"Occupy Wall Screens"... in Wall Street
French media artist Maurice Benayoun is way ahead of today’s economists. He long ago figured out that collective emotions trackable on the Web might be used to predict market ups and downs. Recent books like Animal Spirits: How Human Psychology Drives the Economy echo the notion that the market has become a histrionic arena that begs for regulatory controls, and there is at least one hedge fund that uses the analysis of mass tweets to make stock predictions. But Benayoun is no Wall Street gambler trying to game the system. He hopes his recent work will in fact aid and engage the Occupy Wall Street movement, which he says is still more potent in the U.S. than in Europe — though not for long.
Although Benayoun is a Parisian born in Algeria, it’s more to the point to say he’s a pioneering international media artist. Having mined the digital-into-art realm since well before most others, he is revered in his field and spends much of his time exhibiting and lecturing abroad. “Defining myself is always a difficult question because I’ve changed my title many times. Multimedia explorer, artiste plasticien, conceptual artist… and now I just say Open Media artist — the result of the evolution of the media the artist can use. We don’t have to use just painting and sculpture anymore; we can use video, film, Internet, virtual reality, augmented reality, installations and so on.”
Benayoun is probably France’s most cutting-edge artist, in that he is usually absorbed with whatever new visual technology is emerging in ways accessible to artists, beginning with 3D animation in the early 1990s. But he doesn’t just tinker with these new toys to show off their cool tech-fair features; he seeks ways to make them enlighten us about society, perception, human behavior and other weighty matters he likes to ponder. He’s a thinker first, and technology is just a means to a dialectic end that asks more questions than it answers. He likes to connect, as he says, philosophy, poetry, politics and art… perhaps a very European tendency, melding disparate layers in the way the continent’s oldest cities do.
Benayoun is a prolific artist and his works are too numerous and layered to describe here with any thoroughness, but a few ought to be mentioned. As an indication of his stature in France, he was invited to create a permanent on-site installation for the 200th anniversary of the Arc de Triomphe. He took the opportunity to make a rather subversive point about the obsolete imperial gesture of war monuments. Another signature piece was Tunnel Under The Atlantic, a symbolic but working link between museums in Paris and Montreal. He employed “tele-virtuality” and artificial intelligence to achieve a dialogue between users 3500 miles apart. It was later re-cycled to create Paris-Delhi.
Below is a glimpse of how Maurice Benayoun thinks aloud.
The opening reception will take place from 6 to 8 pm on January 31 at the Eventi Hotel’s Bar Basque, designed by futurist Syd Mead (839 Avenue of the Americas). Benayoun will also give a lecture at Parsons the New School for Design on February 1 and Columbia University on February 2.
Michael Kurcfeld is a documentary producer and journalist based in Los Angeles and Paris. Click here for his website.