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Identity, Creation and New Media

Jonathan Rockford. Portrait, 2008. 8 ½” x 10 ½” x 8 ½”, Video and sound projected into a hand carved text book.

By Janet Batet

If we had to define our contemporary culture, quickly and without giving it much thought; words, such as, interactivity, zapping, speed, play, simulation, would immediately emerge. Since the beginning of the 90s, the appearance and accelerated development of what is known as “new technology” has altered our perception, our interaction and, of course, the creative process itself, as well as its resulting product, in many cases distinguished by its virtuality.

Without a doubt, all of this process is intimately associated with the prior development of other media, especially video, whose appearance signaled an unprecedented democratization of mass media. The spread of the Dada movement, Fluxus, and the experiments of Nam June Paik and Wolf Vostell would form the basis of media-art where the displacement of self, the use of means of reproduction and the ranking of the process over the result, are shaping a new approach to the creative act.

The advent of the Internet and the digital image has inspired a new category, which has been called New Media. Also known under the headings Digital art, Computer art, Multimedia art, amongst others, this creative means is becoming more and more prevalent in our contemporary culture.

As part of this tendency, Hardcore Art Contemporary Space has begun presenting the New Media Festival, which this year celebrates its third edition. The show, which assembles twenty-six artists, is dominated by video and installation, even though the Web and the synthesized image are also represented. The introduction of displays via Internet, such as, www.hipic.org or www.thinkagain.com.ar, is indicative of this.

The curatorship itself is informal. Seven curators from different latitudes (France, England, Argentina, El Salvador, Colombia and the United States) present the work of participating artists, with no determining factors other than the nature of the festival. The idea behind this is to attain the widest range of cultural perspectives and means of approaching new media.

Among the offerings being presented, of note is the work of Amparo Sard (Mallorca, 1973). Amparo manipulates video with a high sense of refinement. Her miniseries are fables about the social status of women, midway between traditional and contemporary society. Her work is typified by a rarified atmosphere, given her penchant for white, water, restricted environments and traditional attire. Complementing her videos, the artist presents laborious images, impeccably white, as though freshly sewn. They are photograms extracted from her videos, which the artist pricks cautiously, with the patience of an embroiderer, and whose tactile nature propels us to means of interpretation other than those to which we are accustomed.

Also exploring other senses, we find the work of Richard Garet (Montevideo, 1972), who lives and works in New York. His installation “Winter,” 2008, invites us to lie down on the always uncomfortable psychoanalyst’s couch in order to, with eyes closed, rethink ourselves, this time from sound. Manipulating spectator archetypes and the boundaries between natural and artificial media, Garet’s oeuvre is a well-executed acoustic experience. 

Closer to the idea of the digital image so important to new media, of note is the work of Jonathan Rockford (Miami, 1984). His piece “Portrait,” 2008, offers the spectator an open book whose pages have been perforated and sculpted to attain a concave surface, a suitable receptacle for the digital image. Said figure, projected in a zenithal manner, renders us an image of the artist who, like an automaton, impassibly recites complex mathematical equations: a kind of new poetry or religion. Rockford’s oeuvre revolves around identity and new technology, the displacement of self by an avatar that surpasses us. The virtual nature of the portrait is emphasized while, in a last-ditch attempt to embrace the corporeal, we find ourselves leafing through an empty book. 

Anita Reyna (London, 1962) and MILCHO (Paris, 1972) present us with two interesting installations. The two pieces, which reflect very different perspectives, examine the territory of identity.”Arritmia,” 2008, by Anita Reyna, recreates a living room presided over by a sofa whose somewhat rococo style competes with laser-drilled boxes revealing digital images or texts, which parade before us in an unintelligible way. The sofa itself is covered with text, the cushions printed; nothing escapes the furor of a highly serialized, standardized society. 

MILCHO’s work has more of the flavor of a fable. It is the notion of the serpent that bites its own tail. “The Fisherman,” 2008, presents us with a self-referential restatement. The fisherman, an artist’s mannequin, sits ready with his pole before a barrel from which he removes his own image captured in a video that in turn shows us the fisherman ready with his pole before the barrel. The self-referentiality is stressed by the half-shaven head and MILCHO’s obsession with hair.

“Bang! Bang! Toy Gun,” 2008 is, in my opinion, the pièce de résistance at the festival. Located in a side room, the effective installation by Victor Cartagena (El Salvador) at once questions and surprises the spectator. Here the observer becomes the observed. From the depths of the room, a dubious hooded individual follows us unperturbed, relentless, while he aims at us with his finger on the trigger ready to fire. A curtain of suspended toy pistols keeps visitors at a distance. The only common element which appears to link human beings is violence. The projected image is monochromatic and the grain of the film suggests a documentary style which accentuates the sense of realism so important to Cartagena’s oeuvre.

In this third edition of New Media Festival plurality prevails: a polyphony that can be felt as soon as the spectator crosses the threshold. The proliferation of sounds and images moving back and forth makes us more likely to jump from one display to another than to engage in unidirectional interpretation. This is another typical feature of new media, divested of the unequivocal orientation of traditional art and the gallery, liberated from centuries of lineal narration, finally giving us a taste of freedom. Hardcore Art Contemporary Space’s New Media Festival is becoming a tradition that is shaping the Wynwood Art District, a new tradition to be thankful for.

Janet Batet: Bachelor’s Degree in Art History from the University of Havana. Master’s Degree in Multimedia from the University of Quebec in Montreal. Independent curator and art critic.

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