MARISA OLSON: NOISE POLLUTION

Bard CCS April 19 - May 24, 2009

Curated by Gene McHugh
Catalogue by ASDF + Vance Wellenstein

{Curatorial Statement & Interview Below}

Please click on these thumbnails to see larger images.



Please email mo(at)marisaolson(dot)com for high-res images.

Download a PDF of the catalogue, designed by ASDF with Vance Wellenstein.

Curatorial Statement, Gene McHugh

In for what is arguably the first time in the cultural history of media technology, the digital era allows the spectator to exist as a creator as much as any original author (think of YouTube, Wikipedia, the phenomenon of blogs, etc). And while this has often been celebrated as the harbinger of some sort of ultra-clean, virtualized, technological utopia, the spectator's privileged position in this scenario also serves to implicate him/ her in the negative aspects of technological progress, as well. One of these negative aspects can be seen in the material consequences of virtual culture—all of the outmoded electronic gear piling up in trash heaps such as wires and chunks of plastic, circuit boards, screws, and everything else that is required to allow electronic communication take place. As culture feasts on upgrade after upgrade, making more and more powerful machines and gadgets available in faster and faster increments, the equipment that was hot even less than a year ago becomes junk‚ a burden waiting to be forgotten.

The works of artist Marisa Olson exhibited in "Noise Pollution" investigate the material and environmental consequences of electronic media culture. The once ubiquitous music storage device, the milk crate, for instance, is rendered obsolete as one upgrades their music collection from vinyl to MP3. That, in turn, creates a lot of empty milk crates. In a gesture of reclamation, Olson has created Monument to DJ Culture #2 (2009), a large sculpture featuring a palette of milk crates painted gold‚ Fort Knox style‚ and then framed within the walls of the art museum as Sol LeWitt-esque grid sculptures.

Similarly, the ongoing Time Capsules series of sculptures apply the same strategy to another form of forgotten media storage‚ the cassette tape–painting the cassettes in gaudy, solid gold paint and again referencing a lineage of minimalist sculpture. However, whereas LeWitt, Donald Judd, and their minimalist compatriots were interested in, amongst other themes, the endless, standardized seriality of industrial-scale production, Olson's works ironically apply this language to the endless glut of minimally designed garbage mounting in the wake of technological progress.

In the video Golden Oldies (2006), Olson tries to combine a potpourri of electronic media from different generations of technologies, eventually creating a mess. Despite her best attempts to‚ instigate communication‚ between the devices, it is impossible and ultimately frustratingly sad to see the detritus of her efforts pile up in direct correlation with her efforts to somehow organize the machines. For this exhibition, Olson will embed the video in old sound gear to create a monitor/ sculpture hybrid. As in Golden Oldies, the video Dark Stars (2006), attempts to instigate communication between different generations of technologies (in this case, a contemporary computer and original VHS-based video game system). We see a digital image of Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat transposed into a video game screen-preparation tutorial prompting the user to make this star disappear or make this star barely visible. As Olson describes it, the video alludes to the shared vocabulary of celestial and pop stardom, and the synchronized death of stars and recording media. For "Noise Pollution," Olson will be embedding the Dark Stars video into an old 3/4-inch video deck, again reclaiming an obsolete media technology as a form of museum-ready quasi-minimalist sculpture.

For the first time, all of the approximately 1,500 images of Olson's ongoing IMG_FAN found internet image archive will be installed in a gallery space. In the case of these images, the pollution is more informational than environmental (although by taking up server space, the images are creating a carbon footprint). Since January, 2006, Olson has been drawn to those seemingly banal images that appear in blog posts, spam advertising, or news items. In collecting and exhibiting them, she is extending their life span and accounting for new typologies of internet-specific images.

Lastly, the ongoing Monitor Tracings series of drawings depict obsolete technologies (walkmen, old telephones, Nintendos) by calling up their images in Google searches and tracing those directly off of her computer monitor. In these pieces, Olson is again combining different generations of technology and referencing the history of media change involving those instruments like the camera obscura, slide projector, and overhead projector that have previously assisted artists in creating mimetic works.

