SPEAKER 1: OK, I have a script to read from, because Andrea Inselmann, the Curator of Matthew's Exhibition can't be here today. But I'm actually delighted and honored to have been asked to introduce Matthew's lecture. I've been looking at his work-- I checked, today-- for 29 years, almost 30 years, and looking closely, and have admired it for a period of time. So I feel like I'm the one that should be here, doing this.
I'm going to read the script now. Thank you for joining us for Matthew Weinstein's lecture this evening, held in conjunction with his exhibition, The Living End, On View Down the Corridor. The exhibition includes five large-scale paintings on aluminum and copper from the past four years. His recent two-channel computer-generated animation, Anna Kavan-- The Living End, and his brand new animation, The Last Cigarette. Exhibited together like this, the paintings and animations create an imaginary space in which traditional lines between the literal and the metaphorical collapse. During the run of his show, Weinstein's video, Cruising, 1980, will be visible on the museum facade from sundown until 11:00 PM.
Matthew Weinstein was born in New York, in 1964. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Columbia University in 1987, and had his first solo show at Daniel Weinberg gallery in Los Angeles, in 1989. Nobody had their first solo show with Dan Weinberg, except Matthew. Because that just didn't happen.
With his background in theater, acting, filmmaking, screenwriting, painting, and graphic design, Weinstein's practices located on the boundary between art and entertainment. Part of a 3D-animation production community based in Brooklyn, Weinstein employs cutting-edge technologies used to create his non-narrative animated films. In 2017, he was the first artist to be partnered in an annual fellowship/art with Cornell Tech graduates to create art that escapes convention, resulting in the video installation Anna Kavan-- The Living End, an investigation into physiological interactivity.
Weinstein has had many exhibitions in this country and abroad, including the Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich, Germany, and Kunsthalle Wien in Vienna, Austria. He shared with the influential Sonnabend Gallery in New York, until it closed in 2014, and now works with Carolina Nitsch Gallery in New York, and Baldwin Gallery in Aspen, Colorado.
Matthew's lecture this afternoon is called "Fade in to Revolution," in which he will be addressing the subversive potential of technology as the inescapable content of new media art. Please help me welcome Matthew Weinstein.
MATTHEW WEINSTEIN: Thanks, Carl. Since there's a lot of my work down the hall, I'm just going to read stuff about technology for about 40 minutes. And then afterwards, I hope you have questions about the show or about what I've read or anything else. "Fading Into Revolution," fade in.
Technology is the inescapable content of new media, because of new media of origins, and the technologies of [AUDIO OUT] obtainment, information dispersal, and indoctrination into consumer culture. So new media are, for now, associated with content pollution, and the degradation of the real. But new media can call attention to the ways that our commercial media, enabled by technology and industry, pushes us toward certain conclusions, habits, beliefs, and behavioral patterns. It does this from the inside. It often contains the qualities of [AUDIO OUT] and thus, traveling with our restless attentions.
But it is important to note that all media are forms of pollution. Even though they did not arrive in the context of art making, prejudged. For example, your parents tell you that too much screen time will rot your mind. And then you start making art out of screen time.
Nobody exemplified this more clearly than Robert Smithson, for whom the act of pollution was a performative medium. Paint-off gases, sculptural components are a dictionary of pollutants. And art objects themselves are more stuff to add to the stuff that is clogging our world. A sculpture made out of plastic bottles is, after all, a bunch of plastic bottles, no matter how they were sourced.
A remade pornographic image as a source of critique is no less connected to the system of exploitation that enabled it than the original. But having said this, I still believe that we need to lift art objects out of the category of stuff, in order for them to function. And their function is necessary.
As long as new media is still a new category, it will be necessary to consider technology in relation to it. Because technology is embedded in new media's art history. With media like 3D animation, with its focus on perspective, z space, and the schemitization of the effects of light and objects, it picks up where the Renaissance left off, bouncing over the modernist obsession with flatness, and landing in contemporary art, rooted through entertainment.
In Western art, every painting has a gravitational attraction to what André Malraux called, "the museum without walls." This cannot be said about new media. It takes a leap of imagination to connect new media to art history of all periods. And this alone has enormous meaning. Because it can make us stop mindlessly rehearsing this same old historical narratives.
Artists are often perverse, or kinky, in relation to the world that hosts it. Meaning that it plays a game of submission to and rebellion against the status quo, using a constantly-shifting array of techniques, technologies, and conceptual approaches. This rebellion from within the conditions of its own making, and these conditions being its privileged status, its accompanying of its [AUDIO OUT] to periods of change, its value within education, and its continued necessity to civilization is what makes art useful and what can make it dangerous.
Art can present powerful models of change from within a culture's dominant ideologies. But it certainly isn't obliged to. And at times, it presents them without the artist's intention, or in a slow-motion and invisible way. Or sometimes art just points to something and says, you think that's only there. But actually, it's everywhere.
"The medium is the message." in Marshall McLuhan's 1964 book, Understanding the Media-- Extensions of Man, he pens his famous phrase, "the medium is the message." This statement holds the concept that media content is a distraction from the medium itself, which has innate oracular qualities. For McLuhan, these qualities should be made manifest, in order to understand how our consciousness is being shaped. Otherwise, we are a potential media victims.
