Brad Troemel

24. ‘LIVE / WORK’ a solo exhibition at Tomorrow Gallery, New York.

23. ‘Surface Protection Plus’ a group exhibition with Brian Bellott, Samara Scott, Sandra Vaka Olsen. Paintings based on an archive of protest images given to me by the Earth Liberation Front in exchange for a sizable donation to their media wing. The paintings are colored with Whole Foods organic kale, carrot, and beet juice. The paintings are then stamped with the names of other politicly divisive organizations in photochromic ink. These organizations are given 10% of the proceeds of the work. Photochromic ink is only visible in sunlight, making the political allegiances of the work customizable.

Brad Troemel, ANARCHO JESTER (and cat) SAB ‘em!, 2014, In Whole Foods organic kale, carrot, and beet juice (line pour) with PHOTOCHROMIC ink (it only shows up outdoors!) displaying POLITICALLY DIVISIVE causes (Perfect for Halloween collections) on canvas on panel, 60 × 48 in, 152 × 122 cm

Brad Troemel, ANARCHO JESTER (and cat) SAB ‘em!, 2014, In Whole Foods organic kale, carrot, and beet juice (wet pour) with PHOTOCHROMIC ink (it only shows up outdoors!) displaying POLITICALLY DIVISIVE causes (Perfect for Halloween collections) on canvas on panel, 60 × 48 in, 152 × 122 cm

22. ‘Silver Pockets Full’ a two person exhibition with Josephine Meckseper at The Fireplace Project, East Hampton (August 2014)

21. ‘Charlotte Free’s New York Haul’ sponsored by MoCA TV and shot by Jake Moore (June 2014)

20. Private display of ‘At Least I've Got a Job!’ and ‘7 Lumberjacks’ paintings, Zach Feuer Gallery, New York (June 2014). Paintings based on an archive of protest images given to me by the Earth Liberation Front in exchange for a sizable donation to their media wing. The paintings are colored by Whole Foods organic kale, carrot, and beet juice. The paintings are then stamped with the names of other politicly divisive organizations in photochromic ink. These organizations are given 10% of the proceeds of the work. Photochromic ink is only visible in sunlight, making the political allegiances of the work customizable.

19. ‘Scars of Our Revolution’ a group exhibition with David Horvitz, Florence Jung, Sean Raspet, and Andrew Norman Wilson at Yvon Lambert, Paris (June 2014). I displayed fingerprints lifted from Silk Road packages with Bitcoins embedded in the prints.

18. New Museum window display with Edward Shenk featuring two fully mapped out conspiracy charts from our book ZZzZZzZ. New York (June 2014)

17. Fiverr works posted to Jogging. Using the website Fiverr.com I commisioned a number of pieces to be made for the blog Jogging in support of amnesty for Edward Snowden.

16. ‘Customs’ a solo exhibition at the Still House, Brooklyn.

8 Fish, Flowers, 3 Crypto Vest Litecoins, 1 AOCS Copper Round, 2014, 65 × 44.5 inches

3 Fish, Flowers, 3 Crypto Vest Litecoins, 1 AOCS Copper Round, 2014, 65 × 44.5 inches

1 Fish, Flowers, 3 Crypto Vest Litecoins, 1 AOCS Copper Round, 2014, 65 × 44.5 inches

3 Fish, Flowers, 3 Crypto Vest Litecoins, 1 AOCS Copper Round, 2014, 65 × 44.5 inches

52 Dr. Bronners Soap Bars, Bleached and Tie Dyed JNCOS, 3 Crypto Vest Litecoins, 2014, 65 × 44.5 inches

52 Dr. Bronners Soap Bars, Bleached and Tie Dyed JNCOS, 3 Crypto Vest Litecoins, 1 AOCS Copper Round, 2014, 65 × 44.5 inches

52 Dr. Bronners Soap Bars, Bleached and Tie Dyed Kikwears, 3 Crypto Vest Litecoins, 1 AOCS Copper Round, 2014, 65 × 44.5 inches

52 Dr. Bronners Soap Bars, Bleached and Tie Dyed JNCOS, 3 Crypto Vest Litecoins, 1 AOCS Copper Round, 2014, 65 × 44.5 inches

52 Dr. Bronners Soap Bars, Bleached and Tie Dyed JNCOS, 3 Crypto Vest Litecoins, 1 AOCS Copper Round, 2014, 65 × 44.5 inches

Naked Juice Magic Fountain with Artisanal Bucket, 2014, Dimensions variable

15. ‘Untitled Group Booth’ at the Independent Art Fair, New York. Co-organized with Lauren Christiansen.

14. ‘Freedom Lights our World’ a solo exhibition at Zach Feuer Gallery (February 2014)

90 Semiotext(e) books (2 The Administration of Fear, 4 Introduction to Civil War, 3 ATTA, 4 The Coming Insurrection, 5 This is Not a Program, 6 A Thousand Machines, 7 Nietzsche Apostle, 8 The Uprising: On Poetry and Finance, 9 Where Art Belongs, 9 Theory of the Young Girl, 9 The Agony of Power, 7 The Screwball Asses, 6 The Making of the Indebted Man, 5 The Violence of Financial Capitalism, 4 Factories of Knowledge Industries of Creativity, 3 The Femicide Machine), Fox Valley Mall T-shirt shop swatch fabric sample, 13 customized human hair dredlocks (5 green dredlocks, 4 blue dredlocks, 4 red dredlocks), 7 Limited edition Lealana 1 Litecoin pieces, 2014, Semiotext(e) books, t-shirt, dredlocks, Litecoins, plastic bag, 69 × 46.5 inches, 175.3 × 118.1 cm

90 Semiotext(e) books (9 The Screwball Asses,9 The Agony of Power, 9 Theory of the Young Girl, 9 Where Art Belongs, 9 The Uprising: On Poetry and Finance, 9 A Thousand Machines, 9 This is Not a Program, 9 ATTA, 9 Factories of Knowledge Industries of Creativity, 9 Introduction to Civil War), Fox Valley Mall T-shirt shop swatch fabric sample, 12 customized human hair dredlocks (4 green dredlocks, 4 blue dredlocks, 4 red dredlocks), 7 Limited edition Lealana 1 Litecoin pieces, 2014, Semiotext(e) books, t-shirt, dredlocks, Litecoins, plastic bag, 68 × 46.5 inches, 172.7 × 118.1 cm

90 Semiotext(e) books (10 The Administration of Fear, 10 The Femicide Machine, 10 Factories of Knowledge Industries of Creativity, 10 The Uprising: On Poetry and Finance,10 Theory of the Young Girl, 10 The Screwball Asses, 10 The Coming Insurrection, 10 This is Not a Program, 10 Factories of Knowledge Industries of Creativity), Fox Valley Mall T-shirt shop swatch fabric sample, 13 customized human hair dredlocks (4 green dredlocks, 5 blue dredlocks, 4 red dredlocks), 7 Limited edition Lealana 1 Litecoin pieces, 2014, Semiotext(e) books, t-shirt, dredlocks, Litecoins, plastic bag, 68.5 × 46.5 inches

30 Vice Magazines (2004-2014), Whole Foods Organic Mung Beans, Whole Foods Organic Cous Cous, Whole Foods Organic Flax Seed, Whole Foods Organic Red Kidney Beans, Whole Foods Organic Black Wild Rice, Whole Foods Organic Black Eyed Peas, 7 Limited edition Lealana 1 Litecoin pieces, 2014, Vice magazines, Whole Foods Organic Mung Beans, Whole Foods Organic Cous Cous, Whole Foods Organic Flax Seed, Whole Foods Organic Red Kidney Beans, Whole Foods Organic Black Wild Rice, Whole Foods Organic Black Eyed Peas, Litecoins, 71 3/4 × 46 1/2 inches, 182.2 × 118.1 cm

