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Roswell Museum and Art Center

Roswell Museum and Art Center, new media exhibition as part of New Media New Mexico. Photo from Sara Woodbury

Roswell Museum and Art Center, new media exhibition as part of New Media New Mexico (my piece in the center, essentially a computer with wallpaper). Photo from curator Sara Woodbury

New Media New Mexico Trail

New Media New Mexico Trail

I currently have a piece on display at the Roswell Museum and Art Center in Roswell, NM as part of a group new media exhibition.  The exhibition in Roswell is also part of a larger event,  New Media New Mexico Trail, that includes work from artists around the world in a variety of institutions in the state of New Mexico.  The event is organized by Currents, an international festival of new media art that takes place in Santa Fe.  Last year I had a piece in the Santa Fe festival.  This year when I saw the call for pieces that were subtly “sci-fi” I thought it might be a good fit.

While I don’t identify primarily as a new media artist, I do think contemporary technologies are particularly well-suited to address contemporary issues.  My piece, is about the museum experience itself.  I relied on Google street view technology and photographs from the internet to create an Internet-based interactive installation that was about the museum, despite not having been there in person. Creating the work this way was itself a commentary on the physical vs. digital experience of place.  Displayed on a wall-mounted screen is an image of a nondescript stretch of road in New Mexico.  Above the road exploded pieces of the Roswell Museum & Art Center hover supernaturally in as an unsolvable 3D puzzle. The individual components can be moved by clicking and dragging with a mouse.  Additional pages play with pieces from the museum’s permanent collection, and the whole piece is framed by corrugated metal wallpaper, again representing the tension between simulacra and reality. - New Media New Mexico piece – New Media New Mexico piece

Last weekend I finally visited the town of Roswell and the Roswell Museum and Art Center.   The Roswell Museum and Art Center has an amazing permanent collection of Native art, a collection of some of the world’s first liquid fuel rockets built by engineer Robert H. Goddard, and thankfully for me some temporary exhibitions of progressive contemporary art.  My visit and the exhibition coincided with the weekend of the International UFO Festival.  I wanted to thank curator Sara Woodbury in person, and going to Roswell on this weekend meant I also had the pleasure of meeting her in some pretty great alien face paint!

I know by now that children are most receptive to art in general, especially interactive art, so I was not surprised in watching visitors interact with the piece within the museum gallery.  Adults generally tend to be dissuaded by the challenge of confronting new things, whereas children light up:  “Hey Mom, Dad is making the museum!”  I heard a kid call out as his father fumbled with the mouse.  Adults also have strict ideas about what should and should not be in a museum, which is why I appreciate the museum’s willingness to include a piece that is essentially a computer displaying a website.

In the late nineties, the internet was still a kind of wild-west for nerds and young people who had grown up playing video games in the 1980‘s. The idea of what a website was or could be was still evolving. The full potential of the internet as a personal creative tool was never realized, or at least was never popularized or accepted. Could the internet have developed into primarily a tool of self-expression and art-making rather than a behemoth of competing corporate interests like Google and Facebook?  Perhaps all media are destined to become tools of the powerful.  For me, creating internet art as contemporary art subverts both the expectations about what a website and the internet should do, as well as expectations about what can and cannot be included in a gallery or museum.  Furthermore, using technologies like Google Street View in ways they are not intended play with our ideas about presence, experience and internet as commodified information delivery system.  Having visited the museum in person, I can say with confidence that Google Street View does not even approximate the actual experience of being in a place, particularly a place like Roswell.  Telepresence is not presence, despite the best efforts of silicon valley to sell us augmented experiences as such; the heat, the voices, the atmosphere is all missing.  Like any place, Roswell should be experienced if you have the means to travel.

From the wonderful postmodern mash-up of rocketry history and native American art on display at the Roswell Museum and Art Center, to a salon-style wall-to-ceiling warehouse sized showcase of nearly fifty years of artists in residence at the Anderson Museum of Contemporary Art, one gets the sense that compared to its population, there is a surprisingly disproportionate amount of creativity on display in Roswell, NM.  I am even forced to concede that the UFO lore the town has embraced, while not terribly convincing for an empirical rationalist like me, is extremely entertaining and creative.

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A Non-Linear Universe and the Power of Bronze Plaques

Krblin Jihn Kabin

Today I stumbled upon a historical site near the house I am staying just outside of Joshua Tree National Park.  I had read briefly about The Krblin Jihn Kabin online, one of many abandoned homesteader cabins in or near the town of Joshua Tree.  Realizing it was so close, I stopped by on my way home today to check it out.  After driving down a long dirt road, I found the cabin and began to read the plaque.  I was introduced to the world of Kymaerica, a parallel universe in which a group of displaced people founded their own Christian cult and fought a civil war.  Weird.  I learned that the cabin once belonged to Jihn Wranglikan, one of the founders of the Wranglikan faith.

