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About: Joe Hedges

I am an artist currently living in the Inland Northwest on the Idaho Washington border, formerly Cincinnati, OH. This site has presented my paintings, photographs, songs, web-projects etc.

Recent Posts by Joe Hedges

Tekhnē solo exhibition in Tallahassee, FL

Joe Hedges
Solo Exhibition
621 Gallery at the Nan Boynton Memorial Gallery
Friday 4 November 2016 5:30 PM
Artist Talk @ 5:30pm
11-04-16 through 12-04-16

Tekhnē

works by Joe Hedges

Tekhnē is a Greek word meaning skill.  The evolution of the word technology from “systematic treatment of an art” to “the use of science in industry…to invent useful things or to solve problems” (Merriam-Webster) parallels the industrial revolution’s celebration of processes of creation and replication that were divorced from direct human contact.  Using various technologies to create new media works and oil paintings, Joe Hedges explores ideas about media technology and replication.

The tradition of painting has long been preoccupied with ideas about reality.  From mystical cave paintings to contemporary views of art history and abstraction, humans have intermittently embraced and rejected verisimilitude as evil trick or noble goal.  Today, contemporary artists engaging with ideas about truth and image-making owe a debt to French critical theorist and grad-school seminar favorite Jean Baudrillard.  Baudrillard examined mediated reality, claiming that simulations of reality had become more real than reality itself.  These ideas foreshadowed the internet, an omnipresent force that is no longer considered any less real than one’s physical experience of the world. 

Hedges’ works engage ideas about reality, drawing from the tradition of painting.  In Waves, surrealist Rene Magritte’s painting Clear Ideas is reinterpreted to include a trompe l’oeil Panasonic stereo.  In Monogram, Hedges alludes to a combine (a work that combines painting and sculpture) by Robert Rauschenberg entitled Monogram (1955-1959).  By utilizing the sounds and kinetic movement of parts within a copy machine to create a digital video that is then projected onto the machine itself, Hedges blurs the distinction between tool and product.  Tekhnē features contemporary combines that uses the media of our day: the physical and digital. 

With the advent of the internet, mechanical reproduction as physical replication (generalized copies of an original) gave way to the possibility of digital duplication (exact copies).  As office copy/fax machines become obsolete, virtual reality becomes more accessible, and the long predicted “internet of things” begin to materialize, we are forced again to reconsider the ways objects and art interface with reality. 

dsc_0442dsc_0407img_1461dsc_0527dsc_0451dsc_0448hedges_j-1img_1498img_1471img_1466img_1462Joe Hedges, solo exhibition at 621 Gallery installation viewJoe Hedges, solo exhibition at 621 Gallery installation viewJoe Hedges, solo exhibition at 621 Gallery installation viewJoe Hedges xerographyJoe Hedges, solo exhibition at 621 Gallery installation viewJoe Hedges, solo exhibition at 621 Gallery installation viewJoe Hedges, solo exhibition at 621 Gallery installation viewEmpire of Lightning, 2016
scanner, synthetic cotton, repeat cycle timer, 5-gallon bucket, saltwater
70” x 40” x 12”Joe Hedges, solo exhibition at 621 Gallery installation viewJoe Hedges, solo exhibition at 621 Gallery installation viewimg_1443

Joe Hedges
Artist Statement


My recent oil paintings and new media works are created by scavenging for discarded human-made and natural objects and rearranging them into new configurations.  These decommissioned objects are instilled with a new sense of fantastic function or possibility, as artworks that ask the viewer to consider how our tools and materials shape the world at large.  I am inspired by new philosophies that seek to deemphasize anthropocentric world views in favorite of a more object-oriented perspective.  Motivated by a lifelong interest in collecting thrift-store electronics, I attempt to make visible questions regarding human relationship to technology and the natural world.  How do individuals and groups imbue objects with meaning? What kinds of objects qualify as meaning-containers?  These works attempt to make electronic materials more corporeal as our devices become more networked, more ubiquitous and thus more invisible in the information age.

www.joehedges.com

  1. Photocopy of a Gresorth 9.5 inch Artificial Black Snapper Fake Fish Decoration for Home Party Christmas Display, 2016
    oil on canvas
    16” x 20”
  2. Empire of Lightning, 2016
    scanner, synthetic cotton, repeat cycle timer, 5-gallon bucket, saltwater
    70” x 40” x 12”
  3. Waves (after René Magritte’s Clear Ideas), 2016
    oil on canvas
    36” x 42”
  4. Xerography, 2016
    wood, nails, stereoscopic forestry glasses, iPhone and charger, photocopies, graphite on paper drawings, paper clips, pins, manilla folder
    60” x 20” x 20”
  5. Monogram (after Robert Rauschenberg), 2016
    projection, sound, photocopier, faux wool blanket, faux tire inner tube, latex paint
    7’ x 5’ x 7’
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Archive Memory

Intermedia Exhibition Features Paintings of Boxes

JACKSONVILLE, FL – From October 6 – October 26 Jacksonville University’s Alexander Brest Museum and Gallery presents Archive Memory, an exhibition by Washington state artist Joe Hedges. The exhibition will be on view October 6-26 with an opening reception Thursday, October 6 from 5-7 PM

The exhibition will showcase Hedges’ paintings, sculptures, a video and a website that feature stacks of metal storage and file boxes scattered in floating configurations that defy physics. Lending further strangeness to the paintings are interruptions of abstract paint drips resembling digital glitches, areas of translucency and thick and thin passages of color. According to Hedges, “the works explore changing notions of archive space and memory in a digitally mediated world.”

Over the last few years, part of Hedges process involves feeding images of paintings into a website of his creation, mintabox.com.  On the site, visitors are then asked to make contributions, resulting in an ever-evolving online composition, effectively becoming a crowd-sourced digital painting.  Hedges then uses the website to inform new paintings in a physical-digital loop. 

