San Francisco

Everything is Intertwined: Jay Kinney’s Gnosis Magazine

On Wednesday, the forty-eight-year-old San Francisco Bay Guardian announced that it would shut its doors, effective immediately. A report on the Bay Area blog SFist quotes SFBG publisher Glenn Zuehls as saying, “Unfortunately, [...] the obstacles for a profitable Bay Guardian are too great to overcome.” This, despite the SFBG’s wide popularity and the vast wealth that exists in the region

The circumstances of this terminus are echoed in an interview between Art Papers‘ Editor/Artistic Director Victoria Camblin and Jay Kinney, the founder of the journal Gnosis, which operated in San Francisco from 1985 to 1999. In the excerpt below, the two discuss spirituality, technology, and alternative publishing. This article was originally published in the Sept/Oct 2014 issue of Art Papers.

left to right: Bijou Funnies #1 (Fall 1968), illustration Jay Lynch; page from Bijou Funnies #1 (Fall 1968) [all images courtesy Jay Kinney]

Left to right: Bijou Funnies #1 (Fall 1968), illustration by Jay Lynch;
page from Bijou Funnies #1 (Fall 1968). Images courtesy Jay Kinney.

Gnosis was a print quarterly devoted to Western esotericism. It closed 15 years ago, around the time of Silicon Valley’s first dot-com boom. Here, Jay Kinney, the journal’s founder, speaks about Gnosis’ genesis, its contributions to the field of occult and spiritual studies, and its relationship to technology. Gnosis was a special-interest magazine conceived in northern California alongside the first Macintosh computers and laser printers; among many other things, it is an example of a seldom discussed shared history between alternative press and the development of the technologies that have been seen both to enable and to undermine it. [...]

Victoria Camblin: I have this theory that society’s interest in esoterica spikes during periods of technological progress. In the late 19th century you had an Industrial Revolution, and you also had a resurgence of occult societies, the tarot came back, the mysteries of Ancient Egypt were all the rage. Now, with the tech industry boom, you have dot-commers going to healing ceremonies, and so on. I can’t help but think of the paths of the Whole Earth team: one direction gave us Wired, and the other, Gnosis, as though technology and inner traditions came out of the margins together.

Jay Kinney: Gnosis was certainly a continuation of the underground media in the 60s and early 70s, when you had cultural permission to make untraditional or alternative publications, and the sense that there might well be enough of an audience so you could get by. Underground newspapers were also made feasible by the fact that you had web offset presses starting to become available all over the country. If the printers weren’t totally freaked out by the content, then you had relatively cheap means to publish a weekly newspaper. So the underground press really benefited from that technological development.

VC: Did that impact the format, too?

JK: I more or less based the first issues of Gnosis on Weirdo magazine, which was published by Last Gasp [an underground comix publisher] and had been edited for several years by R. Crumb. I basically used the same page size, the same cover stock and interior paper, and we could gang up color covers in the same press run: Gnosiscould do a cover run with an issue of Weirdo or some other Last Gasp publication. So my involvement with underground comix made it possible to fit Gnosis into an arrangement with the printer where we only had to pay for half or a quarter of the color cover run. In terms of industrial or cultural changes, the first issue of Gnosis coincided with the year Aldus introduced the PageMaker page-makeup software, which we used to do one or two of the articles in the very first issue of Gnosis. We were one of the first magazines on newsstands to have desktop-published layouts.

VC: That’s incredible for an independent special-interest magazine. Were these alternative publications at the technological forefront just because of your proximity to the tech industry in California?

JK: Well, Stewart Brand had the idea of jumping on the bandwagon with PCs and Macs, which were just starting in 1984. He got in tight with the PR firm that was promoting the very first Macintosh, so I had the opportunity through Whole Earth to get one of the first 128K Macs at a discount—though it was still something like $3,500 bucks—to get the first Apple laser printer, and a beta version of PageMaker that had been provided to Whole Earth to try out and review in anticipation of its imminent release. I was the one who ended up learning PageMaker and doing a sort of trial run on it for a section of The Whole Earth Software Catalog, which came together around that time. I have to say, the beta version of PageMaker that I was working with was maddening. It would crash every two minutes, I would have to save constantly or I would lose my work—and I was saving to floppy discs!

