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God In The Machine: An Interview With Computers Club Founder Krist Wood

An as-of-yet unparalleled window into the Gesamtkunstwerk of the enigmatic polymath.

by Emerson Rosenthal
Jun 10 2014, 9:00pm

Akhiishm i, 2014

At the crest of the Book of Revelation, the world is restructured at the click of a button: 

[12] And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood;

[13] And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind.

[14] And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. 

God's Divine Cursor single-clicks. File > Open. Image > Adjustments > Invert. Edit > Fill. Ctrl + Q. The rounded rectangle blinks with the prophetic hypothesis to its own question, "Do you want to save the changes you made to [Document 1]?" 

At the dawn of my own immersion into the ars digitalis, one breadth and body of work stood a full base and shoulders above the rest. From the annals of Begin Records to the gallery-above-galleries that is Computers Club, the work of Dr. Krist Wood struck me, and still strikes me, with the same sort of profound reverence deserving only the most transcendent art; the shifting surfaces of Solaris, the submerged statues of Landscape in the Mist; moments in which Nature Itself subsumes rationality and reason, and Reality Itself becomes as mutable as it is at once all-powerful and unmoving. 

Akhiishm ii, 2014

Every ounce as urgent as it is timeless, his work suggests a future in which air particles are as malleable as pixels. Enter, for instance, the invisible doorways of Akhiishm i, which hangs over an endless sea, and find yourself above the shifting sands of the infinite desert of Akhiishm ii. One must only follow the transparent bubble that connects both pieces to discover, in Akhiishm iii, each of the aforementioned vistas suspended in an enclosed room, collapsed into paintings and portals. Even the source codes of Wood's webpages contain images, ASCII and otherwise. 

Keeping up even with the hyperspeed at which creators today are expected to release work, Dr. Wood's creations maintain the same sort of time-honored deliberation that recalls Bergman, even Ozu. His efforts are just as varied— a prolific producer of everything from music to poetry, Wood is also a scientist and holds a faculty position in the Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology at Yale University where he lectures and conducts biomedical research funded by the National Institutes of Health—and it's exactly the type of hybrid, trans-mediatic Gesamtkunstwerk that suggest an artist who seeks to exceed the merely corporeal, and finds his apotheosis online. 

In 2012, I attempted to interrogate Dr. Wood with the sorts of agenda-filled interview questions that might stimulate an artist much his subordinate. I ended up writing my own exposition, absent of the artist's input. Two years later, with the release of Akhiishm, I came prepared.

Below, in full, my discourse with the good doctor, himself: 

Akhiishm iii, 2014

The Creators Project: Groys writes,"Religious language is the language of repetition, not because its subjects insist on any specific truth they wish to repeatedly assert and communicate," but because it is embedded in ritual. In this vein, from Sialiath to Akhiishm, your work is religious not in its motifs or meanings, but in its aesthetic sense of continuation. Do you consider yourself a fundamentalist? Why or why not?

Dr. Krist Wood: With the passage you’ve quoted here the author is attempting to establish the framework upon which the main thrust of his essay—the compatibility between repetition in religious ritual on the one hand, and repetition in the dissemination of digital data in modern mass media on the other—will rest. 

His maneuver at this point in the essay is to divorce the beliefs and intents of the religious practitioner from the practitioner’s material acts of ritual. He then dispenses with the former, and in so doing conflates “beliefs” with “truths” and renders his concept of religious beliefs/truths incommunicable via reductio. Having boiled off the mind of the religious ritualist, the author goes on to define religious discourse as being restricted to concerns of ritual fidelity, with the opposition between truth and error existing in some outside realm; the specter of Gould’s non-overlapping magisteria rearing its ugly head where the now obliterated head of the author’s imaginary religious ritualist once sat. Following this exercise, the crystal remaining at the bottom of the author’s kettle is material ritual devoid of any truth value and the “fundamentalist” as an automaton-like contrivance unconcerned with its own beliefs.

We are on quaggy terrain as a starting vein for questions of religion because I do not grant much of what is housed in the menagerie of premises on display in your quote’s source. Placing your assertion regarding my artwork in that context, I take it that you are drawing a parallel between the “motifs or meanings” you detect in my artwork and the theological truths and interpretations with which Groys’ “fundamentalist” is unconcerned. The aesthetic continuation in my work is then the analogue of ritual re-enactment and I am the fundamentalist. I am not a fundamentalist, and my actual reasoning for this comes from a perspective that is itself antithetical to Groys’ formulation. The fundamentalist, by my lights, is a being utterly and categorically steeped in belief. I hold no beliefs.

The connotation of fundamentalism as a term seems to have drifted somewhat since it came to the fore with Christian Protestantism. In its original sense, the term had a more distinctly reactionary character aimed at the tides of modernism and liberal theology. However loosely it’s used in the present, I think its original meaning is relevant to your question. My artistic process is largely devoid of reactionary, or even topical, tendencies and I recognize that this is atypical among internet artists. The “aesthetic sense of continuation” in my artwork is the product of an inward-facing set of activities for which the external tides of cultural and technological trends hold an influence that rarely swells beyond the status of minor curiosity. This is another sharp dissimilarity between myself and the fundamentalist position.

Given the above, can we point to internet artists whose modi operandi do actually mirror that of fundamentalism in its original form? What would play the role of orthodox theological doctrines-to-be-rescued in the analogy, i.e. What would be perceived as the “fundamentals”? What would be analogous to the liberal modernist theology that such an artist would be reacting against? Web 1.0 vs. Web 2.0+? I think this could be a fun exercise, but I’ll leave that up to you.