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Marisa and Gene are excited about this exhibition. Gene would like to thank the faculty, students and staff of the Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College, my friends and family, especially, Johanna Burton, Lauren Cornell, Maria Lind, Elan Bogarin, Christina Linden, Marcia Acita, Jamie Henderson, and Kari Altmann. In addition, Marisa would like to thank Michael Mandiberg, Esther Bell, Mylinh Trieu Nguyen and David Horvitz (ASDF), Vance Wellenstein, Matt Langan-Peck, Clara Jo, Katya Grokhovsky, Cory Arcangel, Thomas Galloway, Sherry Millner and Ernie Larsen, Jon Cohrs, Patrick Davison, Billy Rennenkamp, Ceci Moss, Michael Sarff, and Christina Ray.

Interview with David Horvitz

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On Wed, Apr 1, 2009 at 2:24 AM, David Horvitz wrote:

Thinking about your work reminds me of something I told a friend years ago. I was a freshman in college using high speed internet for the first time, and I asked him, "Who will remember the sounds of modems connecting?" It was a sad thought, knowing that those sounds were falling into technology's oblivion. And even sadder knowing that the familiarity with them is what is really lost. Do you feel some of your practice can be seen as an investigation into a melancholy of technology?

On Fri, Apr 3, 2009 at 12:53 PM, Marisa Olson wrote:

Hmm, that's a good question. In my video Black or White, I used the album version of Michael Jackson's song, which has an intro where a kid slams a tape into a deck and yells at his father, "Eat This!" I felt like that's a moment that's lost. We can't slam our MP3's into our ipods! The big thing for me, though, is reconciling my nostalgia for old media with the need to take responsibility for my own commodity fetishism. The work in this show is mostly about the garbage that gets piled up and forgotten each time we upgrade and I want to shine a light on that junk while also thinking about my own involvement in upgrade culture.

On Fri, Apr 3, 2009 at 4:04 PM, David Horvitz wrote:

You may not be able to slam a tape into deck, but looking at it the other way, your dad is not going to be able to come into your room and smash your tape. Imagine him trying to find the file and to make sure it is actually deleted. Can you describe this responsibility you mention? Do you believe it is possible to be responsible while still invested in upgrade culture?

On Fri, Apr 3, 2009 at 4:12 PM, Marisa Olson wrote:

I think that's the question I'm trying to answer for myself. I don't know. My thought right now is that the upgrade cycle is one we all get locked into. No one's making me buy a new ipod, but then again, the US government's legally forcing producers and consumers of TV to upgrade, and they are competing with other countries to do so in a way that I think very interestingly mirrors the space race. I mean, the even bigger question is why we always feel so compelled to invent, buy, reinvent, and toss old models out. Why are so many of our fantasies and fears about the future invested in technology? If I can't save the world from ewaste and solve the problem of upgrade garbage, I at least hope to initiate these conversations in my work.

On Sat, Apr 4, 2009 at 2:15 AM, David Horvitz wrote:

Do you feel that an artwork can be judged in terms of waste? I am thinking about the transformation that occurs with the images in IMG_FAN. Existing online, they are critiqued as ewaste. But what happens when they are transformed into an artwork, such as in the printing of this newspaper? Is the criteria that they are not waste that it can initiate a conversation, and then something can happen from that? Are there aesthetic elements at play here as well, and if so, do you believe aesthetics can legitimize something as not waste?

On Sun, Apr 5, 2009 at 1:05 PM, Marisa Olson wrote:

Wow, well, that's a bunch of questions in one. The IMG_ FAN installation is, in some ways, a real counterweight to the rest of the show. It forms a sort of bridge between pollution a la junk and noise pollution in the sense of info overload. Optical poptitude, maybe. I have trouble with the discourse of aesthetics. I mean, originally they were about a sensory experience (etymologically), but soon they became about the display of "taste" and systems of possession (power) and a form of value that overshadows the sublime. So in a way, I want to resist aesthetic judgments, but then again, I want to be able to point to these images that some people will shrug off as "throwaway" and say that they have aesthetic value insofar as they are beautiful to me. They were all collected (ok, hoarded) by me because I wanted to save them and remember them. In most cases, the internet remembers these things that the rest of us forget, as most of the images come from blog posts and news articles that have a short time in the spotlight.

