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Having Cryptic Conversations About Encrypted Graphics at Rosa Menkman’s New Show

A conversation about "resolutions" at the 'Institutions of Resolution Disputes [iRD],' which opened last Saturday night at Transfer Gallery in Brooklyn.

Rosa Menkman’s new media artwork celebrates both the computer screen glitch and the actual resolution of the image it's trying—and failing—to represent, highlighting the accidents in the “free space” between them. She treats these digital mistakes like relics, documents, and artworks, and continues to challenge the awkward time-and-space gap between human perception and machine vision.

Menkman’s new exhibition, Institutions of Resolution Disputes [iRD], opened last Saturday night at Transfer Gallery in Brooklyn. The pieces in the show expand upon her previous works and research-based practices. On display is a wall-sized, vinyl-printed glitch image that zooms into JPEG 2000 compression artifacts, performance videos of cryptic conversations, and black and white encrypted graphics made in Menkman’s personal typeface depicting what she calls the “five institutions of resolutions.”

Photo courtesy of the artist

A visual artist, curator and theorist, Menkman has been researching and exploring the topic of "the glitch" since 2006.  Since then, she’s been the co-founder of GLI.TC/H, a pioneering new media art show that ran from 2010- 2012, has created stunning 3D video glitch art, and continues to publish to her “cult-status” pieces like the Vernacular of File Formats.

In this show, Menkman expands the discourse that surrounds glitch art to the concept of ‘resolutions’— resolutions being the unassuming possibilities and limitations that are inherently imposed on users engaged in computer activity. In a press release, Menkman explains, “We are collectively suffering from technological hyperopia where these qualities have moved beyond a fold of perspective.”

At the opening of [iRD], The Creators Projects got a chance to ask Rosa a couple questions about the term ‘resolutions’, her new work and encryption:

Photo courtesy of the artist

‘Beyond Resolutions’ 2015. Photo by Noah Emrich

The Creators Project: Could you elaborate a bit more on your concept of "resolutions?"

Rosa Menkman: Resolutions are the bridge to make a connection between glitch and other kinds of discourses. I think "resolutions" is a very useful term that hasn’t been researched too much. There is research on protocol, research on material specificity, all kinds of people researching those things, but to me, resolution is something more than that—it’s not dissimilar, but there is something not represented in that research.

For example, if you choose a frame rate of 24 frames per second and a lot of colors, it would be very hard for any computer to calculate five or six corners of a video, so right now, compressions don’t allow you to make videos with so many corners, I think this is the perfect example of what a resolution is, it isn’t just a settlement to make something function, but also compromised to not be able to see other possibilities. To me, this is about the possibilities that we don’t see.

Institutions of Resolution Disputes (All 5) 2015. Photo by the artist

iRD Patch, Institutions key, 2015. Photo courtesy of the artist

Institutions of Resolution Disputes, Institution #1, 2015. Photo courtesy of the artist

Uncoding the Institutions of Resolution Disputes courtesy of Rosa Menkman:

  • Institution #1: The Institution of Resolution Disputes [iRD] call attention to media resolutions. While a ’resolution’ generally simply refers to a standard (measurement) embedded in the technological domain, the iRD reflect on the fact that a resolution is indeed a settlement (solution), but at the same time a space of compromise between different actors (objects, materialities and protocols) who dispute their stakes (frame rate, number of pixels etc.) within the growing digital territories.

Could you talk more about the work you are showing tonight?

On wall, the black-and-white pieces are five statements about institutions. It’s not a manifesto, but it might as well be. Those five statements are encoded as DCT blocks. About 80% of the images we see online are jpegs, jpegs consist of DCT blocks and some other steps of encoding that I used to create this font. It’s basically a font, even though it’s hard to make the connection between the letters, it’s kind of a weird mechanic encryption.

One of the other works in the back, [Tactic:Blue], is me having a conversation with the Masonic pigpen, through the DCT block font that I made, about cryptography. It’s like a fight between two forms of encryptions, even though these are two basic forms, to me its all about what encryption and cryptography can mean.

Tactic:Blue 2015. Photo by the artist

And how to converse in encryption.

Yeah, to obfuscate the communication. Computers have for years obfuscated communication, and now people want to obfuscate their communication. It’s an interesting situation that there is a lot of conversation now on how to crypto-write something, however there’s already so many ways the computer encrypts things. I thought I would take the other side of that—encrypt everything I wanted to say. I wanted to encrypt them in the way a machine already does it for us, but to show it to us.

Close-up of Myopia 2015. Photo by Noah Emrich

Yeah, kind of like an unveiling of it through aestheticization,

Yeah, it’s also pretty, but it’s boring to make ugly art because nobody will enjoy it. It has to be pretty to have people want to focus on it.

How recent are these works?

All these have been made within the last three months, so super recent. The research I’ve done is four years old, because it’s based on my PhD.

In the press release, you quoted Naomi Klein's No Logo, saying, “everywhere we imagined ourselves standing turned into a cliche beneath our feet,” I’m curious how you think this relates to your work?

This is about the aesthetics. Every time you make a new technology, aesthetic, something else, that aesthetic becomes very easily co-opted, the anti-technology very easily becomes the technology, it is a machine at work. The moment you feel like you’ve broken new ground, it’s like there was already a future somewhere else. You’re never the first, it’s just a part of the hive mind. I think that’s one way of interpreting what Naomi Klein said. I also really loved that she felt it was all about searching for liminal space—you know, going and walking into the fog, but the moment you stand there, you have another perspective anyway, that isn’t so new.

[iRD] is up at Transfer Gallery through April 18th. Check out more of Rosa’s work on her Flickr and blog.

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