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From Lindsay Seers Anomaly (2021)

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@ El Nopal Press, Los Angeles, 7 July-31 August 2023

Pastor Projects’ 2nd video show at El Nopal Press, DT, Los Angeles. 7 July-31 August.

Tessa Garland
Adam Chodzko
Michelle Williams Gamaker
David Cotterrell
Lindsay Seers
Bedwyr Williams

AI? Whatever.

Los Angeles 7/7/2023

The artists’ assignment is to surrender video works to an “AI editor” that would randomly chop up films, jump to different points in sequences, play snippets at varying lengths, and project segments willy-nilly in different aspect ratios and positions relative to each other. It is an exercise of brave, collective self-harm on the part of the artists along the lines of Byung-Chun Han’s insight in Saving Beauty: ‘without injury there is no truth.’ It is also a selfless whatever-attitude with a refreshing and confident lack of self-impressedness. Meanwhile the JUMP-artists clearly demonstrate that they are at the top of their game. 

So yes, the artists have all jumped and surrendered (some) authorial control over their work, but the whatever-device is doubly cunning because they all intelligently utilise the technology and the lingo of contemporary visual culture with a subtlety and nuance that flies in the face of the constrained, one-dimensional thinking and conditions that created the ‘AI editor’ in the first place. 

Contemporary artists of course have always belonged to the tribe of the elfin whatever-people–a shade of jade, or simply jaded from the moment of birth. Artists treat most things as if they were old news–as if the new (viz the contemporary) has already been around for eons. There’s simply nothing new under the sun. Ever. What. Ever.

And they’re of course right. In a similar manner to the Chinese Prime Minister, Zhou Enlai, who famously, when asked about the merits of the French revolution in 1972, declined to comment as he said it would be premature to pass judgment. 

So, for Pastor Projects to do a show on AI in Downtown, Los Angeles, is perilously close to the nihilist black hole of the news cycle with its two available positions of either hand-wringing pessimism or evangelical excitement.

And it is of course too early to say anything intelligent or nuanced about AI (wrongly dubbed ‘intelligence’– it is after all just ‘dumb’ data). While it is also too late to add much to the conversation, because the artworld has already moved many cycles past the first controversies about AI authorship (The Atlantic bomb[l]asted art & AI-stories as far back as March, 2019 with pieces such as The AI-art gold rush is here.)

Fortunately, like Zhou Enlai, artists don’t say much about anything, because, contrary to the word-counting abstraction hamsters, who run in the wheel of the news-cycle, they are makers of worlds and, more importantly, they have a sense of humour. 

It takes a particular kind of artist who is willing to chuck autonomous, dear artworks into the AI-mixer, because contrary to empty new[s]speak, artists­ must resort to a deduction of crucial life-points from longevity’s balance sheet in order to create–hence the self-inflicted injury as they exact their ‘pound of flesh’ as Shylock has it. 

And so we look to video artists, because video art’s core modality was always about institutional homelessness or awkward screening spaces and positioning when lumped together with more traditional visual media, which in turn led to coy questioning of authenticity, irony, even self-deprecation vis-à-vis their more ‘conventional’ colleagues. 

Our proposition for JUMP in LA is for the artists (and audience) to literally take a leap to mouth a defiant WHATEVER to this thing which is newer than the thing that came before (like what happened to NFTs?).

We asked 6 of Britain’s best video artists to contribute pieces to a purported face-off with AI in a street window space at Francesco Siqueiros’ storied El Nopal Press in LA’s Skid Row, the famous centre of spectacularly ignored planetary homelessness and mental illness. 

This location is of course important in so many ways and much more important than mere words, as it contributes greatly to the complexity and inherent contradictions at play in the show.

It is connected to Pastor Projects’ pursuance of a wider programme of ‘dirty ontology’ or ‘skunk estetix’,’ which aims to stink up abstraction and objectivity, the main culprits for the all-pervasive anomie and absence of real-world action on the rapidly growing number of urgent issues like, say, homelessness, mental illness, shameless greed, Mark Zuckerberg and whatnot.

Faced by this ethical collapse, Pastor Projects is a product of Mexican culture which prioritises the authenticity of subjective feelings as guarantors of sincerity and dignity in public communication. To allow for degrees of subjectivity in public communication is a possible way out of our current impasse where the cult of abstraction and objectivity in universities, banks and government has landed us in a seemingly irreparable disconnect between deeds and words to render language all but meaningless. 

Subjective experience is much more likely to lead to direct action than legions of hothouse-grown, hyper-smart, privileged kids of brilliant professors at, say, Stanford or MIT, who speak objectivity as a first language and celebrate greed as a progressive programme for change via eye-wateringly misguided, abstract concepts like effective altruism (see FTX, Sam Bankman-Fried, Caroline Ellison etc.).

