2011 was…

Last year around this time, designer/researcher Michele Perras posted her Top Ten of 2010 to Twitter. I enthusiastically jumped in and posted my top 10 too — it seemed a great way to look back and celebrate the year. The list covered life events, achievements, fabulous trips, et cetera.

Top Ten of Twenty Eleven doesn’t have the same ring Top Ten of Twenty Ten had to it, plus I wanted to do something a little different than last year. It was hard to pare it down, but I thought I would try to keep it to the Top 5 of 2011 and include some photos. Here goes!

1. This year an exhibition entitled Constellations opened at Cornerhouse in Manchester UK, which I co-curated with my friend and collaborator, Karen Gaskill. The show featured works by Kitty Kraus, Katie Paterson, Takahiro Iwasaki, and Felix Gonzalez-Torres, and investigated themes of impermanence and flux. I know I’m biased, but I’m very proud of how beautiful and coherent the show was. Karen and I are already scheming about the next project!

Out of Disorder (hair) by Takahiro Iwasaki. Photo by We Are Tape.

Untitled by Kitty Kraus. Photo by We Are Tape.

2. I started my wonderful job as Curator at V2_ Institute for the Unstable Media in Rotterdam and kicked off Blowup, a brand new event and exhibition series there. Over the year I delivered 5 successful editions of Blowup and the organisation’s first e-Book series (in the form of readers that accompany each Blowup event). More exciting things to come in 2012, including the Dutch Electronic Art Festival!

Blowup: The Era of Objects, with Julian Bleecker, Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino, Anab Jain. With me doing my best Oprah Winfrey. Photo by Jan Nass.

Doing my best Vanna White. Photo by Jan Nass.

3. Travel highlights: I was an invited guest of BAM in their International Curator’s Programme and had a blast discovering Flanders; gave 4 talks in 7 days on a whirlwind and magical tour through Ukraine; visited the Venice Biennale during opening week; and enjoyed the IKT (international association of curators of contemporary art) Congress in Luxembourg and Metz. I’m really looking forward to more great trips in 2012, including going to places I’ve not yet been, like Tel Aviv.

Karla Black, Scotland + Venice

Nice to see a queue for contemporary art! Pinchuk Art Centre, Kyiv, Ukraine

4. I gave lectures in a number of places scattered around the globe, from Durham, Ontario, Canada to Lviv, Ukraine and many spots in-between (including my first Pecha Kucha here in Amsterdam to a packed house at Trouw), and I also picked up a speaking agent — Tessa Sterkenburg at The Next Speaker. Contact Tessa if you want to book me for 2012.

Dan McGee and I, in Durham, Ontario, at the Common Pulse symposium. Photo by David Jhave Johnston.

Lviv, Ukraine

5. I brought on four fabulous international correspondents to help with, commissioned a new logo by designer Rita Godlevskis, and kicked off a huge new project: the Fellowship, with CCA Glasgow.

New logo by Rita Godlevskis

New site look and feel (ideas and implementation by Mikhel Proulx)

What are your top 5 highlights from this past year?
Looking forward to what 2012 has to bring!

Art & Culture My Projects


I’m delighted to announce the successful launch of Constellations, an exhibition co-curated by myself and Karen Gaskill, at Cornerhouse in Manchester, UK.

Constellations presents four international artists working with sculpture and installation. Minimalist in their approach, all present ideas on remoteness, fragility, disintegration, melancholy, and transience, together creating a profound and almost palatable sadness.

Adopting its title from the patterns of celestial bodies, the exhibition considers the relationship between ideas and the formation of concept. Drawing on the historic usage of constellations as maps or event atlases of the celestial sphere, this exhibition presents a collection of ideas on ephemerality, impermanence and flux in contemporary art. At its very core is an organic grouping of works that when in relation to one another form new ideas and notions, new constellations, each as fluid and volatile as the other.

The works selected are concerned with the fragility and breakdown of content. This instability not only manifests as a dissolution or reduction, but also as a loss of content, a shift in form, or the temporality of an objects’ existence. Each metaphorically deals with the passage of time, creating its own duration, but ultimately brings the attention back to the present moment. The result is an exhibition that in structure and content is all at once timeless, durational and unstable.

