Each month, leading up to the 2013 New York Festivals Television & Film Awards® taking place at NAB in Las Vegas, the NYF TV & Film blog series will continue its conversations with game-changers ,thought leaders, and visionaries from the Television & Film industry. This month’s spotlight interview features Alexander Hahn, a New York/Zürich-based electronic media artist.
Alex received his MFA from the University of Fine Arts, Zürich/CH and is a 1981 fellow in the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program. His videos, installations and computer prints are exhibited worldwide, most recently at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Kunstmuseum Solothurn/CH, the Padiglione d’Arte Contemporanea, Ferrara/IT, and the National Art Museum of China, Beijing/CN. Among his awards are the New York State Council on the Arts Grant, Zurich Work Award, and the Swiss Federal Grant.
NYF TV & Film: You are considered a pioneer in electronic/new media art, what inspires you to create in 3-D, video and virtual reality technologies?
AH: In about 1977, while still in art school, beset by a painterly crises, I discovered
in the photo department a neglected video camera and a recorder. My first experiment was to dolly the camera over a linoleum floor, which on the black and white TV screen gave the illusion of flying high above a wavy ocean. Right away I was and still am fascinated by this material transformation, which would become a characteristic of my video work, expressed by the seamless, dreamlike transitions between scenes.
When I arrived in New York in 1981, I quickly realized that living and working in a
diminutive tenement apartment with a painterly propensity would be impractical given
the reduced spatial circumstances. As though to gallantly make a virtue out of
necessity, the very apartment has been playing a principal role in many of my pieces,
from the 1983 Unit 174, an 8bit computer animation on the legendary Texas Instrument
TI-99/4A, the 3-D computer graphics inkjet print series The Artist’s Studio As
Encryption Lab (1995 and ongoing), to the 2007 interactive DVD Luminous Point
(https://vimeo.com/903246). In the latter, I recreated the flat in a 3D program and
turned it into a memory architecture where the walls are texture-mapped with images
from places I have traveled to and transitional movies lead from one room to the
other. By this digital sleight of hand my apartment not only turns into an expansive
pictorial space but also embraces a vast time span.
NYF TV & Film: Can you tell me about your artist residency project in India, which is in part sponsored by The Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia? I know you will participate in this
project for the next three months, what do you hope to accomplish during that time?
AH: Artistic projects remind somewhat of paint by number pictures. I prefer to expose
myself to the world out there like a blank video tape that is electrified by the
sounds and sights the lens captures; an intrepid stance, maybe, since the haphazard
records might harbor nothing of interest. This is particularly true for India which
has already been trawled by filmmakers, photographers and writers for both its
beautiful and tragic sides. Currently in dazzling Varanasi and half-way into the
artist residency, I still gather footage and sift through the massive amount of data,
on the side posting vignettes from my travels to a video blog which can be seen at http://indiecam.blogspot.com
(The image below lifted from http://indiecam.blogspot.com , “Tanjore Painting” was videotaped at the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage, New Delhi.)
A second project is the production beginning early in December of a stop motion HD-video with a cellphone and low budget apps for the Sarai Reader 09 at the Devi Art
Foundation in New Delhi.
Two assigned actors so far: a Plexiglass-encased beetle and an Indian plumb line. I had originally bought the China made beetle as a model for a 3D computer graphic
image that was inspired by the scientific discovery that dung beetles use celestial compass cues such as the sun, the moon and the pattern of polarized light formed around these sources to orient themselves. http://rhizome.org/portfolios/artwork/52757/
Back in New York, I have been using a plumb line to switch on the ceiling lights.
Although put in place years ago, I only recently discovered that, when seen from
below, silhouetted against the luminous sphere of light above, and put in swinging
motion, the bob creates the elusive teardrop shape observed when a transiting planet
makes contact with a stellar disk’s edge – a kind of homespun cosmology.
Motion of beetles (microcosm) + celestial bodies (macrocosm), thoughts of migration,
travel, continuous change …
NYF TV & Film: Your most recent exhibition” Cao Chang Di Road On November 24, 2009 I Stood There Waiting,” a HD video projection with surround sound, at the Digital Media Arts Center Harvestworks in New York consisted of four video installations, what was the inspiration?
Anamorphoses - Max Mathews, an homage to the late computer music pioneer
AH: The original plan was for the main exhibition space to premiere Cao Chang Di Road, a HD video projection with surround sound and to show two more recent HD monitor works based on footage I covertly shot in public spaces. Since the beginning of the 80s, I have worked with various forms of anamorphoses, and in 2002 created a series of video loops where people who have passed away since I recorded them re-appear as anamorphic cylinder illusions. When the small backroom at Harvestworks became available, I immediately thought of making a piece in honor of the recently deceased Max Matthews. I felt that this was the right place to exhibit it because Harvestworks also offers classes in the Max Jitter software, named after the computer music pioneer. The video shows Max Matthews in 2007 introducing his computer-love Swansong as an anamorphic reflection on a mirrored cylinder. (http://www.harvestworks.org/sep-14-16-alexanderhahn/)
NYF TV & Film: Your videos, installations and computer prints are exhibited worldwide, at prominent museums , where and when is your next exhibition? And what would be the location of your dream exhibition and why?