30 Vice Magazines (2004-2014), Whole Foods Organic Black Wild Rice, Whole Foods Organic Flax Seed,Whole Foods Organic Green Split Peas, Whole Foods Organic Black Eyed Peas,Whole Foods Organic Sesame Seeds, Whole Foods Organic Red Quinoa, 7 Limited edition Lealana 1 Litecoin pieces, 2014, Vice magazines, Whole Foods Organic Black Wild Rice, Whole Foods Organic Flax Seed,Whole Foods Organic Green Split Peas, Whole Foods Organic Black Eyed Peas,Whole Foods Organic Sesame Seeds, Whole Foods Organic Red Quinoa, Litecoin pieces, 69.5 × 46.5 inches, 176.5 × 118.1 cm

30 Vice Magazines (2004-2014), Whole Foods Organic Chia Seeds, Whole Foods Organic Sesame Seeds, Whole Foods Organic Mung Beans, Whole Foods Organic Flax Seeds, Whole Foods Organic Cous Cous, Whole Foods Organic Green Split Peas, 7 Limited edition Lealana 1 Litecoin pieces, 2014, Vice magazines, Whole Foods Organic Chia Seeds, Whole Foods Organic Sesame Seeds, Whole Foods Organic Mung Beans, Whole Foods Organic Flax Seeds, Whole Foods Organic Cous Cous, Whole Foods Organic Green Split Peas, Litecoin pieces, 71.5 × 46.5 inches, 181.6 × 118.1 cm

13. Interview in Mousse Magazine with Myself posing as Kevin McGarry (February 2014)

12. ‘The Edwards Copy, 1796–2014’ a solo exhibition at Future Gallery, Berlin (February 2014).

From the years 1994 to 1999 I collected rare American coins and paper bills with my Grandpa. I used eBay to buy and sell counterfeit and authentic currencies produced during American colonial times and the Civil War. There are three types of currency collectors: One type seeks out perfection by owning coins in untouched condition or collecting the entirety of a set arranged by year or denomination. The next type is attracted to the history surrounding the year the coin was made in, especially when that history has a material or visual impact on the currency produced. Did you know that in the years 1942 to 1944—in an effort to conserve copper needed for ammunition in World War II—the United States produced pennies in tin, plastic, steel, bronze, brass, zinc, manganese, and lead? It’s true. The final type of collector is attracted to production mistakes, misspellings, and all other signs of mechanical error made as the machines used to produce money break down. By accident, the US Mint produces thousands and thousands of new, to-be collectables every year because of this erroneous money!

Did you know some people buy counterfeit currency on purpose? When a counterfeit is old, notorious, or done well enough, the historical value of the counterfeiter’s effort can meet or exceed the price of a United States’ Mint-produced coin or bill of the same date. Just like originals, counterfeits have histories too. All currencies—real and fake—eventually lose their exchangeability as money and become a collectable over time. You couldn’t spend an 1836 half cent at a store if you tried. Some counterfeits are made for historically illustrative purposes, displaying in perfect detail what money looked like hundreds of years ago. These educational counterfeits are branded COPY or FACSIMILE in very obvious ways. Unlike these, most counterfeits are attempts to appear real.

Today, when Chinese counterfeiters mint thousands of United States coins, they’re attempting to merge those coins with the normal circulation of US money. It’s legal to create counterfeit American currency valued less than 5 cents (effectively making the foreign and domestic production of fake pennies legal) but illegal to spend counterfeit US currency of any denomination. In China it’s legal to create any kind of currency so long as it’s dated prior to 1949, their cultural year zero. Two years ago I bought ten counterfeit Chinese-made United States pennies for ~$5 a piece off the Silk Road, but they look indistinguishable from real pennies and aren’t dated before 1949. Maybe I just bought $0.10 of real US-made money for $50 through an anonymous online black market, but I prefer thinking the pennies are counterfeit and that I got my money’s worth as ordered. Can you imagine the nerve of someone who would send me real pennies for $50? Ugh, the seller probably wasn’t even from China. Did you know it costs three times more than the pennies' face value to ship $20 of pennies from New York to Berlin? Money seems to always find a way to make itself more valuable!

When I made counterfeits to be sold on eBay I would try to blend in too, to be real. I would purchase educational counterfeits of colonial coins that were independently made in the 1780’s (prior to the Coinage Act of 1792 and subsequent creation of the Philadelphia mint). The first task would be to go to my driveway and use a brick to wear the coin down far enough so that the stamped COPY indentation was no longer visible. Next would be the chemical baths, alternating between Deller’s Darkener and a pencil eraser or EZ Brite, occasionally stopping between pourings to give the coin a few additional brick scuffs so to add layers of deepening chemical damage in an attempt to falsify the gradual process of copper’s deterioration. The chemical baths create an effect on the details of the coin not unlike if you were to alternately burn and dodge an image back and forth using Photoshop. These near-anonymous coins, in a deep state of wear and chemical damage, were barely legible save for a few defining details (I usually made sure at least the coin’s date remained in tact). I sold batches of three or so of these coins at a time, with the auctions spread at least a month apart. All listings worked from a elaborate descriptive template where I said the coins were repossessed from the home of a dead Italian mobster and that due to the great deal of wear and tear they display it’s impossible to determine their authenticity, though it’s safe to assume the coins have a “dubious” provenance. At the end of the eBay description I would assure my faked obliviousness as a seller by professing to know nothing about coin history and restate that the coins were for sale “as is” because of my lack of knowledge. This would keep the door open for the hopeful who thought there was an outside chance of me being a rube and the coins being real, while for others the disclaimer would add an air of mystery as to what mob family counterfeited them and how many others were out there. My collectors were buying into a story and were receiving coins in exchange. My collectors were people interested in telling tales about the things in their collections. Marketable things can be fit into concise oral descriptions—like conceptual artworks!

I was the type of currency collector interested in American history and errors. Just as the rocky formation of the United States led to many colonial coins’ oddities, so too did the Civil War. Collecting Northern and Southern currencies made during this time was probably an attempt to wrap my lil mind around the seemingly impossible reality that The United States was once not always one, but instead two, three, or even four territories warring with each other. The Confederacy began creating their own money separate from the Union before the Civil War even began. While hand signatures were considered an anti-counterfeiting tool for the Confederacy, the sheer number of bills being produced could not reasonably be signed individually by two men each. Women were often hired as clerks to sign "for Register" and "for Treasurer"; up to 200 clerks were eventually hired for each. Because the Confederacy and the individual states comprising the Confederacy and the banks within those states were all simultaneously printing their own money, counterfeiting was a major problem for the South. Many of these counterfeits are identifiable today and they can be as valuable to a collector as a real note. This equality in collectability likely stems from the historical reality that at the time of their exchange, the South experienced currency shortages and their notes lacked any material backing in precious metals. During the Civil War a fake Southern note served the same exchange purposes as any other real note because there was little if any need to discern between the two. As the war continued, the currency underwent the depreciation and soaring prices characteristic of inflation. By the end of the war, a cake of soap could sell for as much as $50 and an ordinary suit of clothes was $2,700. When the Confederacy ceased to exist as a political entity at the end of the war, the money lost all value as fiat currency, ushering in a rush of largely Northern collectors to own these notes for purposes other than spending.

