The PRO ARTE Foundation, Peter and Paul Fortress, St. Petersburg
From 3 to 11 June 2021, Peter and Paul Fortress hosted the FLY ROUND exhibition of Alina Kugush, a member of the School for Young Artists of the PRO ARTE Foundation.
Alina has prepared an exhibition-route, where the trajectory of movement is set by the author, but allows for various deviations. In the process of transformation of a moth from a larva into a butterfly, the body goes through its life cycle, reborn from physical to digital and moving from one media to another. In the reality show, which the artist invites us to watch, iconographic grains-associations from films, paintings, books, philosophy and mass culture are collected — as in the two previous exhibitions of the School participants, the viewer is invited to plunge into the process of guessing and deciphering these secret images.
Alina Kugush works with graphics, objects and performance art. Participant of the School of Active Drawing and Performative Posing SHARPPS-7 of the “North 7” group, group exhibitions and interdisciplinary projects in St. Petersburg, Moscow, Bishkek. She studied at the Faculty of Fine Arts of the Russian State Pedagogical University (2012-2014) and at the Faculty of Graphics of the St. Petersburg State Academic Institute of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture — Art Academy (2014-2018). Participant of the PRO ARTE Foundation’s School for Young Artists 2020-21. Lives and works in St. Petersburg.
In 2020, the CYLAND MediaArtLab became a partner of the PRO ARTE School for Young Artists. Specially for its participants, our curators and artists developed and held 2 education courses, and conducted a series of master classes and project reviews.
Watch an interview with artist Kurt Hentschläger, filmed by Alexandra Dementieva specifically for CYLAND MediaArtLab.
Starting on the 25th of March and running until the 23th of May 2021, iMAL presents SUB, the latest installation in a series of 4 spatial environments created by Austrian artist Kurt Hentschläger. Set in complete darkness, SUB is an immersive and meditative environment conceived to tingle your senses by skippering between depriving and overloading them. iMAL is bringing the work to Brussels for its European première.
SUB induces a simple yet dramatic perceptual shift: Embarking into pitch black, with the work’s gestalt both initially unsettling and then increasingly hypnotic, you are invited to drift off into an ambiguous state of sensory deprivation and overload. The predominant absence of light in SUB is contrasted, in intervals, by bright bursts of animated abstract forms and patterns. Returning back into darkness, ghostly retinal after-images linger, slowly fading until the next eruption of light. Experiencing SUB makes time and space for a meditative break, a moment of minimized visual sensing without the noise and distraction emitted by a hyper-mediated world.
New York based Austrian artist Kurt Hentschläger creates media installations and performances for both physical and virtual spaces.
Hentschläger’s works have characteristically been visceral and immersive, as in ZEE, FEED & more recently in SOL, SUB and EKO, and are known for their perceptual effects. They challenge an audience psychologically but also offer a meditative respite from the day-to-day stress of technologically accelerated life. His representational body of work, including MEASURE and ORT, suggests a semi-synthetic nature that serves as a metaphor for our life in the Anthropocene.
Selected presentations include the Venice Biennial, the Venice Theater Biennial, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, PS1 New York, MAC – Musée d’Art Contemporain Montreal, MAK – Museum of Applied Arts Vienna, National Art, ZKM – Center for Art and Media, Karlsruhe, Museum of China Beijing, National Museum for Contemporary Art Seoul, ICC Tokyo, Arte Alameda Mexico City, MONA – Museum of Old and New Art, Hobart, Tasmania, Sharjah Art, UAE and the Power Station of Art, Shanghai.
In place of anepigraph, please readthedescriptionoftheKukuanas’internecinebattlefromChapter14“TheLastStandoftheGrays”inSirH.RiderHaggard’snovel “King Solomon’s Mines” which depicts the battlefield asatriangle and provides tedious calculations of theproportions of opposing forces.
The purpose of this essay may not seem entirely relevant to the preservation of media art, as it discusses issues that relate more to museum curators facing the digitalization of museums more than to works of art themselves. However, the range of problems that scholars face in creating databases of museum collections may be common to both researchers of antiquities and researchers of new media art. The work of creating digital reproductions of artworks and digitizing knowledge about them has become an important part of the museum curator’s routine. I’d like to start the conversation about how the way of describing artworks can be changed by digital technologies.
