July's salon at the CAM Project Room

Last night’s salon at the Project Room for New Media at the Chelsea Art Museum featured four presenters: Mark Napier, Paul Amitai, Marty St James and John F. Simon.

Mark Napier showed various projects, including Internet Shredder 1.0, which deconstructs websites, and net.flag, one of the first pieces of net art to be collected by the Guggenheim. The interface allows users to remix flags of the world to create “the flag of the Internet” – until the next user uploads a new one. Napier’s ‘digital Venus’, Pam Standing is shown above. The animation stars a Frankenstein’s monster made from online images of Pamela Anderson, rigged to an animated 3d skeleton. Pam stands, dances and contorts for the viewer, a shifting collage of parts without a whole. The effect is hilarious and disturbing in equal measure.

Paul Amitai introduced his video work, one aspect of a diverse practice which also spans sound and performance. His multi-channel installations turn an ethnographer’s eye on his hometown of Milwaukee, museum visitors, World’s Fair-style ‘edutainment’, Indian casinos and taxidermied bison, to name a few. He then showed a new work in progress, an investigation of his own family history.  Having found an archive of photographs taken by his grandfather, a photographer at a displaced persons camp in Germany, Amitai traveled to the town and photographed it as it is now. A strange empty park, a no-man’s land, sits where the camp once was. Other images document the banal corporate offices of Hoechst, who once made Zyklon-B. The presentation raised questions about how best to integrate images and cultural histories of the recent past as they coexist, uneasily, with the present.

Marty St James told the story of his undergraduate degree show in the 1970s, where he presented Mr & Mrs, an early foray into video art. “The telly’s on in the corner, but where’s the painting?” asked the assessor, and tried to fail him. (His story reminded me of Gavin Turk’s Blue Heritage Plaque, the sole entry in a failed degree show.) He then showed excerpts of several videos. boy/girl diptych gazes dreamily onto the faces of his son and daughter as they morph from one age to another. Duncan Alexander Goodhew, an analog video work held in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery in London, is made up of 11 screens, each with a piece of a swimmer’s face as he moves through the water. Video from a recent residency in Antarctica showed only a disembodied, Magritte-esque hat and its shadow on the ice. The most recent work, Upside Down World, showed no face at all; just the view outwards and upside down through a pair of eyes, a self-portrait turned outwards rather than in.

John F. Simon, Jr, showed early pen plotter drawings, his ‘code improvisations’ Mobility Agents, and his Every Icon project from 1997, which is programmed to run through every possible permutation of black and white pixels on a 32×32 grid. By the time a thousand (digital) monkeys have sat at a thousand typewriters, the piece will have displayed every conceivable image: in several hundred trillion years, that is. There’s an app for that… He also brought in a physical piece, the guts and screen of what looked like an Apple IIe running a colorful moving geometric display, to highlight the difference between projected pixels and solid (albeit software-driven) objects.