAX RAMEAU is a pan-African theorist, organizer and founder of the group, Take Back the Land. He has worked on issues ranging from economic development to ex-felons. He discusses the US housing crisis in Desperate Times, Desperate Measures.
MILO RAU (1977) is a journalist, essayist, historian, playwright, translator, teacher, film-maker, blogger, reenactor and director of IIPM (International Institute of Political Murder, or Institute for Theoretic and Artistic Reenactments). See The Body of the Event.
AILEN ROC studied various esoteric fields such as ceremonial Magick, Sexual Magick, Tantra, Astrology, Tarot, the Quaballah and different astral-levels along with Psychology. She is currently working on her own tarot deck and a book combining certain occult fields with elements of psychology. See XI. ARS DE REX—Sexual Magic, the Art of the King.
ALAN SHAPIRO (1956) is a key contributor to the fields of idea philosophy, software engineering and social choreography. At 15, he began studying at MIT and has more recently published a book on Star Trek and given talks at the Transmediale and Ars Electronica festivals. In an interview with META, he explains why “Being against work as it is constituted today is fundamental.” See A New Computer Science is Underway.
SITU STUDIO was founded in 2005 while its partners were studying architecture at The Cooper Union. Operating at the intersection of architecture and a variety of other disciplines, Situ Studio’s work has been enriched by close collaborations with geologists, writers, engineers, biologists, activists and artists. See Out of Control.
GARY SMALL, M.D., is the Director of the UCLA Memory and Aging Research Center at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. He is the author of iBrain Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind. See This is Your Brain on Technology.
COSETTE THOMPSON is a French-American human rights consultant and freelance writer based in Arizona, USA, where she directed Amnesty International for many years. Her current interests focus on the contribution of artistic expression to the field of human rights and on the protection of threatened languages. See Sentenced to Read.
van Haarlem Dr. Michiel P.
DR. MICHIEL VAN HAARLEM (1964) is the Managing Director of the LOFAR Foundation in the Netherlands, a part of the ASTRON Institute. The astronomer discusses the next generation of telescopes in META’s Harmony of the Spheres.
Vanden Eynde Maarten
Belgian-born MAARTEN VANDEN EYNDE (1977) lives and works between Rotterdam, Brussels and Saint Mihiel. His projects span all art media, focussing on topics of ecology, archeology, biology and zoology. In 2006 he founded Enough Room for Space for “the creation of physical, virtual and mental space for cultural initiatives by initiating and coordinating events and residence/research projects worldwide.” He enlightens META on plastic in Plastic Reef.
Swedish photographer ULRIKA WALMARK (1970) traveled across North America, Israel, Palestine, Iran, India and South Africa from 2003 to 2007, collecting portraits for her project The person behind the person. She now lives in Berlin.
Artist CHEN WEI (1980) works in Beijing and Hangzhou, incorporating influential objects and happenings from his past into the realities of modern China. He is represented by the Platform China Contemporary Art Institute in Beijing. See Archeology of the Future.
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|Daughters of Job|
|Death of a Performance|
|Out of Control: Experiments in Participation|
|Terra Preta—Amazonian Earth|
|A New Computer Science is Underway|
|Claude Cahun—A Sensual Politics of Photography|
|The Clothing of Nature|
|On the Hunt for Silence in Dubai|
|Far Beyond Stalactites and Stalagmites|
|The Body of the Event|
|Sentenced to Read|
|Spomenik, the Monuments of Former Yugoslavia|
|XI. ARS DE REX—Sexual Magic, the Art of the King|
|Tao Lin’s Crossword Puzzle|
|The Art of Showing Art|
|Photography and the Invisible|
|Patrick Hill—Sculpture, Associated|
|Showing the Opposite Side of the Death Machine|
|Desperate Times, Desperate Measures|
|A Bridge and Not a Goal|
|The Poetry of Document|
|Stories of Life and Love in Today’s Actual Arctic|
|Fata Morgana and Other Optical Phenomena|
|The Nine Lives of Kaufhaus Jonass|
|The Harmony of the Spheres|
|This is Your Brain on Technology|
|Back to the Future—The Venus Project|
|Inquiry into the Institute of Cultural Inquiry|
|The Lucrative Business of Chaos and Aid|
|Welcome to Nollywood|
|Chronicle of Deaths Foretold|
|The Dostoevsky of Photography|
|Archeology of the Future|
A page of WG Sebald’s note-making, the first home AIDS test, a collection of earth samples and an antique encyclopedia of Freemasonry. What do these things have in common?
