Androids, cam girls and famous drag queens emerge from cyberscapes and seas of oscillating glitches. "Women constantly meet glances which act like mirrors, reminding them of how they look, or how they should look," John Berger’s distinguished British voice muses. 

He's describing muses in centuries-old paintings and what he considers their relevance to his present time, early 1970s, in the seminal BBC documentary series Ways of Seeing. But we're watching the second episode of Ways of Something, curated by Canadian artist Lorna Mills. This video work features 28 digital-born artists who have replaced the visuals with original 60-second pieces, one minute at a time. Berger's comments take on new meanings. The "gaze", for example, begins to reflect what Mills calls "a spiral of crippling self-consciousness that anyone, male or female, can be sucked into when their physical selves are constantly exposed online." The Ways Of Something project updates art history and criticism -- all through gyrating subtitles, remixed TMZ footage, collaged pop culture GIFs and surreal photo-booth performances made by artists from all over the world.

Ways Of Something was originally curated for The One Minutes, an initiative at Amsterdam's Sandberg Instituut which invites curators to create a series of minute-long videos by various artists. You can watch Episode One here and preview segments of Episode Three here and here. Episode Four is in production. A total of 117 artists participated in the project.

Lorna Milis

Curator

   

Canadian artist Lorna Mills has actively exhibited her work in both solo and group exhibitions since the early 1990's in Canada as well as internationally.

Her practice has included obsessive Ilfochrome printing, obsessive painting, obsessive super 8 film & video, and obsessive online animated GIFs incorporated into restrained off-line installation work. She is represented by Brooklyn's TRANSFER Gallery.

 

 

 Why "Ways of Something"?

LORNA MILLS: “Something” is a good word, and it leads to the question: “but what?” Until all four episodes are completed, and we finally see what we have here, the project feels propositional, and I’m comfortable with that.

 What did Berger's work mean to you? What does Berger mean to artists today?

LORNA MILLS: Well, I suspect that the book version is still kicking around in art schools, and that’s when I first encountered it. But I can only claim a superficial familiarity with it; my art school years were a very long time ago, and I was drunk. It obviously meant more when I recently encountered the 1972 BBC production on YouTube (and found out that the documentary came before the book).   

His original program — a critique of hidden ideology within traditional European aesthetics and a critique of media communications — seemed to effortlessly flow into the issues being grappled with by contemporary net-intelligent artists. Especially since many of the limitations of television that Berger kept on referring to have been eradicated by the internet, we are now in electronic dialogues that were unimaginable in 1972, conversing with images, remixing the culture, and hopefully, expanding it.

 How did you choose the artists?

LORNA MILLS: I hate hierarchies, and I hate art world monoculture, so I didn’t care if the participating artists had high profile within the contemporary art scene, or if they were still art students. I think that the idea that "digital natives" bring something unique and special to artmaking is a pile of utter crap, so there is a wide range of ages represented in this project. I wanted this project to be as international as I could manage, but that was sometimes difficult. Since the original is so much about the rhetoric of the Western tradition, some artists I contacted were completely uninterested in Berger. 

Since it really is an ensemble type of project, the artists I invited were generally experienced with collaborative projects and knew that they were part of something larger. I care about gender balance in all the projects I am involved in, and for Episode Two, I really felt that was even more important. It was intentional that, for the duration of the work until they saw the credits, the audience could not be sure exactly which artists were male or female. 

 This have changed since 1972. Better or worse? Since 1995? What have you seen on the Internet?

LORNA MILLS:  I think that Episode Two of Ways of Seeing is extremely frustrating to watch today. Back in ‘72, Berger made assertions with great certainty that would never be made today: “Men dream of women. Women dream of themselves being dreamt of. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. Women constantly meet glances which act like mirrors, reminding them of how they look or how they should look.” Yet this does accurately describe a spiral of crippling self-consciousness that anyone, male or female, can be sucked into when their physical selves are constantly exposed online.

Berger quite radically points out the hypocrisy of the Western tradition of the female nude: “You paint a naked woman because you enjoy looking at her. You put a mirror in her hand, and you call the painting vanity. Thus, morally condemning the woman whose nakedness you have depicted for your own pleasure.” The male spectator-owner that Berger talks about is still very present, but now with a strange sense of entitlement to view images of women who never consented to have their private and intimate pictures made public.

Now if you ask about 1995, my fondest memories are of being one of a team of two programmers who wrote a childrens’ software that allowed kids to create animations and messages that could be sent to their friends in Katakana and Hiragana text. It was a project I was very proud of -– it really pushed the limits of Macromedia Director at the time, and in subsequent interviews for other contracts, I was constantly asked, “Well how much of this did YOU actually write?” 

I hate hierarchies,
and I hate art world monoculture, so I didn’t care if the participating artists had high profile within the contemporary art scene, or if they were still art students.

 What's one submission that really surprised you in the film?

LORNA MILLS: For Episode Two, Luc Hyo Myoung Kim’s minute was the most surprising. It was the most unexpected and contrary reaction to the text he had chosen to work with. Claudia Hart’s minute was also a surprise, but more because she played with the structure and timing of the narration with her closed captioning. It was confounding, in that I was made aware of the separate acts of reading and listening, since the syncing was so intentionally spaced out. Formally, I found it to be absolutely exquisite for that reason. But I wanted to be surprised by every submission, and I was. It's an incredible pleasure opening the delivered files for the first time because I was never sure what to expect.

 What's the editing process like? How much did you direct people? Did you have any conversations before the assignment?

LORNA MILLS: I didn’t act as a director. I provided a clearly-defined structure for the artists to work within, just rules. I told everyone that if we erred, let’s make it on the side of exuberance, and they were welcome to contradict the material if they wanted to. I was aware that it could end up looking like a total clusterfuck, but I would have been delighted with that result, too. It was important that the artists chose their own minutes, and their resulting 60 seconds of video is their own art piece. I only sent videos back to the artists when they didn’t follow the technical specs, such as wrong speed, wrong size, no captioning (lots of people made small mistakes with that).

I couldn’t do it for Episode One because of the deadline, but starting with Episode Two, I posted a rough cut so that the artists could see how they fit into the whole and offered them an opportunity to make changes if they felt they needed to.

 How has the reception been? Are a lot of people showing up to watch?

LORNA MILLS: Apparently, they are. The Berlin screening I attended was filled to capacity, with people being turned away.  An art video screening is such a hard sell for me personally – I believe that short art video is good art video, so I am genuinely surprised and delighted that people are coming to the screenings. 

 Would you say this is this still kind of underground?

LORNA MILLS: Absolutely. Though we’ve gotten a lot of good critical attention so far, it’s definitely not mainstream. Episodes one, two, and three were screened at the photographer’s gallery in London last week, and I secretly feared that someone from the BBC would show up and shut us down, or that John Berger himself might appear and condemn us all. So for that occasion, at least, I was relieved that we were still under the radar.

The male spectator-owner that Berger talks about is still very present, but now with a strange sense of entitlement to view images of women who never consented to have their private and intimate pictures made public.

 

Cover image: LaTurbo Avedon