Joseph Nechvatal ~ Artist Statement for 2022

Joseph Nechvatal Working by Alexandra Breznay

Joseph Nechvatal ~ Artist Statement for 2022

My art has always been concerned with invisible powers. When something is obscure in art, it stimulates thought and feeling if you trust the art and stay with it. That is why I have a persisting interest is the palimpsest style, that I often mix with mythological motifs transfigured by technology so as to explore contemporary social-sexual themes. 

My sensually provocative and perverse art practice is modeled on the sybaritic quasi-thematic art of Marcel Duchamp as connected to the mystic writing pad that Sigmund Freud used to describe how the unconscious works. (The way it retains inscriptions even though they are partially effaced.) Through my palimpsest paintings (created with custom C++ artificial-life software modeled as a virus and spray-painted on canvas), digital animations, and audio art, I attempt to convey something of the overlapping shimmering chaos that defines our information society, where we, driven by frivolous lunacy, are absorbed into an electronic excess without fixity. That is why my lapidary aesthetic highlights a visually-anarchic semi-private vernacular that comes from beneath and within ancillary noise fields.

Through these obfuscations of sybaritic paganism within visual noise, I give to the palimpsest a dandified grandeur where myriads of possibilities resist a collapse into blunt conclusions. I believe that pop images must be mentally pulverized into visual noise in order to release them into a new invisible life of becoming latent. That makes for an art that is not only a sign-object, but also a form of intersubjective communication.

I feel that art can create powerful feeling-thinking fields that address the invisible intuitive side of human nature and so aid in a cultural revolution of new myths, methods, and metaphors that should have an energetic historical reality in the minds of those who value culture today and the dynamic and multilayered self. Perhaps it is needless to say that the mercurial drifting of the artificial-life virus within visual noise fields is extraordinarily poignant during the panic of pandemic and post-pandemic periods.

About josephnechvatal

Joseph Nechvatal is an American post-conceptual artist who creates virus-modeled artificial life computer-assisted paintings and animations. Themes he has addressed in his art include the apocalyptic, communication excess, the virus, and gender fluidity. In 1975, he moved from Chicago to the downtown Tribeca area of New York City. He began studying at Columbia University with the philosopher Arthur Danto while working for the Dia Art Foundation as archivist to the minimalist composer La Monte Young. In 1980, he moved from Tribeca to the sordid Lower East Side where he found artistic camaraderie and politically inspired creative energy. There he became closely associated with Collaborative Projects (Colab), the influential post-punk artists’ group that included Kiki Smith and Jenny Holzer, among others. Those were glory days for the famous Colab projects, such as Just Another Asshole, The Real Estate Show and The Times Square Show. He also helped establish the non-profit cultural space ABC No Rio, where exhibitions were animated by political purpose. In the early 1980s, his art consisted of dense post-minimalist gray graphite drawings (that were sometimes photo-mechanically enlarged), of sculpture, of photographs, and of musique concrète audio collages. In 1983, he co-founded the famous avant-garde art music project Tellus Audio Cassette Magazine. In 1984, he created an opera called XS: The Opera Opus (1984-6) with the no wave musical composer Rhys Chatham that was presented in Boston and New York. In 1986, Nechvatal began using computer-robotics to make conceptual paintings. Some were exhibited at Documenta VIII in 1987. In 1992, when he was artist-in-residence at the Louis Pasteur Atelier in Arbois and at the Saline royale d’Arc-et-Senans, he created computer virus codes that he used as an artistic tool. This work was a reflection on his personal experiences of risk and loss with the AIDS epidemic. In 1999, he earned his doctorat in the philosophy of aesthetics and technology in England and soon wrote two art theory books: Towards an Immersive Intelligence and Immersion Into Noise. In 2001, he extended his initial experimentations into the virus as an artistic painterly tool in a series of artificial life works. These works include various series of paintings, animations, and a lengthy audio composition entitled viral symphOny. He has created a series of virus-based themed exhibitions of artificial life paintings and animation projections that explore the fragility and fluidity of the human body. You can follow him on Twitter at @twinkletwink Homepage:
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