META found that one answer is their shared home in a non-assuming building on the outskirts of Beverly Hills Los Angeles. Upon entry into this building, one is struck with the subtle yet palpable energy that is generated from such objects—the carriers of information and history. Objectsare charged with the energy of their provenance: where they come from, who possessed them, what they have ‘seen’ and how they have been used. As the by-products of culture, objects can be studied—through research, collection, display, archiving and preserving and “collective tinkering.” This is the work of the Institute of Cultural Inquiry, which also makes its home base at this Los Angeles site, though the ICI’s practices transcend the notion of four walls usually ascribed to the term ‘institute’ as well as the objectivity often associated with research.
This is an institute that attempts to understand and explain a great deal while avoiding understanding or explaining too much. Begun over 20 years ago as a non-profit organization, the ICI has been conducting a grand exposé of visual culture, while maintaining the utmost respect for its secrets and serendipity. Long term projects have explored the ICI Associates’ shared understanding of such concepts as time, happenstance, marginalia, visuality and art. Their work is centered around varying, interrelated archives such as the Earth Cabinet, Ephemera Kabinett and a 2,500+ volume library.
In 2008, the ICI ceased public activity in order to undergo a reconsideration of their place within the current, overpopulated landscape of alternative cultural spaces. After two years, the 100/10 project (100 days/10 visions) announced the ICI’s return and their refreshed sense of adherence to the mandates of their early days:
[…]to conceptualize art as an open, cross-disciplinary culture-building activity not only as an elitist, show and tell leisure, entertainment or spectacle activity; to keep our organization lean and flexible so that it can respond to the urgencies of the culture we live in; to nourish points of intersection between artistic and academic research with collaborative efforts that reach across disciplines; to offer artists and other culture producers an environment for collaborative, long-term projects whose methodologies rely not just on innovation but on excavation, rejuvenation and renovation as well; to conceptualize all our efforts as open and malleable projects not administered and entrenched programs; and to honor our 2-decade old dictum: to speak only when we have something to say.
Perhaps the following selection of what they do have to say, as discussed by ICI Founder Lise Patt, will present an overview of the Institute’s extensive work. Perhaps it will further convolute their undertakings, already shrouded in light layers of mysteriousness and complexity. In either case, it will provide some insight into the living, breathing artwork that is the Institute of Cultural Inquiry.
At the Institute, we think of time in a circular framework. We hold out our arms to a future that is rushing towards us, not just a past that is speeding away.
In 1990, employing a new concept at that time, the ICI was begun in the virtual space of the Internet with a small number of soon to be founding Associates communicating via an online MOO. The system, now outmoded, served as a platform for discussions that reared an entity which would become the ICI. This was given an official form as the organizing body behind the AIDS Bottle Project, one of the Associates’ various tactical responses to the pandemic and the first of their long-term undertakings.
Today, the Los Angeles headquarters functions as a repository for archives as well as an exhilarating space for collaborators and visitors. Patt explains,
Our satellite ‘labs’ are linked to the key Associates of the ICI—seven individuals—who are dispersed throughout the world and either work or live in London, Sri Lanka, Ghana, Germany, Berkeley, New York and Venice, Italy. With the Institute constantly in mind, they create a space for our work to occur in distant sites by collecting data, by ‘noticing’ (see below) and by hosting individuals who are sympathetic to our cause. We can imagine a day in the near future when the ICI exists in real time only through its satellite sites with the ICI website acting as our headquarters.
