Art as the Collapse of Excess Information: Mark Fell on Emptying the Fields of Meaning

Posted: January 18, 2011 in Uncategorized

Mark Fell, ISOMORPHISM AND TOTALITY, (soundvisual performance)2010

Mark Fell is a Visual/Digital/Sound artist who is currently working out of Sheffield in the UK. Performing with the electronic sound duo .snd (with Mat Steel), along with his installation production and practice, Fell has recently released two solo CDs (in the last months of 2010) – Multistability and UL8. His latest installation (see pictures directly below), titled “Coherence and Proximity”, was exhibited in December of last year. Coming activities include a individual performance to be done at the Espai Cultural Caja Madrid in Barcelona, on January 21 and he will join up again with .snd for an evening at the  Rex Club in Paris (January 26).

Mark Fell, Coherence and Proximity, 2010 (detail of installation)

Mark Fell, Coherence and Proximity, 2010 (detail of Installation)

It’s not an exploration of any issues or in any way conceptual. It’s a purely formal aesthetic exercise. That isn’t to say that it exists in a vacuum and doesn’t connect in lots of other kinds of ways with the rest of the world. But for me an aesthetic description is the probably the most meaningful. And actually it’s a position that was quite difficult for me to adopt: in art school there was an overpowering emphasis on being somehow more socially engaged or critically connected. And it took me several years to realize how meaningless this was for me. This is something that spans my music, my audio visual work, my generative and interactive pieces and my curatorial practice. Mark Fell, An Interview with Mark Fell by Mitchell Whitelaw

Mark Fell – attack on silence, AV performance, Focus 2 Festival, Poznan  2008

Mark Fell – attack on silence, AV performance, Focus 2 Festival, Poznan 2008

I think in lots of interactive art there is an emphasis on creating certain types of experience. A very good example is Bubbles by Woldgang Meunch. Here people instantly get what the work is about and can “play” with it quite quickly. The same is true of lots of other interactive works. People expect something fun, something playful. They see the point of these works as being able to fully understand the relationship between themselves and the work. Like trying to work out figurative details in an abstract expressionist painting… it’s pointless. I would never make a piece like that. My work aims for the complete absence of anything energetic or engaging. I find the whole idea of play or embodied understanding in the context of interactive art completely distasteful. Mark Fell, An Interview with Mark Fell by Mitchell Whitelaw

Mark Fell – “8 square waves and phase locked blue light” , Sonar 2008, Centre d’Art Santa Mònica, Barcelona

Mark Fell –  “8 square waves and phase locked blue light” , Sonar 2008, Centre d’Art Santa Mònica, Barcelona

A particular diagram by Shannon* and Weaver had technology labeled as a “noise source”. Although at the time I was unable to fully explain my objection to this, it is now obvious that this view of technology is similar to a Cartesian* account of the body. A somehow imperfect or flawed container of an otherwise pure soul, or meaning. And this connects to beliefs about the inadequacy of language or technology. Opposite to that Richard Rorty* suggests: the human self is created by the use of a vocabulary rather than being adequately or inadequately expressed in a vocabulary. And this is my view of technology and its function in art. It’s not about the encoding or transmission of a previously “disembodied” meaning. Although for me technology in action is a kind of thinking or understanding which makes some kind of meaning. Like a Wittgensteinian* view of language, I don’t think it has an inherent meaning of its own. This is how I think about the notions of technology and absence of intended meaning in my practice. Mark Fell, An Interview with Mark Fell by Mitchell Whitelaw

.snd – Live Performance at Algorithm Lovebytes, 2008

.snd,  – Live Performance at OFFF festival, 2009

Space is an important part of what I do. Every venue—a club, a gallery, some other kind of building being used as a club or a gallery—has its own characteristics, and I try to activate each in a unique way, to change the way you perceive it. I don’t respond deliberately to the history of a space, or produce something romantic or sentimental—no recordings of children’s voices “haunting” an abandoned schoolhouse. I’m interested in the sound and look of things in purely aesthetic terms. Although I’m aware that it’s a rather naive position to adopt, in this respect I’m quite happy to be thought of as an old-fashioned modernist. Mark Fell: 500 Words in ArtForum