On Sun, Apr 5, 2009 at 2:07 PM, David Horvitz wrote:

The internet is like one big collective unconsciousness that you can just tap into and swim around in and discover remnants and artifacts. And also, in an artist tradition, you are using it as a source to look at and collect images you are drawn to. In a different artist tradition, you traced images off the monitor, similar to how artists would use optical devices to make paintings and drawings. These are, what you just mentioned, technology's leftover junk. Can you talk about this process, and the images you have chosen to trace?

On Thu, Apr 9, 2009 at 4:00 PM, Marisa Olson wrote:

Yes, that series of drawings is called Monitor Tracings. I do Google Image Searches for old media, pull up the pictures, and trace them directly off the screen of my laptop, onto office paper, using a mechanical pencil. This partly started as a matter of convenience, but I realized I like their connection to uniformity and universal standards for dimensions, etc (which I'm really into with my milk crate and cassette tape sculptures). I do also feel that the monitor (or the net+monitor connection) is the next logical step in the trajectory of assistive optical devices. That realization about the internet remembering things that we forget (and having its own system of organizing those memories) started with the monitor tracings and then informed my understanding of why I've been compelled to work on IMG_FAN. It's that and wanting to do something productive with my surf habit. I think my formal interest in stock photography also comes through in both the Monitor Tracings and IMG_FAN. People once worked really hard on perfecting those images and often spent a lot of money to get them to meet the genre conventions just-so, even if they got licensed on the cheap and are now free, online.

On Fri, Apr 10, 2009 at 4:06 AM, David Horvitz wrote:

Can you talk some more about your milk crate and tape cassette sculptures that you just briefly mentioned? Does your approach to making an artwork change when you create a sculptural object, as opposed to your 2-D work?

On Sat, Apr 11, 2009 at 6:48 PM, Marisa Olson wrote:

I don't know if the two processes are that different for me, because they both revolve around salvaging materials and thinking about how they circulate in the world. In fact, the one-liner I tend to use about both the Time Capsules and Monuments is that I'm rescuing them from a life in a land-fill, taking them out of circulation, and painting them gold to preserve their value, a la the gold bars in Fort Knox. Also, with the videos, I almost always combine digital and analog processes so that on top of the sets I build and objects I make in the taped performances, I end up plugging-in and pulling lots of wires, turning lots of knobs, and really enjoying it as a physical process. Physicality is really important to me; maybe even more so as I work in newer & newer media, where people like to claim there's an absence of indexicality to reality. (Whatevs!) Because of my interest in the cultural history of technology, I'm really interested in, for instance, how plastic was once a new medium that offered so many promises for a brighter future and is now more like a guarantor of global warming. But plastics led to a big uptick in the drive towards uniformity. And that's interesting, too... As much with genre conventions as standardized weights & measures, why is it that we continue being drawn to the same uniform, and often quite predictable forms?

On Sun, Apr 12, 2009 at 1:50 AM, David Horvitz wrote:

You painted the print version of this catalog gold as well. Are you preserving its value?

On Sat, Apr 12, 2009 at 12:07:41 PM, Marisa Olson wrote:

I hope so! :) Except in this case rather than taking things out of circulation, I'm hoping to step-up circulation. My friend Stephen Vitiello, who collaborated a lot with Nam June Paik, told me that Paik always used to say that the most important part of any exhibition was the catalogue. I've always been drawn to that idea. (And its honesty!) The documentation will reach farther and live longer than the show. When I mentioned my mini-obsession with this idea to Gene, we agreed we had to do some kind of catalogue—and preferably one that made some visceral & formal connections to the show. It was my fantasy for you guys to design it, because I love your work, so I'm so glad you said yes!!

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