McLuhan compares content to a piece of meat brought by a burglar to disarm the watchdog. McLuhan's attitude towards content is much like the formalist art critic, Clement Greenberg's. For Greenberg, the paint and support alone do the job of constituting a painting.
Our current cultural polyvocality, at least our ideal of inclusivity, takes issue with the idea that content is just a distraction. New media, specifically video, can capture impressions so directly that it seems to call out, much like the art historian Leo Steinberg's concept of a flatbed picture plane, for a multiplicity and diversity of content, served up in documentary, narrative, or mutated ways. But McLuhan is correct. It is undeniable that technologies changed in the way we exist in the world. And we need to be conscious consumers of not only content, but its delivery systems.
To take two examples of artists in this museum, Nam June Paik used non-narrative and streaming content as a way to get us to look at the surreality of our visual technologies. And he fits comfortably within McLuhan's construct. Whereas Carolee Schneeman as demonstrated in her piece Meat Joy, presents moving imagery as a performance that is so potent and explicit that it represents itself as pure content, and binds immediately onto social issues of representation and sexuality.
"Framed by technology." In 1954, in his work the question concerning technology, the German existential phenomenologist Martin Heidegger brings up the concept of Gestell, or enframing. He defines technology as a mode of experience, not pure utility. This technological enframing makes us experience the world as a standing reserve, a thing to be exploited and not experienced. This is difficult to argue with. But in a mind-bending inversion of accepted logic, Heidegger also proposes that this enframing process precedes the science that is used to [AUDIO OUT] the [INAUDIBLE]. So for him, in a sense, technology precedes the science that makes it possible.
And Karl Marx had already made the point that the standing reserve being exploited is not just nature, but human labor and life. Capitalism, whose domination is inseparable from technology, presents itself as having always been a precondition to lived experience, and therefore, invisible, and blots out the possibility of any alternatives. For Heidegger as well as Marx, even the specific technological tool or commodity has ways of flying under the radar of our consciousness.
For Heidegger, in his 1927 book, Being and Time, the use of the tool obscures its singularity as it becomes part of the totality of our involvements, what he called "ready to hand." For Marx, of course, the technological commodity attains invisibility by devouring the conditions of its own making. Because it's creation by an individual has been replaced by its creation by an anonymous process of mechanization.
French phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty, in his 1954 work, Phenomenology of Perception, discusses the virtual, or phenomenal, body. For him, there is no objective physical body. There is [AUDIO OUT] body of [INAUDIBLE] and the body of interaction.
This suggests that the virtual is [AUDIO OUT] to the human. Arthur Rimbaud in his 1871 symbolist poem, "The Drunken Boat," describes the drifting of a lost ship from the point of view of the ship. This sort of visionary thinking, of the embodied machine or the machine embodied, occurred a few years before the commercial availability of the first telephone.
"Into the furious lashings of the tides, more heedless than children's brains, the other winter I ran, and loosened peninsulas have not undergone a more triumphant hubbub. The storm blessed my sea vigils.
Lighter than a cork, I danced on the waves that are called eternal rollers of victims. 10 nights without missing the stupid eye of the lighthouses.
Sweeter than the flesh of hard apples to children, the green water penetrated my whole of fur, and washed me of spots of blue wine and vomit, scattering rudder and grappling hook. And from then on, I bathed in the palm of the sea, infused with stars and lactescent, devouring the azure verses where, like a pale elated piece of flotsam, a pensive drowned figure sometimes sinks, rebellion and surrender."
French situationist, Guy Debord, in his 1967 book, The Society of the Spectacle, describes technology as that which interposes itself between actual contact. He writes, "All that once was directly live has become mere representation. Because of technology, we trade in images and objects, not in experience." The fix, for him, is to make the spectator aware of what has been substituted for lived experience.
John Baudrillard, echoing 1960s and '70s science fiction writers, like Philip K. Dick, states that the potential for lived experience has been irretrievably lost. Maybe it never existed. And that we live in an inescapable state of virtuality. In his 1981 treatise, Simulacra and [? Simulacrum, ?] he writes, "Disneyland is presented as imaginary, in order to make us believe that the rest is real. Whereas all of Los Angeles, and the America that surrounds it, are no longer real, but belong to the hyper-real order, and to the order of simulation. It is no longer a question of a false representation of reality, but of concealing the fact that the real is no longer real. And thus, of saving the reality principle."
And Disneyland is, of course, a technological spectacle. One cannot separate discussions of virtuality and technology. Because they share a vanishing point.
If it seems that Baudrillard is the first author mentioned here that has a nihilistic view of being, it is important to bear in mind that nihilism was a huge part of late '70s and '80s thinking. From punk and new wave, to post-cultural post-structuralist critics like Jacques Derrida becoming academic rock stars, there was an interest in not just tearing down the preexisting structures and rethinking authorship and intentionality, but even tearing down the idea of structure.
In the Reagan era, any form of a destruction to the status quo, no matter how ruthless, seemed like goodness in relation to the dominant ideologies of the time. But nihilism stretches far back. The great nihilist thinker Arthur Schopenhauer said, in 1839, "Man can do what he wills. But he cannot will what he wills."
