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Forever And A Day

In a challenging new exhibition Conrad Ventur slows down emotion and delves deep into the fragmentary universe of cyberspace

Conrad Ventur is the editor of the eclectic New York periodical Useless Magazine and an artist whose immersive works distort found footage in order to subvert notions of memory, celebrity, nostalgia and temporality. He's not afraid to throw everything into the visual mix, and everyone from Elvis to Marlene Dietrich has been the subject of his considerable talent. In his current exhibition at ROKEBY, Ventur has re-worked YouTube clips of Nina Simone and Shirley Bassey in the hope of creating a fragmentary experience that triggers a sense of collective memory, while positing interesting questions about the constant flux of cyberspace. He has also employed Andy Warhol's screen test technique to re-shoot contemporary tests of two of Warhol's original subjects, slowing down the footage to allow the viewer to watch a smile break across a face as slowly as the sun rises. Essentially, Ventur hopes to create a new kind of space for us to inhabit, one that challenges our notion of 'the past' with the technology of the present, and forces us to reconsider the nature of time. In doing so, he asks us to consider the ever-intriguing question: what's coming next? 

Dazed Digital: Why are you drawn to often quite tragic singers and performers
Conrad Ventur:
Singers are able to create an intimate moment with the audience, and we don't even know them, really. They just channel their energy and their experience in such a great way. My aim with this particular work is to create immersive cinematic environments that give that original performance even more reach. It's a positive spin on what could just be read as doom otherwise. By taking something from the archive and releasing it from it's situation online or wherever and making it cycle and fracture all over the walls and the viewer, it's like giving the performer a voice from the grave, if they have passed. I'm able to reiterate the longing they felt – the disappointment they shared in the original context; I'm able to expand that. That intimacy can be multiplied and doesn't just sit there: I activate it, again and again. I believe that triumph is just around the corner from tragedy.

DD: Can you talk to us about the Nina Simone song? 
Conrad Ventur:
 'If You Knew' is a brilliant song. It's one that Nina, in this footage, delivered with strong emotion as per usual. It's part of a suite of songs I found on YouTube. What I like about Nina is she really gives her all, and I was able to find parts of my own experience in that song. It also echoes to other parts of my practice. In my  exhibition at Rokeby, the audio component to the installation spills over and informs the silent video portraits in the rest of the space. She sings, 'If you knew how much I missed you, you wouldn't stay away.'

DD: Why have you chosen to revisit Warhol's screen tests? What do you find interesting about them?
Conrad Ventur: 
With the tests, I am interested in looking at archival footage; researching the early film portraits and screen tests of Warhol. What I find interesting here, is I'm able to make a kind of bookend that I can't with a deceased singer. But the extension or the extending of them is similar. Whereas I can only spin and refract a Marilyn Monroe or Nina Simone, with someone like Billy Name or Bibbe Hansen, I can hang out, trade stories, and do a kind of quotation to something they participated in 45 years ago by filming them now and bringing them into a present moment. I guess that's why I called the latest show, Forever And A Day. The forever-ness of the myth-bit created in the mid-60s gets a kind of blip in 2010 – adding another chapter to a story we thought was written and putting it on the shelf. These guys are tough, creative people and I love that they're able to communicate that on video, even when wearing sunglasses.Bibbe does performance art on Second Life and Billy is constantly taking pictures. They're awesome people to collaborate with.
DD: In what way do you think time affects our perception of events? Do you think there can ever be such a thing as a genuinely accurate historical narrative?
Conrad Ventur:
If I experienced something, over time I forget what really happened and I apply all sorts of meaning and nostalgia to it. That's what makes history interesting to me – how people can continuously look back and assess where opinion came from; how it was applied and carried forward. How people try to avoid that assessment is just as interesting – trying to keep the past in some kind of rosy glass box whilst everything around us is perfectly dystopian.

DD: Speaking of dystopia, do you think that the tsunami of information available on the internet makes it difficult to focus on anything properly anymore?
Conrad Ventur:
 Proper viewing, or the notion of focusing on anything in a certain 'right' way is counter to my own position. I go fishing online. It's heavily pressurized, deep database of old videos that have been mixed-up, rezzed-down and saved a dozen times. They degenerate and struggle to sing under all the compression. Some videos that get posted online will only live there for a few months, sometimes less, sometimes more. It's always changing, not like the libraries of yesterday, where there is a definitive cataloguing system. I enjoy finding my material through other users who found it interesting first and put the videos into the system themselves. It's a shift in the distribution system of information that we all benefit from. With the installations, I'm perfectly happy taking everything I find, regardless of provenance, and throwing it all into the washing machine – it's a jumble of spinning, refracted stuff that, when it comes out, is a bit dizzy and more loopy than when I got my hands on it; which is exactly where I think things should be.

DD: Are you interested in Jung's notion of the collective unconscious? Does your work seek to tap into a common sense of memory/history?
Conrad Ventur:
I'm just another online user taking what's out there and doing my particular update on it. I'm participating alongside millions of others who tap in. It would be interesting to see how our species progresses as technologies and medical sciences merge us all together. I do wonder what Jung would say now of the Internet and our quickening 'connectivity'. At the moment, all I can do is motorize some new-age crystals and mash-up old love songs which speaks perhaps to those unfathomable advances I won't be here to witness myself.

Forever And A Day exhibits at Rokeby until February 19