The shift from one form to another is most apparent in the ice lamps of Kitty Kraus (pictured above), household lightbulbs are encased in ice infused with ink, resembling small frosty black cubes, which when plugged in cause the ice to melt haphazardly across the floor. The initial sculpture draws murky trails with inky stained water, leaving the often broken lightbulb and its cable trailing, a testament to its ultimate demise.

Surrounded by the slow dissolution of Kraus’s lonely systems, the delicate landscapes of Takahiro Iwasaki (pictured below) respond in their fragile yet resilient form. The mimicry of permanent geographies such as mountain ranges, using delicate and unstable materials such as cloth and pencil lead, create a contrasting, yet equally delicate infrastructure, reminding us quietly about the fleetingness of time and earth’s instability.

The reduction of form is mirrored in the takeaway poster stacks of Felix Gonzalez-Torres (pictured below). Durational in nature, the work slowly diminishes, shifting in form as the audience remove the posters and the tangible aspect of the work disappears. The work is evocative of what once was, of death and passing, and the image of the sea on the posters also invokes a sense of timelessness and strength to contrast the melancholy of the diminishing pile.

Katie Paterson’s two works both deal with space and the universe, and our position as humans in the cosmos is revealed by the works. 100 Billion Suns is a daily colourful explosion of confetti, happening in different parts of the Cornerhouse building each day. Each piece of confetti bears the colour signature of the brightest explosions in the universe. She has shrunk massive events to human scale, and presented them in bursts that will land and be tracked throughout the gallery in unpredictable ways. Earth-Moon-Earth (Moonlight Sonata Reflected from the Surface of the Moon) on the other hand, is a work that transforms Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata using radio waves (pictured below). By bouncing Morse code of the score off of the moon’s surface, errors are created that are reproduced in the version played by the piano in the gallery. The lost information in the score is as a result of some celestial interference, a chance intervention that is not unlike the chance vagaries of the room temperature and floor surface that will impact the final form of Kitty Kraus’ ice lamp works.

The works in this exhibition each work in different ways with form, material, and change. Katie Paterson’s confetti canons are an addition to the environment, while viewers slowly subtract Gonzalez-Torres’ work from the gallery. Kraus’ ice lamps physically transform from 3D to 2D, while Iwasaki’s work plays with scale and form by transforming the idea of a mountain into household materials. The radio waves that Paterson used to send the Moonlight Sonata to the moon and back echo the ocean waves represented on the Gonzalez-Torres poster. Natural materials such as ice, water, soil, and air are present in all the works in either representation or in physical form. The pieces here may be minimal in aesthetic, but they are not abstract, they represent real things, and changes in the real world.

When devising constellations in the sky, people created stories to help understand our natural world, to make sense of it. But these celestial drawings are ultimately arbitrary, fragile, and could be replaced by new mappings or new understandings at any time. The mutability of the works in this exhibition are like the fragile understanding enabled by a constellations’ path. We are drawing edges around materials that we wish to know and to contain, even if ultimately, we cannot. The works in this exhibition provide us with a new poetic template to think about our understanding of time and material.

More info on the show:
Sat 25 Jun 2011 – Sun 11 Sep 2011
Mon – Closed, Tue – Sat 12:00 – 20:00, Sun 12:00 – 18:00

Art & Culture

My FutureEverything “Don’t Miss” List

I find myself in the same situation time and again when I arrive at a major international festival: too many events happening at once! Spoilt for choice! Unable to decide if I should go to one talk or another, which are of course happening at the very same time in different locations!

The programme for this year’s FutureEverything festival is so overflowing with juicy content, that perhaps you too will suffer this dilemma. In the face of such a cornucopia of content, there is something for everyone, but maybe you want to peek over my shoulder and see what I’ve circled in red on my FutureEverything diary? (Oh and hey, I wouldn’t mind you sharing your picks with me too!)