Keiji Nishitani, who died in 1990, and the Kyoto School Philosophers, see in nihilism, not the Western end game or vacuum, but a nothingness that has the potential to be prescriptive, one that, as defined by Buddhism, predates Western philosophy. Baudrillard's thinking is clearly linked to dystopian narratives in which our devices fool us into thinking that they are aiding us in the enactment of our will, while they are, in fact, aiding our delusions of control and controlling us. While the world we were born into putrates. And human nothingness is a pair of green electric eyes gazing out of a burned-out coconut of a head, or the world of Blade Runner, in which technology enables the evisceration of the soul. And though this seems to be a Fait accompli, the remake of Blade Runner was terrible. And there are other forces at work.
In a more kaleidoscopic nihilistic idea of the will, which includes the void as a space of immanence, as in Nishitani. It is possible to think of our devices as things that also move into and out of our control, and that link us and also detach us from our being. And if virtuality is native to us, and I believe it is, and as Merleau-Ponty apparently states, then it's not a battle of the devices versus the humans in completely binary terms.
Was a Gothic cathedral only created as a giant machine for the manufacture of the fear of God and the submission of the poor? Or was it also created as a device to put people in touch with a quality of being, the spiritual or the virtual, that is swallowed up by the miseries of daily life in a brutal world? A blank monitor may not have been invented as a thing with which to contemplate the void. But it can be.
Are the dystopian hellscapes already appearing in our world created by our wills or by our devices, or out of our twisted desires? That is, it for our devices are actually representations of our wills? But in Schopenhauerian terms, we are not in control of the will that wills us to create our devices, so no help from him. Limiting screen time is not going to keep the void at bay. But perhaps continued negotiation with the machines, as a negotiation with the anthropotechnic side of our being can help prevent us from becoming a fuel source for what we think are our technological helpmates. Rimbaud, as both ship and passenger on an ecstatic voyage, comes to mind.
Post-structuralist philosopher, Gilles Deleuze, and psychoanalyst Félix Guattari, in their two-part Capitalism and Schizophrenia, written between 1972 and 1980, develop the concept of the body without organs. The term transforms within their right, which will elude certainty. But if we can pin it down for a moment, it is taken from actor, director and theorist, Antonin Artaud, and it means a body of potential immanence and flow onto which we strap being machines for functioning. We think the machines are inevitable parts of us. They are not.
In the words of Artaud, from his 1947 radio play, to have done with a judgment of God, he writes, "When you will have made him a body without organs, then you will have [AUDIO OUT] him his automatic reactions, and restored him to his true freedom." Note that this was spoken two years after the end of World War II, when men saddled with enormous killing machines were ever-present. Artaud's theater of cruelty was a proposition for a theater of rituals that assault the senses of the audience, liberating them from their being machines. In a sense, he was demanding that the audience leave their phones in the cloakroom, in a holistic way.
All of these historical observations and evocations of being explain how a successful technology can seem inevitable. We don't know how we lived without it. It hasn't been developed so much it has manifested itself as a component of ourselves. There is this nothingness that we struggle to ignore. And then this thing is in our hands, helping us fill and expand our lives.
Every Apple product has the rounded corners and reflective surfaces of things dematerialized, or of things that would not injure the birther in being born. They are so intuitive that they don't even come with instructions. They say, hello, Salaam, bonjour, and ni hao. And then they vanish like Victorian servants into the actions we take to extract what we need from them. We only see them as objects when they crash. And even then, we take it personally.
So technologies are invisible tools, physical machines to enable performative machines that have been strapped to our vanished bodies without our conscious decisions to do so; intuitive extensions of us, stealth ideological manifestations of a consumer society, invisible barriers between us and enthusiastically-embraced authorities, and props to convince us that our simulated being is, in fact, based on some sort of reality. This is why the content they deliver seems to have no history. It comes out of a void.
All of our entertainment devices tell us the same basic stories. And yet, we can't imagine seeing a silent film version of a love story. Because we have the addition of a soundtrack to tell the exact same story. We begin to see our spectator forefathers, in the flickering lights of mute entertainments, as the prisoners in Plato's cave. And of course, we will be seen that way by our futures, and so on.
But it bears mentioning that while Plato was stating that the more direct one's experience of ultimate reality is, the more they will approach the good, we are now in a world that idealizes ever-more truthful experiences of the virtual. So let's mull that over for a second.
In [AUDIO OUT] terms, that would mean that the more clearly we want to see the virtual, the more desperately we want to believe in the real, which is no longer or never was a mode of being in the first place. Or are our devices helping us in coping with our innate virtuality, while classical Western Cartesian philosophy and religion tells to keep trudging along in the dirt, and to keep our eyes on the path, to no effect but our desire to destroy everything around the path, so that the world is one big path for us to stomp on.
Thankfully, the tech industry is losing its power to convince us that it is our new best friend, and that it is a nonstop Christmas of amazements, truths, and algorithmic saviors. Journalists and opinion makers are finally undermining the Ted conference culture's relentless message of technological Utopian inevitability. It's always a relief when people in this country engage with the American tradition of skepticism, and not that of manifest destiny. We should spend more time with Mark Twain, and maybe not clap so much when someone sends a car into space with a mannequin in it, as if that's exactly what space was lacking, a Hard Rock Cafe set piece.