AH: The next exhibition is at the Devi Art Foundation in New Delhi as part of the Sarai
Reader 09 and will open on December 15, 2012.
A few days ago, the sad news of the sudden death of a friend of mine has reached me.
It brought back the memory of a fabulous trip together to the Venice Biennale in
1978. The art, the Giardini with its pavilions, but most of all our adventures in the
City made an indelible impression on me. When I first read your question about the
location of my dream exhibition, I couldn’t think of one, but now Venice would be
such a place.
NYF TV & Film: How would you describe your creative process? What is your timeline from inspiration to execution to exhibition?
AH: Record, review, filter, archive, retrieve and assemble – much like the workings of a
dream. The linear time line in my work is no more. There are always several pieces in
progress, on some I toil over a lengthy period of time, while others come into
existence instantly, almost by merely pressing the record button – at the right time.
NYF TV & Film: Your works of art have extremely large file-sizes. How does that impact their creation and exhibition?
AH: Video files, especially if they are HD and uncompressed, naturally tend to be large -
the price for the fine detail, texture, saturated color and highly defined wide angle
shots, previously the exclusive hallmark of film. Even though I work with a fast
machine, there is always a substantial amount of rendering time before a composition
can be first viewed in real time. So, you have to be intuitive about the outcome,
like a composer writing a musical score.
Storage and exhibition of the finished pieces are much easier than in the early days,
when things video spelled bulk and high cost. Still, on platforms that require
compression, such as the internet or DVDs, a lot of the fine detail, particularly
grain or stippling will be lost. To this date, I have not yet been able to pull off
an online version of Cao Chang Di Road that adequately displays its crisp,
pointillist grain. I cringe every time I see its smudgy web delivery.
NYF TV & Film: Could you describe the technical process you use?
AH: I overtly and covertly gather video, photo and audio material with a variety of
cameras, all on the consumer end because of their small size. From start to finish of
a project, I work by myself, on rare occasions commission a hardware related task,
such as customizing off-the-shelf hardware or building a machine of my own design. In
the early years, I edited on 3/4” U-matic, bartering expensive studio time for client
work. With the acquisition in 1990 of a Mac IIci, a New Vista video card, Photoshop,
Premiere, and a beta version of Macromind 3D I was for the first time able to do the
compositing and editing at home. Initially, hardware and software limitations made
this a slow and cumbersome process, but technological advances have greatly enhanced
the workflow from production to post-production, very much akin to the way from sketch
to finished painting in traditional artistic studio practice.
NYF TV & Film: What or who inspires you?
AH: Often, I’m inspired by a place, domestic or foreign – now it’s India, New Delhi the
first stop. One of the first things I noticed about the City was the abundance of
surveillance cameras, maybe more prominent than in other urban landscapes that I have
visited in the past. Ubiquitously present in even the seemingly most inconspicuous
places, they monitor day-to-day activities for any imminent perpetration they might
harbor. Never blinking sentinels, they see things overlooked or unseen by the human
eye. Algorithms that sift through their massive visual feed decipher what is really
going on, like clairvoyants expected to peek into the future and identify criminals
before they can do any harm.
While at first glance this feels straight out of a scenario from a Philip K. Dick
novel, I cannot but think of the workings of memory and dream. We travel through
daytime, permanently switched on like mobile recorders, and soak up all sorts of
mostly uninteresting information. During the night – only seemingly at rest – we
remember, extract and recombine these diurnal records in dream and might just come up
with a most striking image or scene that ripples into waking, leaving us with the
sensation of having touched upon something unmistakably real.
This method of making the invisible become visible through image is the way I have
come to work as a video/electronic media artist: first by abandoning my role as
director, then, step by step, eliminating the implementation of preconceived ideas
and instead embracing chance and coincidence, the attitude of a visitor or visitant -
the perfect predisposition for my present travels in India.
The place I’m now staying at is Varanasi, in the former residence of Alice Boner, an
artist and scholar of Indian temples. In one of her books I found the following
observation: “You first capture the seen materially, by and by it becomes freer, more
spiritual and symbolic, and the execution develops according to the task. This means
“self-emptying,” to work without reminiscences and preconceived ideas, to follow
impulse and one’s own vision, alert and attentive in every instance.”