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Interview with Gene McHugh on Tech Trash

Conversation/Chat on Technological Trash and Related Ideas between Noah
Fischer and Gene McHugh.
11:31 AM Gene: so -how did you get interested in thinking about technology and junk?
your new pieces seem to be a sort of post-apocalyptic depiction of high tech gone bad.
11:32 AM Noah: yes, I saw the two extremes of the tech/design process: the i-phone of
desire on one hand (and all the advertising that goes with it) and the 7 year-old beige
monitors in trash piles on the other, on their way to China to be melted down in toxic
villages on the other: really the utopian and dystopian together.
Gene: have you researched the "life" of the computer much...i think the birth of the
silicon in california being sent to china to be manufactured, returned to california to die
and then sent back to china is sort of beautiful and tragic
utopian and dystopian.
11:34 AM Noah: yeah that is compelling and as we begin to understand this thing called
Globalism more, it is sort of a touching story that emerges
I mean, when I saw images of "gleaning" the parts from old monitors in China, that was
unexpected because it's so lo-tech, almost pastoral-
So with photographs by Andreas Gursky or especially Edward Burtynsky you have the
BIG IMAGE of this new landscape, that’s the form they choose.
I am trying to "muddy" the form more, to problematize and create a self conscious
language to talk about the utopian/dystopian mix.
11:36 AM Gene: can you talk a bit more about the idea of language?
Noah: in what aspect of the work?
11:38 AM Gene: for instance the iphones you're fabricating take the basic iphone design,
but you create a sort of semiotics out of the new shapes you create.
Sort of materializing the language that is implicit but difficult to decipher in the original
11:41 AM Noah: that's right...language is important in all of my work- I've often worked
with it literally as in the speech analysis in Rhetoric Machine.
Gene: rhetoric - the rhetoric surrounding environmentalism is also something we've been
it gets lost in an ecology of other rhetorics
11:43 AM Noah: right- that's the case in Pop Ark.
and in that case I was looking more broadly at rhetoric, not just from the top down
11:46 AM Gene: it shows that information or rhetorical ecologies can also become
"polluted" or so overwhelmed with noise, that it becomes difficult to know what is useful
information from what is garbage
Noah: absolutely, so there is language trash....
11:48 AM Gene: yeah and with the web, the amount of language trash we deal with has
rapidly expanded
Noah: I think that at the moment, the culture is still figuring out how to define let alone
deal with Spam-as it overwhelms us. The new trash that always accompanies industrial
shifts is never fully recognized.
But to get back to language, with the new work about monitors I am thinking about a
grey area between language and design. You can certainly say that Modernist/Minimalist
design it is broadly desired...But maybe just people versed in the basics of design, who
studied it in art school for example, feel comfortable with it as a language the way that
most people exist within written language.
Gene: so the idea is to create disinformation surrounding the semiotics of design
i think your iphone pieces go a long way to doing that.
11:51 AM Noah: I think you said it very well - sort of short circuiting the rhetoric
implicit in the design with another another kind of language
I mean, the point is to get some perspective on all of this- the very fast moving
contemporary process, right?
11:54 AM Gene: yeah, i think the role of the artist becomes important
there is official rhetoric
and then the artist has to come along and shake things up
try to puncture a hole in the mass of rhetorical mess that we've dug ourselves into
the nightly news isn't up to the task
11:58 AM Noah: absolutely not!
Gene: haha
12:00 PM Noah: the nightly news is an addiction mechanism on which I am
unfortunately hooked
Gene: hey a bit off topic, but did you see the photograph of sarah palin in an american
flag bikini holding a gun poolside?
Noah: yeah you know its photoshopped
12:01 PM Gene: oh fuck
i was hoping not
Noah: no, you can see the original image of a much younger woman.
Palin probably looks better in real life
Gene: yeah she's kind of hot, right?
12:02 PM Noah: I know
Gene: the sexy librarian thing
Noah: it was a master move in so many ways
12:04 PM Gene: there's nothing more american than aerial wolf hunting
Noah: nope- that is like mythologically American
Gene: the first reality television candidate
12:05 PM Gene: it's funny how we're trying to resist this sarah palin charade and talk
about rhetoric but here we are knee deep in it and hungry for more
i guess the point is to maintain some level of perspective, but not be "above" it
Noah: Yeah I can't resist...
Well I make it a point not to have internet in my studio, I go there and try to focus
Gene: that's smart
i'm totally hooked
Noah: I hear you brother
staring into the monitor a lot?
Gene: yep – exactly
it's not an object, it's a warm, mothering light beckoning forth
12:07 PM Noah: exactly, if we deconstruct it, we have a nice lantern to gaze into:
the mothering light as you say...
Gene: i've always liked this idea of ancient societies staring into the flickering campfire
and telling stories and how this has simply mutated into televisions and now iphones and
sophisticated campfires
12:09 PM Noah: I think about that too- funny actually how campfires are so
Gene: they really are
i went camping a couple of weeks ago, couldn't take my eyes off the fire
Noah: something about the idea of infinity- no flame ever the same
there is some promise of infinite yet looping entertainment-as in the daily news for
Gene: yeah, infinite jest
that's a good book
12:11 PM Noah: I started it
couldn't focus...
Gene: i have a hard time with novels these days, non-fiction’s easier
Noah: that's interesting- nonfiction is feeding our information hungry brains
like filling up at the gas station for the info economy
Gene: ha
Yeah - information really is a drug
12:13 PM Gene: i think the early cyberpunk stuff had it right - we're a bunch of
degenerate junkies basically
Noah: for sure
like in that Woody Allen movie where he imagines people of the future interacting with
that drug-orb
Gene: oh sleeper
Noah: right
Gene: that shit is hilarious
12:15 PM Noah: yeah, starting at the monitor could look like that to people of the future
or past...
actually, starting at the monitor laughing, smiling, frowning
Gene: i just need a little line of drool coming down my chin
Noah: go for it
Gene: yeah maybe i will
Noah: ha
Gene: meh, too self-conscious now
maybe later today
Noah: ok
Noah Fischer is a Brooklyn based artist represented by Claire Oliver Gallery.
Gene McHugh is finishing his Masters degree at the center for Curatorial Studies at Bard