In addition to the paintings, installations and website is an eight-minute art film entitled A Curious Inventory (https://vimeo.com/142172663), created with Hedges’ partner and occasional creative collaborator Jiemei Lin. 

Joe Hedges earned a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning (DAAP). He now works at Washington State University in Pullman, WA as Assistant Professor of Painting/Intermedia. Hedges has exhibited nationally and internationally, most recently in the CICA (Czong Institute for Contemporary Art) Museum in Korea, and a two-person exhibition in 798 arts district in Beijing, China.

The Alexander Brest Museum and Gallery is located in the Phillips Fine Arts Building on the campus of Jacksonville University. Named for its primary benefactor, the facility maintains a permanent collection as well as a rotating schedule of contemporary exhibitions, providing a professional arts resource for emerging student and established artists.  Exhibitions are free and open to the public.

Joe Hedges: Archive Memory
October 6-26, 2016
Opening reception October 6 from 5-7pm
Free and open to the public

Alexander Brest Gallery
Jacksonville University
2800 University Blvd N
Jacksonville, FL 32211

Joe Hedges

oil on canvas

 

Joe Hedges - Archive Memory solo exhibition at Alexander Brest Gallery Joe Hedges - Archive Memory solo exhibition at Alexander Brest Gallery Joe Hedges - Archive Memory solo exhibition at Alexander Brest Gallery Joe Hedges - Archive Memory solo exhibition at Alexander Brest Gallery

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Upcoming Exhibition: Archive Memory

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

From October 6 – October 26 Jacksonville University’s Alexander Brest Museum and Gallery will present Archive Memory, an exhibition by Washington state artist Joe Hedges.

Joe Hedges - Disheveled, Alkyd on Canvas

Joe Hedges – Disheveled, Alkyd on Canvas

Archives in the twenty-first century exist in both the dusty basements of bureaucracies and in the flickering personal no-spaces of the internet. Joe Hedges’ gravity-defying configurations of file boxes float in a layered simulacra of intermedia approaches from painting, installation, internet art and video.

Representations of boxes are interrupted by abstract paint drips or digital glitches, serving as reminders of the changing nature of archive space and memory in a digitally mediated world.

The exhibition will showcase Hedges’ paintings and sculptures that feature stacks of metal storage boxes. In addition to these physical works are two digital pieces: an eight-minute video art piece entitled A Curious Inventory, and documentation of mintabox.com, an ever- changing work of participatory internet art. The exhibition will be on view October 6-26 with an opening reception Thursday, October 6 from 5-7 PM

Mintabox.com

Mintabox.com

A Curious Inventory short film - screen shot

A Curious Inventory short film – screen shot

Joe Hedges - A Curious Inventory installation view, The Art Academy of Cincinnati

Joe Hedges – A Curious Inventory installation view

 

Joe Hedges earned a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning (DAAP). He now works at Washington State University in Pullman, WA as Assistant Professor of Painting/Intermedia. Hedges has exhibited nationally and internationally, most recently in Gimpo, Korea; Cagliari, Italy; and Beijing, China.

The Alexander Brest Museum and Gallery is located in the Phillips Fine Arts Building on the campus of Jacksonville University. Named for its primary benefactor, the facility maintains a permanent collection as well as a rotating schedule of contemporary exhibitions, providing a professional arts resource for emerging student and established artists. Exhibitions are free and open to the public.

Alexander Brest Gallery
Jacksonville University
2800 University Blvd N
Jacksonville, FL 32211

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Telepresence

three scrolls printed silk, silk brocade and lacquered wood 200cm x 40cm

three scrolls
printed silk, silk brocade and lacquered wood
200cm x 40cm

at an outdoor flea market

at an outdoor flea market

(Beijing, China)  Months ago I was lucky enough to connect with an artist in China, Xu Fan, like me, a teacher of oil painting at a state university. Tsing Hua University is one of the best universities in China and in Xu Fan they have a highly skilled renderer and educator. We agreed then to try and put together a two-person exhibition; two weeks ago we saw it come to fruition in Beijing.

Xu Fan and I wanted to do a show that would allow me to engage with ideas about painting as it relates to Chinese culture, while subtly drawing attention to the fact that Xu Fan is working in a tradition that comes out of Europe. The resulting exhibition is our attempt at dealing with appropriation and painting history in a self-conscious way. We recognized that it is a bit reductive to suggest that the rectangular canvas of an oil painting in European tradition is akin to a hanging scroll in the Asian tradition. Still, a fundamental challenge of the human intellect is the fact that, as the great Saussure observed, meaning is created through difference. Our hope is that our humble show guides viewers beyond simple cultural comparisons and to more critical consideration of the use of various media technologies across the globe today.  Is that too much?  Oh well.

 

streets of 798 Art Zone (Dashanzi Art District) in Beijing

streets of 798 Art Zone (Dashanzi Art District) in Beijing

My first experience exhibiting internationally came with its own challenges. In addition to language barriers, I had to figure out how to transport work across the Pacific Ocean economically and/or create works in another place.  In the case of this exhibition I did both, transporting the sail part of the installation from the USA, collecting some materials (electronics) in China to create the rest of it, and fabricating the scrolls in China as well.  I figured this would be a way to more intensely connect with the community where I was showing, as sort of an accelerated mini-residency.

This show would not have been possible without the language and organizational support of my partner Jiemei Lin, who graciously acted as an interpreter and organizer.  When my limited Chinese skills and Xu Fan’s limited English skills frequently failed us we, could continue to work together critically with Mei’s support.  We stayed with Xu Fan and his wife Liu Ming, who also helped coordinate some aspects of the show.  We all worked together to drum up some press as we finished our pieces in the weeks leading up to the exhibition.  If you have ever done a DIY exhibition (or in this case mostly DIY) you understand the amount of work required, but also the reward.

using a laser level during the install.

using a laser level during the install.

