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Local Art: That Thing YouTube Does

May 23, 2008

Paul Slocum’s “Patterns for Beating Those Mean City Streets”

In the Sunday, May 18, 2008, edition of the New York Times, TV critic Virginia Heffernan writes about a recent exhibition at the Kitchen titled “Artists Using YouTube,” wherein curator Rachel Greene invited four artists/critics–Sue de Beer, Matthew Higgs (who is also a writer and the current chief curator and director of White Columns), Matthew Ronay, and critic Wayne Koestenbaum–to mine YouTube for imagery to present. Heffernan’s “Pixels at the Exhibition” offers her dependably even-handed treatment of the show’s hits and misses, but as one savvy observer already remarked, you’re left wondering if the invited artists missed an opportunity to explore this online warehouse of imagery as extensively as they could.

I was immediately reminded of the YouTube 2.0 project that Maryland Institute of Art students created in Jason Sloan’s spring 2007 class “Click Here: An Introduction to Interactive Media.” For this project Sloan, an assistant professor in MICA’s Interactive Media Department, had his students cull YouTube for imagery and then create a new YouTube post using such “found” source material. It was a fairly basic exercise–the options for imagery was generated by a keyword search–that opened up an ripe world for audio and visual exploration, and offers a more interesting peek at the seemingly endless possibilities available to artists willing to mine interactive and digital media.

An even better glimpse of that world was on display for 11 short days in March when sight.sound [interaction] 2.0, the annual exhibition presented by MICA’s Interactive Media Department, was installed in the Brown Center’s second-floor Rosenberg Gallery. It included 11 artists/artists’ collectives–including MICA students Aaron Brewer, Willem Rosenthal, and Dan Huyberts–who explored a wide swathe of media, from experimental video games to interactive branding exercises to hacked, repurposed media. It was a small but cutting-edge show–that I sadly neglected to cover at the time–feeling as much like a cursory glimpse at things still to come as it was contemporary artifacts with which to interact.

A personal favorite was Paul Slocum, the Dallas-based mind behind the 8-bit band Treewave and the now vital new media space And/Or Gallery. His hacked Atari 2600 and Commodore 64 game cartridges are small masterpieces of breaking systems in order to make something musically fresh. And the videos he stitches together out of these materials–such as “Patterns for Beating Those Mean City Streets,” which uses some Atari 2600 game I don’t know (confession: we never had game consoles)–are gloriously disarming. In this one, what I’m assuming are the game’s own sound effects become tone sources for Slocum’s aural alchemy, with which he makes something like found-sound shoegaze, all set to the hypnotic visuals of these primitive digital shapes meandering like gerbils through a digital habitrail. No idea why this piece works so well, but its modest, momentary charms continue to entertain.

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