Read the full interview here.

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Fan Mail

Fan Mail: Richard Stone

Richard Stone creates paintings, sculptures, and installations that form constellations of meaning. While the works are all distinct—for example, a series of bronze figurines half-covered in smooth, bulbous wax, or a carved white marble flag that ripples in an unseen wind—when exhibited together, they form a cohesive yet mysterious network.

Richard Stone. After,2011; antique oil on board, surface partly removed, whitewashed, lime wood molding, water white miroguard AR glazing; 20 x 16 centimeters. Courtesy of the artist.

Richard Stone. After, 2011; antique oil on board, surface partly removed, whitewashed, lime wood molding, water white miroguard AR glazing; 20 x 16 cm. Courtesy of the Artist.

Stone is chiefly concerned with art and cultural history. He explores the past through the processes of additive and subtractive layering, which become manifest in his constructed constellations. His work poses many questions: What does it mean to strip a flag of its identifying features? To sand down and whitewash a once-finished painting? Or to wax-coat the upper body of a small bronze figure? But the most central question is: How do these objects engage one another and their context in a gallery space?

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From the Archives

From the Archives – Taner Ceylan: Lost Paintings at Paul Kasmin Gallery

Today we look back to exactly where we were a year ago: contemplating the work of Turkish painter Taner Ceylan. Although author Alex Bigman likens many of the works to high-gloss fashion spreads, he notes: “A touch of vulgarity remains, and it’s hard to imagine these works having much political charge without it.” This article was originally published on October 16, 2013.

Taner Ceylan, 1881, 2010; oil on canvas; 55 1/8 x 70 7/8 inches. Image courtesy of the artist and Paul Kasmin Gallery.

Taner Ceylan. 1881, 2010; oil on canvas; 55 1/8 x 70 7/8 inches. Image courtesy of the artist and Paul Kasmin Gallery.

Taner Ceylan’s Lost Paintings series, marking the Turkish artist’s first New York solo exhibition since joining the roster of Paul Kasmin Gallery, makes for a suitably impressive debut. Begun in 2010, it consists of ten stunningly detailed hyperrealist paintings, each of which alludes to a particular figure from Turkish history or the canonical Western depictions thereof. Ceylan here aims to upset the attendant nationalist/Orientalist narratives and revivify their subjects with frank, often non-heterosexual eroticism. In 1640, the title of which refers to the year of Sultan Murad IV Ghazi’s death, a slender, young slave washes the thigh of his burly, bearded mastera reference to the acceptance of such asymmetrical homosexual relationships throughout Turkish history, and the brutal Ghazi’s documented predilection for them in particular. 1881, a reference to the birth year of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, captures the lusty and defiant stare of a fez-clad man who suggests the Republic of Turkey’s revolutionary patriarch, as cigar smoke curls around his lips.

Prior to the Lost Paintings, Ceylan was largely producing work with decidedly more explicit sexual content. Many of these depictions are straightforwardly tender. Others, like Taner Taner, a self-portrait of the artist entering his double from behind, are more provocative; they seem to betray a naughty glee in monumentalizing images that many viewers, especially in Turkey, would find taboo (curator Dan Cameron notes how the sexual dimension of Ceylan’s work has, unsurprisingly, “brought him outright abuse in the press”). Abstraction of Nothing, Ceylan’s 2009 exhibition at I-20 Galleryhis first U.S. solo showfound the artist flirting with outright vulgarity. One work depicts a group of men pouring champagne on a kneeling woman as she fellates one and manually stimulates another; in another, a cropped penis rests on a semen-splattered close-up photograph of fashion designer Marc Jacobs.