Art was contrasted with life when it was considered a way of representing life. Works of art capture life by means that have a material basis. With advances in technology, this material base has become increasingly complex and has lost obvious links with nature, yet it remains no less material. In the 20th century, cinema, radio and television, and then digital technology, gradually stripped artistic works of the obvious material foundation. This left us with just one medium attesting to the materiality of the artwork transmitted – the screen by which it is displayed.
Information is a concept that forms the culture of the digital age. The meaning of “information” is debated. Nevertheless, it is generally accepted that information is an intangible phenomenon. It is also clear that information is the product of human consciousness, which itself exists within the framework of the human mind. And the mind, in turn, has a material nature. Human consciousness is a phenomenon that synthesizes intangible information and its material source. For information to be transmitted, it must take some form of presentation, i.e. become data. The data is extracted from sources of information by analytical operations and discrete, although the information itself is a synthesis (interpretation, meaning) of the data. The data itself, because it has to be presented, takes the form of signs which are also “material entities”.
The art of the past is the most important source of information about the culture of humanity. Furthermore, it is a source in which the information is analogous (synthetic) in nature and requires certain analytical operations in order to be presented as data that is always discrete. We should remember that data does not contain information per se and must be interpreted (synthesized) to present it. Digital information-processing tools successfully simulate synthesis by manipulating numerical data streams and computational processes, bringing to interfaces something that we can directly perceive, which we consider to be information.
Historical works of art preserve the memory of artistic practices and processes of different eras in different parts of the world, and are also become items of interest for modern viewers, while some of them become sources of inspiration and ideas for contemporary artistic practices. Museum researchers are responsible for extracting information from historical works of art. Thanks to them, the quantity of reliable information is growing year by year, and becomes material for museum catalogs and academic monographs. The publishing and educational departments of museums are responsible for promoting public interest in the works of the art of the past. The work of museum researchers (or curators) and museum educators has been greatly influenced by the ever-increasing availability of digital museum databases since the 1960s.
What distinguishes these databases from traditional inventory books, files, catalogs, and directories — the tools that art historians have used throughout modern history? How has the digitalization of data changed the work of art historians?
The extraction and interpretation of information from artifacts and the cultural context surrounding them is the humanitarian aspect of the historian’s profession, which is difficult to discard. Balancing the need for analytical operations with the desire for synthetic knowledge of culture and art, art historians use analytical tools to reach conclusions of varying degrees of generalization and credibility. So far, an important part of the profession has been a mastery of rhetoric, supported only where necessary by logic. Even the works of structuralists owe their credibility above all to the rhetorical skill of the authors, and only secondarily to their mastery of logic.
The analytical tools previously mentioned (inventory book, file book, catalog, or directory), which divide all the necessary information into user-friendly parts, are still the preferred tools for an art historian who directly studies artwork. These tools are organic to the information environment in which an artwork exists in a museum exhibition or collection. They allow the historian to focus on the object of study, and set an appropriate pace for working with the information, similar to close reading. Reflections, writing explications, physical measurements and verification of the state of the storage facility, presentation of archival research results at conferences and much more — all this work creates a sense of harmony between works of art (with all their contexts) and research.
Information technology has in some respects facilitated our work. For example, instead of spending time searching for a record about the source in file cabinets or inventory books, and then getting permission to access it physically, we can find what we need in a database within minutes, and sometimes also the digital reproduction of the item. But as we know, for this luxury of instantaneous information (which is probably reliable) to be possible, someone must have access to the source of the information (items) and obtain it; present it in a certain language and check its veracity; place it in the context of the information already available (scientific, expert, sociocultural, historical); appreciate it (if we are always dealing with information- interpretation); then carry out analytical operations to present it as is acceptable for computer processing. We should not forget that the amount of this information is constantly increasing as it passes through the circles described above (and not all of them were mentioned) and be able to update it as often as possible. Information technologies have indeed accelerated these processes, which have increased the amount of total human labor devoted to the production of reliable information, but have also reduced its value.