I was amazed at both the graciousness of the community and the energy of 798, the Beijing arts district.  I know of no other place in the world with such diversity in fine art.  From wikipedia: “798 Art Zone, or Dashanzi Art District, is a 50-year-old decommissioned military factory buildings with unique architectural style. Located in Dashanzi, Chaoyang District of Beijing, that houses a thriving artistic community.”

One gets the feeling that, for better or for worse, something like 798 could only happen with a bit of big government assistance.  While China is essentially capitalist economically, there is also a great deal of deliberate and controlled city planning of the sort that unfettered capitalism does not easily allow.  Some of these projects result in disastrous displacement, while some of them are magnificent.  From DIY spaces like the gallery we exhibited in, to large spaces showcasing blue chip contemporary artists, 798 is a rare slice of real economic diversity.  In the USA, by contrast, most areas that begin with a concentration of DIY galleries are quickly gentrified to the extent that the small experimental galleries can’t afford to stay.  What you’re left with are either blocks of overpriced restaurants and bars (as is the case in my former neighborhood Over the Rhine in Cincinnati), or enormous commercial galleries that only show artists selling works for millions (as is the case in Chelsea in New York City).  Our show in Beijing was right across the street from a couple larger and more commercial shows I really enjoyed, including beautiful solo shows by Zhang Hui at Long March Space and by Ye Fana at Space Station.  I was really excited to be in an area with such great company.

The show, Telepresence is up at Sishu Gallery (思塾画廊) in 798 Beijing through August 15.

(北京市朝阳区酒仙桥2号798艺术区中一街 思塾画廊

本次展览,我们在科学与艺术的边界,在东西方的文化通道中,在历史和空间的跨度中,迈进一小步,在北京的暴雨之季,漂洋过海来看你。)

my scrolls flanked by Xu Fan's oil paintings

completed installation with my scrolls flanked by Xu Fan’s oil paintings

Exhibition title cards

Exhibition title cards

Exhibition Statement 

Telepresence is a two-person exhibition featuring artists Joe Hedges (Pullman, Washington, USA) and Xu Fan (Beijing, China).  In these works, each artist explores Eastern and Western ideas about art and technology using desperate media and processes.  Xu Fan’s highly-rendered oil paintings in the Renaissance tradition contrast with Hedges’ new media installation and hanging scrolls to pose questions including:  When comparing cultures and civilizations, are there any objective metrics of success?  How does media technology function in different societies and between individuals from different cultures?  How have ideas about physical space changed in a digitally-mediated world?  As communications technology collapses the space between individuals and nations, we forget to remember the oceans between us.

Joe Hedges 

Artist Statement

My work is about media technology.  As such, I often employ materials and processes that call attention to the presence or absence of the human hand.  For this exhibition in Beijing I wanted to challenge myself to create works that fulfill these goals, but that also relate to the rich history of Chinese art and material culture.  This resulted in the creation of one series of three scrolls and one sculptural new media installation.

printed silk, silk brocade and lacquered wood 200cm x 40cm each

printed silk, silk brocade and lacquered wood
200cm x 40cm each

Color Fill Red, Color Fill Yellow and Move Tool are three works with the appearance of traditional Chinese scrolls.  However, rather than brushed-on ink of Chinese characters, the scrolls instead present ink-jet printed icons of the tool bar found within the popular image-editing software Adobe Photoshop.  Through calling the viewer’s attention to the function and form of ideographs象形文字 across cultures and epochs, and intentionally confusing the digital space of pixels with physical space of silk and gallery walls, these works engage ideas about the ancient human nexus of communications technology, language and image-making.

Joe Hedges Telepresence electronics, bamboo, plastic tarp, rope 250cm x 150cm x 150cm 2016

Joe Hedges
Telepresence
electronics, bamboo, plastic tarp, rope
250cm x 150cm x 150cm
2016

Telepresence is a work that juxtaposes the form of the ancient Chinese junk-boat sail with a pile of media electronics displaying videos of oceanic scenes.  These objects work together as symbols, suggesting notions of travel, progress and technological obsolescence. Telepresence is the sensation of being somewhere one is not, long the dream of magicians and technologists alike.  Is our so-called digital revolution a triumphant realization of this end, or merely an unprecedented accumulation of consumer goods?


我的作品总是围绕着新媒体和科技。我常常使用各种材料和视觉元素去抽象的表达和暗喻人的手。在这次的展览中,我继续了这方面的探索和挑战,与此同时添加了些许中国艺术元素以及对东方文化的讨论。作品包括三个卷轴和一件新媒体装置艺术。
Color Fill Red, Color Fill YellowMove Tool 这系列作品是三张传统书画卷轴,然而,卷轴上的并不是书法或者书画作品,而是设计软件Adobe Photoshop的工具栏。我并没有按照传统使用的毛笔绘制,而是利用矢量设计软件制作了表意上的像素格[1],拼贴出图像。最后我在中国某电商上订购了传统书画定制和装裱,丝绸印刷,完成了我的作品。这系列作品向观众指出了跨越文化和时空的两种象形文字:中文和电脑图标的相似性。利用像素粒和卷轴的效果刻意混淆了实体空间(画廊的墙壁和卷轴)和数字空间(Photoshop的工具栏)的概念。这系列表现了古今视觉传达,余元文字和图像制作中的连结。
Telepresence 这个装置利用一堆废弃家电和过时海洋录影结合现代材料制作的明朝风帆,并置了大明郑和下西洋满载而归的货船与当今游荡在中国海域的废品船的两个看似截然不同的现象。装置利用了视觉符号去表现文化进程中科学技术传播,发展和淘汰过程。Telepresence [2]本身就是一种由科技创造出来的亦真亦梦感受。我们所谓的数字革命,到底是一场人类文明的狂欢,还是仅仅是巨大的商品累积过程?这幅作品重新展示了人们在时间的长河里,那些我们曾拥有的,渴望拥有的,却早已被淘汰和被取代的梦想们。
注:[1]矢量图与一般的图片最大的区别在于有无像素,利用矢量工具制造的像素粒本身就不是像素的产物。
       [2] Telepresence的中文翻译是思科网真(一种通过结合高清晰度视频、音频和交互式组件,在网络上创建一种独特的”面对面”体验的新型技术);远端临场;远程呈现 —-来自有道翻译
Joe Hedges Color Fill Red printed silk, silk brocade and lacquered wood 200cm x 40cm