The art part. [AUDIO OUT] at all art forms-- he leveled the difference between art and advertising, which is debatable-- seek primarily to capture attention. While in one sense, this is true of all ambitions, it simplifies the fact that much art functions by undermining expectations. An example of this undermining is the option to produce art that seeks to not capture attention, by employing strategies of endurance, monotony, and boredom; three things new media is particularly suited to, and that owe a great debt to John Cage.
The moving image has an innate familiarity-- as stated before-- an invisibility. It is something many of us are more at home with than the contemplation of objects. The challenge of painting, sculpture, and photography, is often merely the command to stop, sit down, and de-code, experience an object. With moving image work, the challenge comes more often than not, once when it's inside the piece, because we have been trained to be pulled in by movies and television.
Not calling attention to itself as an alternative to daily experience is one of moving image's primary strengths. McLuhan's medium invisibility as an enabler of passivity within media art can actually be a delivery system for radical, at least critical, content. Although accepted wisdom about painting is that it is the medium of the body, the haptic medium, we can change the paradigm and state that painting is the medium of the illusory physical body, and that new media, specifically 3D animation and VR, is the territory of the phenomenal body, which has surfaced as a very useful description of the body in the mode of technology which clearly is an expanding frame.
It has been argued that Plato's division of the world into the real and the perceiver of the real has screwed up thinking for over 2000 years. And really, how can we think a world that we are inseparable from, how can we think a body that informs our minds with which we seek to think are bodies? The Heideggerian Hubert Dreyfus defines this as the myth of the mental, the idea that we think the world [AUDIO OUT] around [AUDIO OUT] realistic 3D computer animation and VR seem like the technological apotheoses of the innate virtual nature of our embeddedness in our worlds, we are all extension, and not perceivers of and searchers for the real. These media do not actually create this embeddedness. They are able to represent ourselves as virtual beings, beings of extension.
Even in gaming, world building is a term already suggesting in its entirety, that includes the builder as building a world that already exists within the potential of the software. And it comes with the builder, the player, built right in. Walt Whitman, in his "Song of Myself," from 1855, describes the condition of the self as a "multitude," and an extension into everything it perceives.
He writes, "The atmosphere is not a perfume. It has no taste of the distillation. It is odorless. It is for my mouth forever, I am in love with it. I will go to the bank by the wood and become undisguised and naked. I am mad for it to be in contact with me. Whitman, I think, is using [AUDIO OUT] of the invisible to describe the human condition of virtuality, the certainty that certainty is overrated.
Perhaps technologies aren't inevitable. Perhaps technology, as Heidegger proposed, preexists its actuality. Is technology an image of us more than a creation by us? And does virtuality proceed VR, as explored today, using current technologies? And is it not being uncovered rather than created? Can we live without these disruptions of certainty and these reversals of causality?
Yes. But probably not for much longer. The cult of certainty is exposing rifts. People with the same general political ideas are scrapping with each other, on the left as well as the right. Social existence is this [AUDIO OUT] street, no quiet corner, park, or coffee shop to rest and imbibe one's certainties.
New media contains the pragmatic and theoretical equipment to address this condition. New media can make an object out of time, lift it out, and let us look at it, and in this way, create a respite. I think that all art is representational. Which is debatable, but that's my point of view.
So to clarify, new media is not flux. Reality distortion, time, gaming, or pure information. It represents the [AUDIO OUT] things in the narrative technological environments by relying on the historical mechanisms of art that lift it out of the world of stuff.
New media can be a pain in the ass. The awkwardness of new media challenges traditional art world power structures and norms. It has conditions that need to be met. Like conceptualism, it is enabling the questioning of the exact location of the artwork in time, space, and commerce. In these, at times, irritating ways, new media is doing the heavy lifting in pointing out how antique and ritualistic our ways of delivering art to the public are.
For new media work now, its dysfunction may be its message. Whatever the problems of new media may be, they are no more perplexing than the problem of a torrent or cracked painting, or a ceramic urn found in shards. What we have is a systemic problem of a lack of imagination.
In a culture where authoritarianism is being accepted by a frightening majority, it is important to see how aesthetics can function as a form of personal and/or political rebellion. The sexualization, mockery, and scrambling of the logical structures of authority have been used historically by the avant garde as aesthetic forms of rebellion. We need art to keep undermining certainty, disappointing clarity, and confusing accepted orders. If, as artists, [AUDIO OUT] imagine is our primary medium-- and this is arguable, though I think it is-- and if the culture of certainty is weakening our resistance to authority, then our primary medium is in crisis, and art is in crisis.
Uncertainty and unanswerable questions are extremely important right now. Their madness must be upheld. And new media are excellent tools to confound expectations and de-stabilize cultural norms. Félix Guattari describes his and Gilles Deleuze's concept of schizo analysis to achieve this goal. Rather than moving in the direction of reductionist modifications which simplify the complex, schizo analysis will work towards its [AUDIO OUT], it's perceptual enrichment towards the consistency of its virtual lines of bifurcation and differentiation. In short, towards this ontological heterogeneity.
The fade-in in a film is a film convention that eases us into a world that is already established. And this is what new media is. It's a fade in to a consciousness of technology as a way of being. And not only a series of moves that help us in the realization of goals, or the assembly line of new and future devices. Revolutions in consciousness often start with a fade-in. And they never end. They just, at some point, become conditions.