Americans have a long, ongoing history of using the production of alternate forms of money as a weapon of political and geographic exclusion and inclusion. The past twenty years have seen an explosion in the domestic production of currencies meant to be used instead of currency produced by the Federal Reserve. These alternative currencies are often made by highly politicized individuals and communities, ranging in their persuasions from Socialist to Libertarian to Anarchist. American Socialist currencies, such as Ithaca Hours (NY), River Hours (WA/OR), Bay Bucks (CA), and Equal Dollars (PA) either emphasize an understanding of currency’s worth through labor as expressed through time (¼, ½, 1 hour denominations are popular) or through the 1:1 trade of comparable local services. For these currencies’ creators, locality is central to their ambitions: money only able to be spent within a given area has been shown to increase the wealth of those residents by ensuring they exclusively support one another’s businesses. Creators of American Libertarian currencies such as the AOCS (American Open Currency Standard), NORFED (National Organization for the Repeal of the Federal Reserve and the Internal Revenue Code), and Shire Silver seek a return to money’s value based on precious metals. These currencies alternately mint coins or laminate strips of copper, silver, and gold in opposition to what they view as a debased fiat currency made by the Federal Reserve. In 2009 NORFED’s creator, Bernard Von NotHaus, was charged on multiple accounts of counterfeiting and domestic terrorism despite his currency’s stated purpose to act as an alternative to the Federal Reserve.

Although it cannot be said that all recently made Anarchist crypto currencies are made or used exclusively by Americans, the popularity of these currencies in the US is undeniable. The success of Bitcoin spawned over sixty copycat crypto currencies eager to make use of the secure algorithms created by Satoshi Nakamoto. These other crypto currencies (Litecoin, Peercoin, Mastercoin, Namecoin) are not called counterfeits because they differ in name, mining capacities, security, and other technical details. Did you know that I initially came into contact with Bitcoin in 2011 when I needed the currency to exchange for goods on the Silk Road? I became an investor in Bitcoin when I purchased a number of physical Bitcoins from Mike Caldwell’s Utah-based company Casascius. Though Bitcoin is a digitally-backed currency, Caldwell ingeniously figured out a way to make the currency physical. Casascius Bitcoins feature a hologram that shows the first few digits of a much longer blockchain. If you peel the hologram up the rest of the digits in the blockchain will be revealed, thus allowing you to enter those numbers in online and redeem the value of the coin. When the hologram of a Casascius Bitcoin is peeled the sticky underside turns into a honeycomb pattern, alerting all future users that its blockchain has been accessed and most likely spent. Though Casascius is no longer in business due to a pending federal investigation, you can still buy Caldwell’s Bitcoins on eBay, often at prices exceeding 120% of the peak market value of Bitcoin. Many people don't trust the coins for sale, believing their blockchains to have already been secretly accessed, but this doesn't matter because so many want the coins for purposes other than immediate use. These collectors don't spend money on money because they are exchanging money, they spend money on money because they are buying a collectible!

1990 real American pennies with 10 Chinese counterfeit pennies, 2014

2 Authentic / 9 Counterfeit AOCS Live Free or Die .999 Copper pieces, 2014

3 Authentic / 3 Counterfeit AOCS Live Free or Die .999 Copper pieces / 1 Confederate $50 bill / Native American Tribal Republic of Timucua Currency scrip Fund note (2 Timucua dollars) 2009 / Casascius 10 mBTC, 2014

1 NORFED Liberty $10 Certificate / 5 Authentic Confederate Currency note / 1 Counterfeit Confederate Currency note / 1 Casascius Gold 1 Bitcoin Piece, 2014

1 NORFED $10 .999 Silver Round / 3 time-based Community currencies / 1 Confederate $10 currency note, 2014

1 Casascius Gold 1 Bitcoin Piece / 1 Confederate currency note / 1 Counterfeit AOCS Live Free or Die Coin, 2014

4 NORFED $10 .999 Silver Rounds / 2 Bay Bucks / 1 Lealana 25 Litecoin .999 Silver Piece, 2014

J Bump key with 3 Copies and Gerald Raunig ‘Factories of Knowledge Industries of Creativity’, 2014

N Bump key with 3 Copies and Gerald Raunig ‘Factories of Knowledge Industries of Creativity’, 2014

F Bump key with 3 Copies and Gerald Raunig ‘Factories of Knowledge Industries of Creativity’, 2014

M Bump key with 3 Copies and Gerald Raunig ‘Factories of Knowledge Industries of Creativity’, 2014

11. Speed lecture at The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (January 2014).

10. ‘ZzzZzZZzZzz’ is a style of imagery published by Edward Marshall Shenk and I on Jogging that made use of ultra conservative far right wing imagery found on message boards and Facebook groups, rendering the diagramatic logic of conspiracy theories incomprehensible. The images became popular enough to travel all the way back to their point of origin, where they were shared by the far right group Barack Obama’s Dead Fly. A book of these images is available for purchase through the New Museum.

9. ‘Trending’ a group exhibition featuring Artie Vierkant, Parker Ito, and Haley Mellin curated by Lauren Christiansen at Untitled Gallery, New York (October 2013).

8. ‘89 Plus Marathon: Brad Troemel’ at Serpentine Gallery, London (October 2013).

7. ‘Time Machine’ at Foundation M-Arco, Marseilles, France (October 2013).

Framed t-shirts purchased from the Silk Road ‘art’ section, featuring stamps of previously purchased packages. Laser cut packaging materials from the Silk Road then adhered over the t-shirts.

6. ‘Soon’ at the Still House, Brooklyn (May 2013). Jogging exhibition.

For most, the trip to the Still House is a lengthy one, poetically punctuated at the end of Brooklyn’s Van Brunt Street by a view of the Statue of Liberty standing in the Hudson River. Upon congratulating yourself for completing an hour-long MTA commute, one wonders how exponentially more relieved America’s immigrants were upon seeing that 19th century landmark after boating across an infinite expanse of water for weeks on end. Could our great-great-great-grandparents have imagined the industrialized country they’d build and the habits of consumption and production they’d pioneer would become so powerful, so globally ubiquitous that future residents would be returned to that same infinite aquatic expanse? We are potentially the first generation of people to begin making down payments on a hellacious environmental check that has long been deferred. Historically we owe the situation we are in to a false sense of permanence about our economies, lifestyles, and even our species itself. There is a pervasive sense of temporality in our present moment, though. We comment “you only live once” on videos of viral celebrities that disappear as quickly as they emerge, using cell phones that are obsolete within the year we purchase them. Through one lens, our digital lives are training us to care less about permanence, to focus our attention on the fleeting beauty of connectivity. But it’s hard to live in the moment, and the devices that could teach us how to do just that more often than not separate us from the reality we seek through them. There is a togetherness in the approaching catastrophe, one that threatens to level all political and religious difference as surely as it threatens to nullify the entirety of land space and the national distinctions that geography provides. It is perhaps more difficult to acknowledge the uniformity of the fate we march towards than the imminent catastrophe itself; to change is to admit defeat. Still today, when it rains, the waves crash freely into rocks feet away from Fairway Marketplace, tickling organic paninis on the unprotected patio eating area with a reminder the destruction they recently wrought. We imagine a time (perhaps now?) when Jogging will no longer need to labor over combining food items in irreverent ways to make sculptures, a time when the Atlantic Ocean will carry goods from Fairway up to the fourth floor, into the Still House, and create our work for us. Until then, we anticipate that impermanence in the art we create. Today’s lifeguards will be tomorrow’s installation photographers.

