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Lessig on Digital Barbarism

Lawrence Lessig has posted a review of David Halperin's recent book, Digital Barbarism.

Halperin, who authored the (in)famous New York Times article calling for perpetual copyright, has now compiled his ideas into a book. Lessig offers a much-needed critique, including citing misconceptions about Creative Commons (Halperin conflates it not only with "freeware" with software... more

The Art Happens Here: The Full Exhibition Review
Paddy Johnson · New York (United States) · Jun 17th, 2007 5:32 pm · 18 votes · 1 comment
The Art Happen Here, Installation shot at the opening reception, Joy Garnett, 2007, CC BY 2.0 (
The Art Happen Here, Installation shot at the opening reception, by Joy Garnett, 2007
MTAA, On Kawara Update, 2007
CC BY 2.0
Ana Husman, Make Yourself at Home and Welcome!!!, 2007
CC BY 2.0
Joy Garnett, Molotov, (detail) 2007, wall mural
CC BY 2.0
Kathryn Smith, How I discovered facebook (L), The most friends on myspace (R)
CC BY 2.0
Jaka Zeleznikar, Changer, 2007, Installation shot
CC BY 2.0
Nathaniel Stern, Sentimental Construction 1, 2007, Installation shot
CC BY 2.0
iCommoners and the artists in residence had the good fortune of sharing the street outside the gallery with every drunk teenager in the city last night. I suppose I should feel sorry for the six or seven boys I saw through the course of the evening hunched over a sink in a bathroom, but seeing as how I recognized a lot of these guys as the cat callers who had annoyed me earlier that day, my sympathy isn’t what it might be otherwise.

The exhibition itself looks good over all. Not much larger than a mid to large sized bedroom, the gallery presents a real challenge to work with, so it has to be said the artists did an excellent job of creating a space that didn’t immediately evoke feelings of claustrophobia. Supporting this statement, Dubrovnik’s gallery goers were by far the most eager to engage in participate in the work than any other I have seen this year, (barring perhaps the art rock concert by the Final Run-Ins at Taxter and Spengemann gallery in New York two weeks ago), a crowd behavior that simply would not occur if the gallery was installed poorly.

Individual works are of varied success, largely reflecting the portability of the artist’s practice. In that respect probably the most successful work in the show, came from the New York art collective MTAA whose net art piece On Kawara Update displayed beautifully on an “antique” computer screen dating to (I’m guessing) the early 90’s. Unlike some many art titles that leave viewers befuddled, this work tells you exactly what the piece does. Drawing upon the canonical On Kawara’s “Today Series”, an ongoing project whereby the artist creates Spartan black canvases with only the date, and a separate collection of news clippings from the day, MTAA’s update recreates that same canvas for the web as a splash page displaying only the date which is also a link to a program that pulls news stories from that day with Creative Commons licenses [editors note: apparently most newsfeeds are CC licensed so MTAA decided it wasn’t worth the effort to make a specific filter]. Now, to be honest, I’ve always had problems buying into the original series MTAA draw inspiration from, namely because the artist spent a life time doing the project without apparently getting bored of it. For me, this piece immeasurably improves the latter not only because the filter [if it existed] adds a layer of specificity to the work, but by automating the repetitive aspect of the work, thereby eliminating criticisms lodged against artists who remake the same piece through out their lifetime.

Working with the familiar, shows up in other strong works in the show. For example, Ana Husman’s, Make Yourself at Home and Welcome!!! , a free travel guide for tourists, informs icommoners about local customs, and warns of common missteps that might identify you as an annoying visitor. “Avoid walking in the small gutter along the Stradun”, Husman tells us, “Otherwise they say you will never get married!” Knowledge I wish I had known prior to arriving also shows up in the book. “Citizens of Dubrovnik rarely know the names of streets.” The artist doesn’t add cab drivers to this observation, but anyone who took a cab from the Dubrovnik airport can. Probably my favorite part of this book comes from Marcell Mars introduction, who bemoans the inherent lack of “retellability” of the sublime in art. In a community that seeks and trumpets the sublime over almost any other attribute in work, I find it refreshing that someone has taken the time to point out the value of art with mime like qualities. Nobody will argue that the discipline needs to communicate, but the idea that art that renders the viewer speechless is somehow inherently better seems awfully narrow to me.