New media puts technology in the contemplative space. It allows us to see what we are in relation to it. And we are always in relation to it. With new delivery systems for artistic content and alternative viewing conditions, it forces us to think about what we can harvest from visual technologies, what we should resist, and what we desire to transform.
Ultimately, however, the only nutritive source of change is each other. It's fascinating that we keep uncovering new ways to communicate, when we come equipped with so many. It makes it difficult to imagine that we crave isolation through our devices, when they all, in some way, involve communication and communicative media. Perhaps there is a level of communication we crave that is so subtle, abstract, and virtual, that it simply cannot be said, but it must be filtered and purified until it is adjacent to the terrain of art.
In 1928, the writer and actress Mae West, Bushwick-born daughter of a corset model and a boxer, opened her play, "The Pleasure Man," on Broadway. After a fairly scandal-free run at the Bronx Opera House, it was immediately raided. The offense the play committed wasn't the fact that it involved drag queens, bisexuals, gay people, and a shock ending implying castration-- this was the '20s. Its offense was that it mixed the genres of melodrama and vaudeville.
West ran the drag review straight through her tale of romantic suffering, thus disrupting the traditionally morally high-handed melodramatic endings, where the husband goes back to his wife, the loose woman ends in the gutter, and the upper-middle class pulls itself out of the sump of marginality. West arrived at the police station in furs. She bailed the cast and crew out. A parade of drag queens exited the police station to a frenzy of [AUDIO OUT] reporters. And Mae West went on to become a pioneering female comedian and a film legend. Here is a sample of her writing and acting. I'm ready for the--
- When I'm good I'm very good. But when I'm bad, I'm better.
- I see a man in your life.
- What, only one?
- I changed my mind.
- Yeah, does it work any better? Well, when I'm caught between two evils, I generally like to take the one I never tried.
- Now, take care of these men.
- Yes, give them all my address.
- I am delighted. I have heard so much about you.
- Yeah, but you can't prove it.
- Haven't you ever met a man that can make you happy?
- Sure, lots of times.
- What kind of husband does you think I should get?
- Mm, why don't you take a single man, leave the husbands alone?
- Well, I can always tell a lady when I see one.
- Yeah? What do you tell them?
I had to shoot a lion once.
- Really? Was he mad?
- Well, he wasn't exactly pleased about it.
- Ah, you were wonderful tonight.
- I'm always wonderful at night.
- Aren't you forgetting that you're married?
- I'm doing my best.
What's the good of resisting temptation? There'll always be more.
- I wish you'd forget your principles, Ruby. I must have you. Your golden hair, your fascinating eyes and alluring smile and lovely arms. Your form divine.
- Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Is this a proposal or you taking inventory?
- You certainly know the way to a man's heart.
- Hmm, funny too, because I don't know how to cook.
- I'm showing you think more of your diamonds than you do of your soul.
- Well, I'm sorry you think more of my soul than you do of my diamonds.
- Do I bother you if I look over your shoulder?
- No, do I bother you?
- I'll never forget you.
- No one ever does.
Well, it's better to be looked over than overlooked.
- Great town, St. Louis. You were born there?
- What part?
- Why, all of me.
What'd you do, get your hair cut or have your ears moved down?
- You know I been mad about you from the first time I laid eyes on you. Why, you're my whole world. What do you want to do, drive me to a madhouse?
- No, I'll call you a taxi.
- Young lady, are you trying to show contempt for this court?
- No, I'm doing my best to hide it.
- I wonder what kind of woman you really are.
- Too bad, but I can't give out samples. Why don't you come up sometime 'n see me?
MATTHEW WEINSTEIN: In 1577, a Carmelite nun, named Teresa of Ávila, envisioned a process towards a concourse with God. She spoke of the soul as a diamond in the shape of a castle, containing seven mansions, and a progressive journey through them, culminating with a union with God. This was a practical guide.
Each mansion is a stage. The journey begins with prayer and good works, but they seem to figure into faith, as one gets closer to God, where language and action are no longer part of the spiritual body, an ecstasy that can be described in both spiritual and carnal terms becomes one's being when one approaches the interior. Theresa wrote and communicated her visions in the vicinity of the Spanish Inquisition, when interpretations of dogma were criminalized, and the idea of a personal relationship with God, independent of the church, was grounds for capital punishment.
Her passion in her writing is faintly concealed by her humor and self-deprecation. Her spiritual writings are seen as revolutionary, and she is immortalized in [AUDIO OUT] sculpture by Bernini, that is regarded as one of the masterpieces of the Baroque. She was canonized that same year.
She wrote, "The most beautiful crystal globe made in the shape of a castle, and containing seven mansions. The nearer one got to the center, the stronger was the light." Clearly, Teresa of Ávila, in 1577, invented a space as imaginative and virtual as any created today using current technology. A fly-through of Carmelite nuns moving through reflections and transparent block-- [AUDIO OUT] toward the center irresistibly comes to mind.
My process almost always starts with an attachment to authors or filmmakers, and a deep involvement with their work, usually for years. And in some cases, my entire adult life. I read or watch their work over and over, and then I write.