Hot Topic Hair Extensions Discovered In Polar Ice Cap, 2013, Water, Hair Extensions, Plexiglas, Gravel, 100 × 16.5 × 16.5

Hot Topic Hair Extensions Discovered In Polar Ice Cap, 2013, Water, Hair Extensions, Plexiglas, Gravel, 100 × 16.5 × 16.5

Hot Topic Hair Extensions Discovered In Polar Ice Cap, 2013, Water, Hair Extensions, Plexiglas, Gravel, 100 × 16.5 × 16.5

Ceramic Pitcher Pours Water Onto Extremely Rare Genetically Modified Triplet Watermelon, 2013 Chain, Metal Carabineer, Porcelain Pitcher, Museum Gel 24 oz, Dimensions Variable

Ceramic Pitcher Pours Water Onto Extremely Rare Genetically Modified Triplet Watermelon, 2013 Chain, Metal Carabineer, Porcelain Pitcher, Museum Gel 24 oz, Dimensions Variable

Ceramic Pitcher Pours Water Onto Extremely Rare Genetically Modified Triplet Watermelon, 2013 Chain, Metal Carabineer, Porcelain Pitcher, Museum Gel 24 oz, Dimensions Variable

Ceramic Pitcher Pours Water Onto Extremely Rare Genetically Modified Triplet Watermelon, 2013 Chain, Metal Carabineer, Porcelain Pitcher, Museum Gel 24 oz, Dimensions Variable

Ceramic Pitcher Pours Water Onto Extremely Rare Genetically Modified Triplet Watermelon, 2013 Chain, Metal Carabineer, Porcelain Pitcher, Museum Gel 24 oz, Dimensions Variable

Rationed Water, 2013, Hydrophobic coating, Tempered Glass, Water, Plastic Bottles, Fierce Apple Gatorade, Blueberry-Pomegranate Gatorade, 58 ⅛ × 33 ½ × 20”

Rationed Water, 2013, Hydrophobic coating, Tempered Glass, Water, Plastic Bottles, Fierce Apple Gatorade, Blueberry-Pomegranate Gatorade, 58 ⅛ × 33 ½ × 20”

Rationed Water, 2013, Hydrophobic coating, Tempered Glass, Water, Plastic Bottles, Fierce Apple Gatorade, Blueberry-Pomegranate Gatorade, 58 ⅛ × 33 ½ × 20”

P.H.I.S.H: Pink Hydrographic Integrated Fish Swims Horizontally, 2013, Piranhas, Hydrographic film, Screws

P.H.I.S.H: Pink Hydrographic Integrated Fish Swims Horizontally, 2013, Piranhas, Hydrographic film, Screws

P.H.I.S.H: Pink Hydrographic Integrated Fish Swims Horizontally, 2013, Piranhas, Hydrographic film, Screws

Carbon, Nitrogen, Oxygen, Water, 2013, PETG Plastic, Cabbage, Steel Standoffs, 19 × 22 inches

Carbon, Nitrogen, Oxygen, Water, 2013, PETG Plastic, Cabbage, Steel Standoffs, 19 × 22 inches

Carbon, Nitrogen, Oxygen, Water, 2013, PETG Plastic, Cabbage, Steel Standoffs, 19 × 22 inches

Honda Civic Crashes Into Vintage Saturn, Sexting While Driving, 2013, Car Door, Vinyl, 42 × 32 inches

Projectile 3: Cabbage and Tupperware, 2013, Embedded Plaster, 24 × 24 inches

Projectile 2: Pineapple and Water Bottle, 2013, Embedded Plaster, 24 × 24 inches

Projectile 1: Cantaloupe and Croc, 2013, Plaster, 24 × 24 inches

5. Athletic Aesthetics, published on The New Inquiry (May 2013)

A NEW SPECIES OF HYPERPRODUCTIVE ARTIST FLOODING THE INTERNET WITH CONTENT INVITES AUDIENCES TO COMPLETE THEIR WORK BY LOVING THEIR BRAND, MAKING THE ARTISTS THEMSELVES THE MASTERPIECE

Visual artists, poets, and musicians are releasing free content online faster than ever before. There is an athleticism to these aesthetic outpourings, with artists taking on the creative act as a way of exercising other muscle groups, bodybuilding a personal brand or self-mythology, a concept or a formal vocabulary. Images, music, and words become drips in a pool of art sweat, puddling online for all to view. The long-derided notion of the “masterpiece” has reached its logical antithesis with the aesthlete: a cultural producer who trumps craft and contemplative brooding with immediacy and rapid production.

Athletic aesthetics are a by-product of art’s new mediated environment, wherein creators must compete for online attention in the midst of an overwhelming amount of information. Artists using social media have transformed the notion of a “work” from a series of isolated projects to a constant broadcast of one’s artistic identity as a recognizable, unique brand. That is, what the artist once accomplished by making commodities that could stand independently from them is now accomplished through their ongoing self-commodification. This has reversed the traditional recipe that you need to create art to have an audience. Today’s artist on the Internet needs an audience to create art. An aesthlete’s audience, once assembled, becomes part of their medium.

Posting work to the Internet without a network of viewers in place raises the same questions as the proverbial tree falling in an empty forest. If a Tumblr post has no notes, is it art? Does it exist? For young artists using social media, the answer is no. If an audience for their work isn’t maintained, it loses the context necessary for regarding it as art. Facing dim employment prospects and precarious conditions (not to mention massive debt from higher education), such practitioners aggressively seek to exercise clout in the online attention economy through over production.

Just as conditions have changed for artists, they have also changed for audiences. The refresh rate of information in social media alters viewing habits. When looking at a screen, we don’t fixate on a single status update, image, website, or work for long. Part of this is because the interfaces militate against it: 140 characters is a light reading load. In the cases of Tumblr and Facebook, the information piling up in a newsfeed flows past viewers almost automatically into a virtually bottomless well.

But attention spans are also constrained because each bid for our attention on social media can prompt an endless hunt for a more complete understanding of its context. An endless cascade of tabs can arise from a simple friend request, far beyond “Who is this person, anyway?” Little can be meaningfully understood about any given person based on an isolated Tweet or profile picture. Mutual friends need to be investigated, personal website links in the About Me section need to be opened, geotagged restaurants need to be Googled and their menus canvassed for the kinds of ingredients favored. And to get satisfactory context for the work of a single person, viewers may have to go through all of that person’s online folders, scrolling all the way back to when they first joined whatever service they’re using. Caring too much about any one item to the exclusion of the others readily available now seems to jeopardize the viewer’s ability to understand the whole.

Even if you don’t go on winding quests for context and allow information to passively wash over you through your feed, you ultimately arrive at the same place: recognizing patterns amid flow rather than shutting the floodgates. As Marshall McLuhan claimed in The Medium Is the Massage:

Our electrically-configured world has forced us to move from the habit of data classification to the mode of pattern recognition. We can no longer build serially, block-by-block, step-by-step, because instant communication insures that all factors of the environment and of experience coexist in a state of active interplay.
The idea of memorizing art-history slides to demonstrate a mastery of the canon now seems like a quaint reminder of a time when individual works somehow meant more than the always fluid relationships between them. Audiences no longer have the luxury of imagining that there is a static regime of aesthetic stability dictating quality and meaning. Passive viewers, who consume at the same pace as those they follow produce, and context hunters, who compress that process in time, end up with the same hermeneutic, finding meaning in the lines drawn from one bit of information to the next.

To maintain the aerial view necessary for patterns to emerge, one must cultivate a disposition of indifference. To be indifferent is to believe that any one thing is as important as any other. Social media anticipate and reinforce this attitude, presenting, say, news from Afghanistan and a former high school friend’s lunch in the same format, with the same gravity.

Athletic aesthetics inverts this indifferent disposition, using it to produce as well as view content. Instead of creating a few, thoroughly worked pieces, the aesthlete produces a constant stream of work in social media to ride atop the wave in viewers’ newsfeeds, or else become the wave itself, overwhelming them with material. The tacit agreement between the aesthlete and the viewer is to be mutually indifferent toward quality understood as slick production value or refined craft. For aesthletes, the point of their work is not only what it expresses but the speed at which it’s expressed. The ideal presentation of their work is the constant broadcast.

With the constant broadcast as goal, editing oneself becomes a waste of resources. Time spent on anything is time worth being redeemed in attention by sharing it. A private process of refinement is simply lost time. For aesthletes, the studio as a site of self-reflection and craft goes public; no middle ground or time lapse between production and publicity is necessary. For the audience, what’s missing in production value is supposedly recouped in honesty and personal connection with creators, whose every image, poem, song, video, or status update becomes a chance for direct interaction. Viewers need not hope for a momentary glimpse of the artist at an opening or await the chance to see musicians onstage. The artist’s aura has been leveled and spread across dozens of daily opportunities to comment, like, and reblog. The privacy of the studio starts to be perceived as a form of censorship, and even oversaturated celebrities like Beyoncé must have a Tumblr now.

