Critique - words on the work:
"The Awakening of Kimo Arbas" by Charles Gaines
Kimo Arbas’s Awakening is a signature work that puts us in the middle of performative space using technological instruments as well as the human voice. The performance and installation are meant to engage something similar to a ritualistic experience. There seems to be an underlying belief here that in this postmodern moment, the theater-as-ritual is made up of abstract, technologically produced high frequency sounds punctuated by mid-range and deep frequency drones, a significant use of technology, changing the context of the experience and theorizing a high tech manifestation of spirit. These are abstract sounds that intend to project the sound equivalent of matter, suggesting by this that embedded in matter there is spirit. This produces a magical space where the visible and invisible coexist, which is often the case in ritual where the visible component of sound and the invisible component of matter create the aura of transcendence. This also suggests the possibility of space where matter and consciousness co-exist, sound becomes the metaphor for spirit sharing the quality of invisibility. This helps in ritual to create a narrative of a pathway to higher consciousnesses. Similar to Antonin Artaud’s idea in Theater and its Double, there is an interest in undermining representation in favor of the real, space and movement rather than language. Here it is suggested that art operates in the space of the real. Adopting Plato’s notions that are critical of representation.
Kimo’s work operates in this abstract space that it claims to be a fundamental reality, just as in biology the human figure can represent the real while in comparison those bodily parts smaller than organs, the molecular level seem abstract. Objects and things here stand for the real and those sub parts can be seen if not abstract, the beginning of the journey to the abstract. But in Kimo’s work, the ritualistic dynamic locates the real around the notion of spirit, the determining location of objects and things, and consequently points out that what we conventionally might call abstract can be reassigned to the real, giving support to the idea that Arbas’s ritualized spaces are more real than our ideas that reality exists on the level of the objects of the observable universe, which is a necessary location for representation.
Kimo’s work straddles the ancient and primeval to the postmodern and cybernetic world of technology. His metaphors allow us to fall into the space of meditation where we become part of the space of the performance, even as audience. Here the voice becomes a significant element because of its relationship to the body. It is here where Kimo’s practice extends not only aesthetically but politically as it advances a world view often used to support a political critique of modernism and it’s blind allegiance to the domain of human rational thought. The dynamic movement of images in Kimo’s performances and the meditative drone of the voice call up a pre-colonial world that still exists and has not been displaced by colonialism and Imperialism. This is a sentiment that cherishes the protection of a pre-Enlightenment understanding of the world. But it is not a retreat into superstition, but a movement forward into science fiction. This dance with the unknown does not open up the opportunity for dogmatism, instead it opens up the vistas of unknown futures and celebrates the idea of change, particularly as a way of unpacking received ideas particularly about reality. In Kimo’s world, human cognition and thought is unified with the purely material and sensible properties of matter. Kimo is among a very few artists who treats the sensible as a politicized experience. Perhaps he feels the experience of the sensible is the location of the spiritual, not so much the religious idea of spirit, more so an existential construct. We can only arrive there by participating in some type of scripted and disciplined process, not by denying discipline in favor of an unfettered, interiorized subjectivity, more like a deconstruction of the space of objects and language. Traditionally it is thought that the undisciplined space is where our intuitions and imagination lie. Kimo expands this by displacing the interior subjectivity with destabilizing forces that exist in matter but is constantly trying to explode matter into tiny pieces. He achieves this by ritualizing matter and sound and treating them as proof of transcendence over thought. For it is suggested in his practice that this abstract space of reality is both instrumental and instructional in advancing the critical and aesthetic interests of an entire planet. Here I imagine Kimo would probably disagree; his is a more relativist world where the idea of change is fundamental and core in our assessment of not only a “true” reality but also provides us with the ability to form a morality and ethics that are deeply rooted in art and artistic practice by virtue of the fact that in art we make the invisible visible.
About the author:
Charles Gaines has written a number of academic texts including: "Reconsidering Metaphor/Metonymy: Art and the Suppression of Thought", Art Lies, Issue 64 (Winter/2009); "Ben Patterson: The History of Gray Matter From the Avant-garde to the Postmodern", a catalog essay for an exhibition at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (November 2010); and Kerry James Marshall, London: Phaidon Press, 2017.