Nine Pointed Kmpass (compass)

According to the plaque and accompanying signs, one of the weird beliefs of the Wranglikans was the idea that “the letters ‘c’ and ‘o’ were the most obscene letters in the alphabet–unfit to be spoken by God’s children,” so the Wranglikans created their own dialect.  Other odd beliefs included an intense obsession with the number nine, so intense that parents were compelled to remove one baby toe from each of their ten-toed babies shortly after birth.  I walked in to examine the Wranglikan Nine-pointed Kmpass, devoid of north, carved into the stone floor.  Then, I had the distinct sense that someone was watching me.  I left confused.

maybe you are thinking “this can’t be real”.  that’s what i thought too.  after spending some time googling Jihn Wranglikan, then puzzling over the websites and i came to realize that the entire story was made up by Eames Demetrios,”geographer-at-large”.  Eames Demetrios is apparently traveling the world setting up bronze plaques to commemorate events that never happened featuring people that never lived.  or at least, events and people who never lived in our “linear” universe.  These plaques exist at locations that are already intriguing.  Joshua Tree has plenty of these abandoned cabins, and plenty of strange religious groups too, so this is a natural fit.  Here is the lengthy, made up story.

here, you may be asking why anyone would go to all the trouble of creating these stories and then presenting them as if the stories were true.  it is extremely weird, i know.  having dabbled briefly in what i will hereafter refer to as “alternate reality art” myself in Erlanger, Kentucky, and now having been duped into experiencing a “piece” from the perspective of an unsuspecting audience member, i can provide three reasons for these kinds of projects:

1. it’s fun.  in a world where the most exciting thing that happens is one week of watching videos of sharks swim around on televisions, clearly every day life can be insufferably banal and lacking.  this is why god invented the prank phone call.  some alternate reality works are essentially cerebral pranks.  People have always derived a sense of gratification from having secret knowledge.  I think this is especially true of artists, performers, magicians and pranksters, who often invite their audiences into the truth or untruth of their worlds.

2. alternate reality art challenges institutional knowledge and power structures.  I already knew a bit about homesteaders and had never heard of the Wranglikans nor any of their strange beliefs.  But my brain, conditioned as it is to accepting wholesale anything engraved on a brass plaque, kept trying to fit this story into my existing historical framework, despite the extreme impossibility of the events described.  this left me questioning the truths of other plaques i had read at museums.  all of this is rather postmodern and deconstrucivist, to the extent that it indirectly raises into question the reality of our reality and the reliability of our metanarratives.  i’m not sure that this was Eames Demetrios’s intention, but it is a result.  This might be a good time to bring up the ideas of the hyperreal and the simulacra as discussed by postmodernist French social theorist Jean Baudrillard if i had time and i felt qualified.  but i don’t and i’m not so i won’t.  (but if was your girl.)

3. alternate reality art can expand our notions of media to include works that seamlessly bridge the gaps between our “real” physical world and the world of cyberspace, pushing the boundaries of what art and storytelling can be.  the Kymaerica website and other sites that connect online fictions with real places blur the lines of real and cyberspace.  corporations like google and facebook have already capitalized on these connections, whereas the art world has moved more slowly.  at most art schools the majority of fine art is created in physical space, or at least, ultimately shown in the physical space of a gallery.  fine art projects that exist online are generally contained there, and projects that exist in physical space generally only use the internet to promote openings.  written narratives and other works can now cross the old physical boundaries of place to transcend traditional categories of art and entertainment.  rather than continually try to only adapt old media (books, CD’s, etc.) to a new world, we also need new kinds of media that will compliment our new technologies.

4. Eames Demetrios has said that the goal of his project is “to look at the world fresh.  to try and imagine another way of seeing how this planet could be.” (from this talk).  Now, i know that i necessarily want to imagine a planet where a cult of wild-west baby-torturers lived up the street from me.  however, i do agree with his larger point that any challenging work of art involves creatively seeing and creative vision.  As a sidenote, (and speaking of creative vision) Eames Demetrios, the creator of the plaques as well as the creator of the Kymaerxthaere parallel universe, is the grandson of Charles and Ray Eames, the famous husband and wife duo who created the Eames Lounge Chair.  sometimes, vision runs in the family.

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