At the same time, I start to make paintings that constitute the world I am creating for my impressions of them. The video I'm embarking on now is inspired by Mae West and Teresa of Ávila. They both wrote and performed their own material. They both spelled out a path to ecstasy. Their rebellions were not those of nihilism, but rather additive, gift like, and paths to pleasure.
I'm going to read the Seven Mansions. "A diamond that sparkled, but not well. My dogs have been looking at me like I owed them money. 'You own a castle in the middle of nowhere,' I was told. 'Do I?' I replied. 'You sang a song for it.' 'I think I remember something about it,' I answer.
I arrive at night, across a moat, over a bridge. A torch is burning. I can see a light under the front door. It opens. The Countess is there. She's holding down a big chair when I meet her, roasting by the fireplace.
'Would you like some tea?' She asks. I spy a bottle of something in a decanter. I pour myself a drink.
'How are you settling in?' she wants to know. I sneeze and drain my glass. I wander around my castle, rooms after rooms, a piano in one, a broken-down bed in another, one is full of chickens, mice, drafts. I go back to the Countess. [AUDIO OUT] 'I expect there will be,' she answers, looking me over.
I look in the mirror and tuck a hair back into my coiffeure. I sigh. 'What's the matter dear?' she asks.
I open a book that's lying near her. It's about a woman. A hunter spies her while she's taking a bath. She doesn't like that. So she turns him into a stag, and his dogs eat him. That's hot stuff, Countess. She winks at me.
I miss my dogs. The little gifts they bring me when they go on trips, a silver spoon with a picture of a lake on the handle, or painting of shell, all made out of shells. My dogs would spend their last dime on a flower, and wouldn't mind if I tossed it in the gutter. My dogs and I can get all [AUDIO OUT] skip it, and go for burgers. My dogs drink, smoke, and play cards. And they look good doing it.
I sit down opposite the Countess, and we read for a while. I spend a lot of time reading. There are rooms of books. People come to call, men. I have the Countess turn them away. She loves that. I'm busy with my reading.
And I'm thinking about a castle, another one. This castle is being built with no noise. The stones are all arriving cut into shapes that lock together, perfect.
They're being lowered gently into place, not a sound. A big courtyard is starting to form. At the end of it is a wide staircase.
On top of the staircase is a huge room. And the middle of this room is a piano. It's a huge carved tiger. Its teeth are the keys.
And when I play it, I bleed. But I don't care. Nobody is there to listen. I don't care, because there isn't any sound.
What is the center of this place? I keep wrapping it around me. Things are getting warmer. No more drafts.
No more dust. No more chickens. No more mice. No fireplaces. No smoke. And it's bright, the inside of a diamond.
The silkworm moth lays her eggs in the fall, and they hatch in the spring. The babies are furry. They only eat the softest mulberry leaves.
The babies grow, and then they spin cocoons, a mile of silk around themselves. Inside the cocoons, the babies become pupae. The pupae break out of their cocoons as silk moths.
But once they break their cocoons, the silk can't be used to make things out of. So all the pupae are boiled before they can hatch. I'm only wearing my slip, and it's silk.
The ghosts of baby silk moths fly around it. They tickle, I shudder. The tiny wings make a single note.
The note is made out of light. It's balled up inside me. It gets brighter and louder and warmer, and I can't get it out.
And it's agony, and I hope it never leaves. The moths fly inside me, towards the light. I have triumphed, I shout. I have triumphed. I am everything.
There is a fire burning. Over the fireplace is an enormous painting of me. A table is set for dinner, a roast chicken. I sit.
My prince pops out of the roast chicken. Well, hello, I say. He isn't exactly handsome, but he's nicely dressed. He grins. And then he uses his walking stick to drive a potato across my dining room. Cute.
I fill a soup bowl with water, and tell him to lose his suit, covered in gravy, and have a bath. We rinse the suit out together in a glass of seltzer and lay it out to dry. 'Feel better?' I ask. 'Oh yes, thank you,' he replies. But I feel rather exposed.
He covers his privates with his hands. 'Leave it,' I tell him. 'It's small because you're small. It's in proportion. You've got nothing to cry about.' 'Thank you,' he answers and bows. He makes this little gesture like he's trying to whip cream on his forehead.
'Cut the charm, and look at my breasts little man,' I say. Aren't they fantastic? 'I was going to say something about them, but I didn't want to offend you,' he replies. 'The are fantastic.'
'And the legs?' I say. I kick, and a kitten heel flies across the room and smashes a vase. A jade dragon falls out of it. 'So that's where that was. That's where that was!' he shouts, bent over, laughing.
'What legs.' 'Touch them.' May I, he asks? 'Do it.' he touches my right calf with his tiny hand. It tickles. I kick, and he goes flying across the room. He lands in a pile of needlepoint pillows.
'Wow,' he says, 'that was fun.' 'Look,' I say. I kick the dining room table over. Glasses and plates crash. 'Ha-ha!' He laughs. 'Well done.'
I kick my other shoe through a stained-glass window. 'You really are magnificent,' he says. 'Look at all this great stuff I have,' I say. 'This music box was given me by-- by who the hell knows? Shall I?' I ask. 'Please,' he replies. I hurl it against the wall. Ha!
'Here,' I say, tossing him his clothing. It's dry. 'You are kind,' he says as he dresses. 'I could see that immediately about you.'