Notably, no artist in this exhibition seems to have much interest in the sublime. New York based painter Joy Garnett creates a wall mural of Molotov, an image that became the point of much controversy when the photojournalist Susan Meiselas threatened to sue her for the use of part of a photograph she had taken in 1979. Garnett opens up half of the mural for collaboration with commoners, leaving an outline of part of the figure, and chalk for those who feel inspired to contribute. I’m not a big fan of community graffiti since it tends to yield the same messy surface regardless of who contributes, but I did witness a fairly good game of hangman take place on the wall.

On an opposing wall, Kathryn Smith contributes invisible ink drawings images from the series Fake Proof. How I discovered Facebook and The most friends on MySpace which make literal the idea that excessive proliferation removes the weight of an image. As far as ideas and execution go the work’s not bad. Her portrait of Christine Dolce, the myspace celebrity who claims difference from other Internet porn stars because she actually writes, for instance, matches concept and form, since the woman must employ an army of unseen employees. The motion triggered purple light is a little cheesy for my tastes, but perhaps that issue will be addressed in another incarnation of the work.

Also employing paper as a ground, Jaka Zeleznikar lets his browser fucker upper extension titled Changer loose on a few websites, and printed out the results for a wall display that also includes poems he made by collaging lines from various texts in the public domain with his collaborator Sunč;;;;an. Undoubtedly my favorite part of this work shows up in the first poem of many in this piece which reads,

I think you ought to change the title
When do I count the clock that tells the time?
No that’s not a good title either
Well, why don’t you think of a title then.

You have to admit the poem is the perfect start to a piece that involves collaboration, and remixing. Not that the source necessarily adds anything to the piece, but for those who are dying to know why the first line reads so strangely, it’s because it was taken from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 12. Also notable, an interview I did for artbiz about a year back was thrown into Changer and included in the wall installation, so feel free to disregard my opinions as biased if you feel narcissism has influenced my opinion in any way.

The final participating artist to receive mention, Nathaniel Stern, created two works for the exhibition, the first being a Christian Marclayesque talking video piece and the second, Sentimental Construction, a performance piece meant to engage local Dubrovniks. In the former, which is titled Broadcast Response, the artist edits out all the dialog in the movie Pump Up the Volume but for the Yeses which is displayed on a screen that faces all the edited nos in another. While the piece draws perhaps too much inspiration from Marclay for comfort, experiencing the dizzying conversation tends to assuage many of these concerns. Sentimental Construction on the other hand, which for lack of more precise terminology is a wire frame made of rope meant to inspire interactivity around the town, is the kind of work that will likely inspire a lot more head scratching. What’s the point of carrying a rope around the city and hoping you might get a few kids to interact with the piece you might ask? On one hand, the mere desire by the artist to do the thing they do legitimizes the action, on the other; it does evoke some very valid questions about whether the activity itself is interesting enough to warrant too much discussion. Personally, but for the very tenuous relationship to architectural projects such as Open City, which employ very minimal, nonfunctional frameworks, or David Rokeby who uses rope to delineate where participation occurs in his work, A Very Nervous System I don’t get Stern’s piece. Of course, Stern’s work solicits the active participation of the viewer, so naturally it’s ultimately up to each of you to decide its value.

tags: dubrovnik croatia culture art summit07 exhibition artists-in-residence

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kathrynsmith Hey Paddy. Great review - I appreciate and take your well-articulated points. One correction: the MySpace portrait is not Christine Dolce but Tila Tequila (real name Tila Nguyen). KS
kathrynsmith (South Africa) · Jun 17th, 2007 5:58 pm
your call: is this comment useful?
your take: useful lame

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