Ryoji Ikeda – test pattern [live set] / Mika Vainio [live]: “complex audio-visual terrain” … “analogue warmth and metallic harshness”
Konono No.1 [live] / Bass Clef [live] / Jon K: “a thundering sonic attack of 21st Century African music that sounds like nothing ever heard before”
Moldover [live] / Atau & Adam [live]: “a performer who combines the charisma of a rock star with the mad genius of a basement inventor”

GloNet: “an experimental format happening simultaneously in five cities around the globe: Manchester, Sendai, Istanbul, Sao Paulo, and Vancouver”
Shaping the City panel discussion: how are cities shaped by climate, culture, and citizen participation?
Keynote: Ben Cerveny: “taking us from 1960s Situationist ideas to current collaborative interaction in public spaces”
Keynote: Keri Facer: “Learning to live in uncertain times”
New Creativity panel discussion: “How do we play, collaborate, and create in a way that makes a real impact on the world?”
McLuhan in Europe 2011 – inaugural lecture with Darren Wershler: “describing the fascinating connections between McLuhan’s predictions and declarations”

The Feast of Trimalchio: Stunningly beautiful, UK premiere
Eyewriter: a pair of low-cost glasses & custom software that allow artists and graffiti writers with paralysis to draw using only their eyes
Cu Exhibition: “diverse and experimental contemporary art from both national and international artists”

Get tickets!

Art & Culture My Projects

The Aesthetics of Gaming

The Aesthetics of Gaming

Pace Digital Gallery, 163 William St, New York City, USA (Directions)
February 10 – March 3 2009
Reception Feb 26, 5 – 7pm (5:00 pm lecture by Joe McKay / 6:00pm reception)
Featuring CuteXdoom II by Anita Fontaine and Mike Pelletier, and Avoid by Joe McKay
Guest curated by Michelle Kasprzak

Curatorial statement:
At the Interactive City summit in 2006, design guru Matt Jones conducted an informal poll that guests could respond to immediately using their mobile phones. The poll was a fragment of a question: Games or stories? This short but provocative query caused a low rumble of chatter within the group, and within minutes results began appearing, showing more or less a tie. What made the question stimulating was that the two are so intertwined, it can often be unclear where the story stops and the games begin. Can games live without even the roughest hint of a narrative, and can stories develop without an element of a game?

This exhibition presents two game environments that address both the intertwining of games and stories and the aesthetics of artist-created games. CuteXdoom II by Anita Fontaine and Mike Pelletier is a game modification that transforms Unreal Tournament 3 into a digi-Rococo experience. Players are tasked with the mission of piloting their poisoned character, Sally Sanrio, through a world that is simultaneously cute and sinister in search of the antidote. CuteXdoom II expands the narrative developed in the first instance of the project, wherein Sally Sanrio is drawn to the CuteXdoom cult, which centres around the notion that ‘the possession and worship of cute material objects will ultimately lead to happiness’.

The CuteXdoom series utilizes the aesthetics of kawaii (Japanese style of “cuteness”) and otaku (obsessive fan-based culture of anime and computer games), but these influences are ultimately just parts of the overall style that emerges under Fontaine’s direction. The incredible level of detail, striking color palettes, and repeated patterns and imagery are distinctly Fontaine’s and contribute to a delightful and dazzling game experience that is the aesthetic opposite of the formulaic graphics usually delivered via the Unreal Tournament platform. The CuteXdoom game aesthetic also responds to the story, using darker imagery to emphasize the main character’s altered state due to the consumption of the poison.

Joe McKay’s Avoid also breaks from the dominant aesthetic of commercial games, and utilizes a look that is beautiful in its minimalism. The premise of the game is to avoid the black dots, and to “eat” the colored dots, with the pace of the game dictating a high level of concentration from the player. The game was developed with Processing, which is described by its creators as “an electronic sketchbook for developing ideas.” Avoid, too, can be seen as a nearly-blank sketchbook upon which players can superimpose their own traces of narratives: clinging to life (when you only get one), consuming good, avoiding bad, acting in self-preservation. Though Avoid is, at its heart, a puzzle game much like widely-known games Tetris and Minesweeper, McKay’s statement about the game includes discussion of longevity, having only one life and making the most of that one life, which immediately lends a rule-based puzzle more of a human, narrative direction.

CuteXdoom II and Avoid present two distinct approaches, which are unified by their contributions to an evolving aesthetic of gaming. These two works mark a stage in the use of game platforms and structures by artists, which will see further evolution as technology advances, more game platforms develop or open up, and a notion of what games could be and could look like expands.

Version of this statement translated into Italian available here, thanks to