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Notes on Talk on Yuri Zupancic’s Art

February 11, 2017

Wednesday, December 7th at the Lawrence Art Center, we got a chance to see a talk with an audience by my dear old friend Yuri Zupancic on his work, an impressive sample of it being on exhibit under the moniker, Screen Deep for the next few weeks.

Not being well versed in contemporary art (let alone post digital art) didn’t prevent me from pretending to be a real art journalist–and a pre digital one writing in a big sketch book to boot– and look in order to see.  But mostly listen.  Though it doesn’t match the live experience, you can view most of the work that was exhibited via Yuri’s website here.   Instead of writing a review about the work itself, what follows are a few notes, and recorded dialogue between Yuri and members of the audience.  Glaringly absent, are focused descriptions of what can be seen.  Words about the works themselves –and believe me, I take “works themselves” seriously to the point of erasing the maker’s biographical self– will not do justice to the works,

Yuri began taking about Berlin and other cities where he explored more deeply the concept of transhumanism.  Before going any further, read Yuri’s artist statement here.   He spoke of the processing of his reality of going back and forth between Europe where makes art and promotes the visual artworks of Willam S. Borroughs whose estate is based here in Lawrence.

I was tempted to downplay Burroughs’s presence in Lawrence in the last 16 years of his life being spent.  But it’s hard, many of Bourrough’s ideas touch upon transhumanism — his “Mr. Rich Parts” being one of my favorites (couldn’t find it on That There Online Video Sharing Network {TTOVSN} [#AgainstProductPlacement]), but to those of you who were around Lawrence, KS. in the early-mid 90s, search: Cough It Up: The Hairball Story, a compilation of local bands, and the inclusion of the aforementioned story.

Anyway, this going back and forth between different places is accentuated or even exacerbated by having a special someone to communicate back to where you came from, which was highlighted by “Newlwebd”(oil paint and assemblage on circuit boards, 2016), the featured image above.  One’s level of attention to another is tested.

For me it has always been the notion of the threat of losing a capacity for reflection that’s framed my reaction to all of the technological changes that have occurred in the last twenty plus years (let alone, or so I’d like to think, the gauging of any felt connection to other human beings).  I have always been interested in the kinds of protagonists in novels who conveyed, or were portrayed with an absence of self awareness.  It was nice to read this in his statement and hear him discuss this.  To even be able to view it optimistically –just that fact that we’re talking about it– or at the very least not freak out about it.  (On a personal note, Yuri’s always been the coolest headed one in the room, almost detached –to the point of being mistaken by some as cold– but giving the right amount of acknowledgement that whatever subjectivity he comports with.  When he visited me in the mental health ward, no matter what batshit came out of my mouth, he never acted any differently towards me).

Other questions Yuri asks in his art:

what are the slips in online communication that happen between those sharing an intimate relationships?

Then there’s the exploration of the physical, the signifying of the physical by digital phenomena just by its mere absence,  a return to the sculptural .

EPP chief visual art maker, Jamie Hofling made some observations as:

The space between that gets lost when you’re divided and with a divided mind.                                       Looking for the tangible in a digital world.                                                                                             Internets of the natural world.  Circuits of the forest.

And then I broke out in posey:

“window ya gotta fall in love with this window                                                                                                                   It gets easier to detect its sentience

“The Breathing Screen”

What to be put in the bars                                                                                                                                         in place of TVs

Piece of many microchip

painted eyes.

Don’t resist the idea

Looking/being looked at what

does it all mean


exponential increase of awareness

exploring the map of East Lawrence.

The video of the sound of wireless traffic

How to aestheticize the utility of the swipe

The mildly sweet sweaty perfume of tobacco in the room.  I was sitting behind Lawrence artist and long-time celebrity, townie and raconteur, Wayne Propst.

Yuri, referring to a painting in the room with actual computer parts on it:  “the guts on a piece of guts of a computer”.

Benjamin Rosenthal asked about the eroticism in the work.  “What is your position with respect to the eroticism of the touch?”