The possibility of this return to their hyperphysical beginnings would echo their belief in a circular passage of time. It would also follow their tendency to challenge terms like ‘institute’ and ‘lab’. In this equation, person = lab, thus allocating those involved with a higher function.
100/10 is structured around 10 such labs. Visual researchers (the term preferred over ‘artists’) were invited to curate 10 individual exhibitions over a period of 100 consecutive business days. The premise was the curators’ interaction or their “play” with the ICI’s eclectic space and archives and the extension of these into other spaces, both physical and virtual. The stretching and collapsing of time is implicit in each of these 10 projects, due to the curators’ revivification of the ICI archives.
The first lab was conducted from January 31 to March 3, 2011 by curator Alex Harvey, who highlighted the question that continually haunts the ICI archive: Does the personal story and its nostalgic retreat underpin all studies of history and its documents? He worked with artist Anna Ayeroff on a multi-medial document of her journey along the path traveled by her grandfather, who along with fellow pioneers established a Jewish utopian settlement in Clarion, Utah in the early 20th century.
Harvey approaches the problem endemic to any archive, be it a collection of stories and recollections or a physical cabinet housing tangible artifacts or ephemera: how to maintain an objective view of the past, un-manipulated by the romanticizing powers of memory or the distorting nature of hindsight?
Ayeroff’s “Clarion Calls” is a research-based exploration that draws parallels between utopias and history—both of which are rooted in the paradox of being a ‘better’ and ‘non-existent’ place.
An exercise like 100/10—a call for interpretation, where each visual researcher’s process leads to the discovery of new connections and overlaps—invites the occurrence of another cardinal ICI concept:
We embrace the noteworthy alignment of two or more events or circumstances without obvious causal connection as an opportunity to motivate and accelerate thought and not as mere coincidence. W. G. Sebald said the more one is attuned to look out for coincidence, the more frequently it will occur. It’s a matter of not dismissing the inconsequential, of being a ‘noticer,’ as Luc Sante calls it, someone who stands back with arms folded, eyes moving from one part to the next, withholding interpretation as long as you can. Most artists are good observers, but the minute you raise a finger and say look here, you loose the ability to see the little thing at the side that is rapidly falling out of view. It’s hard to do, but once you open yourself up to this stance, it becomes very productive.
Over the years, many ICI collaborators have happened upon the Institute under seemingly casual circumstances. Even we at META found the ICI due to a mere typographic “error” while searching for the Institute for Cultural Inquiry in Berlin Germany. Contributions to the various archives have arrived in much the same way: by chance. Take, for example, the cryptic Manual of Lost Ideas, believed to have existed for centuries, passed down between varying caretakers. This can be physically described as a suitcase with the word “Lake” printed on its side and filled with a collection of loose leaf documents—photographs, letters, drawings and news clippings.
This vessel is said to have come into ICI possession in 1955 accompanied by a typewritten commentary by Arturo Ott, one of the various ‘custodians’ of the Manual.
Though extensive research has been conducted into the origin of the contents, very few concrete conclusions have been drawn. Could this truly be a receptacle of such varied documents as 13th century French Masonic Lodge records, modernist abstract photographs and writings in the Aztec language Nahuatl, presumably added by one custodian: a possible translator for 16th century Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagún?
The stimulating possibilities surrounding such objects, their collective history and their rather inexplicable appearance are challenged by a nagging tendency toward disbelief. Some stories seem too fantastical to be easily perceived as ‘true.’ Even the disappearance of many Manual items is enigmatically linked to a missing ICI Associate, responsible for photographing the MLI prior to 1989 when he vanished without a trace. This simultaneously confounds the narrative and supports the existence of many fabulous collection pieces as mere reproductions of their now missing originals. Later additions to the Manual reference earlier documents, allowing the collection to build upon its own, already potentially mythic beginnings. Whether the original contents of this case and their reproductions actually result from coincidental bestowals, heritages and confidences cannot be proven. But should there be need for this? The demonstrable fact is that it happens to belong to the ICI, thus having served, time and again, as the catalyst for deeper cultural investigation.