Joe Hedges
Color Fill Red
printed silk, silk brocade and lacquered wood
200cm x 40cm

Joe Hedges Color Fill Yellow printed silk, silk brocade and lacquered wood 200cm x 40cm

Joe Hedges
Color Fill Yellow
printed silk, silk brocade and lacquered wood
200cm x 40cm

snack foods popular in 90's China

snack foods popular in 90’s China

with an excited Xu Fan

with an excited Xu Fan

Joe Hedges Telepresence electronics, bamboo, plastic tarp, rope 250cm x 150cm x 150cm 2016

Joe Hedges
Telepresence
electronics, bamboo, plastic tarp, rope
250cm x 150cm x 150cm
2016

putting up a poster outside the gallery in 798 Art Zone (Dashanzi Art District) in Beijing

putting up a poster outside the gallery in 798 Art Zone (Dashanzi Art District) in Beijing

attaching the vinyl sticker

attaching the vinyl sticker

putting up an exhibition poster

putting up an exhibition poster

that moment when you get the art-joke.

that moment when you get the art-joke.

getting it together

getting it together

IMG_7910

attendees doing a little post-artist-talk stretch

Xu Fan and 他的太太 in their studio

Xu Fan and 他的太太 in their studio, where I slept and worked while making final preparations for the exhibition.

my loot!

having some electronics delivered to the studio

Mei and Liu Ming with curator Gao Dengke (高登科)

Mei and Liu Ming with curator Gao Dengke (高登科)

rented a van to take all the stuff to the gallery

rented a van to take all the stuff to the gallery

attempting to talk about Hegel in Chinese. Not happening.

after artist talks, attempting to stay with a random discussion about Hegel in Chinese. Not really happening.

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Aliens and Imperialism

Roswell UFO Museum and Research Center

Roswell UFO Museum and Research Center

I have recently returned from Roswell, NM.  Roswell is a dusty, blue collar desert town with a large hispanic population, a surprising amount of contemporary art and yes…aliens.

You hare most likely aware of Roswell’s reputation as a center for extra terrestrial activity, due mostly to the famous news story about a flying saucer landing nearby.  The saucer was the next day identified as a weather balloon (and the government balloon project was later declassified), but as interest in science fiction tales of aliens grew in the 70’s and 80’s, there was an uptick in interest in the “Roswell incident“.  The town’s UFO museum celebrates the incident, attracting a steady stream of curious visitors.  I tend to seek out these kind of places where there exists some confusion and interesting questions regarding fact, belief, and opinion.  Who owns and propagates these narratives?  Who benefits?  These answers are on display downtown Roswell at the UFO Museum (just down the street from the Roswell Museum & Art Center where I recently had a piece included in a group exhibition).

I am a Scully.  But while I maintain a skeptic’s bias, I admit that there are things we cannot explain, and admit that I may be wrong about a lot of things.  What makes me queasy about conspiracy theories, however, is not dogma but the way certain theories and narratives are propagated and commodified over time, and the ways these theories distract from real histories about location and power.

Whether you judge a museum by the quality of exhibit craftsmanship, the consideration of space and flow from room to room, or the social value of artifacts present, the Roswell UFO Museum and Research Center lacks a professional sheen.  To visit, one must embrace the side-show flavor.  And unsurprisingly, visitors readily do, stumbling by the thousands to shell out $10 and leave town with a tee-shirt or something green and plastic.  I may or may not have been one of those people! I want to believe, like everyone else.  And like many I crave an authentic experience of mystery and weirdness.

Mayan CalendarAs residents of a young country, we Americans are especially craving authentic ancient experiences, narratives that construct a sense of place that is deeper or perhaps more palatable than the historical narratives we have.  But unfortunately, we need not rely on aliens to see the results of a wide-scale government cover-up: the truth is out there and the truth is that the establishment of every U.S. town was predicated on an effort to eradicate native cultures.  Perhaps cultural discomfort with this fact is explains why native peoples are frequently the subjects of contemporary alien myths, while the living terrestrial rights of natives are ignored.  Tellingly, even the wikipedia history of Roswell begins with “The first nonindigenous or Hispanic settlers of the area around Roswell were…” as if non-white (or non-green) inhabitants never counted.

A rejection of the presence and success of native cultures pervades nearly every aspect of conspiracy theory lore, manifesting itself lately (and most popularly) as a rejection of the ancient Egyptians facility as architects and engineers, to the denial of the Mayans cultural agency as creators of brilliant astronomical calendars.  All of this essentially perpetuates an unsettling myth:  that the only creatures capable of possessing equal or greater technologies or wisdom to contemporary Americans, now or ever before, are extraterrestrials. Is the maintenance of alien narratives merely an upside-down mechanism by which we may marvel at our own technological feats while denying the accomplishments of other groups?

