I Like the Direct Experience of Documentation: A Conversation with Artie Vierkant and Parker Ito
“With more and more media readily available through this unruly archive, the task becomes one of packaging, producing, reframing, and distributing; a mode of production analogous not to the creation of material goods, but to the production of social contexts, using existing material. What a time you chose to be born!”—Seth Price wrote in Dispersion (2002 - ongoing). Artie Vierkant and Parker Ito chose to start their creative careers at the same time: Both 26 years old, they started doing and circulating their work online in late 2008 and early 2009. They created and co-created their own platforms for circulation that include their websites (artievierkant.com and parkerito.com), and collaborative efforts such as Jogging and JstChillin. When they started working in the white cube, they focused on “images” (paintings, prints, sculptures and installations), but they kept considering the Internet as the main inspiration and the primary venue of circulation of their work.
In the Image Objects series (2011 - ongoing), Vierkant infiltrates the gallery space in order to colonize it with simple, highly recognizable abstract images, designed digitally using default digital effects and then printed on laser-cut Sintra. I used the term “infiltrate” because, far from being the final destination of the piece, the white cube is just the stage where the image object, photographed, starts its new life. According to Vierkant, “Each time the pieces are documented officially (i.e., by the artist or by a gallery), the documentation photos are altered to create a new form which does not accurately represent the physical object and generate new derivative works that build upon the initial objects. The viewer’s experience becomes split between the physical encounter in a gallery setting and the countless variations of the objects circulated in prints, publications, and on the Internet.”1
Parker Ito’s recent body of work, on the other hand, includes sculptures and paintings made using reflective material, formally mimicking abstract expressionism and minimalism in a way that resists traditional documentation but actually turns documentation itself into a true medium and the photographer into a collaborator. Here, documentation is altered at its very origin, but it’s more social, out of the control of the original author, who, on his own side, is always happy to reappropriate the work done by his online and offline collaborators, manipulate and redistribute it, in an endless loop.
The following interview was done via email, while Artie was in New York and Parker somewhere in between Copenhagen and Abu Dhabi to set up two new shows.
By Domenico Quaranta
Domenico Quaranta - How would you introduce yourself?
Parker Ito - My name is Parker Ito, I’m 26 years old, and I live in L.A., sometimes New York. Leo rising, Gemini sun, Aquarius moon. My taste buds are hypersensitive, so I don’t eat a lot of things, particularly vegetables. I’m not drinking alcohol at the moment, but when I do, I might not be in front of a screen. But when I’m in front of a screen, I might be doing art. Or something like that at the moment…
Artie Vierkant - My name is Artie Vierkant. I’m also 26 years old. I live in New York, where I keep a studio and teach at NYU.
D.Q. - In recent years, artists and theorists (from Seth Price to Oliver Laric, from Boris Groys to Hito Steyerl) claimed the dignity of documentation and mediated experience against originals and direct experience of art. With your recent work, you seem to take a step further, claiming that online dissemination and mediated experience is much more than the actual meeting with an art object in a white cube. Is that right?
A.V. - I don’t think you could say that one way of experiencing a work is necessarily better than another; the important thing is that the mediated experience is by far the most accessible version of a work, and this in itself is important. Art has long been dominated by individuals and institutions who want to control the distribution of images: from the lender barring museums from allowing photographs to the artist who requests a photo of their work to be taken off the Internet. Not only do these strategies not work, they’re detrimental to the overall cultural life of the object in the first place and solidify art as a hermetic system. What’s interesting now is that so many people are sharing installation views, which creates a very active and immediate visual dialogue that can cross into other disciplines in real time. You used to have to wait for a photo to be printed in a magazine, or worse, for the actual object to be shipped across the world at great cost-now most young or contemporary practices are right there to be seen at any time, and you don’t have to live in one of five cities or be of a certain economic class to access them.
P.I. - Well, you’re right. I don’t read theory but I could copy-paste some of that. I like the direct experience of documentation, because I love the Internet. This is where I primarily experience art. To put it this way: Right now I’m very into Monet and I wanna go to Giverny and see his garden, but you never know if it is as good as on Google. It is a bit frightening, but also exciting. So I don’t know if online dissemination is something more in the sense better, but it’s certainly something. New avenues open up, and you can skate down them. On the screen, the white cube is so very, very white it seems like it doesn’t end anywhere. It just keeps going, and I wanna go there too. And this is where my flowers come in. All their colors just keep blooming, and then you can get even more likes.
D.Q. - According to my experience of your work, this is not just a claim, but a matter of fact. I hope this won’t upset you, but after admiring your work online, I was at first disappointed when I saw it in the gallery. If compared with the richness of potential interpretations, a work of art is just a poor assemblage of industrial materials. But then I realized that it’s not the artwork that is poor, but our experience of it in the gallery space. To have an experience of it comparable to the one provided by the Internet, we should own the piece, repositioning our image object in our home place, looking at our Parker Ito piece in different light conditions. This introduces another interesting comparison-that between owning a piece and taking documentation of it. When I take a picture of one of your pieces, do I own it some way?
P.I. - Sure, you get a version of it. But if it is good, it will probably end up on my website, too. I’m very flexible when it comes to good works of art. Please help me.
A.V. - This is a fair read. There are only so many different combinations of materials you can put in a gallery, and once you’ve seen enough it becomes clear that there is a poverty of possibilities in that space. As for ownership, I don’t think the distinction is as binary as that, either you own it or just have a photo of it. Both are true. But you have to evaluate also what ownership is to you at the moment. Ownership now is all about access-you rent access to a film on iTunes for 24 hours, you rent an apartment, you rent a car by the hour-so by having that photo or by downloading any of the images from my website you’ve actually secured more ‘ownership’ over one of my pieces than most of the other objects in your life.
