Joseph Nechvatal

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Joseph Nechvatal (15 January 1951) is an American transcultural and transdisciplinary post-conceptual artist currently living in Paris who creates virus-modeled artificial life computer-assisted paintings and digital animations. Themes he has addressed in his art include the apocalyptic, communication excess, the virus, and gender fluidity.

Nechvatal studied fine art and philosophy at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale (BFA 1973), and did masters work at Cornell University (1974) and Columbia University (1975). In 1975, Nechvatal moved to the downtown Tribeca area of New York City. He began studying at Columbia University with the philosopher Arthur Danto while working for the Dia Art Foundation as archivist to the minimalist composer La Monte Young.

In 1980, he moved from Tribeca to the Lower East Side where he found artistic camaraderie and politically inspired creative energy. There he became closely associated with Collaborative Projects (Colab), the influential post-punk artists group that included Kiki Smith and Jenny Holzer, among others. Those were glory days for the famous Colab projects, such as Just Another Asshole, The Real Estate Show and The Times Square Show. He also helped establish the non-profit cultural space ABC No Rio, where exhibitions were animated by political purpose.

In the early 1980s, his art consisted of dense post-minimalist gray graphite drawings (that were sometimes photo-mechanically enlarged), of sculpture, of photographs, and of musique concrète audio collages.

In 1983, he co-founded the renowned avant-garde art music project Tellus Audio Cassette Magazine. He chose the name Tellus from Tellus Mater: the ancient Roman earth-mother goddess of fecundity.

In 1984, he created an opera called XS: The Opera Opus (1984-6) with the no wave musical composer Rhys Chatham that was presented in Boston and in New York.

In 1986, Nechvatal began using computer-robotics to make conceptual paintings. Some were exhibited at documenta VIII in 1987.

In 1992, when he was artist-in-residence in France at the Louis Pasteur Atelier in Arbois and at the Saline royale d’Arc-et-Senans, he created computer virus codes that he used as an artistic tool for his Computer Virus Project I. This work was a reflection on his personal experiences of risk and loss with the AIDS epidemic.

In 1995, at the urging of Pierre Restany, he moved to Paris and began splitting his time between Paris and New York.

In 1999, he earned his Ph.D. in the philosophy of aesthetics and technology.

In 2002 he extended his experimentation into viral artificial life through a collaboration with the programmer Stephane Sikora in a work called the Computer Virus Project II. These works include various series of computer-robotic assisted paintings, digital animations, and a lengthy audio composition entitled viral symphOny, among others audio works.

Since, he has created a series of virus-based themed exhibitions of artificial life paintings and animation projections that explore the fragility and fluidity of the human body. His book of essays Towards an Immersive Intelligence (2009) was published by Edgewise Press. He has also published three books with Punctum Press: Minóy (ed.) (2014), Destroyer of Naivetés (2015) and Styling Sagaciousness (Fall 2022). His audio works, Selected Sound Works (2021) and The Viral Tempest (2022), have been published by Pentiments and his book Immersion Into Noise was re-published in 2022 in a second edition by Open Humanities Press. (2022)

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