Premiere of New Work at New Media Caucus + Ross School of Business

On September 20, 2019, Alex Mastrangelo, CEO of UnProductive Solutions Ltd., presented new technologies invented by the company to allow “users” to be less productive and less efficient and, therefore, more human. Mastrangelo shared these discoveries with two audiences: faculty and graduate students at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and artists and scholars attending Border Control, the annual symposium of the New Media Caucus. In a surprise turn of events, Mastrangelo’s lecture and workshop was an artwork and performance developed by artist Rebekah Modrak and art technology curator Marialaura Ghidini to critique assumptions about and dependence upon standardized logic and algorithmic efficiency.

This performance was the first action of a long-term project that explores the synergy between artistic and technological research to consider how the products and on-demand services of the e-economy (such as personal management apps, chat-bot enabled services, community marketplaces and on-demand concierge services) impact the way we communicate, work, relate to the environment, and live as part of a community.

UnProductive Solutions, Marialaura Ghidini, New Media Caucus

Funding for Fair Users

Rebekah Modrak partnered with Melissa Levine (Director of the UM Copyright Office at the University of Michigan Library),  Raven Lanier (Copyright Specialist, UM-Library Copyright Office), and Jeremy York (4th Year PhD candidate, School of Information) to form the Interdisciplinary Workshop, Fair Users: Free Speech in Action. The Rackham Graduate School awarded the Fair Users funding for this series of workshops for the 2019/20 academic year.

The workshops are intended to increase knowledge about issues around fair use and free speech for a group of graduate students and faculty across campus. Participants come from Art History, Classical Languages, Communication Studies, Museum Studies, Aerospace Engineering, Music, Theater & Dance, and the Law School.

The first session, which meets September 23, will discuss how fair use relates to visual art and expression as speech. Speakers are:

*   Joan Kee, attorney and Professor, Art History. Author of Models of Integrity: Art and Law in Post-Sixties America
*   Cristina del Valle, Senior Associate General Counsel, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
*   Rebekah Modrak, Professor, Stamps School of Art & Design

Screening at Montreal International Animation Film Festival

When filmmakers and producers converge in Montreal Quebec this week for the Montreal International Animation Film Festival, they will view Rebekah Modrak’s film “The Implicit Jacques Panis,” which was accepted into the competitive festival. The Montreal Animation Film Festival screens an international selection of animation features, shorts and experimental films. The festival runs from August 29 to September 1, 2019.

“The Implicit Jacques Panis” is a rectified readymade, made by painting on a found video promoting the company Shinola. The source footage shows a day-in-the-life of Shinola’s former president Jacques Panis. Detroit is the playground for his activities and his scene of conquest. The altered film creatively comments on the original by dressing Panis in a series of hats that hint at the implications of power in each scene. The Implicit Jacques Panis is dense with allusions to American history, politics, and pop culture, humorously trapping Panis as a deadpan actor in his role as a leader marketing Detroit authenticity for the consumption of affluent whites. The work is part of RETHINK SHINOLA, a net-based artwork analyzing luxury-goods company Shinola’s brand messages.

Shinola brand critique Shinola watches Detroit


Writing for Ms. Magazine

In a Ms. Magazine feature article entitled “How One University is Leading the Fight Against Campus Rape Culture—By Way of a Public Reckoning,” Rebekah Modrak reveals how artist Traci Molloy’s portrait series “Against My Will,” featuring survivors of sexual assault and harassment at Alfred University, helped campus administrators to advocate for change around this campus issue.

According to Modrak, “For the past two years, Molloy has interviewed and painted portraits of over 20 AU women connected by the common bonds of surviving sexual assault or sexual harassment. Her work entered campus life in two forms: through public engagement and open discussions moderated by the artist herself, and by way of her portraits of survivors, hung as banners, that lined the walkway of Alfred University’s Academic Alley in 2018 during Sexual Assault Awareness Month and again during new student orientation.”

Alfred University administrators and trustees were encouraging of Molloy’s creative intervention, acting as supportive partners throughout the process to showcase the portraits on banners throughout campus during the prospective student tour season in 2018.

“Other universities would benefit from adapting their model of partnership—and heeding lessons from the outspoken ways Molloy and AU are welcoming testimony from survivors and exposing all students to issues around consent.”

RadicalxChange Conference in Detroit

Rebekah Modrak spoke at the RadicalxChange conference in Detroit, March 22 – 24, 2019.

RadicalxChange brings together artists, entrepreneurs, scholars and activists to explore the potential to bridge political divides and inequality through political and economic mechanism design. Modrak spoke as part of the Arts and Communication track, and the panel, Can radical imagination thrive with radical markets, data-as-labour, and the always-on-auction?

Aware that “radical imagination is not something individuals have but something collectives do,” some artists are looking for better systems for supporting cooperation, solidarity and shared values through decentralized technologies. This panel took the lived experience of contemporary artists as a lens to explore the advantages (or otherwise) for individuals and society of the ‘always-on-auction’ and ‘data-as-labour’ mechanisms proposed in Radical Markets.

Modrak was invited to speak about her work with curator Marialaura Ghidini on #exstrange, and how the project shapes and humanizes market-based platforms, re-imagining the online marketplace as an experience and opportunity to engage with social thinkers. As advocates of radical social change, the RadicalxChange community envisions an extraordinary opportunity to create real collaboration across disciplines and perspectives to address the failings of individualistic ‘isms’ and build a coalition that can defend a renewed, radical, social platform for inclusion and equality.

