Thursday, March 1, 2012

Secret Interview: BOB WIRTZ / INVERTUM

SECRET LEXICON is trying a new thing: An interview series.
Shortly after I did a post on my friend Bob Wirtz I found myself wondering what he was up to. This led me to the idea of finding out.
Now I'm intrigued by the idea that I could find out all kinds of things that people are getting up to! Hopefully this series will continue off and on in the future, we shall see.
Until then, I present an expanded re-post:


SL- Hi, Bob! It's been some time since I've been able to sit down and catch up or take front seat to some of your artistic endeavors. You seem as busy as ever. Could you tell us all generally what you've been up to lately?

BW- First of all, I'd like to thank you Sean for taking the time to interview me! Right now I'm basically focused on prints and computer-generated animations. After many years I'm also delving deeper into computer programming gradually, and that's proving to be a powerful tool, which I always knew it would be. I'm working towards creating interactive programs and installations, so another thing I intend to do hopefully later this month is learn how to build cheap motion sensors. Electronics is another thing I've always been interested in. I'm also trying to figure out how my work can be applied to other areas outside of the art world, such as fashion shows and interactive entertainment.

Like a lot of other people, a huge activity of mine growing up was drawing. I grew up around computers too and was encouraged to use early versions of things like Paint and Photoshop. Somewhere along the line I started experimenting with a video camera and buying electronic music equipment like a drum machine and synthesizer. When I initially was in art school it was my specific intention to start some kind of experimental electronic music label. When I realized that was too narrow for me I thought'd be cool to create a kind of platform for myself where I could do whatever I wanted, which at that time largely included abstract video. Thus INVERTUM was born. I wanted to have some kind of fictitious entity so I wouldn't have to use my name. I now see that complete anonymity for me is unrealistic, but I like the idea of some kind of organization. A direct influence in this regard is NSK, or Neue Slowenische Kunst (New Slovenian Art), an art collective from Central Europe. For quite awhile I tried hard to do visual projections in clubs etc and had a couple small shows that I put together myself. I augmented things by learning 3D computer stuff and am now after breaking through a lot of misconceptions am starting to primitively navigate the art world. A strange meandering path to be sure.

You're a very resourceful technologist. Your output over the years has simultaneously covered video, animation, computer programming, 3D digital design and still printing. These varied methods secrete from a pretty consistent central aesthetic. Chaos and austerity generally rule the roost, it seems. Is there any kind of a visual philosophy that informs you? Does your work have any "rules"?

BW- Thank you for the compliment! I don't really view myself as a technologist per se. A few years ago I realized that if I wanted to not only survive but also at least try making artwork then using current technology (i.e. computers) was the best choice for me. As to me being resourceful, I'll just say that a lot of this stuff doesn't come easily to me and I spend what seems a lot of time gradually piecing things together. I'm learning though and it is exciting!

Even though what I make may take different forms, I view it as part of the same thing, and from the same source. I also try to have as much flexibility and liquid potential as possible. So for example, I'll make an animation which can also be transformed into a 2D image by using and manipulating one of its still frames. With some modifications the animation could also become an interactive program of sorts.

