Essays

Sometimes I get emotional over fonts …

by Tali Wertheimer on September 28, 2010

Screenshot of @kanyewest’s font-loving tweet (via twitter.com/kanyewest) (click to enlarge)

I had 1 1/2 months between my old lease and my current lease. Rather than sublet for the summer, I lived like a vagrant, abusing the hospitality of friends in Manhattan, Long Island City, and Brooklyn. I am an optimist so I took the experience of homelessness as couch-fullness, which is a place where the Internet began to feel like my true home, and consequently I started to take my tumblelog very seriously. I was reading Hrag Vartanian’s personal blog and came across this:

Screenshot of the juxtaposition of Mel Bochner & Ben Eine on HragV.com

While on the surface, letters indexed against a black background lend themselves to comparison, Mel Bochner, a conceptual artist with a tech-heavy process, and Eine, a graffiti artist with a handmade aesthetic, are worlds apart. Which made me think, why the comparison?

Tom Smith gave me tour of Two Palms in SoHo this summer, which is where Mel made “Scoundrel” (2010). “Scoundrel” is a monoprint with engraving and embossing on hand-dyed Twinrocker handmade paper. The artists laser cuts letters into Plexiglas sheets, that are 1/2 inch thick and then injects paint into the mold — up close the paint is thick and gooey like swamplands or a sloppy-joe. It takes 600 tons of pressure to forge the letters to the handmade paper.

Left: Inking the Plate. Right: removing the plate after printing. (Images via Two Palms)

Online, I don’t see the heavy machinery or the empty syringes lying around the studio, I see swirly bubble letters combined into sentences that are NSFW; “son-of-a-bitch, ass-hole,jerk-off,mother-fucker.” The letters look somehow tortured or scratched into à la Lucio Fontana. Mel tilts and turns the handmade paper as it comes out of the machine, creating the tie-dye effect. It resembles graffiti glaze, and I don’t know if that is what Hrag was thinking of in his comparison of Bochner’s “Scoundrel” (2010) with Eine’s “A–Z Vandal Font” (c.2009).

Eine at 4 Geezers Show at Ad Hoc Gallery in Bushwick, Brooklyn, September 2008. (Image via fecalface.com) (click to enlarge)

Eine works with hand made stencils and spray paint. Spray goes away from the body, injections go right down into it.

When I was 20, I wanted black and white velvet damask wallpaper in my bedroom. Since fabric wallpaper is expensive, I ordered damask stencil online and spray painted the wall myself (Disclaimer: you should not use spray paint indoors). The result was pretty bland. It lacked depth. The texture was uniform.

Eine’s hand stenciled block letters look like a hologram. It’s an IMAX alphabet, if you see it in person. Eine achieves this effect by adding a background layer of pastel colors upon which he stencils the letters. He blurs the outer edges of the base color, creating the illusion of motion. While most graffiti is seen by pedestrians on the go, Eine addresses the implicit problem of a stationary gallery audience by pantomiming movement through formal treatment of the canvas. But you would not intuit this based on low resolution scans posted all over the internet, partially because while you move in an art gallery, you do not move when you see it online.

JPGs compress images by grouping broad areas of color and remove detail and contrast. JPEG was created for storage of visual material, but it is being used as a replica for the actual work. More and more people are only seeing artwork via the web, through blogs, museum websites, PDFs of exhibition catalogues, and the JPEG becomes the status quo of the art viewing experience. At what point do we forget about texture? Have we already forgotten?

Finishing School, “FLICKR IS THE NEW MUSEUM” (2008) (posted on Hyperallergic LABS)

If “Flickr Is the New Museum” (2008) what happens to the way we interpret art? Understand art? Live with art? We have the right and the capability to put little JPGs together that seem to make sense to us for whatever reason. Artlog released its Collect platform a few weeks ago that pushes its members (membership is free) to curate their own collection. Collect’s tag-line is “Transforming how art lovers find new artworks, galleries and artists.” It seems to me that the new way art lovers find new works of art is while on their asses staring at a computer screen. Artlog’s goal is to develop a new breed of collectors who get up and see things in person, and use the Collect platform as a place to familiarize and become comfortable with the idea of collecting. It’s a genius idea but it potentially breeds a generation of art enthusiasts who never leave the house! Online curating is great but I can’t stop thinking about the downside.

