Professor Souther’s Search Engine Vision Series will be included in a group exhibition Viral Transmission: A Medium in Between @ The OCAT Institute Curated by Yizhuo Irina, the exhibition opens September 1st and on display until December 20th.
Search engines, icons, the White House, Buddha, real-time, viral memes, diffraction, and performativity…
Yizhuo Li: The themes in your Search Engine Vision series spans a broad political, cultural, and religious spectrum. How did you decide on them and their scope, specifically concerning “The White House” and “Buddha”?
Eric Souther: I tend to focus on recognizable icons of religion or culture because they provide assumptions of knowing. The Search Engine Vision Series works against a fixed knowing by broadening our definitions and understanding of the icons via the masses. The White House was in direct response to the shifting political landscape in 2016 when President Trump took office. The scope of “The White House” piece, however, spans from 2000-2018, I plan to keep adding to the piece until the end of 2020. With the establishment of YouTube 2005 to present, we are presented with a growing number of opinions and viewpoints that eventually give rise to fake news. The ebb and flow of political amnesia and nostalgia work together to fill in our cultural understanding of this icon.
Many of my works deal with ritual and religion for ways to contextualize and humanize our ritualistic relationships with technology. The Search Engine Vision Buddha work is also a homage to Nam June Paik TV Buddha Series. For Paik, the Buddha meditated on his real-time video image. For my piece, Buddha meditates on his online existence from a western search engine.
Y.L.: By clustering materials under the chosen terms, how do you see the inter-relations and intra-actions between the deployed video footages, in particular the ones gridded together into one recognizable pattern or structure?
E.S.: The clustering allows for a macro view of the database that is outside the norm of our consumption of YouTube. The gridded structure mimics the structural output of the search engine. However, the three-dimensional form disrupts and bends the grid around itself. I’m interested in this act being the material or matter that forms from the intra-actions of the collection. In all the pieces in the series plays a game of visually searching the database, asking the viewer multiple times, does this fit your definition of the icon?
Y.L.: You referenced Joseph Kosuth’s One and Three Chairs for your inquiry into the “online social structure,” and in my understanding, towards the generative condition and impulse of this structure. Can you elaborate more on the concept and purpose of your construction, which I find closer to the experiential process of meaning-making rather than extraction toward a psychological archetype or visual representation? In other words, can we perhaps say that the Search Engine Vision series brings forth a reflexive vision in search of its creative engine, instead of the vision itself?
E.S.: The construction of the work in the series is performative, created in real-time. I developed my software to move the camera, 3D model, and plane of 1,000 videos. These movements are related to gestures of searching i.e. looking side to side, up and down, and zooming in and out of the database. I search for the meaning of icon in question, then rest on videos that call for attention to spotlight them for a moment before the search continues. The meaning happens in-between the videos, an emergence that rises from the entanglement of intra-actions within the collection, and my performance. The process of meaning-making is more of diffraction than a reflection. Reflection is about representation that reinforces sameness and something that is fixed. Diffraction supports a closer look at the collection for similarities, divergence, and difference.
Y.L.: Can we talk more about the notion of “viral transmission” and an archival model that I consider central to this exhibition? You mentioned that much of your practice is aligned with new materialism, and among others, theories by notable scholars such as Karen Barad. In fact, Barad’s agential realism might offer a profound update of Antonin Artaud’s vision of the plague theater, where he importantly emphasizes the theatre’s capability of bringing out the latent perverseness of the human mind like the plague, rather than analogous contagiousness of the stage. How do you envision your position in a web of connected and mediated practice, as an artist who creates this series with YouTube videos, shares the collective memory with many of their authors, and again makes your work searchable, and potently transmittable, under the relevant keywords?
E.S.: I am outnumbered in my own body, and my position on the web is constructed from those around me alive or dead, in person or in text. We are all mediated. The stage is full of viral memes (element of culture or system that transmit from one person to another) that for the vast majority serve as entertainment. I strive to create work that reveals unseen signals within our technologically saturated lives, with the hope they provide a pedagogical experience to be retransmitted into the culture.
Y.L.: You have been working with a number of media centers and institutes in upstate New York, whose close engagement of artists and technologists has made a notable impact on the new media landscape; I also find this integration a distinct quality of your artistic work and experiments. Where would you stand around this junction—if you agree, there is a meaningful junction—of a permeating digital network culture across socio-cultural, geopolitical borders and the historical, institutional legacy of a specific region that is oftentimes limited to its immediate communities?
E.S.: Absoulultiy, the historical junction in upstate New York for experimental media art in large part is because of the pioneering work of Experimental Television Center and their foresight and focus in toolmaking, Media Study/Buffalo (Gerald O’Grady, Woody, and Steina Vasulka, and many more), Visual Studies Workshop, and the support of the New York State Council of the arts and its dedication to supporting experimental media art. The lineage of these communities continues to be supported via the Institute for Electronic Arts (iea), Squeaky Wheel, and Signal Culture. Out of the three, Signal Culture has influenced my practice and life the most. The founders Jason & Debora Bernagozzi and Hank Rudolph continue to build communities between artists, toolmakers, and researchers. I joined the board of directors in 2016, to help develop experimental video applications for real-time video processing. This was our way of sharing the importance of artist-made tools that used the guiding principles of ETC/SC studio’s, which include modularity, performative systems, philosophical processes, and provide a way to give back to our artist community around the world. Making video instruments (real-time hybrid analog and digital systems) is a key aspect of the tools and work I make.
Y.L.: If incorporating the SEV series into an imaginary archive of your oeuvre decades from now, what information would be the most constructive and crucial? What unpublished materials might be included?
E.S.: I want to think that the works could be restaged if their data is not upsampled to current formats. In this imaginary archive, you could use a search engine within a social visual platform for moving images for specific icons of the time, stream the first 1,000 videos or other future moving images like holograms in a grid (hopefully the internet is fast enough by then), map the grid onto a three-dimensional representation of the icon being searched, spend time searching the database via gestures of searching IRL, the soundscape should be a muted cacophony of 50-100 audio clips shifting across the 1,000 overtime, until a video is looked at (eye-tracking), then solo its audio, and then go back to searching. This may constitute a speculative software version of the Search Engine Vision series that would allow users to use as a real-time and generative experience. It would be nice to include unpublished sketches and expanded text, like this one.