But Is It Art?

6bd67e94[1]Last week, a group of people scaled the towers of the Brooklyn Bridge and replaced the American flags with bleached out white ones.  Many people have many theories about who did this and why.  Certainly, some kind of terrorist explanation comes to mind – a dry run to expose security protocols perhaps.  But also among the many speculative explanations was that this was in some way art.

Deputy Police Commissioner John Miller said the incident had “no particular nexus” to terrorism or politics.

“This may be somebody’s art project or an attempt to make some sort of statement, but at this time it’s not clear what that statement is,” Miller told a packed news briefing at police headquarters.  NYPD Sees Art, Not Terror, in Brooklyn Bridge Flag Swap Bloomberg 7-25-14

Of course this would be of the Conceptual or Post-Conceptual variety that I discussed in my previous post.

Even so, how can art be indistinguishable from terrorism?  Even in the throes of Dada, the avant-garde, the Theater of Cruelty starting almost 100 years ago, the audience knew it was an audience and the artist knew she was an artist.  Certainly the creators of these productions meant to break down the barriers between audience and artist, but the barriers were there to be broken down.

By the time we get to 1966, John Cage says to Stanely Kauffmann,

What is happening in this century, whether you accept it or not, is that more and more there is no gap between art and life.

Art is famously impossible to define.  It is the institutions of art that clue viewers, listeners, smellers, tasters, touchers that the experience before them should be understood as art.  Heidegger describes the function of both art and technology  as the revealing of Being. But just as technology is “nothing technological”, art is nothing artistic.  Both are a function of the revealing Heidegger discussed, each dependent on a different understanding of Being.

This increasing invisibility of art recalls for me, in this context, the projects Stranger Vision and Invisible by Heather Dewey-Hagborg I discussed in my last post.  In the first she constructs “family resemblance” sculptures from DNA she acquired in random places.  In the second, she developed a pair of aerosol sprays to eliminate and mask any remaining DNA from a surface.

Indeed, news reports indicate that DNA Evidence Found At Scene Of Brooklyn Bridge White Flag Stunt Gothamist 7-25.

Perhaps the NYPD could find Dewey-Hagborg’s Stranger Vision technology useful.  Perhaps the artists/perpetrators could have benefited from her Invisible technology.

There is no Luminol spray to show trace evidence of art.  Perhaps that could be Dewey-Hagborg’s next project.

The Findable Cyborg Part 5

The end product is of no importance. It is the creative process  and the fact of sharing this process with everyone else, destroying its mysteriousness, destroying its capitalist value that is vital. Heather Dewey-Hagborg Theoretical Perspectives on Interactivity – Art and Freedom

Post-Conceptual¹ (my term) artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg has executed two related projects that speak to the issues of surveillance I have been discussing.  The first of these, Stranger Visions started when she was in a therapy session staring at a framed print with a crack in its glass and a hair lodged in the crack.  As her day progressed, the idea that genetic data surrounds us developed into the (post) concept of Stranger Visions.

She began collecting material likely to have DNA on them such as hair, cigarette butts and gum.  She then extracted and analyzed the DNA from these samples.  Using a computer program she developed, which codes genetic facial traits and generates a model to represent them.  After tweaking the result she used a 3D full color printer to produce facial sculptures that have a “family resemblance” to the DNA donor.

[I]t is important to remember that this is art, not the development of a new product or company. This work is a provocation, designed to spur a cultural diaogue about genetic surveillance and forensic DNA phenotyping. What does it mean for an artist, an amateur, to do this? What are the implications for privacy issues as well as law enforcement? I think these are the major questions. We hear everyday about “digital natives” who don’t know how not to share their private data with the world, but here we all are, shedding hairs, nails, skin, and leaving saliva behind us all the time, without thinking about it as information. Stranger Visions Press Release

 

The second project of Dewey-Hagborg’s I’d like to discuss is Invisible.

Acing that interview? Don’t let your genes undermine your confidence. Be invisible.
Are you too big to fail? Don’t let DNA spill your secrets. Protect your prestige and be invisible
Spend the night somewhere you shouldn’t have? Erase your indiscretion and be invisible
Dinner with the prospective inlaws going smoothly? Don’t let them judge you based on your DNA, be invisible.
Exercising your freedom of speech? Be invisible and never get tracked.  Invisible

For this project, Dewey-Hagborg has developed two sprays.  The first deletes 99.5% of DNA it comes in contact with, and the other renders the rest unreadable by overwhelming any sample with extraneous DNA.

Dewey-Hagborg sold a limited edition of 100 pairs of sprays for $230.  Certainly there are techniques to clean DNA from objects.  This project is about invisibility embedded in convenience, not developing a product.

As Dewey-Hagborg points out DNA provides a way of identifying, gaining medical information and monitoring people.

You wouldn’t leave your medical records on the subway for just anyone to read. It should be a choice. You should be in control of how you share your information and with whom: be it your email, your phone calls, your SMS messages, and certainly your genes. Invisible is protection against new forms of biological surveillance. Invisible

At least conceptually.

Note:

¹ I use post-conceptual in recognition of Dewey-Hagborg’s critique of Conceptual Art as having sold out and then died. She also critiques the concept of art. She identifies herself however as an artist and her art is conceptual in nature. So post-conceptual is my attempt to recognize her position.