Yuri: “that aspect has marked me from a very early point…there’s a deep desire to touch it.  Even in a non-sexual way.  And, uh, just thinking about the things that I’ve seen on a screen that I’ve wanted to touch, but can’t”

“I have this vision of reaching through a screen.”

“It’s not just digital.  But where we’re at in our evolution”

Lady in the middle row: “How can you look and listen to and think about this stuff without feeling anxious?”

Yuri: “it’s scarier not to talk about it.”

Lady in the middle row: “You’re brave.”

(long pause)

Yuri: “Well, thank you.”

[audience laughs]

Later, Yuri let us know that the entire exhibit traveled in a typewriter case

He hit on yet another one of the big time preoccupations of mine, when he sighted feeling “pressured to make more choices of what I focus on”.

At one point he says, “studying slowly on a small scale is very interesting.”

In what reasonably passes as something called the art community in the world, Yuri is most famous for his microchip paintings, which  you really should look at here, including his very astute commentary   Even though his installations are the most compelling for me, the thing I wanted to write most about was the notion of working on a small scale, of (re)presenting large objects in the world on a small scale, that he so brilliantly explores.

And thinking about the inverse, of (re)presenting microscopic (or just relatively small) things on a big scale, (Doing so with Music is the first thing that comes to mind, with Matmos’s A Chance to Cut is a Chance to Cure), which he achieves in his biggest piece, the audio-video installation “Screen Touch Screen”, which you can view and read about on this page, a quadruple mirror shot of thumb and forefinger scrolling  on laptop scroll pad, captures a tangibility of the hidden world of wireless traffic.

Wayne Propst asked Yuri about Burroughs’s influence.  Yuri, declared his having been seduced by the work of Burroughs, and gave an interesting example of him having declared that the British would never be the kind of country to explore outer space.  The idea being that to explore outer space you have to be able to detach yourself from everything.  “The act of leaving crap behind”, Yuri stated plainly.

Which takes us back to the theme (and the future) of transhumanism.  The Lady from before asked, “what if the human being turns into this thing inside a little red light”

Yuri responds. “Yeah!  What will that feel like…light tube tunnel future”.

The Lady: “a little thing on a wire.”

Yuri: “no I don’t think we’ll need a wire.”

Shortly thereafter, Yuri stressed the power of a work of art independent of the physical.  I asked him, “how independent do you wanna go with your work, how independent can you get from not just the physical, or the sense of the physical?”  At this point a youngish employee and/or long time associate of the Lawrence Art Center,  Kate Richard, offered the example of the work of Eve Klein, as something entirely conceptual and not digital, making work with light and making black holes.

Wayne: “Be careful.  Black holes are dangerous.”  (laughter from the audience).

A few side bar conversations discharged.  Yuri did qualify that he still loved to accumulate a lot of sturdy things.  Also, a “striving to create a new kind of work that shows beauty”…finding “where is the intersection between us and these strange objects that are growing a life of our [their?] own”

Another good question by an unidentified guy (UG) that was asked was about the juxtaposition between his paintings and his digital work.  What’s the correlation between them?  “I search for tangible feeling I’m my works…I don’t want to draw any lines (of what I do and don’t know).

UG: “I was just trying to see if there’s a connection between them, of how you arranged them on these walls”.

A curatorial question, I told myself.  Where (who) was the curator at that point?

Back to transhumanism, Yuri mentioned that, “we could be reduced to an eye and a finger”.

Benjamin Rosenthal: “What do you envision for the kind of space you want for yourself as an artist and a human.”

Yuri: “I hope that we can add these things in a way that doesn’t severely handicap us along the way.”

Yuri, always to me so optimistic.

James Marc Smith, a long time acquaintance of mine and a long long, as in back to their childhood in Dodge City-time friend of Yuri’s reinitiated a dialogue about becoming cyborgs. “If you’re not afraid of it”, says James, “you’re not doing it right.

Another dude sitting near Kate Richard spoke up: “We are kids with way too many tools.”

Benjamin asserting that technology is natural.

James: “we’re not ready for skull jacks.”

The lady from before: “make note that Yuri’s watch [on his wrist] explains beautifully.”

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