The underlying promise of Rate/Comment/Subscribe! culture is that viewers can engage in a more direct form of fandom, in which their tributary comments and reblogs are directly acknowledged by artists and eventually become an element in their creative process. Audiences can now believe they are co-creators, collaborating with artists by appreciating them. The upvoted commenter who distills and wittily articulates the general sentiment of an audience’s reaction to social-media works is hailed a kind of hero, the voice of the people, as with Patton Oswalt’s Thor83 character in Portlandia’s season three Evite episode.

Of course, this was once the artist’s claim to heroism — being sensitive to the times and other people’s affect so as to express a general sentiment or zeitgeist in a unique, compelling way. Aesthletes’ self-editing is now outsourced to the audience, who carefully pick over the barrage of content with unprecedented zeal. Their eagerness to assess and evaluate artists’ work lies somewhere between being volunteer market researchers and a wish to bend artists to their will and “democratize” their art.

While that kind of direct democratization may be wishful thinking, aesthletes certainly rely on decentralized audiences to perpetuate their virality, which is the essential content of their work. It’s impossible to imagine Steve Roggenbuck’s practice apart from his commenting, poking, and liking his viewers every step of the way. This interaction, and the compounding attention he receives for it, is not peripheral to his work but integral to the messianic nature of his delivery. Roggenbuck’s calls to self-improvement, creative ambition, and ethical living are nothing without the interplay of an audience whose widespread response serves as a marker of affect for the message of his videos and writing, which verge on art-as-self-help. For Roggenbuck, going viral doesn’t spread his work so much as complete it.

This dynamic of the audience self-screening for their favorite content makes the risks associated with releasing undesirable content fairly low, while enhancing the potential rewards of releasing beloved content. The opportunity costs for not releasing work quickly rise as audiences becomes less discriminatory and more participatory. Thus aesthletes rationally adopt a lottery-like gambit of releasing as much work as possible: The more they release, the more likely one will become a hit. And even less successful posts will serve to strengthen the bond between artist and audience, giving each a chance to reinforce the existence of the other — “I’m still here!” they say in unison.

Athletic aesthetics amounts to the supply-side gamification of the art attention economy. Notes, likes, and reblogs serve as the quantitative basis for influence in an art world where critics’ written word has been stripped of power. Art making becomes a fast-paced, high-volume endeavor analogous to the universe of automated high-frequency stock trading. This mode of trading supplants floor traders with unmanned computers responsible for moving fractional sums according to complicated if-then sequences programmed by quantitative analysts. The speed of trades are central to their strategic functionality, so much so that companies in New York and London have lobbied for new fiberoptic cables across the Atlantic to ensure maximum velocity. Critics argue such trading methods fail to create “true” economic value: Rather than prompt companies to become more efficient or make better products, algorithmic trading merely capitalizes on rapid capital shuffling and micro-arbitrage. Others worry that vast automation leaves the market vulnerable to a single digital glitch generating systemic market crashes, as in the case of the “flash crash” on May 6, 2010, and again on August 1 that year, when software at Knight Capital Group malfunctioned, setting off unintended trades and leading to a $440 million loss for the company.

Such criticism of algorithmic trading echoes complaints leveled at aesthletes. Proto-aesthlete Soulja Boy—propelled to fame by the “glitch” of his online audience’s inexplicable obsession with “Crank That (Soulja Boy)”—was vilified as unoriginal, in light of his prodigious, Fruity Loops–driven output of music on Myspace. Aesthletes are often criticized on the basis of individual works, whereas viewers must engage as much of their catalog-in-process as they can to find the patterns necessary for its meaning to emerge.

While firms have given over stock trading to vast warehouses of black boxes with blinking lights, the aesthlete merely emulates machine-like modes of creativity. Among the most famous of these semiautomated modes is the improvisational spoken-word format of “Based” freestyling, created by alpha aesthlete Lil B. His Based delivery, a DIY deskilling of hip-hop’s oxymoronically conservative freestyle format, emphasizes absurdity, incoherence, and chance verbal collisions rather than the traditionally valued characteristics of fluid delivery and cohesive narrative wordplay. Based freestyle opens the sluice for any vocal effort — no matter how poor by traditional standards — to be accepted as a completed track. Doing another take would defeat the purpose of the Based style’s aesthetic of chance, thus setting up a procedural pattern that buoys any supposed shortcoming in content.

Since honesty is redefined as directness, the customary checks and balances of studio editing become a kind of dishonesty or trickery. The most incoherent, poorly timed, and narratively abstract Based freestyles thus appear as the most successful, perpetuating a perception of Lil B as a bold creator unwilling or unable to censor himself in any way. On a practical level, this stream-of-consciousness mode of production also allows Lil B to release a much larger amount of music at a faster rate.

In the art world, Nick Faust sticks out as a prime example of an aesthletic approach to curating art on Facebook, posting 20 or so new albums of art and art-related images every day. The type of work posted adheres to no specific formal or conceptual interest, ranging from Byzantine works to contemporary textiles to PVC stock photography, just as Lil B’s wide-open interests range freely. (As he says, ”I can do ‘Swag OD’ but then my favorite musical artist right now could be Antony and the Johnsons.”) Faust’s immense outpouring of content upends the traditional understanding of curatorial practice by overwhelming his audience rather than providing a concise selection. Like other aesthletes, Faust becomes a wholesaler of content, allowing his Facebook friends to pick through and engage with the images they find most relevant. Ignored photo sets serve only to reinforce Faust’s commitment to sharing as much as humanly possible, whether that material is popular or not.

Wide nets are cast by those who, like Lil B and Nick Faust, are young and/or energetic enough to overshare. Perhaps the most athletic aspect of these individuals is their unmistakable embrace of competition, which their efforts unreservedly respond to and foster. This social-media-induced competition is not without its detractors. Media theorist Geert Lovink has recently argued in Adbusters that

Today psychopathology reveals itself ever more clearly as a social epidemic and, more precisely, to be a socio-communicational one. If you want to survive you have to be competitive, and if you want to be competitive you must be connected, receive and process continuously an immense and growing amount of data. This provokes a constant attentive stress, a reduction of the time available for affectivity … If we bring this analysis to the internet we see two movements—the expansion of storage and the compression of time—making online work so stressful.
Like the athlete who lives to perform for stadiums and television audiences of millions, the aesthlete basks in the stress of overproduction. While competition exists between the aesthlete and the slower-moving, perfectionist artists of the previous generation (as evidenced in the Lil B vs. Game feud), the main competition for aesthletes comes from within themselves. At the risk of romanticizing a potentially self-harming practice born of precarity, there is a certain euphoria, like the endorphin-fueled exhaustion of a runner’s high, in depleting your mental and physical faculties to the greatest extent possible, especially when this exertion drives the expression of an expanding creative vision. Just as in weightlifting, in which mass is gained from strenuous reps that destroy and prompt the enlarged rebuilding of muscle fibers, athletic aestheticism promises that artistic progression will come more surely from the stress of strenuous making than from contemplative reverie. What separates the aesthlete from the overworked intern or sweatshop worker is that the aesthletes’ labor serves themselves; it’s self-exploitation rather than exploitation at the hands of other capitalists.