Aliens’ speed, their command over space and time, their use of riveted metals and steel crafts make them the ultimate poster children of our industrial revolution and imperialist desires.  But the radio silence that pervades the universe may be a sign of a another conflicting narrative: that the human desire for exploration, colonization and ultimately destruction is fortunately quite unique (at least as far as we know as of the time of this writing).  Many species on earth seem content in their respective hospitable zones.  This is not a predilection Europeans or Americans have ever known, and consequently we are not want to accept the embrace of this attitude by others on earth or elsewhere.

IMG_6191Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending the 21st annual UFO festival costume contest, essentially a comicon like event full of uber-nerds like me.  Contrasted within a large, generic conference hall were a great many alien types on display.  Among my favorite costumes were the conquering and terrifying Predator from the Schwarzenegger movie, characters from the morally binary Star Wars universe and some friendly, bubbly blue or green types from some unnamed benevolent races.  The event was a quirky showcase of ingenuity and featured young and old aliens.  But rather than discovering any evidence of real alien visitors, I left feeling good about human ingenuity and creativity.

Aliens are us.  Rarely are aliens wholly other; more frequently they represent the most terrible and awesome parts of our humanity.  We can project onto them our hopes fears and desires, for peace or destruction, for terror or knowledge.  Perhaps in some distant future, in some galaxy far far away little green men are visiting a museum gift shop to purchase plastic key chains shaped like human heads.  Perhaps too, there’s some gangly green being skeptically pounding away at a thousand-key holographic keyboard into a social media vacuum.  What else can we do but send our signals into the ether?  Existence is the moving of molecules.  If there are other willful movers of molecules in the multiverse, let them share an affinity for creativity, not destruction, for their sake and the sake of their oldest native populations.

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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, nmnmnmnmnm.com 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.

nmnmnmnmnm.com - New Media New Mexico piece

nmnmnmnmnm.com – 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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Indigenous Knowledge

“As a birthplace of agriculture and the towns and cities that followed, America is ancient, not a “new world.”
– Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, An Indigenous People’s History of the United States

make-shift Native American shrine to Captain Jack and the Modoc peoples at Captain Jack's Stronghold

make-shift Native American shrine to Captain Jack and the Modoc peoples at Captain Jack’s Stronghold

“Unwalking” has always been an integral component of my own practice.  The role of contemporary artist is increasingly unraveler and challenger of prevailing views.  Last week I found myself with a Signal Fire group in and around the Klamath river basin. The Klamath Mountains are “an exceptionally rich storehouse of evolutionary stories, one of the rare places where past and present have not been severed as sharply as in most of North America, where glaciation, desertification, urbanization and other ecological upheavals have been muted by a combination of rugged terrain and relatively benign climate.” (- David Rains Wallace The Klamath Knot)  As such the area contains a fascinating epistemology, where the creation and maintenance of knowledge and myths are continually contested, a locus of ecology, humanity and history.  In short, the Klamath is perfect place for a journey framed by critical inquiry, for an “unwalking”, to use Signal Fire’s neologism.

Over the last few years I worked to create possibilities for artists in the Cincinnati, OH area.  In an urban environment I had the pleasure of being embedded with a group of creative people with whom I curated exhibitions in unconventional spaces, executed public art projects, ran galleries, etc.  I finally feel (in large part through my participation in a Signal Fire trip) as though I have finally made some connections out here in the Northwest, both to an artist community and the land.  There are strong reasons young professionals and–I daresay–“hipsters” are moving to places like Seattle and Portland.  As the last area of the country to be invaded by Europeans, individuals in the Northwest tend to more strongly reject the extraction logic that pervades the industrial midwest.  Furthermore, there are more acres under federal protection, urban spaces and wildernesses exist in unlikely proximity, there’s a stronger (or more palpable) Native American presence.  And there’s great coffee.

Among the most affecting and memorable discussions during my week in the Klamath region (Southern Oregon and Northern California) with Signal Fire were those concerning the ongoing struggles of Natives.  During a week long journey my compatriots and I read ancient Klamath and Modoc myths, essays about termination, challenges to westward expansion narratives, extraction logic and other cheery reminders of the continuing influence of colonialist and neocolonialist attitudes, led by the inimitable Ryan Pierce, an intellectual, skilled outdoorsman, successful painter and admitted understated monotone like me.
Kailafarrellsmith

Ka’ila Farrell Smith

Our second guide, Ka’ila Farrell‐Smith, is of Modoc decent.  Sharing a visit to her ancestral homeland was especially important for me, in part because her presence and insights helped to add a level of intimacy and gravitas to stories that are often presented as Wild West fantasy.  The National Park Service, through its mastery of engaging interpretative signage, is great at relaying the drama of history as distant past; unfortunately this expertise sometimes results in severing of narratives that extend into the present.

We also spent an afternoon with contemporary artist Natalie Ball, who is Modoc (Natalie is winning everything right now and beginning graduate school at Yale in the fall).  I am confident I was in the presence of a rising art star, if there is such a thing.  She told me she moved back to the site of the former Modoc reservation and had two kids there as “an act of resistance”.  The idea that having kids could be an act of resistance has really stuck with me, a stark reminder that my own privilege permeates every aspect of my existence, from having kids to where I chose to live.

Contemporary Artist Natalie M Ball

Contemporary Artist Natalie M Ball

Many are surprised to learn of the recentness of the egregious injustices that Native Americans have faced.  (white people, I can feel your eyes glossing over.  Swallow your privilege and read on!  We can do it!).  Natives are often painted as the “vanishing race”, once living in tee-pees but now nonexistent.  The vanishing race narrative creates conceptual cover enabling governments and citizens to ignore–or more often willfully eliminate—the rights of native peoples by rejecting their present-day concerns and even their claims to existence.  The United States official policy of termination was implemented in the 1950’s and sought to eliminate the remaining American reservations by forcefully assimilating natives across the country (yes, that’s actually the word used: termination).  In 1954, the Klamath Tribes, including the Modoc, were terminated.  This policy was not formally abandoned until 1988, leaving countless tribes today still seeking some recognition (or more accurately re-recognition) and accompanying rights from the federal government.  This process is known as restoration.

