Editor’s Letter – January, 2013

January 7, 2014

El Général, Rayes Lebled, 2011

I immediately thought of Creative Time Reports when reading a poignant end-of-the-year essay from Creative Time 2013 Summit keynote speaker Rebecca Solnit. The piece eulogizes “unpredictable narratives” of social change—the way American hip-hop, for instance, moved a Tunisian to rap incisive lyrics that would give rise to a revolution. Or how Mahatma Gandhi pored over Henry David Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience decades after it was published and subsequently conjured up imaginative tactics to unshackle India from an 89-year-old British occupation.

“Whenever I look around me, I wonder what old things are about to bear fruit, what seemingly solid institutions might soon rupture, and what seeds we might now be planting whose harvest will come at some unpredictable moment in the future,” writes Solnit.

Artists who habitually plant these “seeds” are the catalysts of Creative Time Reports. CTR contributor Laura Poitras’s probing of America’s “War on Terror” in her award-winning documentaries led to her repeated detainment and interrogation by Homeland Security as she attempted to re-enter the United States from abroad. With each interrogation came a search and sometimes seizure of her laptop, notebooks, cellphone and other belongings. But these chilling intrusions impelled her to further question and publicly campaign against what she perceived to be the rise of a far-reaching surveillance apparatus encroaching on American civil liberties. Poitras’s relentless inquiries eventually drove National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden to share with her and journalist Glenn Greenwald a trove of classified documents that not only ignited a global debate but also confirmed what she already believed to be true.

With our first edition of 2014 we feature artists critical of the direction technologies of recognition and precision have taken. Marina Abramović throws into question the proliferation of “time-saving technologies” that she sees as driving us toward a place where we have just the opposite, “less and less time.” As an “antidote to the distracted rush,” Abramović is building an institute devoted to long-duration art. In her essay about the institute for Creative Time Reports, she outlines her hopes that it can become a place for experimentation and concentration—pushing all those who visit to “decelerate and recalibrate our bodies and minds.”

In the first iteration of artist Ingrid Burrington’s three-part series on the labyrinthine U.S. surveillance state, she travels to Fort Meade—home of the NSA—with the aim of uncovering the lesser-known cogs of the intelligence apparatus: the private contractors working in what she calls the “bland temples of an infinitely complicated cult.” Her journey reminded her of a passage in Robert Smithson’s essay “Entropy and the New Monuments,” in which Smithson wrote: “It seems that beyond the barrier, there are only more barriers.” Leaving with more questions than answers, Burrington concludes she had “gone to the outskirts of Crypto City and found only more ciphers.” For this piece, we teamed up with the editorial team behind Waging Nonviolence.

In December, artist Molly Crabapple donned a pair of hacked Google Glass and reimagined the “19th-century practice of life drawing” by sketching Stoya, an aerialist, porn star and advocate for fair labor practices in the pornography industry. The performance, titled Glass Gaze, streamed live on Rhizome’s website. Looking back at that event in an essay co-published with Rhizome, Crabapple reflects on the entire Google Glass experience—from her initial purchase of the feather-light spectacles to standing in front of Stoya “caught between focusing on the physical girl, the physical paper and the show that was being streamed through my eyes,” to her ultimate disappointment. “I wanted Glass Gaze to give people the experience of making art with me,” writes Crabapple. “But they saw only motions. What made the art art was what Glass Gaze missed.”

Finally, we inaugurate a new column by our editorial director, Laura Raicovich, who will select films and videos notable for being odd, censored or both with “The Weird and the Banned.” The series aims to highlight the provocative impact culture makers can have on society. For its first iteration, Raicovich showcases Len Lye’s Free Radicals, a four-minute film that presents chalk-white etchings of words and nonverbal symbols dancing across a stark black screen to the staccato beats of a drum. The film is “a visual manifestation,” as Raicovich describes it, of the music produced by the semi-nomadic Bagirmi people, who now find themselves besieged by the violence wrenching the Central African Republic.