The panel is chaired by Ruth Catlow, co-founder and artistic director, with Marc Garrett, of Furtherfield for arts, technology and social change, a not-for profit organization that promotes the idea that it is everyone’s business to imagine and shape society together.

Harvard Fair Use Blog

Rebekah Modrak’s essay, Miller Beer-Cam & Fair Use, was published in the Harvard Fair Use Week Blog. The essay discusses Modrak’s new work Miller Makes It Right, created in collaboration with Kenzie King, in the context of fair use.

Inspired by Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony during the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, Modrak and King responded to Kavanaugh’s declaration of “I like beer” in a way that checks male power and privilege through the weaponization of beer cans.

Modrak writes: “Kenzie and I asked ourselves: If conscience and the judicial system are not enough, if police cars and bodies need to be outfitted with cameras to keep power in check, could we do the same with the beer can? If beer is to be weaponized, could it become a tool for the protection of women? We imagined a world in which MillerCoors reinterpreted their tagline “Miller Makes it Right” in the context of #MeToo.”

Miller Beer-Cam & Fair Use | Harvard Fair Use Week

Rebekah Modrak and Kenzie King Featured in Harvard Fair Use Week Blog

Metro Times Article: ” ‘Green Book’ Director Thanks Shinola for ‘Saving Detroit’ “

In an article for the Detroit Metro Times, writer Devin Culham chronicled the adverse reaction many had to Green Book director Peter Farrelly’s plug of the luxury goods brand Shinola in his thank you speech for Best Original Screenplay at the 2019 Oscar Award Ceremony. Farrelly’s thank-you speech for Best Original Screenplay concluded with “and Shinola watches – unbelievable, they’re saving Detroit!” In Cullham’s critique, he cited Rebekah Modrak’s criticism of the company in her work ReThink Shinola:

“In 2017, University of Michigan professor Rebekah Modrak analyzed how the company used Detroit and racial tropes like the “white savior” in its marketing for her project Rethink Shinola.”

Oscar-winning ‘Green Book’ director thanks Shinola for ‘saving Detroit’ | Metro Times

Presentation at CAA conference, February 2019

On Friday, February 15,  2019, Rebekah Modrak presented a paper entitled “Disarming Misogyny as a Dude” as part of the “Power, Resistance, and Gender Issues in the Arts of Women” session at the College Art Association’s 107th annual conference in New York City.

She spoke about Re Made’s brand messaging, designed (in the image of Best Made Co.) to be “masculine,” and her discovery that most viewers who encounter the work as an artwork (not a plunger company) assume that the artist behind the parody is also a man. During the presentation, she described audiences’ gendered expectations of both handcrafted plungers and art.”

Rebekah Modrak: RE MADE / BEST MADE ECHO (2014)

“Entrepreneurship 407” Article Published in the New Art Examiner

Stamps Professor Rebekah Modrak’s article “Entrepreneurship 407: White Supremacy, Benevolent Institutions, and Shinola” was published in the December 2018 edition of the New Art Examiner.

The article proposes that, even as Civil War-era Confederate monuments are de-installed around the country, the values of white supremacy find new forums in unexpected places, namely in academic institutions, through the lapses of entrepreneurial engagement.

This article was originally published by the National Center for Institutional Diversity.

New Chapter in Criticality Book

Rebekah Modrak’s chapter “Best Made Re Made: Critical Interventions in the Online Marketplace” has just been published in the book The Routledge Companion to Criticality in Art, Architecture and Design, a collection of new essays edited by Myra Thiessen and Chris Brisbin, faculty at the School of Art, Architecture and Design, University of South Australia.

The book aims to investigate Critique, Criticality, and Criticism from an inter- or multi-disciplinary perspective. With contributions from a multi-disciplinary authorship from nine countries – the UK, USA, Australia, India, Netherlands, Switzerland, South Africa, Belgium, and Denmark – this edited volume provides a wide range of leading perspectives evaluating the landscape of criticality and how it is being shaped by technological and social advances.

Modrak’s invited and peer-reviewed contribution is within the book’s Part 4, a section reflecting on the various new ways that media influences and provides a platform for criticism and criticality and exploring the role of new media in influencing the relationship between opinion, lay critique, and traditional forms of professional expert criticism.

Her chapter examines consumptive practices and un-critical consumerism by analyzing the dual Best Made/Re Made marketing campaigns and proposing that critical artistic interventions can enact critique through strategies of parafiction and parody. The Re Made Co. artwork responds to Best Made as brand and also to the news and cultural media that can appear critical while simultaneously promulgating brand messaging, including art and design institutions that commodify, rather than critique, luxury design items like those sold by Best Made.

The Routledge Companion to Criticality in Art, Architecture and Design has been reviewed by James Elkins of the School of the Art Institute, Chicago, who writes: “This is an exceptionally carefully assembled book. Criticism inhabits this book in Protean fashion: as a profession, an historical artifact, a philosophic position, a hope, a form of experimental writing, a family of theories, a material practice, and above all as conversation and a sense of community.”

The Routledge Companion to Criticality in Art, Architecture, and Design | Routledge Taylor & Francis Group