Interview: Paul Slocum

by Claire Ruud

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      Kristin Lucas, 5-Minute Break, 2001
      digital video with sound
      4 minutes, 35 seconds
      Courtesy the artist and And/Or Gallery, Dallas, TX

      Paul Slocum is a new media artist and the owner of And/Or Gallery in Dallas. He's co-curator (along with Marcin Ramocki) of Reset/Play, an exhibition about contemporary art and video games, which opens tomorrow at arthouse in Austin. Recently, we picked his brain about the exhibition and new media art, more broadly.

      …might be good: You just recently made the transition to representing artists at And/Or Gallery. Can you tell us about that decision?

      PS: We were already pretty much running the gallery as if we were representing artist anyway, so we thought, let’s make this official. We had work on hand, we were doing the local art fair and we were selling stuff after our shows were over. I want And/Or to be somewhere between a commercial space and an artist run space. I feel like a lot of artist run spaces have a lot of issues—they’re just too beat up. I want And/Or to be little more cleaned-up, a little more professional. Also, I feel that commercial spaces are taken more seriously.

      …mbg: Do you have a collector base in Dallas?

      PS: We sell some work to Dallas people, but not much. Actually, most of our sales are to a new media collector in Belgium and recently a collector in D.C. started buying work from us. We’re just breaking even. That is, we broke even last year.

      …mbg: So if people in Dallas aren’t buying much from you, how do you see the gallery’s role in this community?

      PS: The people who are really interested in the gallery are artists, professors, writers and curators. Collectors, we don’t get as much. There’s a huge divide in Dallas. We have huge collectors like the Rachofskys and others, but they don’t tend to buy locally, they tend to buy from New York. None of the big collectors have even been to the And/Or space, which is a little frustrating.

      …mbg: What kind of reaction do you get from viewers to the incredible line-up of extremely important new media artists you show at and/or?

      PS: Most people here don’t seem to know how big these artists are. In a way, they’re not that big—I mean they are big, but they’re big amongst a very small group of people. We get a lot of attention from new media artists. And/Or Gallery makes it into Rhizome pretty regularly and people in New York sometimes seem to know who we are.

      …mbg: So why do you stay in Dallas, when you’re getting so much more attention nationally and internationally than you get in this city?

      PS: I’ve always lived in Dallas and it’s cheap here. I’ve been tempted to move to New York and I almost moved to Austin as well. But really, Dallas works the best for me.

      …mbg: You’re about to curate a show at Arthouse, Reset/Play, on contemporary art and video games. How did that come about?

      PS: Elizabeth [Dunbar] just contacted me and asked. Originally, she thought about me and Cory [Arcangel] curating the show. [A while back] I had hoped he and I would create an updated version of a show he curated in New York, The Infinite Fill Show at Foxy Productions. But he has a ton of other stuff going on right now and curating isn’t really his passion. So I suggested Marcin Ramocki, who runs a space in Brooklyn called vertexList. I’ve shown there several times and Marcin and I work well together.

      ...mbg: What kind of work are you including in Reset/Play?

      PS: Mostly, we went with work from the formal visual art circuit by artists we knew, like JODI, Kristin Lucas and Cory Arcangel. But one unusual piece we’re including in the show is the [commercial] video game, Katamari Damacy. We’re just going to have it set up for people to play in the gallery. That game is one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen in a long time. Have you ever played it?

      …mbg: No. Explain what makes it so beautiful.

      PS: It’s difficult to explain. It’s for Playstation 2 and the graphics are very simple and blocky and very colorful. Conceptually, the game is centered around a ball, a sphere. The ball is very sticky and you roll around collecting things—getting them to stick to the surface—till you have a really big ball. The back story for the game is that a king got drunk and knocked all the stars out of the sky and your job is to create balls of things on earth that will become stars. The last "star" you have to create is the moon. At the beginning you can only pick up very small things, but as the game progresses you can pick up larger things, like people. By the end of the game you’re rolling up clouds and it’s just amazing. The guy who created the game [Keita Takahashi] came out of nowhere, but if you look him up on Wikipedia, his influences include Picasso, Miro and all these Japanese sculptors and illustrators.

      …mbg: Any other unusual pieces in the show?

      PS: I’m helping Mike Smith restore a game he made in 1983. The game is about building a bomb shelter but no matter how fast you build it, the game is set up so that you can’t finish before the nuclear bomb goes off. I read in an interview that Mike had made this game in 1983 and now he didn’t know how to work it. It stopped working and he couldn’t figure out how to fix it. So I looked at pictures of the game and I thought that had to be either Commodore or an Atari, both of which I’m an expert at. So I asked him about it and it turned out to be a Commodore 64. I brought my Commodore over to his house, we loaded up the disks and I was able to read them. So I took the disks home, messed with them for a while and managed to archive the game on a modern PC so it could be backed up. So we’re going to be able to have the game working in the exhibition.

      …mbg: A while back, we talked to Chris Eamon [Issue #93], the curator of the Kramilch Collection, about the work he’s doing to establish a set of best practices for institutions and collectors dealing with video art. Are you working on best practices for new media art?

      PS: Only informally. I’ve been thinking about archiving a lot. In my opinion, the best way to archive a game or web page is to make a video of it and then take the [DVD or BluRay] disk image and put it on a modern PC so you can back it up on a hard drive. With games, you can run them in an emulator—there will probably be emulators for a long time that can run this stuff.

