The Spotless Worlds of Norah Stone’s ‘Artificial Utopias’

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Using narratives and visual genres found in art, combined with the clean aesthetics of design and contemporary product advertising, the work of Norah Stone is representative of a generation which has seen both art and design coexisting, flattened by the computer screen, and has no use for their separation. The classic art vs. design question is something that comes up a lot in my daily life but I often find it to be a futile discussion, says the Minneapolis-based Stone, “I guess I just don’t think it’s important to set up boundaries just for the sake of boundaries.”

Norah Stone’s most-recent series, Artificial Utopias, creates thoroughly modern still life scenes, which despite their alluring hyppereal-quality (reminiscent of advertising and pictorial), the distinct sense of disconnect between these spotless digital worlds and our own is unsettling.

Says Stone,

“In a culture where most of our daily routines and habits have been replaced by a digital screen, the scroll, the pixel, and the ability to retouch has ultimately changed our ideals of perfection….As I was working on this project I was thinking a lot about how growing up in the digital generation has subconsciously molded me to be attracted to a certain cleanliness that can only be achieved on screen. Artificial Utopias was a culmination of my own personal experience with the digital world and also the research I was doing on still lives. The super clean, almost surreal aesthetic came from trying to recreate the visceral experience that comes from staring at a screen for a long period of time.”

This play between perfection and illusion, the real and the empty, eventually manifested itself into twin video works as well. “In the video works (below) I was trying to recreate the process of eliminating imperfections through the clone stamp tool. In post production, I spent a lot of time retouching these photos to achieve the cleanliness of a stock photo. I wanted to capture the mundane process of retouching and erasing over and over again until you’re left with something completely different,” says Stone, who perhaps quite telling concludes, “or nothing at all.”

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80′s And 90′s Pop Culture Transformed Into Darkly Prophetic And Nostalgic .Gifs

There is no doubt that the current resurgence of the .gif medium is indicative of how image-based and internet-dependent our networked society has become. Born of and propagated through the Internet, .gifs offer a perfect medium for our constantly consuming Share-Culture, a culture that artist Mark Vomit masterfully samples from, and takes particular pleasure in critiquing. Inspired in equal parts by nostalgic ’80s and ’90s ephemera and modern Internet imagery, Vomit’s aesthetic has made him a leading voice in a new online visual arts movement, despite his often apathetic and apocalyptic style.

When asked via email to describe his motivation, as well as his aesthetic, Vomit responded adroitly:
“1. Mark Vomit is documenting the Apocalypse.   
2. Mark Vomit manipulates images and sounds.  
3. You Have No Voice, You Have No Choice, the New Order Nation has Taken Over and 
Everything You Like Is Wrong. 
4. Vomiting is the involuntary, forceful expulsion of the contents of one’s stomach through the mouth and sometimes the nose. 
5. Manipulate: to use or change in a skillful way or for a particular purpose. 
6. Studies in Post 20th Century Culture and Media.”

This philosophical and aesthetic difference made Vomit (who also performs in the the art-doom-rock band Bollywood) a competitive contender in a recent head-to-head tournament of the world’s best .gif artists organizes by the influential new media art and tech site VIA. Considering the often too-cutesy and completely referential (read: unoriginal) work which proliferates Tumblr  posts, it serves as a refreshingly radical reaction to have an artist defacing and exploring the medium with a grittier, grimier approach.

Mark Vomit‘s .gif work will be featured in Post Physical | Visual Reactions to the Post-Internet Age, which opens June 28th, 2014 at SooLocal in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The exhibition runs through August 10th. More information at the event page here.

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