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New York

Antoine Catala: New Feelings at 47 Canal

The 2004 hit show Battlestar Galactica chronicles a future in which artificially intelligent robots called Cylons seek to destroy the human race as they advance and meld with technology in an almost mystical way. Constructed out of biological material, a bisected Cylon fighter plane actually bleeds—sinews, guts, and all. Other Cylons evolve to look exactly like human copies, and are so intelligent that they experience the complexities of human emotion, including the nuances of love. Antoine Catala’s current solo project at 47 Canal, New Feelings, is synchronized with this fantasy. Catala delves into the gray area where technology intersects with emotion, and presents a series of experiments in sculpture and video that incite us to feel, both figuratively and literally, through machines.

Antoine Catala. Emobot (teacher), 2014; Powder coated aluminum and steel, computer, sound system, TV; Video, color sound, 13:00; Edition of 3, 71 x 21 x 18in.

Antoine Catala. Emobot (Teacher), 2014; powder-coated aluminum and steel, computer, sound system, TV; video, color sound, 13:00; 71 x 21 x 18 in.; edition of 3.

Catala’s sculpture creates abstracted prototypes of human-robot blends, searching for unlikely pockets of emotion within the rigid boundaries of the technological. He uses technology as a tool for the production and replication of emotion. The most captivating issue in Battlestar Galactica and in Catala’s work can be found in the difficulties humans have in deciphering how to treat these technological models. Should the Cylons be treated like any other malfunctioning, dangerous machine? Are they simulacra of humans? Should they be considered an improvement on the human prototype, or rather as a treacherous blend of straightforward mechanical logic and emotionally manipulative tactics?

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Los Angeles

Stan VanDerBeek: Poemfield at the Box

From the malevolent mainframe of 2001’s “Hal” to the proliferation of remote-controlled, drone-delivered destruction, dystopian visions of technology exist in abundance. Even contemporary artists who work with technology, like Cory Arcangel and Wade Guyton, tend to focus on its glitches and limitations. By contrast, the Box’s dazzling exhibition of computer-animated films by Stan VanDerBeek offers a hopeful perspective on the promise of technology, one that still captivates almost fifty years later.

Stan VanDerBeek: Poemfield at The Box, Los Angeles (installation view). Courtesy of the Estate of Stan VanDerBeek and The Box, LA. Photo: Fredrik Nilsen.

Stan VanDerBeek: Poemfield at The Box, Los Angeles; installation view. Courtesy of the Estate of Stan VanDerBeek and the Box, L.A. Photo: Fredrik Nilsen.

On view are five of the eight films that compose VanDerBeek’s Poemfield series, created between 1966 and 1971. They combine poetic texts and abstract graphics designed with an early computer language. Words emerge from a glittering mosaic of colored pixels, and then fade back into the blinking, swirling digital ground. With the exception of Poemfield No. 5 (1968), which uses footage of skydivers, all of the films represent purely computer-generated landscapes. The graphics transform and flicker at a frenetic pace while the poems slowly unfold over about five minutes. The visuals entrance and draw viewers in, but it is the enigmatic texts that hold the attention. VanDerBeek likened his films to illuminated manuscripts, wherein gilt illustrations would entice the reader to focus on the word.

The artist made these films at Bell Labs in collaboration with engineer Ken Knowlton, through Experiments in Art and Technology (EAT), an organization founded in part by Robert Rauschenberg. Knowlton had developed BEFLIX, perhaps the earliest computer animation language, which they used to write the scripts for the Poemfield films. These scripts were then run through a computer and channeled into a cathode-ray tube output that was filmed. Artists Bob Brown and Frank Olvey added color. The Box has transferred the original 16mm films to video and restored Poemfield No. 1 (1967) in HD; the difference is striking. The other films jump and stutter with wobbly focus, so that making out the words is a challenge, but the HD version is clear and sharp. This is especially true in a two-tone variant, Poemfield No. 1 (Blue Version), which strips away the color so that the original programming is highlighted. Restorations of the rest of the Poemfield series are hopefully underway.

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From the Archives

From the Archives – Help Desk: On Being “Discovered”

Help Desk is where I answer your queries about making, exhibiting, finding, marketing, buying, selling–or any other activity related to contemporary art. Submit your questions anonymously here. All submissions become the property of Daily Serving.