As I wrote above, the properties of the information contained in the historical works of art are also its relation to (cultural) memory and its ability to interest modern audience. If the value of information itself decreases, the value of these properties may also decrease. In addition, we may assume that as the amount of art historians’ labor increases, so their labor organization changes, subdivided into smaller areas and tasks, algorithmized, planned and evaluated in quantitative terms, and ultimately alienated from working researchers according to the most commonplace laws of Marxism. There may be a situation where more staff will be required to build digital databases more effectively or to publish large quantities of digital data on museum Internet resources. Their task will be to fill in standard forms and to write impersonal interpretive texts in accordance with strict methodological requirements.
The tendency for the humanities to converge with the exact sciences increased throughout the second half of the 20th century. The need to apply scientific methods to the study of history and different theories of art has been persistently defended by semioticians, as semiotics takes a highly formalized approach. The demands for greater formalization of the humanities are only increasing as computer science offers increasingly complex and diverse ways of collecting, analyzing and evaluating data. But because all of these techniques are only suitable for computing, we can get more accurate results as we can extract simple and quantitative data from our sources. The loss of meaning in the translation of information into simple data and the automation of its processing is the main obstacle to the large-scale introduction of information technologies into the science of culture, a process which is increasingly unappreciated.
We know that science improves technology and production methods. The belief that computer science can infinitely improve its analytical tools has led many scientists to apply these tools to data that is ill-suited for this. The lack of confidence in the results of such studies calls for more “clean” data. This “clean” data does not always fully represent the objects of research. Methodological errors in conclusions related to the objects of research are most often caused by the identification of the objects themselves and their data. On the one hand, it’s common to confuse works of art with digital reproductions of them. On the other hand, works of art as objects of study are always systems of “very big” complexity, and the subject of research in the processing of big data is not the human but the computer. So the automation of art research on big data does not guarantee that 1) the results obtained will reflect the relationship between data sources correctly; 2) the conclusions drawn from them will in fact refer to the sources rather than to limited attributes that have been translated into digital data. Moreover, since research deals with objects of “very big” complexity that make sense not only by considering the formal relationships within themselves, but above all their relationships with an infinite variety of contexts, even works which are created in a digital environment require significant human involvement in the production of data to study them. Owing to all these circumstances, we cannot assume that we can increase the integrity of the research solely through the introduction of methods of exact sciences in analysis and evaluation of the data contained in art databases. And the relationship of the results of such research to the objects — sources of information (works of art) — requires very complex additional evidence.
There is heuristic potential in science: among other problems it solves, one that is romanticized more than others is the invention of things that never existed before. Dealing with research based on digital reproductions or art statistics, we can gain meanings that our sources do not contain, just as easily as we can make mistakes in generalizations based on empirical research of artworks. By applying big data in research, we get a history of art and culture where the cognitive value of individual artworks increases as their commonality increases with a large sample of similar works. The representativeness of an artwork under this approach, its ability to stand in line with as many other artworks as possible on a simple basis, is increasingly valued, and the unique features of individual things are lost in observational error.
At the beginning of this article, I mentioned the widespread contrasting of art and life. This dichotomy allowed scholars of the past, in particular Yuri Lotman, to speculate on art as a model of reality. Now scientific and technological methods allow the digital environment to model the works of art themselves. So, the dichotomy has changed: a work of art, while remaining a model of reality and being part of it at the same time, can now be contrasted with the digital information model of itself.
TheKingdom of Engineering
Extracting data from historical works of art is like extracting minerals from the ground. Data, as a resource that makes up information, gains a definite cost in terms of how much human or technical effort it takes to get it. The applied value of humanities can be seen as the invention of new information based on processing obtained information. Research and the creation of works of art can also be seen in this context. Museums of fine arts can now be presented as deposits and enterprises providing reliable information about art and culture. I said earlier that perhaps the cost of such a resource is falling, but the cost of creating it is also increasing. Inevitably, in order to increase the benefits of information, museums seek to become information centers, effectively and increasingly developing their “unique” deposits. I cannot imagine the crisis to which the “overproduction” of this resource could lead, but I can point out what exactly effects the intensification of this process. These are information technologies and databases that have the capacity not only to provide data but also to be material for the production of new data.
The skills acquired by specialists in the humanities (art scholars working in museums) are increasingly being used to extract data literally by hand.