That we are on to something genuine here became spine-tinglingly clear on the eve of the opening when a sequence from Lindsay Seers’ Anomaly gets knocked over from a full-screen ratio of 16:9 by 90 degrees to run on one half of the screen at a mobile-phone-friendly size of 9:16, while a bit from Michelle Williams Gamaker’s The Bang Straws first shows up bottom left as a small, dark square before it flickers and fades to reappear full-sized across the entire screen.  

The films are all captivating spectacles in themselves and the audience’s expectations to each artworks’ promise of sui generis visual fulfilment are dashed continually. The AI-editor’s DIY technique of mash- or jump cutting or whatever name you care to give it, simply has a shocking effect on the viewer while it is a strangely gratifying and beautiful thing to see contemporary art films unceremoniously butchered and mashed up against one another. 

The street show works because of a common denominator for all six films is a more or less explicit preoccupation with the configuration of space. This quality causes them to easily adapt to, or even particite and  ‘produce,’ the setting of an (intensely) unpredictable, darkly carnivalesque urban space full of ‘anomalies.’ This is unusual these days where so much visual culture exists solely for flat (2D), linear consumption for non-urban audiences 

The latter is the non-urban that derives from the reality that real people have either been priced out of city spaces, bought second homes in the country, or fallen into homelessness and abject poverty. Add to that LA’s historical role as a futuristic canvas for reading, thinking and imagining the spatial configuration of humanity. We can ask ourselves where in the world the ‘theoretical LA’ would be today, which has a similar powerful impact to stimulate and enable thought.

Urbanity as a quality has simply evaporated in the sense of: The cosmopolitan city is dead, including the city as a productive, theoretical concept

What to do then? There was a time not so long ago when urban space with its inherent unpredictability, lack of neatness and its ever-present potential of carnivalesque disruption was seen as a prerequisite for a democratic, thriving culture. 

We believe that the way forward goes via the embrace of risk and otherness. This is precisely what JUMP embodies as either the art audience or captivated passers-by are hijacked and directly injured by an unexpected act of self-harm.

It is a blatant whatever-gesture that is sprung on us. Yet while we are hurt and smarting from the pain, we take heart from Byung-Chun Han’s without injury there is no truth. 

More on past exhibitions:

The first show, A Screaming Comes Across the Sky, runs through 26 February and features a strong line-up of exceptional artists with works by Adam Chodzko (UK), Calixto Ramirez (MX), YSA [Jonnie Brooks], Tessa Garland (UK), Michelle Williams Gamaker (UK), Klaus Wehner (DE). Los Angeles, this latest node in Pastor Projects’s exciting and unique nodal network, joins already established nodes in Tijuana, Tecate, Mexico City, London, Copenhagen.

VIDEO: The show, the excitement, the return – LA to Mexico — All in 1 minute and 56 seconds.

The Nopal Press & Pastor Projects

A thrilling aspect of the new permanent art film showcase in Los Angeles is the great opportunity for Pastor Projects to explore new collaborations and alliances by occasionally reaching out and inviting artists/curators/collaborators to guest-curate Pastor Projects’s video showcase in at The Nopal Press in Los Angeles.

The Nopal Press & Pastor Projects

With more than 20 years on 109 W 5th Street, this storied space enables Pastor Projects to present regular contemporary art film programming. The unique opportunity is a result of a new collaboration with owner and master printmaker, Francesco Siqueiros. Like Pastor Projects, Francesco Siqueiros also holds big emotional, creative and intellectual stakes in Mexico. Francesco Siqueiros was born in Mexicali and proclaims to still have “unfinished business” in the Mexican bordertown and his Nopal Press is, much like Pastor Projects, is to a great extent fuelled by a continuing interest in the liminal space of the borderland. 

The curation profile continues Pastor Projects’s consistently eccentric eclecticism and is further evidence of the gallery’s commitment to explore new and intrigueing juxtapositions as a part of Pastor Project’s larger progressive vision to carve out new space for a currently retreating cosmopolitanism and give new life to its values and principles. 

This powerful vision relies on theory and practice as tools, which in turn are fuelled by the dimension of space, spatial dynamics and spatial configurations. 

The vision is sustained by the ambition to ultimately reconfigure the field of contemporary art and beyond. With this emphasis on space and geography, Pastor Projects is propelling (and is in turned propelled by) concepts related to spatial dimensions and presently overlooked philosophers of space like French philosoper Henri Lefebvre and such works as his epononymous 1974 title, The Production of Space/La Production de l’espace.

Though presently unfashionable in contemporary critical theory, we believe the dimension of space to be the primary determinant of all human culture. To ignore this is to shirk responsibility and to deliberately slide several rungs down the ladder of human civilization.

The exploration of space is linked to Pastor Projects Director, Thomas Vann Altheimer’s, continuing engagement with theatre, performance and film, as well as Pastor Projects’s partnerships with research institutions, in particular the Arts & Culture department at Sheffield Hallam University and its affiliated, interdisciplinary, artist-led research platform, Empathy & Risk, of which he is a member of the board.