Mark Fell – it Hz Chromatologies 2010

Mark Fell and Roc Jinénez de Cisneros – The Morning Line, 2008 (sculpture/sound)

MULTISTABILITY, in theories of psychology and perception, refers to information that cannot be easily resolved into a simple form—it’s a way of describing perceptual ambiguity…. . The Multistability album isn’t meant as a musical illustration of the concept, though. I’m less interested in how we resolve what an object is than in the human impulse to discern patterns in our environment. Mark Fell: 500 Words in ArtForum

Mark Fell – Multistability 10-A, 11 (2010-sound track only, empty video)

Mark Fell – Multistability 2-A (2010-sound track only, empty video)

Mark Fell, ISOMORPHISM AND TOTALITY, (soundvisual performance) 2010


*Fell is referencing Shannon, C.E. (1948), “A Mathematical Theory of Communication” (Bell System Technical Journal, 27, pp. 379–423 & 623–656, July & October, 1948) and noting that all information in the channel is equally valuable. Reading of the piece cannot be through selection (which would be “arbitrary” for Fell) to decide what is the correct content and “information” of the single meaning to be obtained from the Art Work (for Shannon the selection at the receiving end of the chart is what yields “information”).  Simply for Fell all forms of information are equally viable for an artpiece’s reading.  The reading of all information in the channel would give us either N-values (basically infinite possibilities) for what the artpiece “means” (like Duchamp’s ideas of art being an N-dimensional analysis which will always show itself as having further characteristics, and/or a new way of organizing  of the characteristics in the piece. Thus the artwork will always give us a continuing and new set of meanings and combinations of meanings. The art work, then, will continually be N+1.) or would empty the piece of all stable and set meanings. The latter is what Fell believes occurs with his work. The un-stabling of the space by light and pulse is a way of underlining this concern in Fell’s installations.

Shannon Diagram for Information Transmission

Shannon privileged the “receiver” end of the diagram who determines what, out of all the possibilities, was the single meaning (information) of the transmission. For Fell all of the information, including the medium used for transmission of the information, in the channel is equally viable to be used in construction of the information which the piece “means”. This yields a precarious site of meaning which must continually be reassessed and “empties” the content of the artpiece.

In 1963 Shannon co-authored, with Warren Weaver, The Mathematical Theory of Communication, which reprinted and further popularized Shannon’s ideas bringing Information theory to a broad audience.

it Hz Chromatologies, 2010 (Installation detail)

*Rene Descartes, who systematized the mind/body duality, separating ideas from matter. A Pdf of the Meditations where he did this is here.

*American Philosopher Richard Rorty who attempted to integrate American Analytic philosophy with the Deconstructive language philosophy of Jacques Derrida (and others of the time). “Things” are constructed through language for these thinkers and language users have no means to get to a grounding for these “constructions” in the “world” (which itself is a construction). Additionally all languages are incomplete, so Fell’s point here.

*Fell is thinking of the “Language-game” Wittgenstein of the “Philosophical Investigations”, who sees all Languages as contextual within a system (discipline, social sector, etc.) where meanings are vaguely generally accepted and are judged by loose correct actions in response (verbal, motions, acts, etc.), and not the Wittgenstein of the “Tractatus Logico-philosophicus” who believed that correct languages mirror the world logically and “objectively” (every word, in a good language, refers to an object and the logical structure of the sentence reflected the logical structure of the world).

it Hz Chromatologies 2010 (Installation detail)

This further elaborates Fell ideas about precarious information as we can consider every possible contextualization and “language-game” in consideration of the art piece.

Mark Fell, Coherence and Proximity, 2010 (installation detail)


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