But the data itself can now be useful only if you can work with it in large quantities, which are incommensurate with the study of a single item. What kind of specialists can do this? Naturally, information technology engineers. It is possible that in the coming years, the most important task for art historians will be to acquire expertise in engineering. This is all the more important as digital humanities have become increasingly important. Many art studies are initiated by scientists specializing in computer science, and their results do not satisfy scholars relying on methods developed in the humanities. But more and more of these studies are being carried out, and the possibilities to carry them out are being expanded by art historians themselves.
Now is the time to quote the title of Vladimir Lenin’s article, “The Crisis Has Matured”. The essence of my revolutionary appeal is that it is high time for art historians to adopt the methods used by engineers. Firstly, it can be very useful for art history if important studies have turned towards working with databases. Secondly, it will help to take the process of creating databases into our competent hands: art historians know how to handle our material best. Thirdly, it will help to take into account the requirements of museum curators to organize their own work in filling museum databases.
Nowadays, it is hard to define clearly what a contemporary art museum or archive is. Their function has changed: museums not only preserve masterpieces of art, but also ephemera (booklets, postcards, leaflets, etc.) which have no particular value; artwork archives are no longer interested in physical objects of art, but rather creative concepts and ideas, personal documents and interviews. In our age of digital and media art, even an artist is not exclusively an artist who delivers artworks to the art market, but also a keeper of his or her own works. In fact, he or she performs the tasks that a museum was supposed to perform – to gather, preserve, and exhibit artistic objects.
One might say that self-archiving is not a fundamentally new practice, since authors always have been interested in preserving their work (just think about self-publishing or samizdat in Russia!). However, self-archiving is taking on new forms today, which not only involves gathering and keeping, but also making extensive use of cultural items and working closely with more prominent and authoritative organizations, which was not the case before.
One of the main reasons for the development of self-archiving is that traditional museums and archives are not sure how to work with new types of art and materials anymore: how can an artwork be preserved without transforming its meaning, but at the same time keep it innovative and relevant to the audience? Is it possible to reconstruct and represent the artwork and not destroy the concept of authorship itself? Personal archives minimize these problems, but if so, who is an artist or, more broadly, an author today? What are the relationships between a museum and an author? What role do personal archives play for a media artist? To answer these questions, I will examine and discuss three personal artwork archives: the John Latham Archive, Irina Aktuganova and Sergey Busov Archive, and Gubanova&Govorkov Archive. They differ by the principles of collecting and archiving cultural items. The John Latham Archive is an example of creative archiving. It does not contain artworks, but mainly documents related to Latham’s work and personal life. The Irina Aktuganova and Sergey Busov Archive collects various documentation that could be useful for scientific purposes: journal articles, event posters, leaflets, and so on. In this sense, this is a classical archive. Finally, the Gubanova&Govorkov Archive includes both artworks and their critical conceptualization, without paying much attention to additional materials. But before discussing these archives, let’s consider what value self-archiving has for both the author and society.
The benefits of self-archiving
The simplest and most obvious value of a personal archive is that it keeps artworks safe. Of course, it is possible to use social media, websites, or hard and external drives; but because they are constantly updated and often crash, they are not a reliable tool. Personal archives are more secure, and data can quickly be recovered.
Katie Carey’s experience is quite illustrative here: she had a long process of recovering her works from a hard drive which “got immediately fried” when she “plugged it into an outlet of an old Victorian house while on vacation.” She says, “I always assumed that I would be making work indefinitely and would be capable of making similar work if I wanted to recreate an unphotographed work. It’s all too easy to assume that the gallery sites that host photographs of installations of my work would still be around if sometime down the line I wanted to use them for my own portfolio. Instagram and other social media platforms give you a false sense of security that they will always be there to pull images from in the future. With my website on auto-pilot, I fell into a comfortable naivety that the internet is a permanent place of archival information. However, that’s far from the truth.”
Since personal archives include the author’s materials such as opinions, views, commentaries on work and daily life, etc., they establish direct and intimate interaction between the author and the audience, which allows the proper organization of the archive without any misunderstandings about the content. Thanks to these archives, the whole personality of the artist is revealed, so that his or her works can be more objectively presented and interpreted.
In this sense, Catherine Hobbs argues, “Personal archives reflect not only what a person does or thinks, but who they are, how they envision and experience their lives.”
