The Art of Failing Beautifully

Fri 20 Jul 2012

Where to start? Perhaps it would be wise to open with a quote from Samuel Beckett on what I imagine to be The Art of Failure. Beckett writes:

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better. [emphasis mine]

Sometimes that’s exactly the kind of thought that rolls through my head as I jump off a cliff and try to create a new work of digital narrative that experiments with new media technologies while testing out some philosophical principles that drive my thinking as I open myself up to the possibility of, yet again, telling a story. Telling a story and spontaneously articulating a digital poetics that takes into account the changing new media environment I happen to find myself passing through, a kind of phantom figure punching in the time clock of history.

In my latest work, Museum of Glitch Aesthetics, the fictionally generated transmedia narrative is partly about how the moving image becomes subsumed by the mobile image and how the mobile image of the artist-as-transmitted or transmitting persona BECOMES a networked and mobile medium investigating emerging forms of creativity.

As with a lot of complex, let’s even call them difficult to explain, research outcomes – the Museum of Glitch Aesthetics, or what I like to call MOGA, is not an artwork that can be easily summarized in a few sound bites. Nor is it an artwork that one can experience in a few minutes, get a feel for what the artist is trying to say (or not), and then walk away from it.

Well, I’m sure there will be people who will navigate away from it – or in our case, decide maybe they should go check their email or Twitter stream. But given the sheer volume of work collected on the project Web site – there are over 25 works of art including lots of digital videos and an album length work of sound art posing as a comedy album PLUS the originally composed and designed 86-page full-color catalogue – going through the entire project so you can just get a sense of all of the work (and how it is being canonized and historicized by the various characters who direct, curate, write about, and gift works to this virtual museum) will take at least 5-7 hours.

And that’s just to get a sense of what the work is about. To really dig out its potential meaning, it would take much more time – and in this regard, you might say it’s like reading a good sized literary novel – and may, in fact, be an indication of where the so-called literary novel is going. I mean, hopefully it’s going somewhere – right? Because a novel is supposed to be novel, no?

As part of a very brief intro to the project, I would like to show you the ‘video art trailer’ for the artwork. Now, what does that mean: ‘Video art trailer’ for the artwork? The video art trailer for MOGA is really a lie, like all video trailers are lies. It’s not really indicative of what it will be like to experience this work in its entirety, but maybe that doesn’t matter, because the video art trailer for MOGA is now itself PART of the Museum of Glitch Aesthetics, that is to say, it’s part of the package of material that encompasses this work of visual, conceptual and performance art and so represents one possible entry point into this vast field of interpretive potential that is the work of art, one initial way of experiencing the work. With that in mind, here it is:

This project, MOGA, is a new commission with Abandon Normal Devices (AND). AND identifies themselves as (and I’m quoting from this Web site) “a catalyst for production and experimentation … a festival that questions the norm and champions a different approach to new cinema and digital culture … and that presents itself as a playful and political investigation into current social, artistic, and technological practice enabling collaboration between the arts and the digital, science, design and media sectors.”

The AND was inspired by London 2012. Every year since their inception in 2009, the AND festival has a new programme theme and this year’s theme is ‘success?’.  I was challenged with having to create an elaborate art project that would contribute to this significant, some would say ‘historical’ cultural legacy associated with The Games as well as take into account the idea of success (with a question mark punctuating the subject matter at hand). Also, given AND’s remit as a festival of ‘new cinema, digital culture, and art’, the ideal work would be produced by experimenting with various new media technologies and digital processes.

Now, this subject – success – is one I just love to play around with — I mean, in artistic terms, what does it mean to BE a success?

In the old days, which, by the way, are still these days we live in now because life itself and our historical presence are, by nature, a-temporal – in the old days we used to and still today call an artist a success when they produce artwork that is sanctioned by the art markets and art critics and art historians who have themselves successfully found a way to historicize and canonize this artwork that is consequently deemed successful and that we, the makers and appreciators of art, then attribute to a specific artist who by association with the successful artwork is then themselves considered a success.

Or is it the other way around?

I mean, WHO is responsible for an artist’s success?

This is an important question, especially when taking into account the game of art and the highly competitive art market.

Now, of course, when it comes to practice-based research into art and the increasing role technology plays in the creative process, I have major issues with these markets, historicizations and canonizations. But then again, I would – and that’s because I create most of my art for the Internet and in general, art on the Net or Net art, is more connected with the so-called ‘gift economy’ than with anything even remotely resembling the up-market and somewhat elitist commodity culture that members of the art world circulate in.