Gaines received a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Grant in 1977. He received a California Community Foundation (CCF) in 2011, and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2013. Gaines received the CalArts REDCAT Award in 2018 and was awarded the 60th annual Edward MacDowell Medal in 2019.
Kimo Arbas works in the liminal nexus space of technology, art, expression and spirituality. His works explore space and time as well as materiality. From live musical performances fusing spiritual and ancient sounds with mixology and live performance to work with perception and cognition, his work threads the new without the unnecessary utopic shine so often overly implied in the realm both of avant garde constructs and of technological progression and expression. New media and digital art are seeing something of an arguable renaissance at this moment in the art world internationally, but not without the usual growing pains. Digital painting is at times being touted as a new vanguard not of aesthetics, color theory and compositional dynamics. The impressionists were seen as too radical and threatening with light moving beyond traditional formalism. New is a complex and loaded semiotics in art and beyond. Kimo works in a space both current and ancient, of what is possible and the rich vein and thread of history. This is crucial in exhibition as well as the long tail dialogue of movements and periods in art history. He is exploring perception, cognition, mental states as well as the tensions and release of things tied to place, the site specific and the performative.”
About the author:
Jeremy Hight is a peer reviewer and Judge for ISEA - international society for the electronic arts and an independent curator. His art criticism and reviews have been published internationally in many journals, exhibition materials and books. His digital art is now in many archives including the Whitney Museum digital archive.
Kimo Arbas creates hybrid work that challenges our preset ideas about art, knowledge, and the spiritual. His eclectic output resists summarization, but it inhabits the contradictions of the contemporary world around us. He often juxtaposes new technologies with ancient ones, digital computing alongside poetry and myth, technologies so ancient we see them as magic. This work strives to connect us using sound, images, and compositional strategies that are grounded in formal rigor but whose intentions are beyond form: it strives to ground us in this conflicted world, this disjointed earth so in need of our most primal attentiveness.
About the author:
Matias Viegener is a critic, artist, and writer who teaches at CalArts in Los Angeles. He’s the author of 2500 Random Things About Me Too, the editor of I'm Very Into You, has exhibited at LACMA, The Whitney, LACE, Ars Electronica, and MOCA San Diego among others, and is a Creative Capital award recipient.
Kimo Arbas is a true artist of our contemporary world. He is a multidisciplinary master of multiple visual and aural domains. His works incorporate technology, sometimes of his own devising, to bring us new experiences and insights. Arbas has used these mediums and tools to explore physical and psychological space in a way that goes beyond the merely intellectual. His works utilize spiritual, aesthetic, and societal aspects from multiple cultures, and he is able to bring all these elements together in an amazing way that provides a unified and new experience for his audience. Arbas is a true renaissance artist for our times. He is able to create at the core level of technology, but his work at this level is not merely for the sake of creating a procedure, but a process that can be used to invent a larger realm or be integrated into a larger domain. Even though Arbas may use a multiplicity of techniques and areas of art and music, he is able to bring them together to form a cohesive, expressive, and impressive whole. Thus, his audiences receive a complete experience vis-à-vis the particular work of his that they are perceiving. Furthermore, Arbas is able to extend the meaning of physically-perceived into the domain of the psychological and metaphysical, transcending place and time. I look forward to what Arbas will do in the future as he brings us new experiences and unique worlds of multiart.
About the author:
Barry Schrader is the founder and the first president of SEAMUS (Society for Electro-Acoustic Music in the United States), the author of Introduction to Electro-Acoustic Music, and has written for numerous publications including the Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Grove Dictionary of Women in Music, Grolier’s Encyclopedia, Oregon Law Review, Computer Music Journal, and Contemporary Music Review. In 2014, he was given the SEAMUS Lifetime Achievement Award. He was a member of the Composition Faculty of the CalArts School of Music from 1971 to 2016, and has taught at the University of California at Santa Barbara, the California State University at Los Angeles, and The University of Nevada at Las Vegas. His music is recorded on the Laurel Record, Opus One, Innova, SEAMUS, Centaur, CIRM, Pure Destructive Records, and Ex Machina labels. “There’s a great sweep to Schrader’s work that puts it more in line with ambitious large-scale electronic works… a line that can be traced backwards to Mahler, Bruckner and Beethoven.” writes the Paris Transatlantic Magazine. Schrader's compositions for electronics, dance, film, video, mixed media, live/electro-acoustic music combinations, and real-time computer performance have been presented throughout the world.
Interview by Robert Herbst:
Kimo Arbas is a new-media artist whose work engages technology and spirituality. I interviewed him wanting to know more about the relationship between art and the industrial side of technology, and how he operates between these two worlds. This is a condition many artists, particularly new media artists, find themselves in. I wanted to understand these things in light of his identity as a Lithuanian American. This interview was conducted over email in September and October of 2020.
There is a cross over between your entrepreneurial practice and your art practice in works like Muse; where you use your patent for Pilot Angel as source material for visual art. What is the relationship between creativity in the technological sphere and the art sphere? Do they complement each other?
What are the differences between creativity in the entrepreneurial field and creativity in the world of visual art?
Regarding creativity in the entrepreneurial field versus creativity in the world of visual art, I don’t see them as separate phenomena. I understand creativity as problem solving. In general it is a form of human communication that simultaneously implements a solution. Creativity in art is solving a problem of a lack of expression. In the “world of visual art”, artists are intrinsically like entrepreneurs.
As far as I have seen technology or business entrepreneurs tend to be oriented towards making money. There is the corny startup fantasy of making the big money in very short time with minimal effort, with a unicorn company (valuation of $1 Billion or more) that hits the “jackpot” being in the right place and the right time...this is the overbearing concept of success. The same goes for art and artists. However you have entrepreneurs who simply want to have a modest business and earn a living from it. Same goes for artists. Alternately you have social entrepreneurs, who tend to be visionaries, motivated to do something for the overall good, to cause positive effect in the world instead of chasing wealth and power. The same goes for some artists. There are artists who make work that is historically relevant, contributing to the universal body of art, in a way it is somewhat similar to research science or technology with no obvious immediate practical application. I think no matter what genre/technique/technology one works in, it’s the moral compass that is critical in the subsequent sacrifice, the “blood, sweat and tears” required to push forward towards ones goal.
What do you make of the way that technology itself blurs the lines between commerce and visual arts given that they both circulate in a global market of images and hyper-industrialization?
That's a good question. For me the "blur" is key. I see no distinction - different technologies are different refinements and/or tools. The forces and patterns involved in the global market have and will always be there, dictating what will ultimately occur. What you use technology for is really all that matters. If the technologies don’t make something more efficient or possible, like adding linseed oil to pigments or stretching canvas, using shadows and projections, or using a computer or machine learning algorithms, etc. one must ask; “why are these technologies being used? What's the point? To be a part of a trend? To look cool? To look smart? To look “futuristic?” These may be beneficial depending on ones target or moral compass, but time and energy are valuable and finite. I feel there should always be a reason for every choice in ones work. Personally and historically I feel it is a waste and likely an embarrassment to fuck around with bullshit.
Broadly the field of cybernetics aims to conceptualize natural systems as technical systems. As a device Pilot Angel taps into this gestalt, developing technological solutions for industrial problems. Other works of yours (Sisters, Awakening) use technology as an aid perhaps to ruminate on the non-industrial, "natural" world. Is there a tension in your mind between these competing notions of technology, in an ecological or spiritual sense?
In my worldview I don’t see a competition between nature, the technology, or industry. I see them as all the same thing. This is also the knowledge and understanding of my prehistoric Baltic indigenous religion, of which I am the head Vaidila of North America for Romuva, which is the Ancient Baltic religion community of Lithuania. A Vaidila is a cleric, somewhat similar to a Cardinal in the Catholic hierarchy. My world view is non-anthropocentric and non-chauvinistic. It has no name as it is not trying to “convert or save souls” or colonize, there is no missionary work. My community does not see humans as superior, rather we see everything as being alive, and made of the same thing. We consider trees to be our relatives, as are rivers, and stones. It’s not that God created the world/universe, its that our Gods ARE the world/universe. Our understanding god is very different to the worlds dominant religions. Gods are the forces of nature, and traditionally we use poetry and metaphors to describe their “personalities”.