To demand payment for these self-imposed ventures of overproduction, one must first ask the following questions, posed by Andrea Fraser in her essay How To Provide an Artistic Service: An Introduction:

Fees are, by definition, payment for services. If we are, then, accepting payment in exchange for our services, does that mean we are serving those who pay us? If not, who are we serving and on what basis are we demanding payment (and should we be demanding payment)? Or, if so, how are we serving them (and what are we serving)?
By serving themselves, most aesthletes provide their content for free. The ease of access to their work reinforces the low-risk/high-reward dynamic of their overproduction, as Pitchfork contributor Mike Powell notes:

Ultimately, my take with Lil B is that he keeps the price of entry to his world so low that complaining about him is a waste of energy. He offers himself to his audience for nothing—giving him nothing shouldn’t be hard. Furthermore, I don’t even know what “ironic” means in the context of Lil B. If he really didn’t think that the world was a beautiful and endlessly amusing place, where does he find the energy to keep rapping about it for free?
Most aesthletes secure artistic freedom only by working in the precarious space outside the governing institutions of their field. Lil B remains unsigned, and aesthletes practicing visual art are far more of a presence on the Internet than in physical galleries. Even if the contemporary art world accepts challenges to received notions of quality—deskilling has been widely debated at least since Duchamp’s time—it has maintained a less flexible approach toward quantity, upholding relatively conservative restrictions about how many exhibitions an institution should have per year, how large an exhibition space should be, and how many works are appropriate to stuff in a certain square footage per show. The same goes for artists: There still are (rarely spoken) rules as to how many works an artist should produce in a series for it to be financially viable and how often an artist should release new work without making previous work seem obsolete or a career mistake the artist is eager to repudiate. In other words, from the conventional art world’s perspective, appropriating mass-produced goods is a legitimate artistic gesture insofar as the goods are not appropriated and serially exhibited en masse.

Release schedules for work were once fully orchestrated by culture-industry institutions, tailored to the market-researched demands of a buying audience. In the case of television, shows would be edited so to anticipate commercial breaks in the narrative. Time and space imposed limits on these institutions: a white room can fit only so many paintings without overflowing, a CD can fit only so many songs without become a bulky boxed set, a magazine column can have only so many words before it crowds out the advertising sold to support it. The internet-induced stress that Lovink refers to is born from the infinite expanse of storage the internet opens up. Without a clearly defined limit on content, where does a creator start or stop? The aesthlete’s answer is to continuously sprint up Mario’s infinite staircase—it’s the journey, not the destination.

In an attention economy, there is more value in being ubiquitous than scarce, especially when there is no added cost to publicizing more works and no depletion of digital content’s aura, given that it permanently exists only as a copy for all. The waiting period between releases that once structured the market and assigned a price to each work does not suit online content. There is now simply not enough time for a single assessor to explore an aesthlete’s full catalog, or for the market to price it all. The aesthlete is outrunning them.

Instead, the artist’s personality becomes the sellable good. Attention acquired in new media can be leveraged to sell more inherently scarce goods and services, like teaching, lectures, concerts, and books. Aesthletes’ work becomes inseparable from the theatre of their own excessive labor.

If the value of the masterpiece was found in its timelessness and material specificity, the aesthlete’s ambition is to exist most fully in the limited time and infinite space to which they can lay claim.

4. The Accidental Audience, published on The New Inquiry (March 2013)

ON TUMBLR, USERS CAN LOOK AT ART WITHOUT EVEN REALIZING IT. DO THEY DEMOCRATIZE THE WORK OR MERELY MAKE IT AN ADVERTISEMENT FOR ITSELF?

Last August, in the midst of controversy over populist exhibitions at MOCA in Los Angeles, museum director Jeffrey Deitch described a new sort of art audience: “They’re not the people who make a living as artists, art critics or professional art collectors … These are people who hear about a great new film they want to go to. They hear that there’s a terrific new fashion store that’s very cool—they want to go there. They don’t differentiate between these cultural forms.” It follows that the blockbuster-exhibit-obsessed art world—like its not-so-distant cousin, Hollywood—must now compete with the onslaught of other entertainment forms and devices for the limited attention of such viewers.

Netflix, YouTube, Vimeo, Gawker, tablets, and mobile phones have all contributed to our daily retinal traffic jam, as art historian David Joselit argues in the waning pages of After Art. This, he argues, has forced geriatric museums to pop the institutional equivalent of Cialis and erect larger, more elaborate architectural additions to draw globe-trotting tourists into newly deindustrialized cities.

Absent from Joselit’s lament, though, is the fact that many artists thrive within these media forms that are believed to threaten traditional exhibition spaces. Contrary to oft-heard accounts of balkanization and walled gardens present in social networks, several recent art projects have exceeded the bounds of their original context, gaining a large non-art-related audience en route to online virality. These audiences share images and videos initially conceived as artworks without any concern for authorship, context, or property—without any particular awareness that they are engaging with “art” at all. That is, they are art audiences by accident.

What becomes of art when the majority of those interacting with it don’t recognize it as such? What happens “after art”?

To examine the accidental audience in action, I will be focusing on Jogging—a blog I founded with Lauren Christiansen and presently contribute to, along with hundreds of others—because I have been able to track how a wide range of viewers have interacted with work posted there.

DE-AUTHORSHIP, DECONTEXTUALIZATION, AND ART AS PROPERTY

Jogging began as a Tumblr in 2009 that displayed Google Image Searched products Photoshopped together as artworks, with the same text you’d find on any museum wall placard: title, date, medium, and author. Discrepancies would arise between the visual content and the descriptions, as digital collages were variously titled as installations, paintings, or sculptures, raising questions about the leveling effects of installation photography on all mediums and the power that documentary images have over the physical objects they depict. The site garnered a small amount of attention in its first two years, and then after a hiatus, its popularity grew exponentially with the inclusion of a dozen new members and a significantly increased posting schedule over the summer of 2012. As the project’s popularity increased, the work featured on it became increasingly, paradoxically, dissociated from the names of those who created it.

It’s fair to say Jogging faced this predicament because of Tumblr, the largest image-aggregating social network on the Internet, comprising 50 million blogs with 20 billion images last year alone. Every Tumblr post openly tracks its number of notes—the total of likes and reblogs a post receives. Among Tumblr users, reblogs—an automated form of appropriation that takes media from one blog and inserts it on your own—are the preferred note currency because they exponentially increase a post’s visibility and the likelihood it will be further circulated. When users reblog content in Tumblr, the service publicly keeps track of where posts originated and who has since liked or reblogged those posts.

Reblogs are simultaneously a form of viewership and a mode of display: they acknowledge a user’s past interest as audience while offering content to future audiences. Reblogging thus has similarities to what sociologists call prosumption, the act of consuming and producing at the same time. For some, prosumption constitutes part of their artistic practice, though most typify this relationship with content as a way of curating.

On a social network flush with recycled posts, there’s a premium on delivering original content for others to share. Attention-hungry users gain prestige by being seen as the origin point of a highly sharable image. It isn’t as impressive if a post has 10,000 notes and you’re the 10,001st person to reblog it. This creates an incentive for users to drag popular images to their desktop and fraudulently repost them on Tumblr as though they had created or found the image independently. It’s not a lie about creation but a lie about curation (“Look what I found,” not “Look what I made”) to put one’s taste and image-hunting abilities in the best possible light—to make them seem original.

By manually reposting and opting out of Tumblr’s provenance interface, users essentially cut off the author’s signature from a work. Such fraudulent reposting is as commonplace as it is despised, though it would seem the theft of authorship or curatorial taste is the logical conclusion of a social network premised on the appropriation of content. The majority of Tumblr’s viewership occurs through its Dashboard, where notes are always made visible, but notes and backlinks can be obscured by skins that prohibit visitors from viewing the number of notes of any given post on a user’s Tumblr homepage.

These omissions and obfuscations of authorship create an increased likelihood that art images will be stripped of their status as art, allowing audiences to understand the work as something other than art. They become accidental art audiences.

