If you have not seen this year’s Wisconsin Triennial exhibition at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, I urge you to do so as soon as possible. This survey of work by Wisconsin artists is a superbly curated exhibition that tracks the breadth of activity in the state. A number of our faculty are included and help to frame the very nature of the contemporary art landscape in and around Wisconsin through their contributions.
There is a preponderance of technologically mediated work included in this year’s triennial. Digital photography, video installation, computer-aided design and distribution are immediately recognizable threads seen against the backdrop of the “hand-made”. It is important to note that as a result of digital modes of design and production, along with a shift toward a general sense of digital across the broader culture, the boundaries of what is or is not “digital art” are considerably blurred. Technology has become a part of the lingua franca of art production, from design and fabrication to circulation to the point of encounter. The visual culture of art is either enhanced or impoverished, depending on one’s point of view. That of course is also the point; that connoisseurship is largely subjective.
This week’s New York Times features an article on the legendary minimalist composer Steven Reich who recently celebrated his eightieth birthday. Reich’s approach to music in the 1960’s offered a sonic corollary to minimalism and minimalist objects and their organization at the time, and altered the landscape of sound production as art. He was a frequent collaborator with visual artists including video artist Beryl Korot and many more. The milieu from which he came was an era exemplified by multi-disciplinary collaboration and a space of deep experimentation with form, technique, content and all means of artistic production.
In the Times piece, Reich exhibits anxieties about the powerful pull of technology in his work from the early 1960’s to the present. He articulates a nuanced understanding of difference, recounting how the human condition is communicated via digital and/or mechanical reproduction. Such nuance matters allows for subtle shifts of experience, for instance in the way a musician hits a note or how long she holds it inside a passage of repetitive music, that which Reich is known for. It is the difference between a hand-pulled print and a digital reproduction of the same image, or grainy black and white photos of protest from the 1960’s and their color saturated, high-resolution counterparts from protests taking place across the country in our own era.
The composer Pauline Oliveros, a contemporary of Reich, has also influenced American music and the arts extensively in her career which spans more than 60 years. As a composer, performer, author and philosopher, she pioneered the concept of Deep Listening, a practice based on principles of improvisation, electronic music, ritual, teaching and meditation, designed to encourage people in the arts to practice the art of listening and responding to environmental conditions. Her work, along with that of Reich and others, encouraged us to be aware of how art can co-exist with the world, how we can ask such questions that Reich is still raising about the pull of technology or about the way in which art circulates and to whom, and for what reasons.
When you visit the Triennial, contemplate such questions as you ponder the work presented.
Chair of Art