My work definitely follows certain rules and patterns that shift and evolve. It's funny you mention that, since I'm increasingly interested in having my process become semi-automated, where the computer creates a lot of elements itself, some of which I wouldn't expect. I sometimes view my process as a cybernetic one, albeit temporary, between myself and the computer I work on. In terms of a visual philosophy, I'm pretty drawn towards vague, somewhat psychological imagery where the viewer can't really discern what's going on. I know a piece of mine is done when I start to see things in it that I know don't exist. Of course, a lot of my aesthetic comes from what inspires me. I like learning and reading about different subjects, so when I find an aspect that's interesting to me, I'll incorporate it into what I'm working on as a kind of experiment. Making artwork and such makes me feel like I'm participating in a larger dialogue with other people's work, whether it be books, art, scientific discoveries, philosophies, etc. As an example, a huge influence for me is the field of forensics. As I look at what I find (which isn't for everyone of course) I incorporate that into what I'm working on. Thinking more of the images I'm making more as clinical diagrams that show certain organic processes, like entropy. I've also discovered in the past couple years that I'm very drawn towards medieval religious imagery. A painting I seem to think about nearly on a daily basis is Breugel's Triumph of Death. Amongst other things, I aspire to create virtual reality programs that are like the world depicted in that painting. For those unfamiliar with the work it's a panoramic scene of flames, destruction, and masses of undead soldiers invading what looks like the remnants of a town. My memories of the books Against Nature by JK Huysmans and more recently Hell House by Richard Matheson are also significant points for me as well. I'm drawn towards artificial worlds that are the physical extension, the externalized mind, of their inhabitants. Isaac Asimov also illustrates this too for me. I view these scenarios as a kind of mastery over one's environment, not a denial or necessarily an escape from the rest of the world. The best way for me, or I think anyone, to have that kind of reality for themselves is by using machines etc. If you could create and perpetually exist in your own world without becoming some sort of solipsistic prisoner unable to relate or interact with others, would you? I've certainly made my choice!

The complimentary forces of order and chaos are things that I like to reflect on. I'm very much inspired by Eastern mysticism, such as Tantrism, which has shown me that a vast majority of things we perceive are relative and don't really have fixed values. I have experimented with creating animations where discrete elements kind of rise out this vitriolic noise and just when they seem to become clear they recede again in a wave-like pattern. Basically I'd like to perceive what I'm doing as a form of semi-conscious ritual.

SL- An aspect of the prints and video "captures" that really intrigues me is that they are like compromised portholes for looking at things which don't fully exist outside the mysterious realm of digitization. You've created objects that have shape and dimension but which aren't physical. This can be harder to grasp then one might think, especially considering that just a few short decades ago the idea of a digital construct wasn't just impossible but nonsensical. Can you talk about the intangibility of computer generated items? "Where" are these things located?

BW- I think in simplest terms these elements are initially in my mind and I manage somehow to translate them into a digital form. For me, it's like there's a world or alternate plane within the computer. I'd kind of like to think that intangibility is a relative term, and that as technology advances digital work won't be seen as something ethereal. In my own way, I'm really attracted to science fiction and occult material. All I'm doing is trying to operate in between those spheres. For example, Forbidden Planet is a significant influence to me. It's essentially about this advanced race that has created a machine with which to manifest their thoughts. However, despite their advancement, they still have a primitive, animalistic side. This primordial facet of their psyche literally manifests itself into this terrifying and inexplicable creature that eventually destroys their entire civilization. I want my work to inhabit that realm. It's a silly association I know, but I like the idea of the ectoplasmic containment unit from Ghostbusters. Using computers as a kind of Pandora's Box-like gateway into psychological/phantasmagorical territory. I'm a firm proponent that if an individual doesn't acknowledge and on a certain level commune with the more hidden aspects of their own self, then it will eventually destroy them. At the very least they'll lead a kind of grey non-existence. I aspire to create artifacts that trigger and enhance this experience. That's appealing to me at least, and I can't be alone with that view! Harlan Ellison's I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream, Michael Crichton's The Terminal Man, William Burroughs' Mind War, and Arthur C. Clarke's The City and the Stars have collectively set me on a form of trajectory. On the other side adding to that is work like Julius Evola's The Yoga of Power and Stephen Flowers' Lords of the Left Hand Path and the Aghora trilogy by Robert Svoboda (although I've currently only read the first book). I could go on and on. What I attempt to do comes out of looking into this stuff and making associations. I'm not interested in conveying emotions or anything like that.

SL- A great many people carry computers around in their pockets now. We generally assume these machines are here to stay, if only because the alternative has some unthinkable implications. The computer is thought of as a helpful, logical device. Like all things though it's output is subject to it's input. I've heard you say specifically that you are interested in using computers for "irrational" ends. Could you expand on that?

BW- The unknown, whatever that is, and the fear and seduction etc that it generates, is like a siren song for me. This is where rationality breaks down, at least until we can comprehend it. It's a constantly expanding limit. It's like Nietszche said, "When you look into the abyss, the abyss looks into you." Creating that void with computers, perhaps to remind viewers that there's a lot we don't know, is inspiring to me.

SL- You mentioned fashion earlier, what are your thoughts on that? I did notice that some of your recent layered designs have a fabric like quality to them. Also, I'm surprised more people haven't explored Vernon Reed's concepts of self-aware cybernetic jewelry. Do you have any interest in things like that?

BW- My interest in fashion started four or five years ago and has grown since then. Much like certain genres of music I now really enjoy, it wasn't that I was turned off by it, I just never really considered it before. Yes definitely! I'm especially drawn towards fashion that uses unconventional materials and raises questions about identity. I briefly saw an article about jewelry that also possessed sensors, essentially turning the wearer into a kind of functional cyborg. One thing I've been interested in for as long as I've been working with 3D is rapid prototyping, the process of physically recreating computer models in reality in plastic. This is currently too expensive for me to do, but only for the moment! Creating some sort of exoskeletal armature or mask would be interesting to me. The other night I considered perhaps making some kind of fetishistic mask, which I might explore. I'm interested in anything that blurs the lines between humans and machines. I will say that these sensing, self-aware devices, for me would have to be completely aesthetically pleasing and perhaps rather subtle.

SL- I love you're idea of creating a virtual world that can be explored. Though I'm not much of a gamer one thing I've always yearned for is more non-games that provide you with a scene where there is really no narrative or specific goal in mind. It would be a real thrill just to be able to wander around a strange and potentially dangerous environment in a way that's "safe." Do you know of anyone else creating stuff like that? I'm picturing the whole Lawnmower Man set up with the helmets and data gloves. Whatever happened to that stuff?

BW- I was obsessed with video games when I was younger, but that's been replaced with an interest in exactly what you're talking about. Interactive worlds that basically exist independently on their own is very exciting to me, and I think there's a whole spectrum of possibilities with them. In a way, me learning computer-based media etc. is just an attempt to be an active participant rather than a spectator in that realm. When I was first being introduced to 3D graphics in 2006 I went to SIGGRAPH (a major computer graphics convention) and purchased this really interesting book, I think it was called "Virtual Art." It puts forth that throughout history certain artists etc. have utilized the maximum amount of technology available to them at that time to create the most immersive experience they possibly could. Like with a lot of other stuff I've come across, when I was confronted with that, I pretty much knew what I wanted to do with myself indefinitely. I see using computers as the best way presently to create those immersive experiences.

Movies like the Lawnmower Man and TRON are significant inspirations to me, perhaps not surprisingly. I think the fields of virtual reality and artificial intelligence (another subject I've always been fascinated with), like a lot of other developing fields, are similar.

SL- Sound, particularly at high decibels, has played a hugely important role in much of the work of yours that I've seen in the past. In what ways do sound and music continue to influence you and what ideas do you have for the future in that regard?

BW- I'm not really sure if I'm interested in high volume kind of work anymore. Now it's more about causing some sort of reptilian, physical sensation. I'm working with sound in a new way, in exactly the same fashion that I'm creating a lot of the graphics, programmatically. It seems that a lot of my sound work starts off as primordial, simple noise and then from that I try to add basic rhythms derived from things like techno. I'm now into the idea of creating fugue-like sounds that kind of mutate and shift as the program plays. Don't ask me how I'm going to pull that off just yet! You know, life is about avoiding the extremes (although extreme is a relative term!)… I have no intention of going stone deaf anytime soon so I had to kind of reconsider what the hell it was I was doing creating churning walls of dissonance. Enter things like biofeedback and Electric Wizard (an English music group I'm fond of). Now I'm thinking more about the characteristics of sound. Making things heavier or more organic. Having frequencies harmonize with your brain and certain organs.

SL- Unfortunately, we are often asked to explain ourselves and our motives. This can be very awkward because most of us don't understand our psychic motivations anymore then we understand the motivations of our stomachs. Seeing a shrink is expensive for a reason! It generally seems that personal intrigues can neither be controlled nor directed and one sometimes gets the sense of watching oneself unfold. Therefore vagueness makes some people incredibly uncomfortable and insecure while for others it is a comfort and a necessity. The vague nature of your work is a powerful one I think. Do you deliberate much about the lines between self-exploration, self-interrogation, self-discovery?

BW- Thanks for the compliment! It's funny because I often have very specific ideas of what drives a particular piece, but in the process of creating it I ultimately like to obfuscate it. I like being able to experience things endlessly almost without having any idea what's going on. If you mean self-interrogation as in why the on earth I do this stuff, I ask myself that pretty frequently. I'd like to think of myself as a reasonably responsible person and I'm frankly not interested in a lot of the things society seems to offer. So I make stuff because it's simply fun and challenging to come up with and work on new ideas. I've never really thought that my work is about me per se. I mean, it's definitely borne out of my interests, so it does reflect myself somewhat, but I'll never do a self-portrait or some kind of personally exposing piece. My mind just isn't in that kind of place. I think of what I'm doing as a kind of adventure, so it's neat to see what kind of things get dredged up. I'm finding that there can be a kind of separation between myself and my work, or at least I try to create that. My material could be seen as "pretty out there" or what have you, but I want to be as straightforward and open as I possibly can be. My stuff's been called "dark" etc. which I'm okay with, but I definitely want to share it with people who are interested. Yeah, when I was like 16 was I into stuff simply because it was "horrific" (whatever that means)? Sure. But now when I examine certain things I get different associations. I've never been interested at all in shock value with my material at all but I'm not going to feel self-conscious about drawing equal inspiration from pictures of a rotting corpse and a bed of flowers. I really enjoy what I do and I feel very strongly about it and am willing to put myself behind it.

I have every intention of supporting myself financially with my endeavors and in a growing sense I do treat what I do as a self-sustaining enterprise. It took me a small but arduous eternity to extricate myself from the myth that "money is evil." Like everyone else, I need to eat and I simply want to be responsible in my own modest way. Where I am definitely interested in the commercial sphere, I have absolutely no intention of being all things to all people or constructing some grandiose persona or empire. Perhaps like yourself, I've simply known from the time I was about six years old that "I want to do my own thing" and not have to bother with a lot of the nonsense I've seen in the normal working world. Art, commerce, philosophy, and science aren't separate in my mind. I am now a fervent convert to the fact that making money from your personal endeavors, whatever they may be, enhances them. This is still something I'm developing as I move along, but I'm convinced that if you're not getting paid for your efforts, then you're being taken for granted. I specifically mention all this because I spend a lot of time reading interviews with "creative people" and there's never really any mention of what logistically goes on in their daily life where they have to get by just like everyone else. I'll read a biography of a painter and learn that they were either perpetually broke or living off of someone else. That kind of thing has always struck me as really ridiculous. I prefer to operate in reality and I'm always trying to be practical towards my work. I'm not sure if I've already mentioned this, but after personal interest, the reason why I chose to work with 3D graphics and computers is because they're in demand as skills. It's like a line from one of my favorite movies: "in order to command nature, one must first learn to obey it." To be brief, I am surviving the "economic downturn" of course. It has been a kind of most worthy opponent, but that's perhaps for another interview!

Finally, I just want to really thank my friends and family. Without them, what I'm doing would not be possible at all and I want to seriously express my gratitude to them for enduring my eccentricities. Anyone who knows me knows I've been cryptically going on about this stuff forever. Smashing my face against a wall. Well, now things are starting to come together, albeit at a glacial, geologic speed. I'm really happy and can't believe I've made it this far!

algen xxzcxnn from invertum on Vimeo.

algen trqk from invertum on Vimeo.

algen xvkkx from invertum on Vimeo.

algen nncx from invertum on Vimeo.

algen 2 from invertum on Vimeo.

VD16 from invertum on Vimeo.

vd16 phase 1 from invertum on Vimeo.

VD15 from invertum on Vimeo.

VD05 from invertum on Vimeo.

VD04 from invertum on Vimeo.


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