D.Q. - Artie, you declared that your key artistic influences are all your Facebook friends. And you, Parker, said: “My artistic struggles are not so much about, “Oh, making art is really hard,” but more like, “I need more money to go online shopping,” “I have a crush on this girl, how do I get her attention on Twitter?” or “Do I look hot in this Facebook photo?!”‘ Just what is it that makes today’s social networks so different, so appealing?
P.I. - Well, maybe the same as what made the home so different and appealing in the 1950s. It offers new and exciting lifestyles. For instance, now you can befriend people many times. I just had a show in Copenhagen, and there I got to know people I already know and asked them to do this interview for me. So I did not online shop there, in fact.
A.V. - Parker, I’d ask you what it means to befriend people many times, but you’ve made it clear instead I’d have to ask someone in Denmark.
D.Q. - Though your concerns are similar, your approach to ‘documentation as artwork’ is very different. Are you interested in the social life of what you do after you release it? Do you keep track of other people’s use of your images?
A.V. - I watch as much as I can. The things that get me very excited are when a piece is acted upon by someone else, instead of simply resharing. An easy example is that lately someone has been making some one-off Tumblrs based on derivations of our names, so for instance ‘Party Vierkant’ and ‘Parker Cheeto.’ There have been some other really good ones, like ‘The Image Object of My Desire,’ which was a Valentine’s Day image Josh Citarella made, and a piece by Justin Kelly where he took an image from the porn site Bang Bros. and made it look like there were Image Objects all over the walls. This is always the most interesting to me because I feel like my alteration of documentation images is also an invitation for others to use them as they see fit-Photoshop them, reprint them, bootleg them, etc.
P.I. - I have two assistants who Google my name and archive the latest hits, whatever they are. This archive is to be digitally stored on three ‘cloned’ computers in a bunker next to Beyoncé’s in New York. In 20 to 30 years time, when space travel is made affordable, the digitally stored files are to be launched into space to enter the much vaster network than the one I’m part of now, transmitting the files containing my work beyond the Milky Way. Maybe the future of social life is cosmological.
D.Q. - Can your work be described as a form of institutional critique? Or as a celebration of the Internet as a distribution system?
P.I. - Maybe it could be both. Maybe I celebrate critique because it is good it is out there. But I don’t really talk like that. I like fireworks and I have been working with fireworks, and the nice thing is that it is something I can share with others, because everybody likes to look at fireworks. Something is burning, but it looks really pretty, and I want to look that way too. And when it is pixelated it looks wild too, so things are changing, and I subscribe to that. The art world has been ignoring the Internet a bit, but I think it is in for a change too now.
A.V. - Parker, I’m pretty sure you’re not engaged in institutional critique. For my work there are elements of critique, but not solely of the art system. But to engage in a proper form of institutional critique in 2013, I believe the artist would have to operate completely outside of institutional structures, including galleries and grants.
D.Q. - Artie, your Fingerprints series deals exactly with the idea of keeping track of the circulation of a given artifact-be it a video or a print. In this work, you use digital fingerprint techniques, an alternative to watermarks, to create abstract images that contain only your signature mark. How does the work relate to the copyright concerns that usually bring a content producer to add them to a cultural artifact?
A.V. - Well this is just it-the contemporary artist is a content provider. We either create or reformat intellectual property (on a very basic level), and so in that respect the art world isn’t so different from any other part of the culture industry. There’s a famous quote from Mark Getty, the creator of Getty Images, where he states that ‘intellectual property is the oil of the 21st century.’ And it’s very true. This is why you see generation after generation of artists vying for their own specific authorial stance, trying to establish a practice that distinguishes them in some way and bestows a kind of common-law intellectual property on that type of practice or that kind of gesture. I couldn’t, for example, go out and take a photo of the Marlboro man or a ScreenCap from Google Street View without someone calling me Richard Prince or Jon Rafman, respectively. So with making the Fingerprints their own project, that was in part a way of trying to figure out how to not create content-or create as little content as possible-but still play with all of these other techniques we have for establishing ownership or property.
D.Q. - Parker, in The Most Infamous Girl in the History of the Internet/Attractive Student/Parked Domain Girl series, your role is that of the redistributor. You commissioned paintings of the parked domain girl to Chinese workshops and you manipulated and watermarked them. The documentation page on your site also includes remakes submitted by other people and an email from the creator of the original image that adds some interesting layers to the project, making us think about the ethics and economies of image sharing. Can you tell us more about this three-year project? How did it evolve over time?
P.I. - The Parked Domain Girl image has basically become an abstraction of ‘Parker Ito the artist.’ That’s the most interesting part of the project to me.
D.Q. - Can you comment on each other’s work?
P.I. - When I was buying a new computer I had a lot of questions about what to get. Artie used to work at the Apple store, so naturally he was consulting me on my purchase. When I went to the Apple store I asked someone to help me and further explain why I should get the retina display. When the Apple employee asked me what I did for a living I explained to him that I was an artist. The Apple store guy happened to do underwater photography as a hobby and insisted that I needed the retina display Mac Book Pro. I explained that I was mainly editing cell phone photos and that I didn’t care about the high-resolution monitor. I bought the computer anyways, and it was kind of a vanity purchase, but in some ways I think this story is symbolic of the two different methods in which Artie and I approach the same issue.
A.V. - Parker is a lifestyle artist.
1. See, http://artievierkant.com/imageobjects.php
Domenico Quaranta is an art critic and curator based in Italy. He has focused his research on the impact of the current techno-social developments on the arts. A regular contributor to Flash Art magazine, he has written, edited and contributed to a number of books, including Gamescenes: Art in the Age of Videogames (Johan & Levi Editore, 2006) and Media, New Media, Postmedia (Postmedia Books 2010), among others.