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Using Artist Statement Generators to Make Art

Michael Covello, "Smithereens" (2014), acrylic, charcoal, and spray paint on canvas, 26 x 27 in
Michael Covello, “Smithereens” (2014), acrylic, charcoal, and spray paint on canvas, 26 x 27 in

Early last year, I wrote a blog post about the best artist statement generator I’ve seen, which lets you plug in biographical information as well as the media and themes of your work before it whips up an appropriately grandiloquent text for you. A commenter on that post, writer and curator Danny Olda, responded by suggesting that it might be interesting to generate artwork based on the statement rather than the other, more traditional way around.

I loved the idea then, and I love it even more now that Olda’s brought it to fruition, commissioning six artists to make work based on texts produced by various artist statement generators. The exhibition, Machine in the Ghost, is on view at Kirk Ke Wang Art Space in Tampa, Florida, through tomorrow.

For the show, Olda gave six artists — Nathalie Chikhi, Michael Covello, Shawn Pettersen, Selina Roman, Eileen Isagon Skyers, and Mikaela Raquel Williams — six differently preposterous statements, all based on random topics and generated using online tools. They then had a little under three months to create new work in response to the texts.

Michael Covello's statement, to go with  his painting shown at the top of this post
Michael Covello’s full statement, to go with his painting shown at the top of this post (click to enlarge)

It might seem like a doomed endeavor to attempt to make decent, coherent artwork based on verbal nonsense, but, judging by the selections Olda sent me, the Machine in the Ghost artists pull it off unbelievably well. The last paragraph in Michael Covello’s statement, for instance, says this:

His works are given improper functions: significations are inversed and form and content merge. Shapes are dissociated from their original meaning, by which the system in which they normally function is exposed. Initially unambiguous meanings are shattered and disseminate endlessly.

And Covello manages to give that over-the-top language poignant form in his painting of fractured squares awash in thick brushstrokes and thin bolts of color.

Selina Roman, meanwhile, got this:

Ever since I was a pre-adolescent I have been fas- cinated by the traditional understanding of relationships. What starts out as vision soon becomes corroded into a tragedy of power, leaving only a sense of what could have been and the possibility of a new understanding.

Which she turned into a photo album/scrapbook filled with some personal but mostly found photographs of people from immigrant communities getting married. “She seems to imagine the viewer inhabiting the role of the immigration official and judging the validity of each relationship in the photograph,” Olda told Hyperallergic.

Residing at the other end of the spectrum of responses is Shawn Pettersen, who took this conceptual task and further conceptualized it. Pettersen conducted a Google Image search of every word in his statement and overlaid the top results to create a ghostly digital print. He then took it one step further and set the price for the piece using an online Art Price Calculator.

“I was pleasantly surprised by how meaningful the work is. I realize these generators aren’t entirely serious, and some of the statements I asked the artists to work with were honesty mostly nonsense,” Olda wrote over email, continuing:

Still, the artists created rich work, some of it even intensely personal. I was surprised by that dynamic and a sort of contradicting feeling. On the one hand, it’s troubling that artist statements are so convincingly imitated by these programs. On the other, it’s reassuring that the artists still created good meaningful work using these fake statements. I think it says something about the complex relationship between the artist and the way they explain the work to others and even themselves.

Does the success of Olda’s experiment mean we shouldn’t be too worried about artists’ statements being overblown, so long as the work is good? Or does it indicate the possibility for a more meaningful connection between art and text, if done right? I’m not sure. Take a look at some of the pairs from the show below.

Eileen Isagon Skyers's statement
Eileen Isagon Skyers’s statement
Eileen Isagon Skyers, still from "Ninety-nine percent of who you are" (2014), digital video and digital print on fabric
Eileen Isagon Skyers, still from “Ninety-nine percent of who you are” (2014), digital video and digital print on fabric
Shawn Pettersen's statement
Shawn Pettersen’s statement
Shawn Pettersen, detail of "max_res_default.png" (2014), digital print mounted to birch plywood, 41 x 42.5 in (photo by Daniel Veintimilla)
Shawn Pettersen, detail of “max_res_default.png” (2014), digital print mounted to birch plywood, 41 x 42.5 in (photo by Daniel Veintimilla)
Selina Roman's statement
Selina Roman’s statement
Selina Roman, detail of "In Love and Papers" (2014),  mixed media
Selina Roman, detail of “In Love and Papers” (2014), mixed media

Machine in the Ghost continues through tomorrow at Kirk Ke Wang Art Space (5120 N Florida Ave, Tampa, Florida). There will be a closing reception at 7pm.

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