I stare into a candle. 'I have my demons,' I say. I light a curtain on fire. My prince giggles.
He does this dance, all pointed toes and leaping around. 'Teach me that dance,' I command him, as I light the sofa on fire. He teaches me the steps, and we're great.
We dance around my castle. I light cozy fires here and there. 'Let's watch this pile burn down,' I say.
We race outside and stand in the courtyard. It's a swell night. Fire flickers in the windows.
'How beautiful!' you shout, 'And how incredibly beautiful you are, without being at all typical. This isn't typical. You aren't typical.' He looks up at me.
'Can I tell you something, really? You won't get offended?' 'OK.' 'When I first saw you, I thought that you were sort of ordinary looking. I don't think that anymore. I think you're beautiful. Probably the most beautiful person I have ever seen.'
I toss stones at the windows of the burning castle and wait to hear something I don't already know. He continues. 'I used to look at articles about you. And I had to meet you, get you to notice me, becomem somebody. And I have met you.
I come from an old and poor family. We lived in a castle that was crumbling to bits. We lived in a small corner of it like tiny animals.
My parents would send me down to the village to dance. They would put me in what formal clothing we had left. And they would push me out the door and lock it.
I would bang on the door, pleading to be let back in. 'Go and dance. Go to the village and dance. And don't come back here until your pockets are stuffed with coins,' they would yell through the giant wooden door.
So I would head down to the village. I would stand in the middle of the square, and I would dance my dance, the one I just taught you. I would begin slowly and shamefully. But then I would think about how much I wanted to go home to the castle, and I would dance like a madman. 'Watch the Little Prince dance,' people would shout. They would form a circle around me. And they would throw coins at me.
I would crawl around the ground and stuff the coins in my pockets, and then go back to dancing. When I couldn't stand it anymore, I would run home to the castle and empty my pockets for my family. They would throw their arms around me and cheer.
We watched the castle burn down. 'Stay with me, love me,' he pleads. 'You can't have both,' I say. 'Why?' he asks. I adjust his tiny Ascot and tell him, 'because you and me, we're a couple of mismatched candlesticks.
I want to make love under the stars and grunt and moan like we're chipping each other out of a giant hunk off granite. I want to have fist fights and roll around in the dust, and then grin at each other, panting, and then go at it some more. And I want to hear the howling of wolves.'
He tries to kick the pebble. He's stubs his toes, that says it all. He knows it. He laughs at himself and says, 'you're the most wonderful and beautiful person I've ever met.' 'And ever will meet,' I reply." Thank you.
So if everyone has anyone has any questions about anything? Yeah?
SPEAKER 2: [INAUDIBLE] read to us in your art, is [INAUDIBLE]? It sounds like it looks like [INAUDIBLE].
MATTHEW WEINSTEIN: Well, it's the background, you know? It's the background of my work. So all the ideas I have, things I read, it's just constantly transforming a group of ideas that somehow are in the background of my work. I mean, it's not like an owner's manual.
You know, I'm not insulting you. I'm just saying, it's not like-- you know what I mean. I know you're not saying that. But it isn't like a literal thing.
It's like a lot of artists, our works comes out of usually not like, art history or direct experiences of art. It comes from an association of things we've read, things we look at. Usually a lot of television, movies.
You know, and when I look at art with friends, like I write for Artforum, and I try to write for them like an artist writes. So I usually refer to things like TV, media, and literature, rather than other art. Because in my experience, that's how a lot of artists and a lot of people look at art.
They bring a whole bunch of associations to it. And I've been interested in ideas of virtuality ever since I started working in 3D animation. And there's such a body of text that interestingly stretch way far back, before there was even a concept of virtuality but that described the condition of virtuality.
So I was trying to say, well, there's a historic context for all these things. And I think it's a richer ground than just some company saying, OK, this is VR. Whereas a cave painting of an animal probably, maybe, an instance of virtual reality. Because maybe they were depicting that animal to go hunt that animal. Or that animal meant something to them, or they were trying to call that animal into being. Yeah?
Your talk into new media is focused on that, and you have three projections in the other room, but you've also made a deliberate choice of mounting the paintings in the same exhibition. Why? Does one inform the other? Are they simultaneous? Do you consider one to be-- maybe not valid, but I don't know, not to rank your own work, but I think you're very much about-- you have talked much about and supported the notion of almost technology being inevitable, which it is.
MATTHEW WEINSTEIN: Mhm.
SPEAKER 2: But you're still steeped in the tradition of painting. I'm just kind of wondering what the balance is? If there is a balance.
MATTHEW WEINSTEIN: Yeah, like, in the talk, I always feel like we're dragging our histories around with us. And when we make art, we drag all these histories with us, into it when we look at it. And I feel like in my own work, that's kind of what I'm doing, in a way.
I mean, the way it all went was that I was a painter. And I was showing painting a lot. And then I stopped being able to make my paintings, for whatever reason.
And I was having shows and things, but I was starting to show sculptures and other kinds of things. And then, I just stopped showing for a few years. And I was doing script writing.
I had an agent in LA. I would go there and pitch screenplays. And I got a lot of ideas from film, and commercial film. And I thought that that production process is so much a part of the American narrative that the script three-part structure, where we want everything to start, have a life, almost collapse and then resolve itself within an hour and a half, there was so much in there. And I decided that I didn't want to judge it or critique it. I just wanted to sort of throw myself into it, and see what it was.
