Carpenter St. Branch
The Storefront at 186 Carpenter St., Providence
March 3 - April 29, 2012
Organized in conjunction with Nick Ferreira, Jori Ketten and Andrew Oesch
Carpenter St. Branch consisted of approximately 50 books sourced from thrift stores, used bookstores, and antique shops in Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts. In addition to these books, the branch also featured two exhibitions of visual art - Living With Data and Mining the Collection, as well as a series of programs and talks. A scanning station was available for visitor use. Participating artists included Jay Zehnebot, Emmy Bright, Landfill Magazine, Buck Hastings, Nick Carter, and Daniela Ben-Bassat.
Living With Data
3 - 25 March
The most important part of understanding data is identifying the question that you want to answer... You collected data because you want to know something about it. If you don't really know why you're collecting it, you're just hoarding it. It's easy to say things like, "I want to know what's in it," or "I want to know what it means." Sure, but what's meaningful?
- Ben Fry, Visualizing Data
Data is everywhere. It is increasingly in our pockets, on our keychains, woven into our clothing. This is not your mama's data. It's tiny. It's voluminous. It's unstoppable. Its analysis is increasingly implicated in corporate productivity, governmental affairs, community development, interpersonal relationships. In the ways we make sense of our lives.
A February 2012 New York Times article, The Age of Big Data, calls this era the "modern equivalent of [the invention of] the microscope," a truly game-changing advance in technology that revolutionized data measurement and analysis. The data collected today, via Twitter streams and Google searches, through smartphones and sensors, is a lens unto the minute particulars of our modern behaviors and sentiments, all in real time.
Such extensive data provides rich fodder for generating narratives, an ancient and natural practice at the core of humanity. We have so much information to choose from, and though we are morally compelleds to seek out the "true story" in analyzing the "scientific data," is this really possible? Just as all of our A, C, T, and G DNA molecules are differently arranged to tell a unique tale, so does everyone interpret "facts" somewhat (if not radically) differently. No two stories are the same, and despite attempts to reign in and control data, there will always be variation in our analysis.
And to echo the words of designer and intellectual Ben Fry, as we formulate these stories, how do we decide what is meaningful? The four works presented in this exhibition do not decide for the viewer but rather formulate their own questions about value and meaning through various forms of sorting, preserving, and presenting data. They target ephemeral and undervalued data streams. They take on traditional formats such as the book and the newspaper, forms which have been declared dead. Also represented is the format which is responsible for this death, and a radical shift in possibility of utilizing data therein as ethereal digital memory.
But more important than the form of the original content, these works ponder the ways in which individuals forge a role in reading this content. The Reanimation Library re-affirms a cultural commons for gathering in order to re-purpose ideas, putting the audience into the role of maker and author. Emmy Bright's Questions organizes fleeting thoughts from conversations, and both the sheer density of content and the structure of the diagram put the viewer into the role of researcher, charged with making sense of connections and contemplating personal responses to questions on the diagram. S.P.A.C.E. and Landfill's Undead Documents engage in writing out the past and the future through their propositional and documentarian collections. In Landfill Quarterly's own words, the work "aims to create a second venue for past and current projects, to make use of their surplus materials, and to build a cumulative history of social engagement in art."
As we continue to live with more and more data, we necessarily construct new meanings from it. We hope you inhabit and explore the structures put forward by these works, and enjoy the opportunities to play with parsing the layers of data they re-present.
Andrew Oesch and Jori Ketten
Providence, RI, February 2012
Mining the Collection: Navigating & Utilizing the Library Landscape
31 March - 20 April
Inspiration for creation is as seemingly open-ended as the practice of art itself: There are no hard and fast rules. While one artist may scour art monographs, another may be trolling microfilm at the local public library. And, with the ubiquitousness of the internet, others may solely rely on Google images or video services like YouTube. Outside of the library and digital landscape there are curiosities to be found washed up on the shore, and various discarded treasures littering the sidewalk. These fragments function a variety of ways in the process of making.
The Reanimation Library is another landscape to be searched for inspiration. As a resource, it proposes a re-valuing of books, switching their usage from a carrier of text to an archive of visual content. When published, these books had a target audience, and beyond that scope some wouldn't be considered particularly inspiring or useful. In the context of the Reanimation Library, however, the books take on a new sense of usefulness, sometimes for the same reason that they are not useful. For example, Instant Horsepower: a Complete Guide to Installing and Using Nitrous Oxide Systems, is far removed from most people's daily lives, but it is this self-involved dislocated quality that makes the book compelling. Basic Television is a bit dated, and quite possibly irrelevant in 2012, but contains images that are undeniably beautiful for their dated diagrammatic characteristics. These books collected together present a wealthy ground in which to dig.
The artists involved with this exhibition had a month to use the collection as inspiration for creating new work. How to use derivative materials in the collection was up to them. The invitation was to seek out fragments that were resonate and find possible connections between them. Daniella Ben-Bassat's work takes the form of a stack of DVD-Rs, a DVD player, and a TV. The moving images found on the discs are culled from internet TV sites, such as Hulu.com, and create a sort of reverse bootlegging process. The viewer is invited to select from DVDs provided by the artist. This participatory sculpture not only questions what the definitions of analog and digital actually are in 2012, but asks the question, "Just how far will you go to create an analog product?" Buck Hasting's work draws directly on the beauty of the images from the library. In the layering of paper and marks, an abstract and mysterious space opens up for pondering pictorial origins and purposes.
Despite the Library's charter to preserve and re-circulate books for their image content, the text remains irresistible. Nick Carter's video For the Benefit of a Partner distorts and amplifies bits of text pages into layered video tunnels and relates image to text in a pushing and pulling of meanings between the various clips. The phrase "Playing for Your Partner" and image of badminton players matches phrase and image in an expected relationship, but interspersed amongst the various diagrams and distortions this pairing un-couples and opens up to other possible connections. Emmy Bright's work similarly explores the partnering of text and image by creating topographies of relative meanings. Distilling from many sources across the library, Bright explored different strategies of layering, dislocation, and juxtaposition that simultaneously partner the fragments in concise structures and leave them open to permutative understandings.
Regardless of methodology or focus, the works in this exhibition are examples of how artists build upon points of inspiration.
Nick Ferreira and Andrew Oesch
Providence, RI, March 2012
Carpenter St. Branch was made possible by a generous grant from the
Rhode Island Council for the Humanities.