Video portraits of American leadership
THE NETWORK includes 89 video portraits by pioneer media artist Lincoln Schatz that are in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.. The portraits offer a stunning and unique portrayal of contemporary American leadership and innovation representing government, business, science, technology and culture. Schatz gives voice to the stories of those searching for solutions to intractable national and international problems.
Streaming Museum has selected for online exhibition 19 video art portraits that are relevant to the contemporary themes it is exploring: Part 1- Improving the lives of women, children and workers, peace and civil rights, harnessing the power of technology to connect people Part 2- The environment, health and science, economic and social challenges Part 3- Creative problem solving, the transforming power of the arts and education, and bridging cultures
The artist’s process: Filming each portrait via multiple cameras during a forty-five minutes conversation, Schatz captured his sitters as they discussed their legacies, accomplishments, and aspirations. Working with this footage Schatz used custom software that constantly recombined the video based on the topic – the heart of what he refers to as “the generative portrait” process – and enabled him to create a dynamic, continuously evolving representation of the similarities and differences between the sitters, free of editorial input. thenetworkportrait.com
PART 1: Leaders improving the lives of women, children and workers, peace and civil rights, harnessing the power of technology to connect people
“The great moral imperative of the twenty-first century is women’s equality. It’s also the smart thing to do. It’s extremely strategic in terms of foreign policy. We know, from a mountain of evidence and data, that investments in women correlate with effective outcomes for poverty alleviation and a country’s prosperity.”
US Ambassador at Large for Global Women’s Issues Melanne S. Verveer advocates for women’s empowerment, a critical strategic issue for the twenty-first century. She formerly served as chief of staff to First Lady Hillary Clinton. She is cofounder of Vital Voices Global Partnership, which promotes leadership by women.
“Peace in the Middle East is of central importance to the entire world. An Israeli-Palestinian resolution of the conflict would be so valuable because it would permit countries that are now at odds with each other, the Arab countries, and Israel to look together toward their principal threat, which it Iran and its influence in the region.”
A leader in law, business, and politics, George J. Mitchell, a widely respected former US senator from Maine, served as majority leader of the Senate, as special envoy for Northern Ireland under President Clinton, and as special envoy for Middle East peace under President Obama.
“In many ways we are talent scouting with technology; we are seeing really great people around the world and connecting them to each other so they can create their own networks. It’s not government speaking to government about what’s taking place; it’s people speaking to people.”
Born in India and raised in the United States, Farah Anwar Pandith is the first special representative to Muslim communities in the US Department of State. Galvanized by the events of September 11, she has focused on developing new models of engagement between the West and Islamic society.
“If you want to remain relevant, if you want to remain – to be blunt – powerful, you had better understand your networked citizenry.”
As senior advisor for innovation to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Alec Ross is working to find ways harness the power of technology, and particularly social media, as a diplomatic tool. A cofounder of One Economy in 2000, he has long been interested in innovative uses of new technology to bridge economic, social, and power divides.
“I have worked hard to make sure that the Department of Labor holds true to protecting and helping workers, giving them all the rights and privileges that my jurisdiction has the responsibility for and more. I have tried to be creative and innovative in doing and testing new things that lift people up and give them the ability to empower themselves.”
A native of California, Secretary Hilda L. Solis served eight years as a member of the House of Representatives. She became secretary of labor in the Obama administration in 2009. She is committed to providing opportunities for working Americans, particularly during a challenging period of economic transformation.
“Election night was an incredibly emotional moment. When the networks announced that Barack Hussein Obama was the president-elect of the United States, tears ran down my cheeks like water running down the rivers of Babylon…”
A civil rights leader and lawyer, Vernon Jordan has distinguished himself as a political advisor. As president of the National Urban League (1971–81), he survived an assassination attempt in 1980. His publications include his memoirs, Vernon Can Read! and collected speeches, Make It Plain: Standing Up and Speaking Out.
Washington Power on View at the National Portrait Gallery
The Network maps out Washington’s movers and shakers using cutting-edge multimedia By Tierney Sneed for U.S. News and World Report, December 12, 2012
In the 20th Century Americans section of the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, next to a photograph of Michael Phelps and caddy-corner to a painting of Bill and Melinda Gates, hangs a 70 inch flat screen TV, unveiled Tuesday. Equal parts Andy Warhol screen test and Congressional Yellow Book, the television displays various contemporary politicians, wonks, journalists, business leaders, science innovators, and cultural guardians, speaking about their upbringings, their passions, their world views, and their outlooks on the future. Some of the faces, like that of former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi or Republican strategist Karl Rove, are recognizable from newspaper front pages and cable news programs. Others, like lawyer/lobbyist Tom Boggs and OMB administrator Kathy Stack, are less familiar. All together, the 89 subjects make up The Network: “portrait conversations” of Washington’s movers and shakers by multimedia artist Lincoln Schatz and are the latest addition to the Portrait Gallery’s permanent collection.
