Friday, May 14, 2010

KARI ALTMANN: Zoomed-in View From The Trenches

Kari Altmann's knack for illuminating technology and its psychic imprints is impressive. Her real-time gif collages for Double Dagger drummer Denny Bowen's solo dance/pop mashup project Smart Growth were elaborate and clever without being self-congratulatory -- only the tip of the iceberg. A prolific artist immersed in the narrative possibilities of ephemeral imagery, Altmann DJs as, creates videos, and shows her work regularly around the globe. Her epic collection R-U-IN?S highlights the intersection between permanence, obsolescence, and the alluring constructions of the unreal. R-U-IN?S is a testament to its own double meaning as much as it is a challenge; all comers are invited to participate in the catalogue, to submit or remix. Plans are currently underway for a R-U-IN?S kiosk at Shanghai's World Expo. Here, Altmann responds to a question that's been on her mind for some time.

What are you doing the most lately?
Reading and making a lot of videos, mixes, and tumblrs, it's winter. I spend most of my time emailing and ftp'ing files - I want a long computer hiatus this spring and I want to run away to some facsimile of Ibiza this summer. But today I'm excited about the igloo we're going to build behind our apartment (I'm answering this during Baltimore's "Snowpocalypse 2010")

How does your location (Baltimore) affect what you do and who you are these days?
  • Importing what I can't get locally to a city full of empty warehouses.
  • It is more convenient to go to Manhattan than to the suburbs.
  • Right now I think I attend more events in New York than locally, and I definitely seem to show my art everywhere else but here.
  • People think I live in New York.
  • I'm just bouncing between here and there, something more artists seem to be doing
  • I want the world tour lifestyle that all these musicians have but only my files seem to get it.

I feel really lucky to have moved here in 2004 and witness some magical years, but I'm not in a musical act so the ride on the wave was a little different. Mostly it was a spectacle to learn from - an education. I think of it almost like a research residency on the culture industry: watching things be planted, cultivated, then exported to the world. I actually saw it happen from start to finish, with varying degrees of success. I'd seen a little bit of that before but never with this intimate social intensity. In a place this raw with currents this dark it seems like viruses have the time and space to grow very carefully, in a unique way - so that if they get swept away to other places or hit that exponential dispersion they are almost invincible.

While all this was happening I was at MICA learning critical theory and art history, trying to maintain some kind of perspective on it all but still wanting to participate. It was a tricky balance. After watching people around you deal with fame and self-branding so many times, you really learn what you want and don't want, but more importantly you see new possibilities for yourself. Baltimore has made me understand freedom. It has made me tougher in a different way than New York, by testing what I do with that freedom. Not everyone flourishes under these conditions.

I moved here from Dallas which is the opposite of Baltimore in a lot of ways, so it has always felt like an escape. When I came here I was definitely on the run. At first I took advantage of school loan money and the cheap cost of living and just travelled all over the world every time MICA was on break. The transition was a little rough. Eventually, though, I settled down and got more invested in Baltimore itself, which is when it rewarded me with an ideal quality of life. That tribal experience people fetishize - we actually had it for a minute, with all its ups and downs. I took a net hiatus and spent my time raving and surrounded by people. I didn't care about blogs or a career. It was like the ideal end of college situation amplified by 200 percent.

Now I feel pulled back out of that experience, more zoomed out again. My website went back up. This is a great place to get some projects done, but you basically have to export those products everywhere else once they're finished. It's like MVP/Bolt Bus and Wimax are singlehandedly responsible for more MICA graduates staying and surviving.

More importantly though, it's a good place to experience the raw and hidden elements of America, if you can handle it. If you use it to educate yourself you become able to see the things at work behind a lot of the larger forces in the world. If New York gives you eagle-eye vision, Baltimore gives you the zoomed-in view from the trenches. And there are times I still get that dystopian/lost city/end-of-the-world feel from it all which is what seduced me in the first place. People here are creating their own utopias, whether productive or destructive, among the burnout. Those forces keep eachother in balance. These people are part of a network of post-industrial American settlers experimenting with a cultural "next wave" in cities all over the country, with the aid of the internet. Sometimes it's the second wave, sometimes it's the sixth. Since most of the music and art from these cities is accessible via internet, touring, or exportation to New York, you can actually feel the current of a "Post-Millenial American Frontier" which can motivate you. Not to suggest it's only coming from America though, it's happening all over the world and has been, in cycles, for a long time. It's just that the internet is uniting and diversifying it more than ever before. In 2012 my only dream is to have some huge mega-rave that pulls all of these art/music/party initiatives together, to actually feel this current frontier in one place at one time.

I don't know if I'll stay living here this year - a move is feeling more and more inevitable - but what I've learned in Baltimore, first-person, is invaluable.

What do you think of the future?
Look Up, Look Out

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