So I sort of think about 3D animation, because some of my scripts would get bounced over to like, Disney Animation, which is a gloomy, gloomy place. And I just got interested in, well, no one's taking this 3D animation and moving it into the art world. [INAUDIBLE]
And I started thinking about the picture-generation artists, and how they took commercial photography and graphic design, and simply moved it into the art world, really without disrupting the form of it at all. Just changing the content. And I thought well, what if I did this with 3D animation? What if I just like, moved it into the art world, with narratives that were my own narratives, never functioned for a second in commercial film?
And the paintings moved with me, you know, into this new space. And the paintings certainly changed. I mean, I started using things that were more like surfaces that kind of flickered, things that almost look like projection screens. They're very flat, but dimensional. And they refer a lot to things projected or things on computers. So in a sense, it was just a natural progression of taking what I already had and moving it into this new conceptual space. Yeah?
SPEAKER 3: You talked a little bit about nihilism as [INAUDIBLE] perhaps a solution or emancipatory mind framing for looking upon the world. And thinking about [INAUDIBLE] subjects, and in terms of a lot of these forces in the world that are capitalizing on our disconnectedness, in fairly negative ways. And it seems like there're maybe two types of nihilism. Like, one that allows you to play within this system. And another that just checks out.
MATTHEW WEINSTEIN: Yeah.
SPEAKER 3: And I'm wondering kind of, which one you are advocating for?
MATTHEW WEINSTEIN: Well, I think you have to be attuned to both of them, you know? I mean, nihilism is a very complicated thing. Like, even Nietzsche, there is this nihilism.
And he's gone down in history as Mr. God is Dead, and the master race will win out. And I mean, it's all based on a complete misinterpretation of a lot of what he was writing. Because even in his nihilism, there's also this potential to emerge from something.
So I think you have to keep both in your head. I mean, you can't say well, we have the worst government in the history of this country, [INAUDIBLE] tearing down. But there's something good in that. I mean, it's impossible to say that. But you also have to think about what nihilism, as a concept, is, if you're interested, and also realize that it has roots that predate Western philosophy. So to take that in consideration means that maybe there is something in that.
So I started reading these Kyoto School philosophers, who were so interesting. Because they would take like, Schopenhauer and all these, read them very carefully. And they would end up with this other use for them. They were saying, well, you can actually use this as a prescriptive thing. So you can kind of transform what you already know. Just subtly, into something that might have this immanence that you can actually use.
So again, it's not like you can look at the situation now and say, oh there's good in it. Because there isn't. It's more that you can look at the idea of the void, or emptiness, as something different than what we tend to think it is. If that answers your question?
SPEAKER 3: Sure.
MATTHEW WEINSTEIN: How many people here are artists, want to be artists? Can I say a few things about being an artist? I know it's something else. Do you mind? Do you want to hear something about being an artist? Oh, because there are a lot of you. OK, so here's the thing about being an artist.
Sorry. Funny that I would lose this page about being an artist. OK, that's right here. First of all, I also want you to think about the fact that technology also might not matter at all. I'm open to that as well. Because as I said, uncertainty is the way I think, to think about things, in a time when people are certain about dreadful things.
OK. If you want to be an artist, one thing is I think that you should never take criticism, except from artists and people who want to see you do well. If someone doesn't want to work with you, never allow them to tell you why. Choose your critics. [AUDIO OUT] art and the process of making art, and don't budge on that. Even if it means your friends will be mostly artists, you can do a lot worse.
Never, ever, ever, ever use the term, thinking outside the box. Ever. Everyone does that. The most boring people in the world get freaky. And also, they don't bore each other. They may bore you, but that's your problem.
What I mean is, look at everything, everywhere. The boring person maybe making weird dolls in their basement and is a better artist than you will ever be. Art is not a career. It just isn't. I can't say this enough.
No professional practice class will protect you or help you navigate a system that is basically pure nonsense. You figure it out with your friends. It's all changing anyway. And if you can't figure out how to make a consignment agreement from the internet, nobody can help you.
[AUDIO OUT] donuts are worth more. People say there are just too many artists. Maybe there aren't enough. [AUDIO OUT] exist. Being useful is not a bad way of seeing it. I hope I'm being useful right now.
The AIDS crisis threatened my own life, and destroyed a way of life I was due to inherit. Where being gay was to be a person in the world and not [AUDIO OUT] at least [AUDIO OUT] someplace like cities. Now your lives are being threatened by this government.
And I'm saying that to the young people that want to be artists. I hope you see that the futures you may feel you are working towards could be denied you. And remember, they come after the journalists, writers, artists, and innovators first.
They make examples of us, as deviant liars. They take away our funding, and they make sure that children are not exposed to you. So remember that you are crucial, if you accept the responsibility to be so. And who would want to live life any other way? So that's my unusable advice for being an artist.
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Artist Matthew Weinstein discussed his work and considered the subversive potential of new media in the context of museums and his current exhibition, Feb. 22, 2018 at the Johnson Museum of Art. The talk was supported by a gift from the Findlay Family Foundation, and this year made possible in part by a grant from the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.