Captain Jack's Stronghold, now within the Lava Beds National Monument. In this natural maze-like fortress of lava rocks, a small group of Modoc natives held their ground for many months, despite being outnumbered 10 to 1.

Captain Jack’s Stronghold, now within the Lava Beds National Monument. In this natural maze-like fortress of lava rocks, a small group of Modoc natives held their ground for many months, despite being outnumbered 10 to 1.

Fortunately the Klamath Tribes achieved restoration in 1986 and began to “develop a full scope of programs which provide necessary services to Tribal members and the community.” (klamathtribes.org)  But water rights, land rights and other challenges remain.  Central to the Klamath Tribes fight is the removal of dams along the Klamath river, which currently prevent the salmon from swimming their ancient journey upstream.  A great many expensive studies have been carried out by western scientists in the last few years, and the results are in: fish need water!  After some years of ignoring the issue and some bizarre solutions (such as fish canons that shoot the fish upstream), the dams on the Klamath are finally scheduled to be removed.  It is impossible to understate the importance of salmon in the hearts of Klamath peoples where myth, ecology, economy and history are intertwined.

*  *  *

I have never (and probably will never) describe my creative methodology as “social practice”, a term that contemporary artists now frequently use to indicate that an art practice is a form of social engagement, community engagement, social justice, etc.).  Perhaps there is some truth to the claim that the art world has become too insular and too self-congratulatory–only in a blatantly anti-social contemporary art world could the term social practice gain traction.  But art is intrinsically social.  We need not reject static media in order to embrace social commentary or community engagement.  Lest I fall further into a rabbit hole of semantics, all of this is to say that like most artists, I do aspire to create socially relevant work. I generally do so by dealing with ideas about social knowledge itself.

I recently heard the election-year political landscape described as “post-truth”.  Like many others I find myself yearning for approaches to knowing and learning that can transcend the truthiness of contemporary media and social media discourse.

Indigenous Knowledge represents the accumulated experience, wisdom and know-how unique to cultures, societies, and/or communities of people, living in an intimate relationship of balance and harmony with their local environments.  These cultures have roots that extend into history beyond the advent of colonialism.  They stand apart as distinctive bodies of knowledge, which have evolved over many generations with their particular ecosystem, and define the social and natural relationships with those environments.  They are based within their own philosophical and cognitive system, and serve as the basis for community-level decision making in areas pertaining to governance, food security, human and animal health, childhood, development and education, natural resource management, and other vital socio-economic activities.”
– The Canadian International Development Agency’s definition of Indigenous Knowledge (as quoted by Priscilla Settee’s in an essay Indigenous Knowledge as the Basis for Our Future).

Knowledge is not neutral.  This is a proposition that, although true, has splintered groups into dangerously ideological factions (see Karl Manheim’s Ideology & Utopia).  The long project of enlightenment rationalism and western imperialism bears out a tough truth: western knowledge is created and groomed in such a way as to advance the rights of some and diminish the rights of others.  Despite our brilliant insights into the nature of the universe, knowing in the western tradition continues to fail to engender support for the most basic tenets of environmental stewardship and social harmony.  As the prospect of global climate catastrophe approaches inevitability, perhaps we should look more closely at the wisdom of the ancients, so often common-sense principles that came so naturally to native peoples.  In this may we find a call, not for westward expansion but for contraction.  Not for extraction but for restoration.

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Signal Fire: Unwalking John C. Fremont

The wind slowed us down. We could have blown over the ridge, turned to insects and given our lungs and legs mercy. In a parallel universe, we completed the five-mile uphill hike to Squaw Peak without difficulty and with extra time to lay in the sun and swim in the elusive lake. In our reality, an unexpected patch of snow blocked our path, obscured the trail and made navigating with backpacks too difficult. As the wind intensified and the sun set we were forced to set up camp some distance from our goal, as truth took hold–there would be no summer swimming in the days ahead.

Klamath River Basin map

Klamath River Basin map

We would later learn that we had misread the the topographic map, and that the area we believed to be at an altitude of 2000 feet was actually at 9000 feet–a difference substantial enough to make our labored breathing and my own dizziness make more sense in retrospect. It is June, after all, and by now the time for icy wind, ubiquitous patches of snow and need for four pairs of socks should have passed. But summer comes late to the mountains, and the Warner Mountains in a remote area of northern California are no exception. We scrambled to gather wood, get our tents up in the wind, and dig out all our layers of overpriced fast-drying synthetic fabrics.

Undead tree with wolfs moss

Undead tree with wolfs moss

The next morning the wind had completely subsided. I remembered a Modoc prayer I had learned the day before “How good I felt when the sun has shone on me and warmed me on a cold day.  You are our great sun.  Thank you for your care.”  Birds were singing (probably not of electoral politics) while our guide Ryan fetched drinking water from the nearby creek and early-risers boiled water for coffee. The sun gave us comfort and we would stay a second night, day-hiking to find nearby overlooks and eventually the lakes, in all their still-snowy glory and ice crystal clarity. Beneath walls of orange pickle-shaped rocks, undead trees were splattered in wolfs moss, imported from some fantasy novel by a now missing portly director.

The three days of heightened awarenesses of thighs and calves in the Warner Mountains were part of a week-long trip exploring in southern Oregon and Northern California with a group of new friends via Signal Fire, a Portland-based artist/activist group. Our journey took us through rocky deserts, wetlands and river headwaters, as we stitched together a fraught mental fabric of pressures from farmers, fish and native peoples, symbolically reverse-retracing (“Unwalking”) segments of the historical route of John C Fremont in and around the Klamath river basin.  Discussions focused on “continuing demand for indigenous sovereignty, as well as the contemporary legacies of development and resource extraction.”  SignalFireArts.org

Grateful for some physically and intellectually challenging experiences, ideas for new projects and collaborations, and most of all some brilliant new friends.