Finally, personal archives have historical and cultural value: they can tell us something important not only about the artist and his or her circle, but the record-keeping system itself, art and cultural studies, and the history of the museum and gallery.
Challenges and difficulties
Of course, working with personal archives has its own difficulties, too. First of all, there is the problem of searching for resources. This may concern both financial budget and technical supply, things that authors do not need to worry about if they work with corporate or governmental (generally formalized) archiving organizations. So, in this sense, authors’ possibilities are limited. Second of all, if we look at personal archives from the museum’s perspective, it becomes clear that this collaboration implies a lot of paperwork. The goal is to get the copyright from the artist (or, if this is not possible, from his or her descendants) and other persons ifthis archive includes their documents, make a contract and a special document, conceptually describing how to preserve and exhibit artworks and materials. Additionally, working with individuals can be much harder than with organized institutions, because personal communication is always accompanied by a particular level of subjectivity.
Examples of personal archives: methods and principles
Personal art archives can be much more artistic and creative. Thanks to their much smaller size, they are more manageable in terms of usage and financial support, so that they give an artist a particular level of freedom allowing experimentation and pure, non-biased artistic expression. For instance, the John Latham Archive is a perfect example which challenges common understanding: it positions itself as an “event.” John Latham is a British conceptual artist who worked with paint, sculpture, installation, performance, films, etc. In his archive, you can look through Latham’s personal notes, letters, drafts, messages, and sketches. When the visitors start exploring the archive, they are provided with three links (AA, MA, IA) or three approaches of viewing the documents. To use the AA method, you must rely on intuition: it is based on Latham’s Time-Base classification system that gives each document special signatures, expressed using sounds. It requires carefully learning the system to play the game and retrieve the documents. MA shows the material randomly: it works as a slideshow emphasizing the visual aspect of the archive and relies on the visitor’s first impression and potential response. Finally, IA is a much more structured way of searching the archive, as it allows the usage of keywords, indexes, formats, decades, etc. All these ways of entering the archive are not accidental – they correspond to Latham’s favorite novel, The Brothers Karamazov, and represent the characters of each brother, that is Alyosha, Mitya, and Ivan. Alyosha (AA), the youngest son, is charismatic and sensitive; Mitya (MA), the eldest brother, is impulsive and passionate; Ivan (IA) is thoughtful and organized. By choosing one of these approaches, the visitor is involved in a more engaged and convenient form of exploration, thus establishing close relations with the author himself. As Athanasios Velios says, “the website itself introduces the visitor to John Latham’s ideas before any content has been examined” because “it is tailored around the artist, not around an archiving tool.”
An interesting example of a personal archive is the Irina Aktuganova and Sergey Busov Archive. Irina Aktuganova is a Russian art historian and designer, a curator in the field of technology art, art & science, and science museum design. Together with Sergey Busov, physicist and director of the St. Petersburg Techno-Art Center, she created an interdisciplinary archive that includes various materials documenting photo and video records of particular events, projects, and artworks, catalogs, periodicals, reports, and so on. The archive features items of Gallery 21, Cyber-Femin-Club, Gallery of Experimental Sound GEZ (GEZ-21), and Philosophical Café and Agency 21 art galleries and organizations.
This archive is important because it reveals the usefulness of personal archives for researchers. For instance, a scholar interested in gender studies will find lots of materials here about contemporary feminist movements in Russia, related conferences and events, cyberfeminism, etc.
A special featureof the Gubanova&Govorkov Archive is that it has a detailed description of the artworks. Elena Gubanova and Ivan Govorkov are artists who work with painting, sculpture, and videoart. They have been collaborating and exhibiting together since 1990. In their archive, the visitor can find photo and video records of various installations, paintings, drawings, sculptures, and other materials related to their art. These items are often conceptualized, which means one can look at both the artwork itself and information concerning the history of the artwork, what inspired its creation and how it was made, its current state and location, and its larger meaning. For example, the 7th Floor, Walk-Up installation is accompanied by the following text: “A staircase is a functional item, providing vertical connections. It is often used as a symbol, emphasizing the importance of climbing, and as part of a religious ritual. In this installation, the artist depicts a ‘box’ with projections of staircases going indefinitely up and coming down. They are reflected in the mirrors of the ceiling and the floor, so the movements on them change their direction. The audience appears to be in perpetual motion, remaining still just for a few moments. This is important for the artists, as a person can experience a moment of quiescence in the process, which could be a gateway from the boredom of the known and the mundane.” This is a very clever strategy: usually if you want to find conceptual or critical information about an artwork, you have to search for it in websites or scientific databases. Larger record-keeping platforms cannot be so thorough and keep every piece of information about a particular artwork, as there is too much of it. This also makes it possible to avoid overinterpretation, which is often the case with artistic objects.