Extracts from the Manual fill the margins of Benjamin’s Blind Spot: Walter Benjamin and the Premature Death of Aura, part of the ICI’s ambitious publishing project now in its fourth phase. The books take on a broad study of visuality. Searching for Sebald explores the late author’s pairings of text and image, fact and recollection, literature and art. The other three publications make up an “eye series,” analyzing these canonical texts: Georges Bataille’s The Eye, Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, and - the current work in progress - Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. It was also happenstance that provided the final impulse for this current project.
…a missing piece that gives meaning to what were, up to that point, disparate and seemingly unconnected elements. But truthfully, we really do operate under the “nip at the heel” maxim. Joseph Beuys spoke of the ‘budding idea’ that was like a dog nipping at the heel. For a while you can shoo it away, put it off, but at some point you have to say – ok, enough already, let’s go out and play. Our book on Roland Barthes is like that dog. All good reason says we should put off that book and focus our attention on a figure that isn’t white, male, and dead (as we have for our last three books). But we’ve put this book off for almost 15 years. We had intended for it to be our first publication. The “dog” won’t let us put it off any longer, especially after we saw a copy of a page from W.G. Sebald’s copy of Camera Lucida that was covered in marginalia (W. G. Sebald was the subject of our 3rd book). Sometimes a small “sign” like that is all we need to tip a project from the “shoo away” stage to a “ok, let’s go out and play,”
explains Patt, describing the sort of noticing, of perceiving the markings along the margins of life, that is crucial to the Institute’s work.
What is marginalia but a note to a future you—a reader that returns to the book or a note to a yet unknown reader that, when it is read in conjunction with the main text, acts to collapse time as you pivot between thoughts and ideas. Part of our history already exists in the future.
Patt’s quote celebrates the role of the side comment and reflects the ICI’s interest in the objects or occurrences existing along the borders. Gazing at the hazy edge around culture’s fickle spotlight is an act of focusing, or rather allowing the view to go out of focus.
…there will always be some elements that are “out of focus,” or unseen (discarded, lost, forgotten, disappeared), objects, flutters, slips, that enter our visual registers and are not acknowledged or “registered” in the symbolic (conscious) order. We believe this visual “marginalia” can often provide the most productive elements for building an understanding of how technologies of visuality impact our life, our histories, and our dreams.
One way of capturing these fleeting elements for the sake of later analysis is the archive. ICI’s Ephemera Kabinett is a trove of “odd, slowly disintegrating ephemera.” Patt highlights some of the articles, clippings and ‘firsts’ that have been amassed over 15 years, forming a depository for visual culture in its diverse manifestations:
We have the first Marvel comic in which a main character comes out of the closet. We also have the first “over the counter” post-coital birth control (Plan B), which is very controversial since it tests the boundaries of what birth control means.
For certainly Plan B is birth control but for some people it is also an abortion pill (like President Bush who held up the approval of the drug for 2 years), and it shows that the boundaries are often the place of slippage and, if we’re lucky, of discourse and new ideas. And then we have more historical “firsts” like a piece of fabric from Christo’s wrapping of the Reichstag, the first project he did in Germany, the first AIDS red ribbon or a piece of candy from the first exhibition by Felix Gonzalez-Torres in which he built one of his famous (give-away) candy corners.
Marginalia can refer to our cultural detritus, to the things that get shuffled to the side. The culling of material from the fringes has been a sort of decades-long performance carried out by the ICI. The Associates and other related visual researchers collectively tinker with so-called marginal objects, technologies and information as a means of delving further into visuality’s profoundness.
I would say we have a strong affinity for those [visual]“technologies”—and I used that word broadly, in a Jonathan Crary way to mean “systems of knowledge”—that are still part of the cultural narrative even though their representative “tools” (i.e., machines) are on their way toward obsolescence. One way to “out” these technologies’ continued influence is to investigate obsolescent machines. At the same time, we’re equally interested in the newest tools of visual literacy. Given our concept of time, we generally tend to see the similarities, not the differences, between tools of the future and tools of the past, at least for now. I don’t think we’ve entered into a huge paradigm shift regarding man’s relationship to the machine, although I’m not ruling that out in my lifetime.