When I was a tween I had a ritual around buying and listening to my CD’s. Post-purchase, I would come straight home, dash to my bedroom, lie on my belly with my legs kicked up at the knees on my purple carpet. Next step: insert CD into CD player. I would read along to the songs using the lyric book. I would play the CD twice straight through in this exact way. Music was tactile. I felt the carpet, I held the liner notes. It was a 3-D experience. I don’t even listen to albums anymore, I shuffle songs based on the alphabet, while walking or taking the subway. I make a playlist, I decide what songs are grouped together and in what sequence, not the artist. Which means essentially that I am not learning anything new about myself when I listen to a song, I choose the music to go with how I want to feel. The album existed as a package, an event, even an opening so to speak! Now, with further compressed songs (similar to JPGs) and iTunes singles, the music is divorced from the artist, more an afterthought than an art production. And my understanding of a song is less involved, existing in like/dislike binaries rather than meaningful interrogation.

Art and the internet. I can’t get up close, I can’t walk around it, but I think I am experiencing art. I am not. When I put things together on the internet I am not learning about the individual artists process, method, materials, how she/he used abstract thinking to resolve problems. Art can be a great method of learning how to problem solve. Even Renaissance murals are not without conflict. The rich reds of woman’s robes, the luminescence of the halo surrounding the head of Jesus only pronounce the violence of crucifixion scene.

When I studied Renaissance painting, I moved to Florence and learned to make Renaissance and Medieval pictures with a renaissance-style painter. In the mornings I walked around the Duomo and the Academy and in the afternoon I would mix together my own egg tempera and tried to replicate what I had seen. Knowing how difficult egg tempera is to work with, I understand how the technical conflict is replicated into the narrative content of those paintings. I became a broader person learning this art form. I learned how struggle breads beauty. That’s the point of art appreciation — to grow as a person, not to use artworks to highlight aspects of your personality (or your perception of  yourself).

You don’t need to move to Florence to get hands-on experience with art, but you do need to leave the house. So why is formalism not apart of Contemporary art writing?

To quote Kanye:

If I talk about God my records won’t get played.

… and my interpretation:

If I talk about formalism my post won’t get reblogged!

Just like artists should not expend their creative energy worrying about how their work will appear on the internet, writers should be mindful that although they saw the work in person, the readers may not have.

When I curate a collection of images I like online, I am reaffirming how I already feel about the world, and am not open to a new point of view. When I go on Artlog and look at someone’s “collection,” I am not learning about art, but about the person who put the collection together. My concern with online curating and art blogs (and I participate in both activities) is that our relationship with art will become as self absorbed as our Facebook profiles — a place where you tell the world about who you are, rather than learn about what the world is.

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  • this sounds familiar

    The situations into which the product of mechanical reproduction can be brought may not touch the actual work of art, yet the quality of its presence is always depreciated. This holds not only for the art work but also, for instance, for a landscape which passes in review before the spectator in a movie. In the case of the art object, a most sensitive nucleus – namely, its authenticity – is interfered with whereas no natural object is vulnerable on that score. The authenticity of a thing is the essence of all that is transmissible from its beginning, ranging from its substantive duration to its testimony to the history which it has experienced. Since the historical testimony rests on the authenticity, the former, too, is jeopardized by reproduction when substantive duration ceases to matter. And what is really jeopardized when the historical testimony is affected is the authority of the object.

    One might subsume the eliminated element in the term “aura” and go on to say: that which withers in the age of mechanical reproduction is the aura of the work of art. This is a symptomatic process whose significance points beyond the realm of art. One might generalize by saying: the technique of reproduction detaches the reproduced object from the domain of tradition. By making many reproductions it substitutes a plurality of copies for a unique existence. And in permitting the reproduction to meet the beholder or listener in his own particular situation, it reactivates the object reproduced. These two processes lead to a tremendous shattering of tradition which is the obverse of the contemporary crisis and renewal of mankind. Both processes are intimately connected with the contemporary mass movements.

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