November 6, 2006
Peter Halley & Ebon Fisher

This is one of the posts that has been on the cards for a while since I read Art Since 1940: Strategies of Being at the start of the summer and later on Tilman Baumgartel’s fantastic 2.0. Not very focused reading moving from a generalised overview of art in the 20th century to a book focusing on networked art (and no I don’t mean – read it and it will become clearer or see here) however my logic was as follows.

My knowledge of more traditional art is not bad but overly sceptical (verging on a pessimistic distrustful attitude) and the suggestion to read Strategies of Being came out of a conversation with a colleague as a good book I could dip in and out of depending on how I liked it / how relevant it was / whether it served my purpose. 2.0 (and its forerunner, simply is one of those books I missed a few years back when it came out. Why I’m not sure but I was probably reading books on the topic that seemed to (very undeservingly) get more exposure through lists and I’d imagine because of the fact it’s author is German and these lists are primarily in English that played a factor too. So the former was an attempt to change bad attitudes while the later, simply catching up.

While both served their purpose very well, two artists came to light (several in fact from Strategies) from each publication who have particular relevance to my research and yet while both are doing very well in the art world seem to have gained little recognition within new media and are seldom heard of by net.artists.

Peter Halley - Two Cells with Circulating Conduit

Peter Halley is a painter and his work is presented alongside an interview in 2.0. Baumgartel’s interview with Halley, just by being in this book, manages to present both his work as something beyond and further developed than abstract painting (although it has a firm foot in that camp) or 80′s NeoGeo (example above entitled – Two Cells with Circulating Conduit) and at the same time the work of all the net.artists or network artists as the next step in which can sit comfortably next to the rest of contemporary art without feeling the need to stand alone. Baumgartel via the artist manages to convince the reader that Halley while “not a Net artist [sic]” has something to contribute to new media arts obsession with network systems and all of their implications. His work is reminiscent of networks and control structures most notably circuit boards and tables in html. Baumgartel notes that Halley wrote an essay entitled On Line in 1984 which deals:

with a number of different networks that have an impact on contemporary life – for example, the highway, the sewage system, electricity and telecommunications networks.

This is followed by an interesting series of questions and dialogue concerning the nature of Halley’s work:

Baumgartel: Do you think that your experiences with telecommunication media influenced your work as an artist? If I look at your paintings, I see diagrams of telecommunication networks. If you consider this way, the “cells” in your works would be “nodes” in Net terminology; the “conduits” could be ethernet connections.

Halley: Yes, my work has always been about the way contemporary space is mapped out. In the late 80s, I was mostly thinking about highways or subdivisions or telephone lines, but in the 90s, the work has become much more elaborate. I hope it has some kind of social correspondence to the way telecommunication networks are developing. What I am trying to do is come up with an intuitive model for the way these networks function.

Baumgartel: So would it be correct to say that you are bascially a painter of networks?

Halley: Yes. Nobdy’s ever really mentioned that, but that is my subject matter

Baumgartel’s genius as an interviewer (a mode well chosen for this book) comes through here. He not alone manages to get the Halley to explain his work in a way that the artist is happy to do so but suggests to him a way of thinking about his work which is both a revelation hearing this come from somebody else and yet allows the artists to affirm that this was in fact what he was doing all along but allows new media to embrace this artists work on a conceptual / theoretical level separating new media idea and medium as is rarely done.

Peter Halley - Exploding Cell

Above: one of Halleys few online works Exploding Cell

The second artist, Ebon Fisher is introduced briefly on the last few pages of Art Since 1940: Strategies of Being. Fisher’s art is more difficult to comprehend than Halley’s, it explores a network language which initially he called Bionic Codes and later Zoacodes (Below two Zoacodes, left – Link and Seek Links, right – Exalt in Random Connections). These ‘codes’, memes of sorts, viruses, organisms are employed to propagate ideas through a variety of channels such as T-shirts, stickers, fax broadcasts, digital movies, live shows, and the Web.

Ebon Fisher

My Bionic Codes evolved into Zoacodes in the late 1990s; a metaphor of circuitry gave way to one of neurons and “living codes.” Like their predecessors, Zoacodes propagate in the plasma of media and popular culture and are intended to induce graceful relationships. Zoacodes have been cultivated to operate as stand-alone media viruses as well as mental stimulants in my narrative motion picture, Glimmers in the Nervepool.

Fisher could in many ways be seen as a tagger of on and offline spaces, albeit one who’s iconography is hard to penetrate. In the majority of instances he moves ideas from the virtual to the real while Balley creates (primarily) with the real to suggest and reveal the hidden / virtual and interconnected landscapes that computerisation produces.

if you search rhizome’s archive there is an interesting interview conducted by Mark Tribe with Peter Halley in 1998. For those of you who do not have access to rhizome (like me) search google and click on the cached version.

Chris Ashley’s work in html with no use of images (code to produce image) is without doubt informed by Peter Halleys paintings (image to suggest code).

    Posted by: Garrett @ 1:46 am

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