Convergence: On Fisheyes and Language – Reflections on an Interview with Michael Naimark
Posted 16 December 2014 by Kirstie McCallum
Still from Maya Deren's Meshes in the Afternoon, 1943
This is the 9th in a series of posts from guest bloggers at Convergence: an International Summit on Art and Technology at The Banff Centre, from November 27-29, 2014.
Part 1: It's Time to #ConvergeBanff
Part 2: Anthropomorphized Futures and Relationships With Technology
Part 3: Interview with Cindy Poremba
Part 4: Art, Technology, Process and Tool
Part 5: Craft, Collaboration and Computing in Art
Part 6: Human 2446271, Bear 71
Part 7: Questions Along the Art and Technology Highway
Part 8: What are We Converging To?
Michael Naimark is one of those artists whose creative curiosity carries him to the far reaches of the world, mentally and geographically. A self-described “media artist interested in placemaking” he is often characterized as working ahead of the curve with respect to technology.
I caught up with Michael during Convergence and we had a wide-ranging discussion in which I found myself referencing everything from the artistic merit of monkey selfies to the prescience of Steve Mann, the eccentric inventor of a precursor to Google Glass. Michael’s diverse practice operates at the intersection of many socially-relevant discussions about virtual reality, surveillance culture, conceptual film and image-making. I admire the critical awareness that limns his work and makes it relevant to so many tangential but exciting topics.
One of our discussion points resonated strongly with my interdisciplinary background and stubbornly democratic approach to arts criticism: “On some levels there is only so much you can teach and the best is to teach creative people to be in touch with themselves and pay attention to the world.” In the context of an interdisciplinary arts conference, I find this a compelling statement that supports the zeitgeist of looking at ourselves as operating in a post-disciplinary arts world.
The poet in me, however, finds that the best entry point into Naimark’s work is what he calls My Google 'Feeling Lucky' List – a list of terms that will bring his name into the top few hits of any Google search. This simple exercise reveals a great deal about the themes that run through Naimark's works, illustrating the fruitful tensions, obsessions, and humour from which it springs.
Looking for another link between literary and experimental media arts, I asked Michael if he considers himself a storyteller: “Yes and no. I’ve had arguments with very good friends who use the word ‘story’ in such a broad way that it includes things like non-narrative film and ambient environments and I am not sure that does a service for everyone…Is a poem a story? Is a Maya Deren film a story? Is a Kandinsky painting a story? I think if the answer for a person is yes, then that person is using the word ‘story’ to mean whatever they like.”
A lot of poetry that I admire resonates with Michael’s preferred term: placemaking (i.e. Anne Oswald’s Dart or Roo Borson's A Short Journey Upriver Towards Oshida). Yet Naimark's world of experimental media and filmmaking is also quite alien: A defining feature has been a preoccupation with the mechanics of the moving image – for example, the visual potential of stereoscopic versus monoscopic film – and other obsessions on the frontiers of media arts practice.
The resonance of some aspects, and not others, of Naimark’s work brings up our discussion of cultural translation skills: He says "if you talk about new media and digital media and all the industries and sub forms, I liken it to little clusters on a map with undeveloped areas in between. So you can be a gamer or an installation artist or a web developer or a social media person and you’re going to drink in different bars! The ability to pass, and fit in, is hugely rich in terms of encouraging experimentation and good work but I also think it’s a hugely valuable strategy for the near future.”
The challenge of reaching across poetry into new media reminds me of the value of exploring uncomfortable boundaries, for the sake of achieving this ability to operate in different cultural milieus. Nonetheless, perhaps there is something in our incommensurability as artists that is reminiscent of Ol' Derrida's insistence on “différance” as a deferral of resolution, or the often related post-modernist's use of pastiche as a tool for integrating things that refuse to cohere. In the flotsam and jetsam of our brave new world, many art forms can co-exist, blend, merge, or remain stubbornly heterogeneous. Does interdisciplinary need to mean equal weight on all originating tools? Does cross-disciplinary need to mean comparative? Or is there a rough music produced when we yoke dissimilar things, and look to see what happens next when these unlikely pairings take on a strange life of their own?