Much of the audience for art has always been to some degree accidental. Take, for instance, the Sunday tourist visiting a museum that happens to be showing a survey of contemporary art. As visual art’s focus has largely shifted from representation and craft to engage with art-historical discourse, it’s increasingly likely the average viewer may be wholly oblivious to what is being addressed, the artists featured, or their stated intentions without some level of a priori familiarity with the art world. For this viewer, it’s the museum rather than the art that has been sought out, and although artworks are assumed to be inside, any art for them will do.

The difference between the Sunday museum tourist and the Tumblr user who sees an 11th generation reblog of an anonymized art image is a matter of intentionality: Despite the Sunday tourists’ so-called lack of rigorous intellectual engagement with the contemporary art show, they did intend to see some kind of art, and the museum guaranteed for them that that was what they were doing. The Tumblr viewer who sees an art-image-gone-viral on his friend’s kawaii-themed Tumblr may not be in the pursuit of art at all. Instead he is pursuing relevant content in the broadest possible sense, looking to reblog images he wants to associate himself with, and “like” content he finds somewhat less interesting.

One way to conceptualize the accidental art audience’s relationship with context and property is through Joselit’s ideas of “image fundamentalism” and “image neoliberalism,” terms he borrows from political analysis to describe competing visions of where art must be located for its meaning to be authentically embodied. For the image fundamentalist, art’s meaning is inseparably tied to its place of origin through historic or religious significance; to remove this art from its home is to sever its ties with the context that grants the work its aura. For the image neoliberal, art is a universal cultural product that should be free to travel wherever the market or museums take it; meaning is created through a work’s ability to reach the widest audience and not through any particular location at which it’s viewed. So when the Acropolis Museum in Athens demands the Elgin Parthenon Marbles be returned from the British Museum in London, proponents of image fundamentalism (Acropolis Museum) confront image neoliberalism (British Museum).

Image fundamentalists see the rights to property as being granted at birth through cultural or geographic specificity, while for neoliberals, art’s status as property is ensured through a work’s ability to be sold, traded, or gifted like any other owned thing in a market economy.

The accidental audience’s attitude toward what it sees is deeply predicated on the neoliberal vision of cultural migration, but its willingness to strip images of their status as property is so aggressive that it deserves a term of its own: image anarchism. Whereas image fundamentalists and image neoliberals disagree over how art becomes property, image anarchists behave as though intellectual property is not property at all. While the image neoliberal still believes in the owner as the steward of globally migratory artworks, the image anarchist reflects a generational indifference toward intellectual property, regarding it as a bureaucratically regulated construct. This indifference stems from file sharing and extends to de-authored, decontextualized Tumblr posts. Image anarchism is the path that leads art to exist outside the context of art.

ART AFTER ART

Art’s relationship with the new accidental audience and new quasi-exhibition spaces online is rife with awkwardness, mistaken presumptions, and anger. What else could be expected, given that these audiences don’t necessarily regard themselves as having anything to do with art? Joselit aptly describes the zeitgeist of contemporary artistic production, detailing “a broader shift in emphasis among contemporary artists from individual or discrete objects to the disruption or manipulation of populations of images through various methods of selecting and reframing existing content.” In other words, artists today are less interested in creating from scratch and more interested in tying together a variety of pre-existing references and materials. It makes sense that so much of today’s work looks eerily familiar in the way it mimics or appropriates wholesale from advertising strategies, mass-produced goods, and service-sector interpersonal exchanges. Context remains the final stopgap separating art from the subject of its appropriation, though in general, art remains more distant from the things it appropriates than artists tend to think.

Compared with the “real” products of the world—mass-produced goods with professional sheen, ubiquitous commercial presence, and celebrity endorsements—artworks generally look and exist in some way other. Those without an art education have nonetheless become keenly trained visual analysts by way of viewing a daily onslaught of well-designed advertisements. Images that began as art but have reached a level of widespread popularity beyond that context are thus judged according to that training and the visual vocabulary of advertising, where vague similarities are found through the mutual use of commercial goods and techniques. The art image becomes an awkward curiosity for the accidental audience, landing in an uncanny valley of familiarity and otherness.

Based on my experience of closely following the ebb and flow of Jogging’s most recent 2000 posts, I can classify accidental-audience reactions to decontextualized art into three main categories:

1. WTF I don’t even?

This is the accidental audience’s most common response. “WTF I don’t even?” is a textual meme for the bafflement experienced when one comes in contact with far-off corners of the internet. It’s reserved for the rare examples of things that fall outside any known trajectory, despite all the visual training and pattern finding internet viewers have learned to perform as they parse through their RSS feeds.

While this might seem a negative judgment of the art, it’s important to remember the accidental audience doesn’t think it’s art in the first place. For them, these images are not bad art so much as the epitome of randomness. The giddy confusion they express at decontextualized art is less an assertion about the art and more like a search query or cry for assistance: “What am I looking it?” “Where does it belong?”**My gratitude to Eugene Kotlyarenko for raising this concept in a Chat Room meeting on February 10, 2013, with David Joselit. Rather than demonstrate the audience’s ignorance, the uncanny valley of decontextualized art actually testifies to everyday viewers’ visual sophistication: They can readily identify the branded commercial components of an image and how they have been “improperly” appropriated, and they recognize (albeit with perplexity) that purpose has been ascribed to a situation or object that appears blatantly pointless from a use-value standpoint. Viewers understand the rejection of instrumentality present in these images, but without viewing them as art, this subversion reads as incomprehensible.

Take Will Shea and Shawn C. Smith’s Jogging post Mac Bath, 2013 for example, an image that accumulated over 100,000 notes in the span of a month. Mac Bath features a tightly cropped image of a Macbook Pro almost fully engulfed in the water of a running bathtub. Some rebloggers encountering the image without context saw its as documenting an unfortunate mistake but were skeptical of why the image’s creator chose to photograph the computer rather than save it. Viewers would later cite the image’s popularity as a motive for its creation, offering commentary like, “$2000 down the drain all to become Tumblr famous. Was it worth it?” or “Only white people would do this for notes.”

The accidental audience knew there was something odd going on in this image, but the anonymized trail of Tumblr left behind few, if any, clues to what its original purpose was. The search for context on Tumblr is often a catch-22: In order to look for the original, you must first make a copy by reblogging and asking for help. In the case of Mac Bath, the enormous number of perplexed copies came to supplant the intention behind the production of the original.

2. You’re doing it wrong.

Not all of the accidental audience meets images of art with perplexity or suspicion. Many take the appropriated products and materials used by artists at face value, believing their depicted use to be the sincere and mistaken work of a fool.

The textual meme “You’re doing it wrong” has sprung from a zealousness to point out the laziness or irrationality of others’ purposely shared attempts at cooking, transportation, romance, and all else. It marks a dual sincerity: The accidental viewer sincerely believes the art image to be the sincere documentation of a poor attempt at functionality. The beauty in this misunderstanding is that, on the level of the image, when the accidental audience recirculates it, it fulfills the avant-garde ambition for art to be integrated with everyday life—only now achieved through a kaleidoscopic twist in context. The flow of art back into everyday life through Tumblr marks a security flaw in what is often described as the “hermetically sealed” art world.

The levee between art and life is becoming increasingly strained through rampant appropriation. This transformation (or context-deprived misreading) is not adding new meaning to the work but returning it to its original context—a return to an understanding based on functionality rather than aesthetics.

A direct example of art’s disintegration back into the source of its own appropriation can be found in the story of Aaron Graham’s Jogging post HAIR STRAIGHTENER USED TO COOK INDIVIDUAL PIECE OF BACON, 2012, an image that has amassed 40,000 notes on Tumblr and leaked into other social media networks. Graham draws inspiration from amateur sites that feature “kludges,” inelegantly jerry-rigged combinations of everyday objects. The more preposterous and unexpected the combination, the more popular the kludge generally becomes. A week after posting the image on Jogging, HAIR STRAIGHTENER USED TO COOK INDIVIDUAL PIECE OF BACON accumulated an accidental audience very quickly, and the image was anonymously reposted without attribution to the curated kludge site ThereIFixedIt.com, which even put its own watermark on the image.