We consider the Earth, Sun, stars and planets as goddesses. The Moon is a god, there is the lower God Lord of the winds and Goddess the Mistress of the winds, waves, Goddess of Fate, God of Justice, and so on. There are gods and goddesses, demi gods/goddesses, supernatural creatures and life that make up one supra-god/divine system. There is no separation between the world of the living and the spirit world. We as humans are inseparable from this one divine supra-system. Therefore I do not see a difference between artificial or human made and natural. Does one consider the bird to be natural but the birds nest not? Everything is by default natural. I understand the term “artificial” as chauvinistic and anthropocentrist, humans are a part of nature and as such are absolutely natural. In this “religion” we “worship” reality. The only difference between science, atheism and skepticism and this world view, and incidentally why it is a religion, is because we consider absolutely everything that exists to be alive and sacred. This also relates to our understanding that all honest religions worship the same thing as we do. I don’t see them as competing. The conceptualization of natural systems as technical systems does not make sense to me from my perspective. The technology I invented isn’t necessarily a solution for industrial problems, but a solution and simple tool for humans designed to help protect them from side effects of exploitation like exhaustion, fatigue, poor health and accidents.
This is the brush stroke of my piece Muse. The brush stroke is "purpose", as opposed to decoration. Art has a practical function in the real world. I’m not intending to make jewelry. Yet art is generally treated as jewelry. Jewelries value is derived from “good” design, otherwise it's just raw materials. The “brush stroke” in this case is the patent. The technology is laid bare, it’s not a readymade, but it is arranged in composition to attract, refer to, and exude the divine. Dada a hundred years ago used absurd and shocking aesthetics. My work is in a sense a “Dada of Dada,” an inversion. Contextually it’s an absurdity of the absurd. I hope to bring a certain amount of clarity to our current times, to allow the viewer to tap into the well of the profound that lies right under our noses. The common thread in all of my pieces that you refer to is reality, and our inseparable connection to it. Creativity in my work is the most effective solution to solve a problem. Whether this zeitgeists emerging technology, or a clump of mud in ones hand, or the act of breath. To me it’s all the Voltronification of ancient and contemporary methods. It is spiritual work, the rumination on the divine.
About the author:
Robby Herbst is an artist writer living in Los Angeles. He is the co-founder of the Journal of Aesthetics and Protest and instigator of the Llano del Rio Collective. He’s the recipient of a Warhol foundation Arts Writer Grant, A Mike Kelley Project Grant, The Graue Award, and grants for the Danish Arts Council, the Durfee Foundation, and Rema Hort Mann.
J. Kimo Arbas is a contemporary artist I had the pleasure of meeting through his musical work in Los Angeles, California nearly 20 years ago. As an arts and culture journalist I have continued to follow his interdisciplinary work which manifests in the form of interactive installations, photographic digital manipulation, printed presentations, and even real-world applicable inventions.
His Pilot Angel invention—a system that monitors brainwave activity and alerts its users to prevent them from falling asleep while driving—has caught my interest as something with great feature story as well as life-saving potential. Arbas’ patented inventions and contributions could be likened to Marcel Duchamp’s "Fountain," yet combining avant-garde conceptualization with the tools of today’s high tech sector. Each Arbas creation celebrates the natural world, demonstrating the ever-innovating soul of an artist.
About the author:
Shawna Kenney is a contributing editor with Narratively Magazine and her arts journalism and essays have appeared in Juxtapoz, The New York Times, Playboy, Ms. Magazine and more. She is the author of the memoir I Was a Teenage Dominatrix (Last Gasp), as well as Live at the Safari Club: A History of HarDCore Punk in the Nation’s Capital 1988-1998 (Rare Bird Books), Imposters (Mark Batty Publisher), and the anthology Book Lovers (Seal Press). Kenney is a creative writing instructor in the UCLA Writers’ Program and has served as a PEN in the Community Writer in Residence for PEN America several times.
Kimo Arbas explores the relationship between atavism and the teleological. With influences as diverse as Espinoza and Laurie Anderson, through digital technologies, he creates a connecting bridge where new insights are distilled from both simple and complex discourse. Ever since his academic art studies he has been fascinated by the deceiving nature of contemporary meaning, the Baltic spiritual grounding and the shallow intensity of contemporary digital realm. In his video installations, what starts out as contemplation soon becomes corroded into a carnival of technological frenzy, leaving only a sense of unreality and the chance of a new reverie. As shifting derivatives become reconfigured through studious and academic practice, the viewer is left with an insight into the limits of our culture.
About the author:
Santi Delgado is a curator, artist and author.