Interview with Beth Wexler

As you might have noticed I’m getting more and more interested in the world of media art especially projection art (or vjing), video art and the art of sound design, so even leaving the visual components aside. I am quite happy to work again for sound:frame, a festival for audiovisual expressions in Vienna, starting in April this year. Check out the website, as well as some of my postings for the sound:frame av blog.

Constantly in search of new interesting artists I stumbled upon Beth Wexler’s website these days and had a look on her videos and her artist statement, which describes her work perfectly:

„Beth is interested in exploring the human condition, particularly within media saturated cultures.  By using elements familiar within pop-culture  – teevee shows, bright colors and pop music – she creates work that references the familiar while also leaving room for exploration and question.  As an allusion to temporal transformation and a desire to point to a perpetual state of change she tends to work primarily with time-based media.  Utilizing tools for video and sound she deconstructs instances of time only to reconstruct alternate possibilities.  Other areas of interest are the transference of media such as turning data from video sources into sound or using frames of video on three dimensional cultural artifacts.  In an attempt to create pieces that are unique, her work is created through a series of processes that are then applied in real-time systems, which often lend themselves to performance.“

I was especially interested in her pixel videos and works of art, with their very own abstract aesthetics and peculiar sound. Particularly in media age where one feels permanently confronted with pseudo-reality imatitive imagery it feels quite inspiring and suggestive to get into this computer-based abstract art.

Check out the interview with Beth Wexler and also have a look at her tracks below – I made a little selection of my favourite ones. Enjoy!

PS: I’m sorry for my German-speaking audience. I switched to English, as it was quite difficult for me to translate the interview without losing it’s clear meaning…Hope that’s okay for you anyway.

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Interview with Beth Wexler:

artpjf: First please introduce yourself briefly.

B.W.: My name is Beth Wexler (AKA Wex).  I’m a digital artist.  I work primarily with video and sound that often culminates in installation or live performance.  I’m currently completing my MFA degree at Rhode Island School of Design in the states.  I also love when people smile and are good to themselves and each other.

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artpjf: When did you begin to recognize aesthetics in pixels?

B.W.: I became interested in the aesthetic in pixels as an alternative perspective on the remix.  A lot of my early work was temporally structured video remixes.  From then I went on to work as a video and film editor, so reworking time was very familiar to me.  When I came back to school I challenged myself to think outside of that comfort zone.  Rather than remix things in time, I was interested in remixing them within their own materiality.  If you break digital video down to it’s basic components you are left with arrays of colorful pixels.  I started applying strings of effects, (which are basically just algorithms that treat and rearrange the present pixels) to found footage.  The more I could affect the pixels, the more I enjoyed the results.

artpjf: Describe the process of your work. What kind of program or software do you use?

B.W.: I work primarily in a program called Max/Msp/Jitter which is a visual programming environment.  It’s a building process, kind of like working with legos, which I loved to do as a kid.  There are all of these objects that perform different functions.  When they are pieced together in certain ways, it’s like magic happens.  I start with a video, and then funnel it through all of these objects and see what I get.  I can also alter the parameters of the objects.  When I perform live, that’s pretty much what I’m doing, changing parameters, which affects the outcome of the inputted video.  If I am making a piece for an installation, I’ll set the parameters to randomly change.  I love that I can set the system to function without me and be completely surprised by the result.

As for the video that I put through the system, that varies.  Primarily, I work with slightly old popular (American) TV footage.  I’m really interested in the impact of mediation.  TV is losing its place as the dominant means of domestic electronic mediation, which makes it the perfect time to look at it retrospectively.  I like to work with the last of the material that went unrivaled (ie, before the internet became a competitive source of entertainment).  Also, that was the mediation that I grew up with in the 80’s and 90’s, so it had a big impact on my personal development.  Since most of this material has been digitized, it’s pretty easy to send through the systems that I build.  I like that I get to remix this kind of material in a way that I haven’t seen it remixed before.  I think of it as an intervention in a cycle of mediation (the cycle; stage 1 – mediation, where material is put forth for consumption, stage 2 – pop-culture, where material reaches a large audience, stage 3 – appropriation, where that material is adopted into societal norms, and stage 4 – feedback, where the effects of the material are fed back into the mediation stage).  I intervene at stage 3.  Rather than just appropriating, I subvert the meaning of the material through abstraction.

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artpj: How does „sound“ correlate with your work?

B.W.: Sound is something that I am still in the process of integrating.  I have worked with sound externally from these pixel remixes and have been experimenting with ways if incorporating it into the work.  I am now in the process of setting up a system of affecting sound that parallels my system of affecting video.  It’s still in a preliminary stage, so it’s hard for me to talk about it right now.  I do think that there is a need for sound in the work though, and I’m excited about figuring out how to make it fit.  Probably one of the main reasons I started working with video is because it has an overt sonic component.  I love the immersive experience that audio-visual work evokes, so getting my work to a point where I can tap into that is very important to me.

artpj: Do you prefer playing live shows or rather applicable pieces while you are performing?

B.W.: I don’t have too much of a preference for how I show my work.  One week, I’ll be really into playing live, and then I’ll do a few shows, and a few weeks later I’ll want to do more installation work.  I love the thrill of performing though, especially in new environments.  I have a bit of stage fright, but I think that’s what makes it so exciting.  Once I get in the zone, all that fear kind of strips away, and I focus on what I’m trying to accomplish.  The thing that is so great about instillation work is knowing that someone is going to happen upon it.  So far, most of what I have done has been in the gallery setting, but I’d really like to branch out of that and install work in unexpected places.  I love the idea of digital work in a street art context, but the logistics are a bit difficult.  You can’t just set up a bunch of gear and expect that no one will take it.  And since my work often involves projection, there’s also the issue of a power supply.  I know there are these massive projection mapping projects that involve a ton of tech, but I’m trying to work out a way to create something a little more intimate.  I haven’t quite gotten to it yet, but it’s an idea that’s been brewing for a while.

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artpj: Tell us something about your project PXL-MSHR.

B.W.: PIXL-MSHR was a controller that I build about a year ago.  I was just starting to learn some physical computing and I was performing quite a bit and I thought it would be pretty great to build a custom controller for myself.  It was actually supposed to be the mainframe for a series of modular controllers, so there would be other components that could plug into it for more control.  As a VJ, I tend to work in smaller types of clubs (thought I would love the opportunity to work in larger and more varied venues), and often, the amount of space left over after the DJ sets up is pretty limited.  So I thought developing a controller to use in that type of space would be a practical and creative solution.  However, if I were to work someplace where I was given more room, more pieces with extra buttons, knobs, sliders, and different sensors could be added.  I haven’t really had time to work on it much though.  Physical computing can be really time consuming and I realized that I was trying to develop a tool with which to make work, but the making of the work was most important.  I would love to find someone collaborate with who was just interested in building the components.

artpj: Any upcoming projects?

B.W.: I have a few projects coming up.  This week I will install a tech-less piece called The Succession of Chester Copperpot.  It’s almost completely different from the video work that I do, but the thread to tie it together is pop-culture.  In this case, it’s a reference to the 1980’s film The Goonies.  I’ve pulled out a moment from the film and I’ll be creating a very lowbrow interpretation of it, similar to my piece I Was Promised a Hoverboard.  There’s also a show coming up in May for all the MFA graduates here at RISD.  For that I have something a bit bigger planned involving old TVs, projection mapping, and sound.  I’m really looking forward to seeing how that one turns out.  Right now it’s in its developing stages, and there are still a lot of details to work out.  Once I start putting the pieces together though, I will probably have some kind of documentation series on my website.

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