The project began some four years ago. when, the day after Barack Obama was first elected president, Schatz saw the Corcoran Gallery’s “Portraits of Power” Richard Avedon exhibition. “It was literally at that show that I started thinking about, how can I do this in contemporary Washington?” explains the artist, whose portraits have appeared in Esquire magazine and at museums across the country.
“Avedon was looking for that unique ‘moment’ that was representative of that individual,” Schatz explains, contrasting Avedon’s work with his own project “Using time-based media, I don’t need that exact moment. I can have lots of moments,”
Schatz pitched his idea to use cutting edge video and software technology to capture the images and words of people who make up Washington’s current channels of power. to the Portrait Gallery, with whom he was working on another collaboration with at the time. “I wanted to understand them on an individual level, who is shaping the agenda in America’s politics culture, commerce, science, all those different sectors,” says Schatz. “I kind of used the exact same process with everybody, which was conversation about legacy challenge and aspiration, looking for the ideological threads that tie all parts together.”
Each of his subjects he brought to the theater room of the National Portrait Gallery, where he interviewed them for 45 minutes or longer, sitting from about two feet away, as three cameras followed along. The entirety of the sitter’s answers—broken up into 90 second or so segments—would remain in the work; only Schatz and his questions were edited out of the final cut.
Separating Scahtz’s work from that of Andy Warhol and other video-portrait makers is how the various segments are pieced together. Rather than ordering his sitters’ monologues in a single loop, The Network depends on computational software developed by Schatz’s team to rearrange the speakers’ statements, so their sequence is never repeated. Each segment, some 8,000 in total among the 89 sitters, was meta-tagged by its topic and the software chooses to play the next segments according to the topics tagged in the previous. So, for instance, if Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor speaks about judicial independence, the White House and Congress, the system searches for another segment that also contains one of those tags to play next.
“What is happening is that you sort of thread by topic through all these people and the story keeps being told in different ways because of the computational nature of the piece,” say Schatz.
But even getting the subjects to sit for the project was an equally daunting task for Schatz, if not more so. The idea of looking “inside the Beltway” from the outside was part of what excited the Chicago-based artist to the project. But figuring who exactly made up Washington’s network presented an initial challenge. First he tried to physically map out the federal government, but printing a large work chart he soon realized it was “massive, impenetrable, and obvious.” He then hired a pollster to assess who holds power in Washington.
“We weren’t getting anywhere, because I still felt like I was looking at the outer skin,” he says. Drawing from the Facebook model, Schatz then decided to rely on referrals, asking each sitter who else the artist should consider, This proved to be the best strategy of infiltrating Washington’s network, even if some sitters could produce little more than more names.
Once Schatz reached out to potential subjects some sitters were eager to participate. “I sent a fax to Americans for Tax Reform and Grover Norquist got back to me right away,” he recalls.
Others took 15 or 20 tries to nail down, some because of scheduling constraints, others because they didn’t at first understand, and many, in this image-conscious city, because of the unscripted nature of the project.
“It was definitely a leap of faith that required a lot of conversation and assurances that I would not take what they were saying out of context,” he says. And that’s not to mention the legal hoops Schatz jumped through to negotiating a contract so that the sitters could be a part of the project. “As a small arts studio in Chicago, working with these large federal agencies with five or seven lawyers [included on the E-mail chain], that was brutal.” Once he did get his subjects in front of the camera, his work paid off.
“Working with people in Washington, several things became clear right away. One was that everyone that I was working with was on top of their game, intensely bright, and deeply committed to what they were doing, with an extreme earnestness.”
His subjects were separated by industry, generation, and, perhaps most importantly in Washington, by the aisle.
“I was concerned that I would emerge politically agnostic. In the end, I came out exhilarated with tremendous faith that there were super intelligent people working diligently on these issues,” says Schatz. “While there are certainly differences, everybody I met was so deeply committed to working for their constituents and working for the ideas in the most ultimately noble way possible.”
The Network is on display at the National Portrait Gallery. Smithsonian Books has also published a book to go along with the The Network.
Lincoln Schatz is a contemporary American artist living in Chicago, Illinois. He is best known for his pioneering works that create portraits of people, places, and processes utilizing video and software to collect, store, and display images.
Work by Lincoln Schatz has been exhibited at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, Washington, DC; bitforms gallery, New York and Seoul; CONNERSMITH., Washington, DC; Armory Show, New York; Hearst Tower, New York; 21c, Cincinnati; Sundance Film Festival, Utah; Think 21 Contemporary, Brussels; PULSE, Miami; ARCO, Madrid; Catharine Clark Gallery, San Francisco; Gallery Simon, Seoul; Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego; Quint Contemporary Art, La Jolla.
His work is held in numerous international public and private collections including, US Dept. of State; Art Institute of Chicago; Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery; Hearst Corporation; San Jose Museum of Art; Glatzova & Co., Prague; Cafritz Collection, Washington, DC; Fundación Privada Sorigué, Lleida; Runnymede Sculpture Farm, Woodside; Ernesto Ventos Omedes, Barcelona; Fidelity Investment, Boston; and W Hotel, Seoul. lincolnschatz.com
Interview by curator, Warren Perry, the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery