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"Going further afield"

"Going further afield"

Shu Lea Cheang and Mark Amerika are both critically acclaimed, 'net native' artists, who have grown up with the creative evolution of the web – yet they possess very different styles. The two are bringing their diverse, multi-media work – encompassing weird and wonderful storylines from the collection of human orgasm data to “glitch aesthetic” stand-up comedy – together for an exhibition opening tomorrow at Furtherfield gallery, Finsbury Park.


Amerika, from the States, is a media artist, novelist, and theorist of Internet and remix culture, and a "Time Magazine 100 Innovator".

Cheang, who divides her time between France and the US, is a multimedia artist working with net-based installation, social interface and film production. BRANDON, a late '90s project exploring issues of gender fusion and techno-body, was the first web-based artwork to ever be commissioned by the Guggenheim Museum (NY).

We presented the artists with a series of questions in an attempt to delve a little further into their complex, digital psyches...
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                                                                             U.K.I. viral love (2009 - ongoing) - Shu Lea Cheang
An imposing installation filling two large walls, top to bottom, featuring stills from two performance installations. UKI viral love is the sequel to Cheang's cyberpunk movie I.K.U., which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2000. Conceived in two parts as a viral performance and a viral game, the story is about coders dispatched by an Internet porn enterprise to collect human orgasm data for mobile phone plug-ins and consumption. In a post-net crash era they become data deprived and these coders are suddenly dumped into an e-trashscape environment where they are forced to scavenge from techno-waste.

Why the fascination with digital?

MK: It's probably less a fascination than a realisation – a realisation for me, anyway, in the late ’80s and early ’90s, that digital and network communications systems were going to disrupt all aspects of culture, including art. Now it's all going mobile.

SLC: Along the path of imaging/sounding technical development, digital is yet another medium and a technology in process. The medium of digital calls for an artistic practice – cut, paste, copy, distort, delete, recycle, reformat, that refreshes a fixed mind-set of the stand alone artist.

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Lake Como Remix, MOGA (2012) by Mark Amerika
From the
Museum of Glitch Aesthetics - MOGA (2012), featuring the work of The Artist 2.0, an online persona whose personal mythology and body of digital artworks are rapidly being canonized into the annals of art history. MOGA features a wide array of artworks intentionally corrupted by technological processes, including net art, digital video art, digitally manipulated still images, game design, stand-up comedy, sound art, and electronic literature.

You appear to have a creative foot in both art worlds: underground (maintaining a critical edge) and also mainstream. How do you find it, straddling the two?

MK: I've been lucky in that my underground or slipstream practice as an artist, theorist and novelist has really found its own distributed audience of like-minded freaks but has also, on occasion, made its way into the mainstream culture as well. One of the cool things about pivoting my moves within an avant-pop context, is that I get to influence both worlds and, on occasion, find ways to disrupt them both with each other. Perhaps that's the mark of a 21st-century artist.

SLC: By shuffling between the two/multiple worlds (or genders, genres), I am swimming upstream and downstream. I maintain my hacker mentality – infiltration, squat, homestead, hack, when installed in the institutions. The underground is nourishing if granted the rich soil.

The exhibition has been described as "a physical interface in a local setting in the heart of a North London park." How does the "physical" come into play?

MK: My work gets manifested in a lot of different formats: web, mobile phone, cinema house, museum, gallery, performance art space, classroom. So for me, the physical interface at Furtherfield is really quite special because they are focused on sharing an art experience at the interface of aesthetics, technology and social issues. This means I can take my work that was originally configured for the Internet, and remix it for the physical gallery in Finsbury Park, and this then allows us to start thinking more about the way we can play with the field of distribution. This is important, because as Broodthaers once said, "all artistic activity occurs, first of all, in the field of distribution." Now we're going further afield.

SLC: Oh, I dont know. By physical, it could mean that my gallery installation demands touch and reading. The seeds underground party we are holding in the park (the exhibition's opening event) is a face to face social gathering for seeds exchange. This is quite physical.

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Composting The Net (2012) - Shu Lea Cheang
Composting the Net sources Internet net cultures’ accumulated data. It appropriates open (un)moderated mailing list communities, used for collaboration, sharing information and dialogue, and reprocesses the information into a virtual compost. It is also a celebration of the independent spirit of net culture that exists outside of corporate dominated Web 2.0 platforms like Facebook.

For those unfamiliar with your work, how would you describe it?

MK: Playful, in love with language, fascinated with the unexpected beauty of glitch aesthetics.

SLC: I am an artist, conceptualist, filmmaker, networker, I construct networked installation and multi-player performance in participatory impromptu mode. I write sci-fi narratives in my film scenarios and artwork imagination.

When you think of a pivotal or key moment in your career, what comes to mind?

MK: In my trajectory as a conceptual artist, it was definitely getting GRAMMATRON selected for the Whitney Biennial.

SLC: I cannot really single out one moment. There are, rather, many pivotal turns and twists. While setting out to make cinema, I joined media activist collectives (Paper Tiger TV, Deep Dish TV) in the ’80s, in New York City. I skipped the gallery route and had my first one-person gallery show at the Whitney Museum of American Art. I ventured into cyberspace and was commissioned in the ’90s by the Guggenheim Museum – its first showing of web art. I relocated to Europe by 2000, the borders collapsed. I delved into the future, the past returned.

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Bit Heaven (London-Soho 3) - Mark Amerika

What was the hardest moment when you were creating these works?

MK: Finding the right measure. By measure, I mean rhythm and movement. With Lake Como Remix, it was all about choreographing a very glitchy stroll through the streets of Lake Como, Italy. And then the soundtrack had to create a mood that would also figure into the way the piece was orchestrated, so that it would transport you, the viewer, into another state of mind. With my album-length audio work, "The Comedy of Errors," included in the show, a different measure evolved, one that we associate with the stand-up comic. Except in this case, the speaker is only acting like a comic and is really more of a social commentator and his voice, as well as the sounds from the audience, are totally manipulated for aesthetic effect. Glitch aesthetic effect.

SLC: In general, my worst moments when creating works are the opening and the morning after.

What was the best moment?

MK: It's always best when you're literally making the work. If everything is clicking, this is when your unconscious creative potential starts triggering a language you never knew you were capable of producing. At a certain point, the work starts taking on a life of its own and all you have to do is channel and auto-remix the source material.

SLC: The process of conceptualizing and scripting which anticipates the production and realisation.

Shu Lea Cheang and Mark Amerika at Furtherfield opens tomorrow, 31 August, at Furtherfield gallery, McKenzie Pavilion, Finsbury Park. It runs until 20 October. Coinciding with the exhibition, on Monday 2 September, The White Building is hosting a talk (Art, Queer Technologies and Social Interference) with Shu Lea Cheang who will be tracing some of her significant works in conversation with curator and writer Omar Kholeif.

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