I’m just about to finish my first really serious series of paintings, and I’m curious about which approach is the best for self-promotion. Is it better to go all out and submit art to blogs, magazines, postcards, business cards, etc., or is it better to play it subtly, try and meet the right people, and become that hidden gem that someone finds and then shows to the world? Is it possible that being overexposed on blogs can be a turn-off to galleries, like they don’t have the pleasure of being able to say, “Look what I found!”? (I’m talking about the galleries that like to showcase new talent rather than blue chips, the kind you get your foot in the door with as an artist.)

Apparently you missed that day in Catholic school when they taught us Matthew 5:15-16: “Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works.” Notice that this verse doesn’t advise, “Get thine light discovered by cunning means” or “Have another man lighteth thine candle for thee.”

Philippe Parreno with Rirkrit Tiravanija. La Batalla de los Patos, 2013; screenprint, phosphorescent ink; 39.5 x 55.5 in.; edition of 6.

Where are all these imaginary people who have ample time and inclination to discover you? I can’t imagine a single gallerist who, after curating, framing, installing, promoting, and selling a show—in addition to managing a staff, courting new collectors and arts patrons, and maybe even having a home life in the odd moment outside of work—is going to be able to wade through the deep seas of information put out there by artists who are promoting their work, in order to find you. I hope I am making this point clear for artists who sit in their studios hoping to be “discovered”: When you hear the phone not ringing, it will be the galleries not calling.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. I wrote to several arts professionals about being found and they all said the same thing: It doesn’t work like that. One gallerist from Boston said, “I would agree with you on the ‘discovery’ idea. With all the ‘noise’ in our contemporary culture, subtlety when it comes to self-promotion is a losing idea. Years ago, before social media, [another] gallerist told me he had a rule of three: If he heard the same name from three different people, he would check out the work. The more ‘buzz’ around the work, the more attention it is going to get.” A gallerist in San Francisco told me, “I couldn’t agree more. An emerging artist should be doing as much as he/she can to connect with others and find exhibition opportunities. So much can be learned from showing and working with others. This is how an artist builds his/her community within the art world and an important audience for their work. From a marketing or sales perspective, it’s of course far easier for a gallery to work with an artist who has already established a positive reputation.”

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Shotgun Reviews

From Two Arises Three at the Asian Art Museum

Shotgun Reviews are an open forum where we invite the international art community to contribute timely, short-format responses to an exhibition or event. If you are interested in submitting a Shotgun Review, please click this link for more information. In this Shotgun Review, Jing Cao reviews FromTwo Arises Three: The Collaborative Works of Arnold Chang and Michael Cherney at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco.

Michael Cherney and Arnold Chang. After Huang Gongwong 4, 2009 (detail); photographic inkjet print and ink on paper. From the collection of Akiko Yamazaki and Jerry Yang. Courtesy of the Artist and Asian Art Museum. Photo: Jing Cao.

Michael Cherney and Arnold Chang. After Huang Gongwong 4, 2009 (detail); photographic inkjet print and ink on paper. From the collection of Akiko Yamazaki and Jerry Yang. Courtesy of the Artist and Asian Art Museum. Photo: Jing Cao.

Chinese landscape painting is notoriously inaccessible—the format is foreign, the subject deep in historicity, the materiality unassuming. Photography, on the other hand, is eminently familiar—a daily practice for many in the digital age. Enter From Two Arises Three, an exhibition of painter Arnold Chang and photographer Michael Cherney’s collaborative works at the Asian Art Museum.

At first blush, From Two Arises Three resembles a traditional landscape exhibition. Black-and-white hanging scrolls line the gallery walls; paper fans and album leaves fill cases in the center. But look closer and a genuinely contemporary collaboration begins to unfold. Many images are actually composites, with Cherney’s grainy, out-of-focus photographs bleeding into Chang’s traditional landscape painting. In a video interview that accompanies the show, Chang and Cherney describe their process: Cherney travels across China, taking photographs. He mails these to Chang’s studio in New Jersey. Chang pastes Cherney’s photos onto paper and extends the imagery with ink and brush. Like an exquisite corpse, Chang’s paintings grow out of Cherney’s photographs.

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