Why We Need Personal Archives
As I have tried to show, the role of the author is to be both a creator and a preserver of art. Personal archives are great ways to do this. They are reliable, and may be quite artistic and unique, saying more about the artworks and the author’s ideology and views. Personal archives will help museums and galleries adapt to the new conditions of digital and media art and develop a new shift in the record-keeping system. In conclusion, I would like to say that in writing this essay I had definite intentions. Even though self-archiving is becoming a widespread practice, it is still not all that popular. I believe that artists should create their own personal archives and care about their heritage themselves before museums take an interest them. In this way, even the most complex artworks can be fully saved and preserved.
CYLAND Archive is a news section in which we tell about people and events that occupy a special place in the history of the CYFEST festival and our media laboratory.
In 2007, Julie Martin, Director of Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.), came to St. Petersburg at the invitation of CYLAND. E.A.T. is a non-profit organization cofounded in New York in 1966 by artists Robert Rauschenberg and Robert Whitman and engineers Billy Klüver (Martin’s late husband) and Fred Waldhauer. E.A.T. sought to broaden the role of the artist in contemporary society and actively fostered interdisciplinary collaboration. The organization opposed the formalization of creating artwork and facilitated personal contact between representatives of the art world and science.
The E.A.T. biography is an inspiring story about the cocreation of artists, composers, choreographers, engineers, and technicians, including John Cage, Lucinda Childs, Öyvind Fahlström, Alex Hay, Deborah Hay, Steve Paxton, Yvonne Rainer, David Tudor, Bela Julesz, Max Mathews, John Pierce, Manfred Schroeder, and others.
Julie Martin’s lecture on technological experimentation in art 1960-2001 and the history of E.A.T., and the publication that followed laid the foundation for the CYLAND / CYFEST educational program.
With Julie’s permission, we have published a PDF translation of her lecture.
The exhibition presents the new Lifeboxes by Marina Alexeeva, small multimedia installations. In these boxes, Alexeeva collects specimen interiors of public buildings and private dwellings – a kind of concentrate of the surrounding environment. The distinguishing feature of these interior light boxes is their interactivity: in each of them a screen displaying a video is re-reflected in a semi-transparent mirror.
All wars start with people being prepared to fight, and by making them prepared with militarist slogans, hate propaganda and manipulation of their insecurities and fears. This means that wars do not start with gunshots, but with words. The audio-visual installation “We can do it again” is our reaction to the rhetoric of hostility that is prevalent in the Russian media space, and which we find utterly abhorrent. (V. Rannev, M. Alexeeva)
Among the works at the exhibition, the first light box to be shown was “Prose”, based on motifs from the opera of the same name by Vladimir Rannev, staged in 2017 at the Moscow Stanislavky Electrotheater, where Marina Alexeeva, the stage designer and video author, used these re-reflection technique.
MARINA ALEXEEVA – renowned Russian artist who works with video and multimedia, winner of numerous prizes in the field of contemporary art and scenography, whose works are held at prestigious collections around the world: from the Multimedia Art Museum to the private collection of Sir Elton John and David Furnish.
VLADIMIR RANNEV – composer, graduate of the St. Petersburg Conservatory and the Cologne University of Music, winner of numerous Russian and international prizes. His music has been performed in Russia, Austria, the UK, Germany, the USA, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Japan, Poland, France and Ukraine. Sheet music of his works are published by Donemus (the Netherlands).
The project is carried out with the technical support of CYLAND MEDIA ARTLAB.
The exhibition runs until 26 March inclusive.
Marina Gisich Gallery
121 Fontanka embankment, 190068 St. Petersburg, Russia
PLEASE NOTE THAT ENTRY TO THE EXHIBITION IS ORGANIZED STRICTLY ACCORDING TO THE FOLLOWING TIMETABLE: