Datamoshing Surrealism

November 13, 2012

The latest in our Artists Respond series is by Antonio Mendoza and a French artist known as Jimpunk. Inspired by Drawing Surrealism, the two artists are collaborating from afar, creating a video mashup that transforms found material into a dynamic ongoing collage that changes daily. The project is called Dysleksic. (Note: depending on your internet connection and various other factors, and in keeping with the nature of the artists’ work, the project may not play perfectly in all browsers or for all users.)

Random screen grab from Dysleksic at, by Antonio Mendoza and Jimpunk.

Here’s what Antonio had to say about the project:

I’ve always loved surrealism. I’ve been working with collage – video or physical – for twenty years. I’ve been collaborating with Jimpunk, who is based in Paris, for awhile and decided to go back to the surrealist roots in Paris and do a project with him.

Describe the project?

We take these found videos and pile them on top of each other. It’s kind of like an exquisite corpse. We’re trying to use random material, creating a clashing of signs and a never-ending collage that has a lot of sound. Our goal is to keep this process going for awhile, loading new videos. It’s interesting to see how our respective contributions load and how they affect each other. It pushes the limits of the browser, but doesn’t quite crash. I think the surrealists would do something like that.

I don’t see what Jimpunk is doing, and he doesn’t see what I’m doing. We just started piling it on top of each other. Now we’re blending it – I’ll take stuff he uses and remix it and he’s been doing the same. At the end of the day it’s not clear who did what. Sometimes when I watch the videos I’m not even clear what part I did and what part he did. I’ll take something he did and alter it, he’ll take something I did and alter it.

The piece is chronological, in that whatever new material we add appears at the top. It’s set to play six videos at a time, and then when you scroll things will be static for a moment and then it starts playing again. It loads, then it will pause. We both like the jerkiness of the whole process, of stressing the system so that it’s working hard to play. It’s related to the surrealist ideal of going for the unexpected, the accidental.

I’ve removed three videos that weren’t playing the way I was hoping they’d play, but mostly I like the way it plays. Sometimes I don’t and I wish it would play a little bit differently, but that’s part of the process. Some of the artifacts from the compression become part of the piece. I’ve worked on other pieces that use that kind of datamoshing, an elaborate process where you take out the key frames from the videos, and then there are these strange artifacts that are fascinating. I’m sure we’ll introduce some of that;  once you run out of ideas you just datamosh it and it’s cool again!

What’s the current state of so-called “net art”?

Net art happened in the mid-1990s to about 2005. There were a lot of people exploring how to make something look interesting out of web pages. Messing up the code. Trying to hack the web browser to do things that it wasn’t meant to do.  The godfather and godmother of net art were a couple, a collective, called Jodi. Once everyone saw, they wanted to do something like that.  Overall, I feel like everything that could be done with code and a browser has been done. I might be wrong. Mobile is maybe the new thing. Until I get a better phone I’m not going to be able to do anything with mobile!

What’s it like collaborating with Jimpunk?

We met five or six years ago because we do the same type of work. We talk by email a lot. I understand 50% of what he tells me and he understands 50% of what I tell him. I don’t know exactly what he’s thinking right now! Jimpunk is great in that you say let’s do this, and he’s like a machine. He just starts doing it.

In response to Dysleksic, Drawing Surrealism curator Leslie Jones said, “It gives new meaning to André Breton’s words “Beauty will be convulsive or it will not be at all.”

Amy Heibel

June in Paris with the Surrealists

September 7, 2010

For the past year, I have been working as a research assistant here at LACMA, helping the curator Ilene Susan Fort with the preparations for a major exhibition called In Wonderland: the Surrealist Adventures of Women Artists in Mexico and the United States. This show, opening in January of 2012, will showcase the work of many well-known artists such as Frida Kahlo, but also introduce many important women who have not achieved such international renown. One of the most enjoyable aspects of working on this project has been tracking down key paintings and sculptures by these lesser-known artists and learning about their extraordinary lives.

This past June, I was lucky enough to travel to Paris in the pursuit of information on one such artist, Helen Phillips. Born in San Francisco in 1913, Phillips won a travel scholarship to study art in Paris in 1936, where she fell in love with the ideals and practices of the surrealist movement. Phillips also fell in love with the artist William Stanley Hayter, director of the Atelier 17, a print studio which served as an important center of experimentation for many surrealist artists. In the 1940s and 1950s, Phillips created anthropomorphic forms in bronze, and we are eager to include a few of these in show.

In Paris I went to stay with Phillips’ daughter-in-law, the Italian curator Carla Esposito Hayter, whose apartment in Saint-Germain-des-Prés is right down the street from the famous Café Les Deux Magots. With regular doses of espresso and pain au chocolat, we spent long hours happily digging through Phillips’ documents from throughout her career, including wonderful photographs such as this of Phillips and Hayter in their studio.

We also measured and photographed many examples of Phillips’ work, lugging bronze sculptures onto a bathroom scale (it is important to have a weight estimate for shipping purposes). Phillip’s best-known sculpture is a work in Carla’s apartment called Metamorphose (1946) a good example of the artist’s concern with forms in perpetual motion and transformation.

As Carla and I were looking through a batch of old photographs of Phillips’ sculptures, she suddenly realized that one of the works was in corner of the bedroom where I was staying. Neither she nor I had given much attention to the piece, which seemed sort of flat and nondescript. However, as we carried the bronze out into the living room and set it in the proper position according to the old photograph, a fully-realized work came to life.

Although the piece is romantically called Amants Novices (Inexperienced Lovers), its sharp “teeth” and tangled limbs give the sculpture a slightly menacing quality that may relate to the surrealist interest in symbols of violent female sexuality, such as the Praying Mantis. Carla and I were very excited about our discovery, and it may turn out that this sculpture is perfect for a show about the ways in which women artists responded to surrealist concepts.

Terri Geis,

Research Assistant, American Art

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