The VECTORS show at Bryce Wolkowitz

14 January – 18 February, 2011
Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery 505 W 24th Street (at 10th Ave), New York, NY 10011


Afghanistan Stability/Counterinsurgency Dynamics (detail)


The idea for Vectors began with my participation in Paul Virilio’s Stop-Eject exhibition in 2008.  Stop-Eject centered around the collapse of geographic and political space in the mobile, connected world, and Virilio wanted the artists to show how people, goods, animals, money, and information flow across borders of all kinds.  This got me thinking about vectors as a way to characterize these flows, and from there I started to see how vectors actually connect much of the work that I do.

A moving train is a vector; the wind blowing from the northeast at seven miles per hour is a vector; the change in the price of Google’s stock is a vector.  When you look at it statistically, any collection of language — a novel, a newspaper, an archive — is packed with vectors.  A vector is an indicator, a hint, a single clue about where we’re headed.  If we could somehow understand the mix of vectors that influence our trajectory at a given instant, we would be able to briefly glimpse the future.


Works in the show


Afghanistan Stability/Counterinsurgency Dynamics
2011; Neon, wood 47 3/4″ x 87″ x 6 1/2″; edition of 3

The design and the title of this work are based on a diagram that appeared on the front page of The New York Times on April 27, 2010, accompanying an article entitled, We Have Met the Enemy, and He is PowerPoint.  The diagram was created in 2009 for the Department of Defense by PA Consulting Group to convey the details and the complexity of the situation in Afghanistan.  According to PA’s website, the London-based consulting firm develops tailored causal maps of key drivers of stability in regions and countries of interest.  PA gives senior decision makers and their teams a shared big picture view and a more structured way to help inform options for intervention.

The character of the PA diagram owes a debt to the work of Mark Lombardi, who created graceful, detailed and meticulously researched pencil drawings depicting complex interconnected webs of influence and financial connections. It was probably Lombardi’s subject matter, which included banking networks, organized crime, and the Bin Laden family, that first caught the attention of the intelligence community, but the PA diagram shows us that they may have found Lombardi’s narrative methods useful as well.  In a 2003 review of the Drawing Center’s Lombardi show, The Times’ Michael Kimmelman, wrote:

 I happened to be in the Drawing Center when the Lombardi show was being installed and several consultants to the Department of Homeland Security came in to take a look. They said they found the work revelatory, not because the financial and political connections he mapped were new to them, but because Lombardi showed them an elegant way to array disparate information and make sense of things, which they thought might be useful to their security efforts.

In my neon work, I’ve removed the text from PA’s diagram, creating an abstract network of vectors that still suggest connections, influence and movements of visual energy.

Anecdotal History No. 1 

2011; Typewriter, video projection 37″ x 14 1/2″ x 19″; edition of 3

The portable manual typewriter, a device used for a century by foreign correspondents and far-flung diplomats, here taps out a series of phrases drawn from the diplomatic cables published by Wikileaks in late 2010.  Together with The Language of Diplomacy (2011), this work scans the text of the leaked cables for lexical patterns and linguistic constructions that may reveal new layers of meaning.



Anecdotal History No. 2
2011; 4 x 5 view camera, projector, tripod 64″ x 30″ x 30″; edition of 3

The slowed-down trajectory of a man fired from a cannon in Mexico, landing ultimately in a net in the US, is projected onto the camera’s focal plane. The man’s body, held steady at the center of the ground-glass grid as it rises and then falls through its ballistic arc, recalls the Muybridge motion studies.

Optical Semaphore
2011; Acrylic, electronics 12″ x 74 1/2″ x 11 1/2″; edition of 3

The visual design and speed of the semaphore’s transmission are calibrated so that it can easily be read, recorded, and decoded by a person using pencil and paper.  Every 8 seconds, each of the semaphore’s four wheels rotates into one of eight positions:  north, south, east, west, northeast, southeast, southwest, northwest. In all, this yields 4,096 possible unique configurations of the four discs (a 12-bit binary number), for a data transmission rate of 1.5 bits per second, which is one millionth the speed of a T1 or cable-modem connection.  Only the artist knows the content of the transmission.

State Boundaries as Audio Waveforms
2011; Oscilloscopes, audio electronics 27″ x 82 1/2″ x 18″; edition Unique

An array of five oscilloscopes displays a succession of the 50 US state outlines, with a new group of states displayed every few seconds. The audible tones from the speakers are the same signals that are being fed to the oscilloscopes to generate the images.

To create this work, I begin with a set of connected vertices (latitude, longitude) that define the outline of each state.  I normalize the longitude values and convert them into a short audio sample; I then feed the looping audio signal to the horizontal input of an oscilloscope (and to the speaker to the left of the scope).  I do the same for the latitude, and I feed that audio to the oscilloscope’s vertical input (and to the speaker to the scope’s right).  In the end, each state has its own unique stereo sound, and each oscilloscope functions as a vector graphic display, repeatedly tracing the outline of the state as defined by the two sound waves.  I add occasional distortion, mixing, or processing of the audio signal to create intermittent disturbances (both heard and seen) that interrupt the orderly progression from state to state.

This piece is at the center of the set of ideas at play in this Vectors exhibition; vectors define the state boundaries, their images are made visible using vector graphic display techniques, and the states in turn each represent complex sets of political and historical vectors.

The Language of Diplomacy
2011; LED lights, custom electronics 61″ x 244″ x 4 1/2″; edition of 2

Here I’ve extracted 4200 unique 6-letter words from the 2010 Wikileaks release of diplomatic cables, and they are presented here in the order that each first appeared (1968-2010).  I’ve color-coded words that are names, places, or other centers of influence (government agencies, NGOs, corporations, publications, etc.).

Times Square Trajectories:  46th Street and 7th Ave
2011 (Boundary Conditions series); Video Projection, optical equipment, ground glass. 74 1/2″ x 13″ x 31″ (overall installation measurements); edition of 3

Inspired in equal parts by Jaques Tati’s well observed wanderings, Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation, and 19th century entomologist John Lubbock’s obsessive records of the movements of ants, bees, and wasps, I shot a set of high-resolution videos from the roof of the Condé Nast building 52 stories above Times Square in June, 2010.  The circular glass screen shows a series of shots that begin at the same time and place; each shot then zooms in to follow a single individual who passes through the frame, following that person as long as he or she stays within sight.  The lower screen shows a series of overviews from the same time and place.

For more information, please contact the Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery.


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