With an understanding of vision as the great organizer of thought in our current culture, the ICI places a special focus on studying the technologies of visuality, wherein technology is defined as a system that generates processes and knowledge in order to extend human capabilities and wherein visuality is defined by physiological and social, innate and learned “ways of seeing.”
Our ways of seeing are inarguably affected by the technologies available to us. Some ICI Associates use the Enlightenment paradigm shift from monocular to binocular vision as a point of departure for exploring the tools that affect visuality. Outmoded tools serve investigative research into where our current culture has come from and where it is going.
In 2009 a filmstrip collection and projector found their way to the ICI. Hours of classroom-like film footage on topics ranging from “International Costumes” to “Introduction to Multiplication,” from “Islam and the Modern World” to “Leaving the World” provide evidence of teaching methods in the era of this particular technology of visuality. While the full scope of its value may not yet be known, the filmstrip collection has been rescued from the threat of destruction (or of simply being forgotten about), arriving at the ICI in the usual mysterious manner.
While serving as a tool for ongoing research, this material has also provided impetus for new artistic, visual production. But, where do the borders between research and creativity lie? Between the research processes of the sciences and art? More than just a practice of collecting, archiving and researching, the ICI Associates consider their work as a grand-scale performance and, thus, themselves as performers. Could this not be a cause for inspiration and relief for all those entrenched in ‘work’?
Are we not all artists?
Building worlds is a creative act. We understand art as a uniquely open field of possibilities inside society that can be used as a catalyst for imaginative speculation and as a stimulus for finding creative solutions to some of the most difficult challenges of our times.
For 100/10∆1, artist Anna Ayeroff reactivated the ICI filmstrip archive in the building of a world—a cosmic utopia, blending her family history with her personal philosophy. She froze moments from a filmstrip related to cosmic dust within a series photographs: visual cues for this ghost world of her past and her psyche.
100/10 is the first project to be conceptualized within the ICI 2011-12 study theme of PHANTOM WORLDS—real and imagined worlds that double, mirror and reflect our own. Phantom worlds can be duplicate worlds, not necessarily alternate universes but ones that exist beside our own. The theme includes our obsession with reflections, with Lacan’s belief that the mirror is instrumental in our formation. We’re interested in places where these phantom worlds leak, bleed through, where they can be seen or can’t be seen but can be sensed or in other ways ‘read.’ Does philosophy begin where our world and its phantom meet up, when our search for home ends? “Philosophy is properly home-sickness; the wish to be everywhere at home.” (Novalis)
The final iteration of 100/10 serves as the other bookend, buttressing META’s attempt at deciphering the ICI’s work. The 10th project, “Mappa Mundi: The Earth Project,” also plays with phantom worlds, though not so much in terms of existing elsewhere in time, but in space. Coordinated by ICI Fellows Jojo Black and Elisa Baek, this is a participatory act of the terra publica (people of the earth) in their creation of a world map charted out by human experience. An online phantom of the ICI Earth Cabinet, this map is devised of earth samples in digitized form (images, audio and video of different places), viewable by a click on their global location markers. As a supplement to its analog double—the refurbished communion chest situated at the ICI in LA—the growing collections of earth samples transport viewers, allowing for a brief second of escape to the alternate places which exist behind the digital representations or within the dirt particles. These digital and earthen signifiers continue to grow in numbers, to be combined with the other dynamic ICI archives, and to strengthen the pulse emanating from within the Institute’s walls. This then vibrates outward toward its satellite labs and beyond to all those who have participated in or witnessed the collective tinkering, building worlds of connections along the paths to an unforeseeable future of collaborators and projects, of inquiry and play.
…because we do operate intuitively most of the time and yet everything we do ends up making sense in the end (again, the idea of future rushing back to meet us).
SITU STUDIO is a reserach, design and fabrication firm based in Brooklyn. Their space-altering, site-specific architectural installation reOrder augurated the Great Hall project in the Brooklyn Museum. For reOrder and other projects, see Situ’s website.
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