In this regard, the Museum of Glitch Aesthetics is first and foremost an investigation into what it means to be a successful artist before-during-and-after a time in art history when artists, digital writers, entrepreneurs, and creative types of all kinds are inventing new ways to develop alternative practices that disrupt the hedge fund environment the art market has become and that the studio art model has been a bit too complicit with.

This challenge I was presented with, that is, to investigate notions of success in relation to the overly competitive contemporary art scene as it interfaces with the technological realities of what, for lack of better, we call Web 2.0, led to the creation of a distributed team of collaborators who would contribute to the MOGA story, the so-called transmedia narrative.

With the Museum of Glitch Aesthetics we decided to create, first, an online museum – and this would be an online museum devoted to one artist – kind of like what they recently did in Denver, Colorado, with the Clyford Still Museum (and here’s something that resonates with MOGA: if you visit the Clyford Still Museum Web site they introduce the entire museum by pointing to “an artist whose life has been shrouded in mystery.”) But MOGA — this online museum of ‘glitch aesthetics’ – is actually devoted to one MORPHING artist who, the more you dig into the transmedia narrative content, the more you realize could just as easily be many artists. Or, given the flood of data now circulating in the networked and mobile media culture, the one artist featured at MOGA could literally be ANY artist or – if we want to get poetic and sample from the spirit of e.e. cummings – we could see this artist of glitch aesthetics as an every-only recombinant artist. (“Love is the every-only recombinant artist” to remix cummings).

For narrative purposes, though, we focused on one particular trajectory, and refer to the artist simply as: The Artist 2.0. MOGA features the life and work of The Artist 2.0 (as you can see in the video art trailer above). The Artist 2.0 is also an artist whose collective life is shrouded in mystery and the various characters, voices and virtual personae who populate the MOGA narrative attempt to de-mystify this speculative figure, even as they know that they too – echoing my Beckett quote above – will ultimately fail at doing so. And yet, perhaps they too will fail better. Or: fail beautifully. Thus their desire to create a Museum of Glitch Aesthetics.

We started the project by simultaneously building out what eventually became the full-color, 86-page museum catalog and the various works that would represent the career or the early-to-mid career trajectory of this mythological artist figure. Going through the site you will see representative examples of the early works, like digitally manipulated still images and animated GIFs that we think first appeared on early 2.0 platforms like MySpace, and Flickr, and Blogger.

After these early works, we find that the artist then took a huge personal risk and went to Art School where, in addition to a pre-Tumblr digital photo blog devoted to handmade glitch images, he began developing his experimental mobile phone and glitch videos that would then appear on sites like YouTube and Vimeo. And later in the story we find that he uploads his collaborative glitch soundtracks over distribution channels like Soundcloud or Bandcamp.

In this regard, the main idea spurring on the MOGA team was to find an “intersubjective sensibility” that would enable us to collaboratively generate one practice-based research stream that would investigate the relationship between creating works of art, transmitting works of art, streaming works of art, exhibiting works of art, digitally archiving and/ or collecting works of art and, finally, historicizing and canonizing works of art (which mostly means writing about the artist and his work as well as locating other texts supposedly written by the artist).

In other words, by looking closely at the relationship between creation, transmission, historicization, and canonization, we wanted to tease out the possibilities of a glitch aesthetics – the aesthetics of corrupt and/or corrupting data that influences the tide of history.

I would like to end my blog entry by inviting you to just to chill out and meditate on one of the videos from the MOGA collection. The video below, Falls from Grace (Or, The Future of Water), is located in the HD Streaming section of the museum and is the full-length version of the video that appears right at the end of the video art trailer you just viewed above. The holding shot of the raging waterfall being captured by an iPhone cleverly nestled inside the rocks takes place at a (for now) undisclosed location (think of it as an opportunity to just kick back for a few minutes and absorb the viral beauty – or maybe I mean vital beauty – produced as a result of the glitch transmission which may or may not signal modes of corruption while seeing – and listening):

Falls from Grace (Or, The Future of Water) from glitchmuseum on Vimeo.

I’ll end with a quote from The Artist 2.0. In a short interview with the artist that is published in the catalog, The Artist 2.0 says:

“The flow of data, the water of information, is continuous, and I am a multilayered part of the mix. The flow does not ever really need me, but I totally need it. It roots me. It channels my creativity in ways I have no control over.”

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