      The problem is, web browsers change constantly. But video formats are pretty solid. If something’s in Quicktime, for example, you’ll always be able to play it or convert it to the newest format. The standard archival format is still Digibeta, but I think it really has problems. I think the future of archiving is a hard drive and off-site backup. It’s the cheapest and most reliable way to back up data. I mean, your house burns down, you still have an offsite backup.

      I’ve talked to the director of EAI a little bit about what they do. They’re also starting to shift toward digital archiving of videos, but right now their official archiving format is still Digibeta.

      …mbg: In Show #17 at And/Or, you transferred a web page by Olia Lialina and Dragan Espenschied to video in order to present it. We’ve never seen that format for exhibiting web pages before, have you?

      PS: I don’t know. In New York, they showed that piece as a web page. But when you show it as a web page, it’s really difficult to make the piece full screen and make sure the mouse doesn’t pop up. To show the piece at And/Or, we modified the animations on the page so they ran at 1/10 of the speed and then I used a screen recorder to record the screen at 3 frames per second. Then I set the piece up to run at 30 frames per second on the monitors in the gallery, so it ends up being identical to the original page. Because we slow the animation down to record the animations, we don’t have any problems with the recording missing a frame.

      …mbg: We also talked at length with Chris about the distribution of video and new media work. What’s your approach to distributing work?

      PS: I actually talked with Cory, Dragan and Olia about this a lot when they were here installing their show. At this point, there’s no technological limitation on distributing video. All of us could easily distribute all our videos at full resolution on our websites. But there’s an unwritten rule that you don’t post your editioned videos at full resolution on your website. So we’ve been brainstorming new ideas for distributing videos—alternatives to the standard edition—but we haven’t really come up with a good solution yet.

      …mbg: What ideas have you come up with?

      PS: We’ve thought about ideas like a patronage system in which a collector buys the right to display a piece publicly, but also the credit for supporting the public exhibition of the work online. Another alternative is making unlimited editions, which is what EAI does, and I’ve heard that artists can make a good amount of money from EAI. Right now, it’s too hard to sell new media art. Artists like Cory, at the level he’s at—if he were a painter he would be very wealthy, but because he does new media, he’s not.

      …mbg: How do you maintain that balance between a more democratic distribution of your work and supporting yourself?

      PS: Well, sometimes I feel that artificially limiting distribution is at odds with the concepts in my work. In fact, I feel that way increasingly. I feel limited in what I can say in a piece by the whole economic system. Among new media artists, we’re just at the very beginning of figuring out how to negotiate the art market.

      …mbg: What is the next generation of new media artists up to these days?

      PS: I think Kevin Bewersdorf and Guthrie Lonergan are two of the strongest cutting edge artists. They are part of a new wave of very conceptual new media art. Most of the people I work with would consider new media art to be art about technology—the subject, not the medium is technology. For example, Bill Viola, we don’t consider that new media, even though it’s using new technology. He’s using the medium to do something that’s more like a painting. That’s not really what we’re talking about.

      …mbg: When you say "cutting edge," what do you mean?

      PS: "Cutting edge" work takes the most recent developments in the web into account; it comments on how the web is changing. For example, Guthrie Lonergan did a great piece on twitter about vvork, the conceptual art blog. vvork posts images of work with almost no commentary, so Guthrie created a vvork twitter feed. Every time vvork posted a piece, Guthrie would write a single sentence describing it and that was it—something like, “a plywood board in the center of a white room with a staple gun resting on it.”

      …mbg: The kind of running commentary that twitter allows.

      PS: Yeah, the twitter feed reduces the whole vvork project to almost nothing—a series of simple sentences. It’s tongue and cheek, because you obviously can’t capture a whole piece in just a sentence. But then again, with some of the pieces, you can, because you read Guthrie’s description and you realize it’s really kind of a dumb piece.

      …mbg: What’s coming up for you this year?

      PS: I have a solo show in L.A. at Angstrom Gallery early next year. But recently, everybody’s been telling me that I need to take a vacation because I look like I’m about to pop, so I’ve been joking about getting an artist’s residency just to play World of Warcraft. I felt like as a new media artist I needed to be familiar with WoW—there are 10 million people playing it and it’s an interesting phenomenon because it’s a game but it’s also like myspace. I started playing it this summer because Alex Galloway told me that once you play the game a lot and get into it, you’ll understand more about what’s going on in the world.

      …mbg: Do you?

      PS: It’s been really eye-opening. I’m currently at level 25 after like four or five weeks. The depth of the world is crazy. There’s this massive community playing the game and the program itself has an open architecture so that players can add onto it. So there’s a massive community of people writing tools for WoW and the number of plugins is just overwhelming. The amount of the world that I’ve explored compared to how much there is—it’s baffling.

      …mbg: How does WoW's massive open architecture help you understand our world?

      PS: Well, the world exists in large part in the virtual world now. It’s changed our world so dramatically. One of the things I’m really interested in is the idea that Andy Warhol is not really relevant anymore. I mean, the pop culture world that he was describing doesn’t exist in the same way anymore. Technology has really shifted things. Before technology, there were lots and lots of content generators—village musicians, for example—with only a hundred listeners each. Technologies that allowed broader distribution created the world Warhol was talking about, in which there were like 10 bands with millions of listeners each. But recently, because of the internet, we’ve moved back towards the way it was before, with a million bands with only 10 people listening to each one, but listeners are no longer limited by geography. And I feel like WoW is really a part of that.

      Claire Ruud is Editor of ...might be good.

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