If I'm not misunderstanding, your use of, "the opposition between truth and error," suggests that one of the fundamentals must be contradiction: explicit dualities ("truth and error") exist but epistemology has evolved according to punctuated gradualism. Web 1.0 vs. Web 2.0+? Which of these three positions do you find your work to be part of?  

I was referring directly to Groys’ Gouldian statement “Religious discourse operates not in the opposition between truth and error, as scientific discourse does, but in the opposition between devotion and blasphemy,” which he made in the essay you quoted at the start.

When I enter the internet, I think about which place I would like to visit. I think and feel in terms of traveling to peoples’ places, their homepages, when I am online. I think about making an addition or subtraction to my own homepage, envisioning that people are silently visiting, passing through, floating over my shoulder. I view Facebook as one of Mark Zuckerberg’s homepages more than as a network; something akin to the sensation of visiting a friend’s BBS that hosts a popular LORD or BRE door with a lot of individual users. There was a sense of being in the sysop's’ home, rather than in a network of users, no matter how thriving or desolate the user base. These kind of perspectives and feelings are Web 1.0; they derive from Web. 1.0 conditioning.

surface ii, 2014

Can you speak to me about Akhiishm, in terms of gaze? Without giving too much away, where do the open "doors" come from or lead to? And what causes the 'haze' in, say, the background of the Human Civilization landing page?

Dreams are my foremost artistic subjects. At the center of my visual craft is my hypothesis that the brain possesses different modes for processing and computing light emitting objects vs. light reflecting objects, and that the general aesthetic of the commonly reported "dream sequence" is a result of the brain rendering a (possibly more computationally parsimonious?) light-emitter object based environment while in the dream state, as opposed to the light-reflector nature of most object surfaces in our waking state environment.

The aesthetic character pervading much of my artwork comes from this hypothesis put to practice as a means of coping with my own dream imagery. My approach to this tends to involve projecting an illustration from a light source then photographing that projected light. This results in the depictions behaving to some extent as quasi-light emitters rather than reflectors; a dream texture. Admittedly, rather than treating this hypothesis with scientific rigor, I maintain a kind of meta relationship with it, as if it is a mechanism operating in a fictional story where the main character is an artist who has become aware of it. Maybe the idea could be legitimately examined in the future using some kind of MRI-based cognitive science experimental design.

The portions of Akhiishm that I’ve shared were created according to the above; that I divulge further details in any form other than artistic works is not likely.

I’ve lived all my life with a predilection for the number six. This number running rampant through my artwork is apparent at a glance, manifesting in forms ranging from the cube’s six facets and the rainbow’s six-fold arc to the six strings of my favorite musical instrument tuned in relative groupings of six chromatic tones. If you look again you may notice that the stamp of six you refer to is in the foreground of, between the viewer and the content, not the background. I have no explanation for this preoccupation, and my interest in numerology is miniscule to indifferent.

I had to go back and check this out—the number six is definitely there, but it wasn't easy to find. Would you consider it "hidden," and if so, what's the purpose of hiding things in your work? 

I wouldn’t consider it so; to me it’s howling not hidden.

parlor i, 2013

Can you talk to me about a particular spiritual experience you've had, on or offline, that has a presence in your work?

“Spiritual” is a hot, misty word. Its pervasiveness coupled with the sheer elusiveness of its definition suggests a biological impulse. If I put aside parochial usage and take “spiritual experience” more generally to mean the arrival in nature of a transcendent state of being, then the very emergence of consciousness from a lineage of material strikes me as its crowning example. In this sense, our awakening into a flicker of conscious life is itself a singular spiritual experience. It’s one continuous emergency, and my artwork has a humble presence in it, rather than the reverse.

We recently featured an interview with Janet Iwasa, a doctor at the University of Utah who's responsible for an on-the-fly medical animation software, geared towards doctors, but that could easily be co-opted for art-making. In the abstract, can you discuss how your medical studies have informed your artistic practice(s), and/or vice versa? 

My doctoral work involved the use of genetic engineering techniques to study the behavior of protein nanomotors in living cells. Learning how to wield the tools of molecular and cellular biology requires that the scientist develop a faculty for envisioning a non-intuitive, microscopic realm of reality. This kind of intuition-building affects perception generally, on all scales. The apparently static objects of my childhood become systems within systems of motion and energy, and the platonic forms of earthly life melt away revealing a gradual, molecular stream of common ancestry.

Earthly arc with thrush iii, 2013

Your voice is conspicuously absent from the conversations that seem to dominate contemporary art criticism, particularly those that surround production and consumption. Is there a reason you stay out of the fray? 

If I felt the urge to voice what I think is a legitimate criticism about a work of art, I would say it to the artist—not to a fray of others. Having such an urge of any significance seems almost impossible to imagine. If someone wanted to know with certainty whether my own artwork has failed, that person would have to ask me and my answer would be “Yes.”

What would it mean for your artwork to succeed? 

It succeeds in my imagination, but not outside; where it’s frail by comparison. I see that this resembles the way people speak about internet art being shown offline.

Finally, when can we expect Chapters 3-6 of Human Civilization

I expect my heir will have to complete the last two chapters because I will not have lived long enough.

kaard i (umbra's test)

Instructions for this artwork - To perform "Umbra's Test", it is recommended that the viewer fix her gaze at the arc's center to maximize unwavered exposure of the retina. A positive result is the synthesis of a natural rainbow existing purely in the viewer's brain during a 3 second duration of silence at the artwork's center. Alternatively, the viewer may fixate on the six-panel arrays located above and below.

Visit for a glimpse into Krist Wood's new worlds. 



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