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Intellectual Property in the Age of Performative Images

The possibility of socialism, the efficacy and ethics of global capitalism, the 99%–there is a lot of talk about economics and income inequality in the news. However, few of these conversations put contemporary economics into a technological context as forcefully as Jaron Lanier’s 2013 book Who Owns The Future does.  In considering why this is the case, I am reminded of this quote by economist John Maynard Keynes:

“Practical men who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back”

Globally, we are heirs to ideas from Karl Marx, the French Revolutionists, American Revolutionists, and Keynes himself and others.  The focus of most books about economics is thus the Nation-State, and economic relations between nation states.  However, our economic woes, Lanier contends, cannot be solved with old-world economics (if the last few years are any indication, even economists no longer understand the economy).  The mechanisms that have arisen with the internet have and will continue to fail to adequately reward citizens for their labor and contributions to this new society, defunct being the key word in the quote above.  Jaron Lanier has silicon valley street-cred as the inventor of virtual reality.  His book inspired several others and continues to steer the conversation.

Lanier’s sometimes rambling but often brilliant writing is essentially a tirade against what he describes as “Siren Servers”, large internet corporations like Google, Instagram and Uber that shrink and ultimately kill (“disrupt”) old economies.  Capitalism online has had a large hand in hollowing out the middle class from certain industries, exasperating income inequality.

To use one of Lanier’s examples, Kodak once employed 140,000 individuals and was worth 128 billion. By contrast, Instagram employed 12 people when it was sold to Facebook for a billion dollars in 2012. Yet photographic images remain every bit as important to our daily lives, perhaps even more central than they were. The music industry too, once employed producers, recording engineers, CD manufacturers, truck drivers hauling CD’s, record stores, etc. that’s not even to mention musicians. Now, the main players like Spotify have business models centered not on the production of music as a commodity, but on algorithms that track and record your musical interests. Music has been devalued while the value that comes with being algorithmically tracked has increased. As with photography, music remains important, yet our continued enjoyment of music no longer serves the middle class nor music producers or consumers. The main beneficiaries of these two “industries” now are the heads of large international corporations–the people with the most expensive and effective servers. What industries are next?

This trend will continue as social media platforms and siren servers dominate and decimate older industries, replacing labor forces with computers, servers and algorithms.  No amount of getting the money out of politics or regulating wall street (although that would help) will make American great again nor solve the issue that our old laws and ideas about labor are not equipped to handle ephemeral, infinitely replicated commodities of the information age, nor the value that comes with being algorithmically tracked.  Taking a critical look at how the current infrastructures of digital technologies might better serve a middle class economy requires some intensely imaginative thinking: Jaron Lanier and others have suggested that individuals simply get paid to create the content they are already creating.

Who Owns the Future - Jaron Lanier

Who Owns the Future – Jaron Lanier

Lanier’s ideas are overarching and cover any kind of content including a humble blog post like this one.  This post, for example, has taken time and energy–labor.  If this post is shared on Facebook, surely it will be read and shared more than it will be on my site.  Yet, Facebook stands to benefit more than I will by turning the reader’s eyes into the commodity.  This is the catch 22 that plagues modern producers of digital content.  In this landscape, content and labor are continually devalued while the gatekeepers (those with the Siren Servers) and not the producers ultimately benefit.

As a recording artist and visual artist, these concerns hit close to home.  Like Lanier, I had limited success in the music industry before it was torn apart (or self-destructed, depending on your perspective) by the internet and other forces.  Working in a mostly functioning industry that centered around the production of creative works provided me a first-hand look at how intellectual property laws can work to protect and serve creators.  This is an experience that few producers of content enjoy today.  Most artists and musicians I know know little, if anything, about intellectual property.  How is it that intellectual property laws are completely arcane to today’s most prolific creators of intellectual property?  This is simply because these laws no long protect the vast majority of creative individuals.  As creative works become easier and easier to produce while economies are engulfed by siren servers, those hurt the most are individuals who have dedicated their lives to the production of creative works.

Intellectual Property laws were written in an age where property and labor were physical.  While industrial revolution began to shift this paradigm, the internet has made these laws ineffective and often irrelevant.  Today, while creative works remain intrinsically valuable, from an economic standpoint the value is now in the transmission of content and the recording not of the song or image but of the actions of consumers.  Contemporary art thinkers have long predicted this shift in psychology and critical evaluation with the term relational aesthetics.  Now our technology has caught up.

It is true that digital images, like the physical prints that prefigured them, are protected by copyright law.  An internet user is not legally permitted to take photos from someone else’s site and claim ownership, post them, sell prints, etc.  In a system based on labor and physical goods, in order to steal a photograph, Jimmy would have had to walk into Jill’s house when she was not home and physically remove the print from her darkroom.  Today, Jimmy can visit Jillsawesomepictures.com, right click save as and “own” the digital photo.  Jimmy may chose to present the photo on his own site as his own, sell prints of the photo, or extract value out of it in some other way.  That is “piracy” at its most benign.  But who is responsible to flag Jimmy’s illegal usage in order to challenge or fine him?  Is it Jill’s responsibility to continually search all billion pages of the internet to see if someone is using her image?

Unlike the current music industry or the image industry, the pre-Napster music industry, despite payola, bloated contracts, was a functioning economy.  Songwriters doing the creative work of songwriting were paid every time a songs reached the ears of consumers.  Physical labor and intellectual labor were rewarded.  Within the music industry, there are performance rights groups that collect royalties for usages of music and pay those royalties to the owners and producers of content.  In retrospect, the music industry seems like a miraculous moment of societal intellectual property protection, making distinctions between different kinds of music uses and rights like mechanical royalties, performance royalties, etc.