Graham’s sculpture simultaneously evokes the high-art Dadaist tradition of assemblage as well as the pop culturally indebted kludges, making the inclusion of his sculpture on Jogging and then accidentally on the popular kludge website ThereIFixedIt.com apropos—it successfully merged both visual vocabularies. The full circle that Graham’s sculpture has traveled marks the power of the literal-minded accidental audience as a connector and creator of image meanings. You can already hear the sound of the accidental audience attempting to pee in Duchamp’s Fountain while a chorus of others photographs them, remarking on that toilet’s lack of plumbing.

3. My kid could do that!

Jogging includes on all posts abstract symbols as links back to creators’ websites. For most, these symbols are unobtrusive nonsense that goes unnoticed far more easily than a fully articulated authorial signature with a first and last name would. In this way Jogging encourages the disregard of authorship while allowing those who are curious about a creator a ubiquitous, if minor, point of entry.

Some of those from Camp A (WTF I don’t even?) are able to catch Jogging posts before they go viral to the extent that all textual description has been lost, which allows them to discover the portfolio of the artist. When this reveals a post as a work of fine art, it pushes portions of the accidental audience into a fit of outrage at the work’s pretension, eliciting many variations of the classic critique, “My kid could do that.” Ironically, this outrage often propels hundreds if not thousands more notes to rack up, as one incredulous viewer after another reblogs the image from earlier rebloggers, building a chorus of angry hysteria.

That a so-called bad post would become popular isn’t unusual—many absurd, poorly crafted, and perhaps immoral posts accrue huge popularity on Tumblr all the time. Instead, this outrage reflects how the collision of low-culture absurdity and high-culture art reveals the material deskilling of artists, which makes accidental audiences question art itself.

Of course, it’s true: Most children can produce works of art that would be published on Jogging. But that’s not the point. No one better explains the paradox of an audience who expresses anger (rather than seeing opportunity) that something they could have created became a successful work of art than Boris Groys in his essay The Weak Universalism:

Avant-garde art today remains unpopular by default, even when exhibited in major museums. Paradoxically, it is generally seen as a non-democratic, elitist art not because it is perceived as a strong art, but because it is perceived as a weak art. Which is to say that the avant-garde is rejected—or, rather, overlooked—by wider, democratic audiences precisely for being a democratic art; the avant-garde is not popular because it is democratic. And if the avant-garde were popular, it would be non-democratic. Indeed, the avant-garde opens a way for an average person to understand himself or herself as an artist—to enter the field of art as a producer of weak, poor, only partially visible images. But an average person is by definition not popular—only stars, celebrities, and exceptional and famous personalities can be popular. Popular art is made for a population consisting of spectators. Avant-garde art is made for a population consisting of artists.
This paragraph, when applied not to museum attendees but to Tumblr’s accidental audience, cuts to the heart of the general uncertainty over whether the ongoing appropriation of others’ work through social media constitutes a form of production. In other words, Would the accidental audience describe themselves as viewers and/or creators of culture in general? Prosumer seems the most accurate.

For artists using social media like Tumblr, the question is not whether their involvement constitutes an act of curation or artistic production, but whether the specificity of those aims (curating, art making) are tenable according to their present definitions when placed in front of audiences who hold such wide ranging motivations for their own spectatorship. At what point do artists using social media stop making art for the idealized art world audience they want and start embracing the new audience they have?

To a certain extent, Jogging has attempted to do this by downplaying authorship, maintaining a post rate for original content that’s as fast as other Tumblrs’ image-reblogging, and producing works that draw inspiration from general Web content. Jogging is not the first to do this, and surely more efforts to artistically capitalize on the unbalkanized attention economy of the Internet will follow.

The accidental audience’s schizophrenia of occupying both positions of viewer and creator simultaneously is directly embodied in reblogging, which acknowledges one’s role as a past-tense spectator while allowing for the future-tense spectatorship of others. Out of this simultaneity comes a third option the breaks apart Groys’s dichotomy of unpopular democratic art vs. popular undemocratic art: popular art that is also democratic. The accidental audience’s scale and effectiveness in dissemination for democratic work proves this option is possible—just don’t tell anyone it’s art once the images get out there. For all I know, they might be something else at that point.

3. ‘Jogging x Gallery Girls’, for Dis Images (February 2013)..

Bravo’s Gallery Girls’ Angela Pham as Lululemon Yoga Mom successfully levitating ‘Doritos Locos Taco Masterlocked Shut’ (2012) during transcendent yoga routine and consequently extinguishing a California forest fire (Part 2), 2013

Bravo’s Gallery Girls’ Angela Pham as Sorority Girl wearing a ‘Whole Foods flexfit hat with Hot Topic Hair Extension’ (2012) finalizing her on-location melted crayon art during her global training barracks residency (Part 2), 2013

Bravo’s Gallery Girls’ Chantal Chadwick as Ultimate Fighting Championship fan posing with Sustainable Energy (2012) before drinking a Jogging ‘Baguette Koozie’ (2012) while attending WWE Wrestlemania at Madison Square Garden, 2013

Bravo’s Gallery Girls’ Angela Pham as Sea Punk holding ‘Batteries Frozen in Powerade’ (2012) in ritualistic pose (2012) while standing in water in the Lower East Side after Hurricane Sandy (Part 2), 2013

Bravo’s Gallery Girls’ Chantal Chadwick as Ultimate Fighting Championship fan drinking a Jogging ‘Baguette Koozie’ (2012) in front of the Colosseum (Part 1), 2013

Bravo’s Gallery Girls’ Angela Pham as Sea Punk holding ‘Batteries Frozen in Powerade’ (2012) up to temple in front of contaminated water from Hurricane Sandy in the Lower East Side (Part 2), 2013

Bravo’s Gallery Girls’ Angela Pham as Sorority Girl wearing a ‘Whole Foods flexfit hat with Hot Topic Hair Extension’ (2012) taking a selfie while burning a Rainbow Crayon protest sign at Occupy Wall St. (Part 1), 2013

Bravo’s Gallery Girls’ Angela Pham as Sea Punk holding ‘Batteries Frozen in Powerade’ (2012) while waves from Hurricane Sandy crash around her in the Lower East Side (Part 1), 2013

Bravo’s Gallery Girls’ Angela Pham as Lululemon Yoga Mom holding up ‘Doritos Locos Taco Masterlocked Shut’ (2012) during yoga routine inside of a California forest fire (Part 1), 2013

2. My Etsy store.

I take pride in providing some of the most significantly organic, inscrutably rare, and immeasurably valuable products on Etsy. There is often only a single example of the things I make. Sometimes I re-use the same components and try to find different combinations that may be even more locally made or ergonomic. So when one thing is purchased sometimes other auctions have to end because they all contained a common variable. When that happens there are technically 0 of those other products in existence. They’re only ideas. Can you imagine how rare something is that doesn’t even exist? I wish I could sell those products because they would be worth way more than the ones that do exist. I think they call that a “Catch 22”.

DORITOSLOCOS taco MASTER LOCKED shut (Key Sold Separately) Highly Significant (Consider The Consequences of Tardiness) — $30.00 USD

vacuum sealed Christian Marazzi - 'the VIOLENCE of financial capitalism' with 100 BITCOIN gold plated bar (2/5 tsa no fly list series) — $80,000.00 USD

1. ‘Vice Versa’ at Tomorrow Gallery, Toronto (June 2012). Two person exhibition with Parker Ito.

Small scale scans of drug packages ordered from the Silk Road, bubbled to obscure legally sensitive details.

Website by Show Group

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