Images today are performative in a musical sense.  An image shows up on a screen and then it’s gone.  Another image shows up.  Images operate temporally.  Images are no longer static pictures hanging on a wall, nor even magazine spreads that may require a moment of your time.  But unlike music performance rights groups like ASCAP and BMI, there are no viable image performing rights services that track the use or “performance” of images.  The reasons for this will become clear.

Images, because they were historically understood as paintings or prints on 2D surface (although now they effectively operate in the realm of 4D) were never thought to be worthy of performative protections.  Because the performative value of images is not recognized by copyright law, there is no revenue stream of royalties.  Because there is no revenue stream, no individual or company is motivated to create a service to track the performance of images. Artists and philosophers foresaw the coming ubiquity of images, but no one fought to set up systems of economic protection.  Conversely, because artists and philosophers are generally anticapitalist, and internet culture was initially a counterculture that actively sought ways to subvert or “disrupt” old systems and avoid paying people and corporations for things, the result is now that artists and non-artists alike must waive all of their intellectual property rights in order to be able to use online services at all. That’s not really free, is it?  (I can think of only one other economic system where individuals continually work for free for the benefit of those in power because they believe–rightly or wrongly–that they have no choice).

Glyph - digital print on fabric - http://solgonda.com/glyphs/

What’s an image anyway?  Glyph – digital print on fabric – http://solgonda.com/glyphs/

Let’s check in again with Jimmy.  Knowing Jill is a light sleeper, Jimmy decides not to rob her of her photos afterall.  Instead, cognizant of Jill’s innate human desire to share her creativity with the world at large, he offers her a deal: he will post her photos all over town, for free, as promotion.  Local businesses notice that customers are attracted to Jill’s compelling images, and begin paying Jimmy a small amount for beautifying their properties.  While visiting these businesses, surely, customers will notice Jill’s beautiful photos and be inclined to contact her for photographic services.  While many do indeed notice and appreciate (and even like!) her photos, Jill sadly does not receive even one phone call for photographic services, despite years of training and clear facility.  If this sounds like Instagram or Facebook, “image industries” you are right.  The difference between Jimmy’s Image Industry and say, components of the music industry like terrestrial radio or record stores is that the new image industry distribution companies do not pay producers of images.  Rather, in order to use Facebook, Google, or even an Apple computer users must accept lengthy contracts that strip away their rights and, unlike the music industry where content creators would receive advances in exchange for usage, are paid nothing for it. (Youtube has finally started to pay some royalties).

An information economy is not an economy of property or labor but of quantifiable, ethereal, media of numbers.  This understanding of labor and property has no precedent.  Silicon valley entrepreneurs have been able to capitalize on the system’s novelty while consumers and artists continue to embrace abstract ideas of sharing, open and free without stopping to think critically about what those words mean in this new context.  Content is the new religion, the new electricity, giving life and interest to all moments of daily life.  But unlike electricity, the line between producer and consumer has been blurred.
Who Owns the Future?  In short, it’s not those creating it.

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Uncharted: The Impressionist Takeover and Media Dominos

Claude_Monet, Impression, soleil levant

Claude_Monet, Impression, soleil levant

I recently read a book about big data called Uncharted: Big Data as a Lens on Human Culture by Erez Aiden and Jean-Baptiste Michel. The book details the creation and potential uses of an algorithm the authors created to determine the frequency of particular words occurring in books over the last few hundred years. Although the book had plenty of diversions and digressions, it did make the point that big data can be used to determine certain trends from world history. Here is a chart I created, for example, that records the frequency of appearance (and allegedly, correlational popularity) of particular artists: Monet, Manet, Bouguereau, Renoir and DaVinci. There are some major problems with how these charts work, most glaringly the fact that authors may refer to Monet as Claude Monet, while referring to Leonardo DaVinci as simply DaVinci. There is no way to correct for this. However, if we can assume that the likelihood of using an artists full name is equivalent and independent of historical period and the particular artist, this chart is of some use and interest:

Adolphe-William Bouguereau, The Birth of Venus, Oil on Canvas, 1879

Adolphe-William Bouguereau, The Birth of Venus, Oil on Canvas, 1879

Monet fought his way (mostly post-humously) from Paris salon outcast to archetype of painter in the western imagination. This happened just after oil painters like William Adolphe Bouguereau achieved a technical mastery that sucked some of the soul out of representational oil painting, and during (not coincidentally in my opinion) the advent of photography. This makes me wonder if there might be some larger sociological effect that we might apply to other forms of media to make predictions about the legacies of particular artists?  Perhaps we can look at artists operating with incredibly high technological precision, and then at alternative approaches by their contemporaries.

For example, I believe we have just had the good fortune to live through the golden age of western popular music, and we are now experiencing a moment of uncertain consensus regarding the cultural memory of particular bands and performers. Recording engineers and software have achieved sonic mastery–frequency curve perfection. Again, this may mean the media has been essentially exhausted of possibility and will be pushed to the margins, in the way representational oil painting was pushed to the margins by photography, film, et cetera.  I think we can assume that the sonically perfect but emotionally vapid music of the early 2000’s will be remembered like the paintings of Bouguereau, while the sonically and conceptually hazy works of The Beatles and Nirvana will endure.

While I’m not a technological determinist (and I know this is too teleological) I have begun to think pretty broadly about media technology, and it’s hard not no notice patterns.  Perhaps Hollywood is next?  Hmm…those superhero movies look pretty amazing!  Just as buzz about virtual reality is growing…

You can make your own chart (and your own predictions) here.

For a quick overview about Monet, Bouguereau, aesthetics and popular taste check out this post by Rachel Van Wylen.

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